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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

Date: July 17, 2002
Contacts: Pete Plage (CO) 303-236-4750
Mary Jennings (WY) 307-772-2374 x32
Diane Katzenberger 303-236-7917 ext 408

                                        U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICES PROPOSES CRITICAL
                                            HABITAT IN COLORADO AND WYOMING FOR THE
                                                        PREBLE’S MEADOW JUMPING MOUSE

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking comments from the public on its proposal to designate critical habitat for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, a threatened species, along the front range in Colorado and Wyoming.

As a listed species under the Endangered Species Act, the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is already protected wherever it occurs and federal agencies are required to consult on any action they take that might affect the species. The designation of critical habitat will help the species by ensuring federal agencies and the public alike are aware of the habitat needs of this species and that proper consultation is conducted by Federal agencies when required by law.

"The impact to landowners in Colorado and Wyoming from this proposed critical habitat designation, when it is finalized, is expected to be minimal. Most projects that require consultation with the Service due to critical habitat can proceed with little or no modification," said Ralph Morgenweck, director of the Service’s mountain-prairie region. "We encourage the public to comment on these proposed designations, and to provide us with information that we can use to determine the final designation."

In Wyoming, approximately 240 miles of stream (20,000 acres) are proposed as critical habitat in four counties (Albany, Converse, Laramie and Platte) of which twenty-two percent is on state or federal lands. In Colorado, 450 miles of stream (40,000 acres) in seven counties (Boulder, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, Teller, Weld) are being proposed as critical habitat. Approximately forty-eight percent of Colorado’s proposed critical habitat is on state and federal land. Based on the best information available, all lands proposed for critical habitat are thought to be occupied by the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse was listed as a threatened species in 1998. By law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to designate critical habitat for a species when it is listed as threatened or endangered unless it is not prudent or not determinable. The areas being proposed are believed to contain critical elements for survival of the mouse and are located adjacent to river, stream and creek corridors where a Preble’s meadow jumping mouse would live.

Today’s proposal complies with the terms of a court settlement reached with several private conservation groups and individuals who challenged the Service’s decision not to designate critical habitat for the mouse at the time of listing. According to terms of the settlement, the Service is required to finalize designation of critical habitat for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse by June 4, 2003.

The term "critical habitat" refers to specific geographic areas that contain habitat features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that require special management considerations. Critical habitat only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved. Designation of critical habitat does not affect private landowners undertaking a project on private land that does not involve a federal action, funding or require a federal permit or authorization.

Areas proposed as critical habitat for Colorado and Wyoming are believed to be essential to the conservation of the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and include only river and stream reaches and adjacent upland areas that are within the occupied range of the mouse. These proposed areas have the primary elements needed for the mouse to survive and are presumed to currently support the Preble’s. The riparian areas at the U.S. Air Force Academy, are not proposed as critical habitat because they are adequately protected by an approved management plan.

Three major river drainages in Wyoming and Colorado are believed to house the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse. These include the North Platte River drainage in Wyoming, the South Plate River drainage in Wyoming and Colorado, and the Arkansas River drainage in Colorado. Along the waterways in the front range proposed as critical habitat, a set distance outward from the river or stream edge was determined to more specifically identify the critical habitat, varying with the size of the waterway and approximate average flood plain width. It ranges from approximately 360 feet to 460 feet outward from the edge of a river or stream.

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is closely associated with riparian ecosystems, which are those narrow areas of land that are adjacent to streams, creeks or rivers. Changes in habitat, including degradation, and loss and fragmentation resulting from urban development, flood control, water development, agriculture and other human uses negatively impact the survival of this mouse.

The Endangered Species Act requires that the Service evaluate the economic impacts of designating critical habitat before finalizing the boundaries. The Service may exclude any area from designation if it determines that the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of designation, unless it determines that failure to designate the area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species. A draft economic analysis will be made available for public review and comment before the critical habitat designation is finalized. Concurrently, the Service is making available a draft environmental assessment of this proposed designation.

A draft recovery plan for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is being developed in cooperation with a recovery team with representatives from state agencies, which include Colorado

Division of Wildlife and Wyoming Game and Fish Department; the U.S. Air Force; other stakeholders, including representatives from the environmental, agricultural, business and industry communities and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Information in the recovery plan was also used to help determine critical habitat. A draft recovery plan for the mouse is expected to be available for public comment in the next few months.

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius preblei), a relatively small rodent with an extremely long tail, large hind feet and long hind legs, inhabits the foothills in southeastern Wyoming, southward along the eastern edge of the front range of Colorado to Colorado Springs. It has a distinct dark, broad stripe on its back that runs from head to tail and is bordered on either side by gray to orange-brown fur.

Comments may be mailed by September 16, 2002 to the Service’s Ecological Services office at P.O. Box 25486, Denver, CO 80225-0046 or 755 Parfet St., Suite 361, Lakewood, CO 80215. Comments may also be electronically submitted to fw6_pmjm@fws.gov by the same date.

Additional information on the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse can be found on the website, http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/preble

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at http://www.fws.gov.

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