Puny mouse threatens to delay Colorado flood recovery

Greg Campbell | Contributor

Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner is demanding an emergency waiver from the Endangered Species Act for a species of mouse that threatens to delay flood recovery in Colorado.

The Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse is a threatened species under the ESA, meaning that any governmental action — such as flood recovery — must first consider potential impacts on the tiny animal’s habitat, even if that habitat was also destroyed in the flood that wiped out entire Colorado communities in September.

On Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent a notice to Colorado officials that the presence of the mouse in the flood zone “may cause some delay in projects undertaken in the Preble’s mouse habitat.”

“As part of the federal- and state-funded public works recovery program following the fall flooding in Colorado, there are many projects with the potential of harming the Preble’s mouse and/or its habitat,” wrote FEMA official Roger Ingram. “At this time, federal, state and local officials are working closely together to figure out the best way to make repairs, mitigate future flood damage and at the same time preserve the mouse’s habitat.”

Ingram warned local officials that if they proceed without the required legal reviews and subsequent mitigation — a process that he said will create delays of varying lengths depending on the specific location — they could face fines and risk losing federal funding for the projects.

On Tuesday, Gardner sent a letter to Daniel Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demanding that the mouse take a back seat to the needs of those who lost homes in the flood.

“FEMA’s announcement is deeply troubling and I find it reprehensible that the federal government has chosen a mouse over people — a mouse whose ESA status remains questionable at best,” Gardner wrote, referencing debate over how rare the mouse actually is.

Gardner asked Ashe to exempt the mouse from the ESA requirements, pointing to a section of the act that allows such exemptions in the event of a major disaster requiring extensive repair to public infrastructure.

“Colorado has made great progress in our recovery effort, but there is still more work to be done,” he wrote. “I implore your agency to provide relief for Colorado immediately.”

The mouse has already delayed at least one flood recovery project earlier this year when the U.S. Forest Service told crews trying to repair a culvert that the work must be done in a way that would help out the mice.

In reply, Larimer County Commissioner Steve Johnson said he hoped all the mice drowned.

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