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State weighs meadow mouse recovery plan

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By The Staff

An upcoming meeting of the New Mexico Fish and Game Commission will consider adopting a recovery plan for two small rodents listed as endangered under the Wildlife Conservation Act.At the Jemez Mountains Science Symposium Friday, Leland Pierce, the state’s recovery coordinator for terrestrial species alerted the scientific community that the state was trying to raise public awareness about the meadow jumping mouse and the Arizona montane vole.The vole is known to dwell primarily in Catron County along the border with Arizona; the meadow jumping mouse has several habitats in the state, primarily in the Jemez and Sacramento Mountains, and along the Rio Grande River.Pierce said the Game and Fish department is not obligated to do everything in its plan, even if adopted, because it does not have authority over the habitat, which largely belongs to federal or private owners.“This is cheerleading,” he said. “We want to try to get everybody on board and positive.”The recovery steps are necessary, he said, because of tremendous declines in the meadow jumping mouse populations in recent years.Mamologist Jennifer Frey of Frey Biological Research in Radium Springs, who collaborated in drafting the plan, said in a telephone interview Tuesday she has been researching these southwestern mammals for the last several years.In a current paper submitted for publication, she reported that the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, also known as Zapus hudsonius lutus, has not been found in recent surveys in 73 percent of its historic localities in the Jemez Mountains, nor in 94 percent of places it has been found in the Sacramento Mountains.She describes the mouse’s habitat as associated with “tall, dense, herbaceous riparian vegetation, primarily dominated by sedges.” Researchers attribute the decline in the mammal’s distribution as “due to the loss of this habitat, primarily as a result of livestock grazing.”Contributing factors include a period of drought, along with development, recreation, forest fire and loss of beavers.“This animal is hellish hard to catch,” Pierce said in his talk, partly because it hibernates up to nine months out of the year.Frey confirmed that, generally speaking, the shy jumping mouse requires “300 trap-nights” to catch.“That means if you put 100 traps out for three nights, you might catch one,” she said. “Right now, we’re just trying to find out where they are still persisting, so we go where we knew they occurred.”Not much is known about the meadow jumping mouse on the Valles Caldera National Preserve near Los Alamos, although one was captured on the private ranch that preceded the preserve in the 1970s.“There is a population just downstream at the San Antonio camp ground,” Frey said.Eric Hein, who has the lead for the meadow jumping mouse in the southwest for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the mouse is currently listed as a “candidate species” under the Endangered Species Act, although that provides no regulatory protection.“It does get on our short list, so that when funding becomes available, we can list it,” he said. “We are likely to do that in the next couple of years.”The mouse was just added to the list in December, Hein said, and next year the federal government will probably start putting some numbers together about how much a program might cost.“I really do think this is one we can turn around, with federal partners, but also with private landowners,” he said.The wildlife service currently has a program in the Jemez Mountains that makes money available for in-kind projects, like fencing and developing grazing programs.He said interested people in the Jemez could contact Nancy Riley in the Albuquerque office at 505-761-4707.The goal of the state recovery plan, if approved, would be to assure the long-term survival of the two small rodents with a natural distribution and populations within their natural historical ranges.The state game and fish commission meets from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 11 in the Santa Rosa high school auditorium/TV room, 717 South Third St.