Unchecked Development Wiping Out Front Range Wildlife
A coalition of conservation groups moved to intervene in a lawsuit by an anti-environmental law firm aiming to eliminate protection for the Preble's meadow jumping mouse and its Front Range streamside habitat. The Preble's meadow jumping mouse was protected in 1998 under the Endangered Species Act because sprawl had devastated riparian ecosystems in Colorado from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins and northward into southern Wyoming.
"The poor state of the jumping mouse is a huge warning sign," noted Erin Robertson, staff biologist for Center for Native Ecosystems. "Its decline tells us we are destroying what once were healthy streams across the Front Range, along with the clear water and wildlife habitat they support." The Preble's meadow jumping mouse is part of the complex and vitally important streamside ecosystems on the Front Range. Coyotes, hawks, eagles, foxes, native birds, and other wildlife are all disappearing on the Front Range as open space gives way to strip malls and subdivisions.
The coalition is seeking to become parties to a lawsuit filed by Mountain States Legal Foundation that claims that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred when it originally protected the jumping mouse. The conservation groups seek intervenor status to defend the mouse's protected status.
"The Preble's meadow jumping mouse was endangered back then and is even more endangered now, as are the healthy streamside habitats it depends on," said Jeremy Nichols of Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. Poorly planned housing developments, gravel mines, and unmanaged suburban growth continue to destroy and fragment habitat. According to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, for example, the total population on Colorado's Front Range grew by almost a million people between 1990 and 2001.
"We can balance protecting streams and important habitat with thoughtful development," added Earthjustice attorney Mike Harris, representing the groups. "But uncontrolled growth is destroying the very reasons most of us moved to Colorado."
Coloradans are increasingly concerned that uncontrolled growth is negatively affecting their daily lives, causing traffic jams, overcrowded schools, and disappearing open space and vistas. Better growth management is also essential because of limited water supplies and the ongoing drought. According to a bipartisan poll conducted a year ago by Talmey-Drake Research and Strategy Inc. and Public Opinion Strategies, 52 percent of voters surveyed identified growth as the top problem facing Colorado.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected three delisting petitions for the Preble's meadow jumping mouse in December 2003. The service found that none of the three petitions made a persuasive case that Preble's should be denied endangered species protection. The state of Wyoming recently submitted yet another delisting petition.
These delisting efforts have been fueled, in part, by ongoing genetics research that opponents expected would validate their claims. In fact, this research does exactly the opposite, confirming that Preble's meadow jumping mouse is genetically distinct from the western meadow jumping mouse. The preliminary results of an ongoing genetics study by a Denver Museum of Nature and Science researcher, announced in December, suggest that the Preble's might be more closely related to the Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse than previously thought. The Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse is endemic to parts of Wyoming and South Dakota and, like its Front Range relative, is imperiled due to sprawl and other habitat loss.
"The best science clearly shows that the Preble's meadow jumping mouse needs protection," explained Robertson. "Removing protection for the Preble's mouse would mean continued habitat destruction, more streams destroyed, more Front Range water polluted, not to mention a greater risk that the Preble's mouse becomes extinct."
"We all know that streams and open space on the Front Range have been decimated by uncontrolled growth," added Harris. "It is no surprise that native wildlife are harmed."
Earthjustice is representing the Center for Native Ecosystems, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, and Forest Guardians. Click here for more information about Preble's meadow jumping mouse.