PRE­BLE’S BAT­TLE CON­TIN­UES — WITH­OUT THE MICE

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Chuck Plun­kett

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.

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