For Immediate Release, June 9, 2008
||Erin Robertson, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 229-2014
Erik Molvar, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, (307) 745-0395
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Dr. Sylvia Fallon, Natural Resources Defense Council, (202) 513-6246
Protections Stripped From Endangered Species in Wyoming:
Bush Administration Continues to Put Politics Over Science
DENVER, Colo.— Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse will lose Endangered Species Act protection in Wyoming, while populations in Colorado will remain protected. The change takes effect next month.
The jumping mouse was first protected under the Act in 1998 because habitat loss and degradation along Front Range streams led to its disappearance from much of the urban corridor in Colorado and Wyoming.
The Bush administration has been particularly interested in removing protections from this streamside mammal, which has the misfortune to inhabit prime real estate. Since a flawed 2003 genetics study, the Service has been threatening to take away Endangered Species Act protection.
"The Bush administration keeps playing politics with our endangered wildlife," said Erin Robertson, senior staff biologist with Center for Native Ecosystems in Denver. "Endangered species decisions must be scientifically credible instead."
The agency claimed in 2005 that the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse was too closely related to jumping mice in South Dakota to warrant continued protection, and proposed that the mouse lose its endangered status throughout its range. In 2006 an independent scientific panel concluded that the report the Service had relied on for this proposal was based on contaminated data, and that the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse was unique and should remain protected by the Act.
“The science is settled,” said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, staff scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. “The mouse is unique and in trouble, and losing protections in Wyoming is a tremendous setback to its recovery.”
Last summer, under pressure from Congress to account for politically motivated decisions about endangered species, the Service admitted that the 2005 proposal to remove protections was influenced by political appointee Julie MacDonald. Earlier the Department of the Interior had launched an investigation into MacDonald’s activities and concluded that she inappropriately overruled agency scientists.
In a June 21, 2007 internal memo, the Service revealed that “Ms. MacDonald was involved in the decision to move forward with a proposal to delist the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse based on a preliminary genetics report from Dr. Rob Roy Ramey. At the time of the proposal the report had not yet been accepted for publication and peer-reviews had identified major issues with the report” (p. 3).
The same memo confirmed that MacDonald had also gutted the 2003 designation of critical habitat for the mouse: “Days before the final rule was due at the Federal Register, Ms. MacDonald and Judge Manson reviewed the rule and directed the Washington Office to remove all critical habitat from three Counties in Colorado” (p. 4). Critical habitat is a benefit of Endangered Species Act protection that helps conserve the lands that a species requires for recovery.
However, only a few months after these admissions, the Service again proposed removing protections for the mouse, this time claiming that the jumping mouse did not meet the criteria for protection in Wyoming. This November 2007 proposal relied upon a new interpretation of the Endangered Species Act in which the Service claims that species should only receive protection where threats are the greatest. Today’s announcement finalized adoption of this proposal.
“The Service blew this opportunity to salvage its scientific integrity,” said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. “Wyoming’s mice are just as important for the species’ survival as those in Colorado.”
In official peer reviews of the proposal finalized today, scientists sharply criticized the Service for failing to rely on credible science. For example, Dr. Thomas Nupp wrote: "It seems illogical that the threats to the subspecies would change substantially at the state line between Wyoming and Colorado.... doesn’t it make sense to preserve habitat that is not eminently threatened with destruction?...It seems to be chasing one’s tail to place a degrading habitat under regulatory protection, while removing protection from a less threatened habitat....[The Service] has not presented a strong argument that substantial threats in the Wyoming portion of the range are unlikely" (pp. 2-3).
“The jumping mice, the streams they call home, and other wildlife that depends on these healthy riparian areas will suffer from the Service’s political pandering,” said Robertson. “It makes no sense for mice to lose protections once they jump across the state line.”
“We have no choice but to challenge this illegal decision in court," said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Laramie, Wyoming. “Wildlife gets protected under the Endangered Species Act because it is disappearing across a major part of its range, and the law wisely requires that all remaining populations and their critical habitat are protected. Leaving the best remaining habitats in Wyoming unprotected based on politics while the jumping mouse flirts with extinction in Colorado flies in the face of common sense, and violates the law.”
For a high-resolution image of the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, the final decision, the June 2007 memo, and other supporting materials, visit: http://www.nativeecosystems.org/species/preble-s-meadow-jumping-mouse-1/preble-s-meadow-jumping-mouse/.