Possibly Non-Existent Mouse Shatters Family’s Dreams

A Wyoming family’s dream to build an indoor horse-riding arena on their property is on hold because the area on which they want to build is designated critical habitat for Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse – whose existence as a separate, identifiable species is being debated.

Possibly Non-Existent Mouse Shatters Family’s Dreams

When Jim and Amy LeSatz inherited property in Chugwater, Wyoming from Amy’s grandfather in 1998, they had visions of building their own indoor horse-riding arena. They planned to raise and train horses and host clinics for other horse owners. Instead, the LeSatzes are forced to continue to use an arena 25 miles away because of Endangered Species Act restrictions designed to protect the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse – an animal whose very existence is currently under debate.

The Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse was listed as a threatened species under the ESA in May of 1998. As the LeSatzes began formulating their plans to build their own riding arena, they found the only suitable area where it could be built was among 31,000 acres designated as critical habitat for the mouse. The host of restrictions governing the use of the land made development too costly. Therefore, the LeSatzes must chauffeur their horses back and forth to the existing indoor arena. The cost to rent the arena and transport the horses – something they’ve had to do for nearly seven years – continues to be significant. The LeSatzes believe that constructing their own arena would dramatically ease these escalating costs. Thus far, however, the critical habitat designation for the mouse has prevented that from happening.

This situation may change as research puts the very existence of the species in question. New research by Rob Roy Ramey II, former curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, indicates that the mouse never really existed. Instead, he argues the mouse is genetically identical to another species, the Bear Lodge Meadow Jumping Mouse, which is common enough that threatened status or critical habitat designations aren’t necessary. But Ralph Morgenweck, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, says the new research doesn’t mandate immediate changes, saying “we’re trying to be deliberate in our work, trying to get the best science we can and review of the science we do have, in making this decision [to de-list].” LeSatz is not happy with the delays: “Jim and I have always been good stewards of the land. We covet it. Once they de-list the mouse, we can finally begin our plans to build our own arena.”

Coincidentally (or not), environmental groups are now asking for the protection of the Bear Lodge Mouse – which is known to reside in areas as far north as South Dakota and as far south as Colorado Springs – based on claims that it suffers from habitat degradation similar to what has been alleged for the Preble’s Mouse. This is disputed by Kent Holsinger, an attorney for Coloradans for Water Conservation and Development. Holsinger requested the de-listing of the Preble’s Mouse, and claims: “The bottom line is, [critical habitat designation] has been a wonderful tool for environmental groups to try to stop things.”

Commenting on her family’s enduring hardships, Amy LeSatz said, “A tiny little mouse comes in and changes your whole perspective. I’ve had more of an education in endangered species than I’ve ever wanted.” FWS officials said they hoped to resolve the issue of whether to de-list the Preble Mouse by 2006, but the year came and went without a determination. Plans for the LeSatz family’s riding arena remain on hold. Meanwhile, radical greens have been able to force the Denver Museum to terminate Dr. Ramey because he dared to do genetic research on the true status of the mouse.

Sources: CNNnews.com (June 11, 2004), Associated Press (June 11, 2004), Amy LeSatz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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