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CHEYENNE (AP) - A lawsuit has been filed against the federal government over protection of a mouse that lives along stream banks in Colorado and Wyoming.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation of Lakewood, Colo., a nonprofit legal center, claims a 1998 decision listing the Preble's meadow jumping mouse as threatened is based on incomplete habitat and population data.

The lawsuit was filed against the Interior Department on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne.

"What the federal government is doing to the people of the Front Range of Wyoming and Colorado, from Casper to Colorado Springs ostensibly to protect a threatened species, is the epitome of bad public policy and junk science," foundation President William Perry Pendley said in a prepared statement.

The lawsuit claims the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service broke the law when it placed the mouse on the endangered species list and identified 31,220 acres of land in the two states as critical habitat in June 2003. The lawsuit names the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Interior Secretary Gale Norton as defendants.

Placing an animal on the endangered species list means landowners have fewer building options or must set aside land to be protected as habitat.

Ranchers Charles and Carol Farthing, who farm in designated critical habitat in Laramie and Albany counties, said they will be watching the lawsuit closely.

"They had no scientific basis for designating it in the first place and if the lawsuit goes ahead and finds that is true, then we certainly support what the decision is because it certainly affects our operation," Carol Farthing said.

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"If they do declare it as critical habitat and they do try to protect the mouse, it would essentially put a halt to our irrigation and if we can't irrigate, we can't raise hay and if we can't raise hay, we can't feed cattle," she said. "It would shut our operation down."

The Fish and Wildlife Service has defended its handling of the mouse's protection. Peter Plage, a fish and wildlife biologist, said the service commissioned a 1994 report that recommended listing the mouse as threatened.

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Plage said the Fish and Wildlife Service has learned more about the mouse since listing it as threatened, but declined to say whether the new information supported their decision.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation alleges the Fish and Wildlife Service has ignored data collected since 1998 that casts doubt on whether the mouse should be listed as threatened. It also says the service has not reviewed the listing of the mouse after five years, as required in a 1978 change to the federal Endangered Species Act.

Plage said the service plans to conduct the review.

One complicating factor, he said, is a petition to delist the mouse filed in federal court in Denver by Colorado Springs resident Robert Hoff. Plage said the Fish and Wildlife Service will decide in the next few days whether to investigate taking the mouse off the list.

The designation of critical habitat covers 20,680 acres along 234 miles of rivers and streams in Douglas, Jefferson, Larimer and Teller counties in Colorado. In Wyoming, the area includes 10,540 acres on 125 miles of waterways in Albany, Converse, Laramie and Platte counties.

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