ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – In the latest dispute over public lands in the West, federal authorities have ordered the closure of parts of the Santa Fe National Forest to protect a tiny mouse that recently won protection as an endangered species.
The U.S. Forest Service ordered last week the immediate closure of four pockets in the Jemez Mountains – including a spot near a popular campground – to protect the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.
Temporary fencing was installed this week, and signs were posted in one area adjacent to the San Antonio Campground.
“It is prohibited to conduct any activity, go into, or be upon the areas encompassing ‘occupied habitat’ for the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse,” forest supervisor Maria T. Garcia wrote in the closure order.
Violators face fines up to $5,000.
Forest Service officials have already closed other areas this year to prevent damage to mouse habitat.
A proposal by federal wildlife managers also calls for setting aside as critical habitat for the mouse nearly 200 miles along streams and wetlands in a dozen counties in New Mexico and parts of Arizona and Colorado.
Last month, New Mexico ranchers filed a lawsuit against the federal government over its attempts to limit their cattle’s access to water and grazing areas after the mouse won endangered-species protections.
Nearly two dozen ranchers from across the state, the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, and several cattlemen groups say their private property rights as well as the centuries-old ranching traditions of rural communities bordering the Santa Fe and Lincoln national forests were at stake.
The ranchers contend the government has violated federal law by failing to assess the habitat or range conditions in the areas it says should be off-limits to grazing.
Environmentalists also are suing the federal government over the mouse, saying not enough is being done to protect the rodent now that it’s listed as endangered.
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