DENVER — A federal agency's decision to designate more land in Colorado as critical habitat for a tiny jumping mouse will go a long way to ensure its survival, environmentalists said Wednesday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday it will add 177 miles of rivers and streams and 22 square miles to land in eastern Colorado considered critical for the Preble's meadow jumping mouse.
Overall, 411 miles of rivers and streams and 54 square miles in seven counties will be designated as critical habitat for the mouse found only in Colorado and eastern Wyoming.
The additions are a 40 percent increase in habitat for the mouse and a necessary correction to a 2003 decision that left the mouse vulnerable in Colorado, environmentalists said.
The decision will protect the most important places for survival and recovery of the mouse and ensure that Colorado's Front Range will continue to be a good place to live, said Josh Pollock of the Denver-based Center for Native Ecosystems.
Some landowners and business owners have said protecting the mouse could stop or hamper development because the habitat considered critical is in some of the fastest-growing areas. The Gazette in Colorado Springs reports that an economic analysis done for Fish and Wildlife found that preserving habitat for the mouse could cost northern El Paso County landowners and developers up to $17.7 million over 20 years in consulting fees and land-use restrictions.
The fight over the 9-inch mouse with the long tail — about 60 percent of its total length — stretches back several years. Questions about whether the Preble's mouse is different from other, more common jumping mice led to a petition seeking its removal from the federal endangered species list.
The proposal was rejected.
Federal officials revised the amount of critical habitat for the mouse after determining that a former Interior Department official in the Bush administration pressured Fish and Wildlife Service scientists to alter their findings on endangered species.
A remaining controversy is the Fish and Wildlife's decision to remove federal protections for the mouse in Wyoming after determining new populations were in areas unlikely to be developed. Environmental groups are suing to overturn that ruling.