Government Postpones Decision on Jumping Mouse Status

The government said Friday it will put off a decision on whether to strip endangered species protection for the Preble's meadow jumping mouse, citing contradictory evidence on whether the rodent is unique enough to warrant special consideration.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will take public comment until April 18.

Listed by the government as a threatened species since 1998, the Preble's meadow mouse has been blamed by some developers for getting in the way. Its habitat stretches from Colorado Springs north through Denver and Fort Collins to Laramie, Wyo.

The 3-inch mouse uses its 6-inch tail and strong hind legs to launch itself into the air. It ususally roams by night, dining on insects, spiders, fungus, moss, willow, sunflower, grasses and seeds, and hibernates from mid-October to early May.

Nearly 31,000 acres were designated as critical habitat to be conserved for the recovery of the Preble's meadow mouse, which has dwindled to an average of 44 mice per mile of stream because of urban sprawl.

A year ago, Interior Secretary Gale Norton proposed removing the mouse from the endangered species list. She cited work done by biologist Rob Roy Ramey of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who said the mouse is not distinct from the more common Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse.

After the work was questioned, a recent U.S. Geological Survey study commissioned by the Interior Department concluded the Preble's meadow jumping mouse is in fact a unique creature with "distinct evolutionary lineages that merit separate management consideration."

Because that study and the work by Ramey "are contradictory in nearly every comparison and conclusion," Fish and Wildlife said Friday that a delay was warranted.

"The purpose of the six-month extension is to allow additional time to solicit and evaluate additional information that may help to resolve the scientific disagreement," said Mitch King, director of the Mountain-Prairie Region.

The agency said it will convene a panel of experts to review the research as part of its work.

Ramey has said his study used tests that allowed for "no wiggle room," while King's study "relied on interpretation."