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New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse

Jumping Mouse, Courtesy Forest Service Photo by Jennifer K. Frey, PhD
Photo by Forest Service

In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) listed the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse as an endangered species because habitat destruction and fragmentation had left the species on the verge of extinction. With the species surviving in only a few isolated pockets in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, FWS determined that protecting the Jumping Mouse’s existing habitat and providing additional habitat for the populations to expand and connect was essential to saving this species. With these goals in mind, FWS designated critical habitat for the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse in 2016.

Two groups that grazed cattle on the designated lands challenged the critical habitat designation in federal court in New Mexico, arguing that FWS had not adequately analyzed the economic costs of the critical habitat designation. Their primary argument challenged the agency’s method of analyzing economic impacts by comparing the costs and benefits of designating critical habitat to the economic “baseline” — the listing of the species without designating any critical habitat. The plaintiffs wanted the agency to consider the costs of the listing together with the costs of the designation. Although the Tenth Circuit had struck down a previous version of the agency’s baseline approach, attorneys in the Wildlife & Marine Resources Section successfully persuaded the New Mexico District Court that fundamental aspects of that approach had changed and that the baseline approach was a meaningful and ideal way to analyze the costs of designating critical habitat. The Court rejected the plaintiffs’ other arguments as well, finding that the agency had adequately considered the economic impact on private water rights and that the agency acted within its discretion when it chose not to exclude specific areas from the critical habitat designation. 

The plaintiffs appealed the decision, which was unanimously affirmed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The judges held that the earlier Tenth Circuit decision striking down a previous iteration of the baseline approach was no longer good law, ending a Circuit split on this issue and allowing the Fish and Wildlife Service to use its preferred economic analysis throughout the country. The Tenth Circuit also agreed that the agency adequately considered the impacts on private water rights. Additionally, in one of the first Circuit decisions to address this type of claim, the Tenth Circuit held that the agency had not abused its discretion by deciding not to exclude two units from the critical habitat designation and emphasized the agency’s wide discretion in making exclusion decisions. As a result of these decisions, the critical habitat designated for the highly endangered New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse remains in place, giving this species a fighting chance to rebuild its numbers and survive for generations to come.

More information about efforts to conserve the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse visit the 
Forest Service website.

Updated November 17, 2023