PREBLE’S BATTLE CONTINUES — WITHOUT THE MICE
Like a lot of outdoor and wildlife lovers, I’d love to see a Preble’s meadow jumping mouse: for the rarity of such an experience, for their acrobatic prowess and just to see first-hand this antecedent to the Mighty Mouse the environmental movement has created.
In all the world, the Preble’s habitat is limited to areas in Colorado and Wyoming. The three-inch rodent with a six-inch tail is said to have a contortionist, vertical leap as high as five feet. So startling is the accomplishment that muchlarger predators — even coyotes — think long enough about continued pursuit to allow the mouse to flee to safety.
It’s as if it disappears.
In the world of public policy and politics, the Preble’s stops housing developments, shopping malls,
cattle ranching, an expansion of Interstate 25 and other human endeavors. Its designation as a species threatened by extinction has granted the skittish little creature such powers for two decades, as about 35,000 Front Range acres of its habitat along streams are off-limits in order to keep the species alive.
But as The Denver Post’s Bruce Finley reported recently, this “relic species” from the ice age has gone missing.
This month, teams of surveyors returned to a mile-long stretch of Rock Creek inside the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge where 11 years ago they trapped 44 Preble’s. In the 1990s, surveys had found 77.
The area is filled with wildlife. Closed to the public for decades, as Finley writes, it’s home “to elk, meadowlarks, coyotes, owls, bats, fireflies and, based on recent sightings, a cougar who may have cubs.”
Vexingly, despite the survey team’s laying out of 200 traps offering molasses-covered oats or alfalfa every night for a week, no Preble’s were found. The bait attracted other mice and critters, but no Preble’s.
It’s as if it has disappeared. The teams will try again, and in other traditional Preble’s haunts, but the disappointing early results suggest environmentalists have lost this mighty symbol in their proxy battle against development.
Truly, accepting that a species is on its way out the door is a difficult and harrowing prospect. It hurts my soul. But in the broader battle to protect wildlife, acceptance is the smart move.
Why? Because clinging to the Preble’s at this stage hands critics too useful a tool.
Let’s be honest: We’re talking about a mouse that can’t figure out how to live in a protected environment. All over the world, in the most hostile of places, even where human beings employ all manner of poisons and lethal traps to keep them out of homes and crops, warehouses and plants and office buildings, subway systems and — you get the picture — most rodent species adapt and thrive.
Should humankind end in nuclear war, my bet is mice will join the survivors and pick our bones.
The Preble’s isn’t even that separate a species, critics contend, and there are plenty of its Western jumping mouse brethren hopping about.
As Damien Schiff, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation put it: “It’s not economical or socially feasible to protect every population.”
Especially in the booming Front Range, where housing prices are escalating while more and more people move here to live the good life, barring construction of communities fuels pricing pressures.
By all means, environmentalists should craft public policy that reasonably supports healthy rivers and streams. They should continue to stand up to arguments that our pristine places would be better used as oil fields and urban sprawl.
But in many places in the Front Range, much of that decisionmaking has already come and gone.
One of the reasons Donald Trump — a man whose experience with nature is mostly limited to golf courses — won the presidency is because of weariness among many Americans at environmental rules considered over-the-top.
Now President Trump is encouraging Republicans in Congress to overhaul the Endangered Species Act. He’s called environmental rules “out of control.”
Hoping that an ice age remnant can prove him wrong isn’t the smart bet.