In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated as critical habitat some 14,000 acres of land and 170 miles of streams in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico for the jumping mouse. The designation severely limits ranchers’ access to grazing land and watering spots and, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, adds $20 million in regulatory costs, threatening livelihoods that go back generations. Because the Fish and Wildlife Service did not conduct a full economic analysis prior to the critical habitat designation as required by law, the Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association and Otero County Cattlemen’s Association filed a federal lawsuit challenging the designation.
In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated a critical habitat for the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse. The area impacted is massive: 14,000 acres of land and 170 miles of streams, mostly in New Mexico but also in Arizona and Colorado.
Ranchers–including many members of the Hispanic Ranching Families of New Mexico, whose histories date back 400 years to the North American livestock industry’s origins—depend on the land for their livelihoods. Now, their history and their livelihoods are at risk.
These ranchers own water rights for livestock grazing, but the critical habitat designation threatens access to that water—even in places where the mouse can’t be found. In Otero County, the U.S. Forest Service even put up electric fences to prevent access to streams and creeks, and the feds have said that ranchers may have to reduce future cattle herds because of the critical habitat designation.
The Fish and Wildlife Service itself estimated the designation will lead to about $20 million in added regulatory costs. That’s a big enough burden for the ranchers. But because the Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t follow its own rules, the actual costs are likely much higher.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is bound under the Endangered Species Act to consider all economic impacts of critical habitat designations, then weigh the benefits of excluding certain areas.
When it came to the jumping mouse, the Fish and Wildlife Service simply ignored that requirement—and federal law. It didn’t even assess the supposed benefits of roping off so much land for the mouse. Instead, the Fish and Wildlife Service devised a flawed economic analysis that, even if true, indicates that their critical habitat designation will still devastate New Mexico ranchers.
Federal regulators cannot ignore congressional directives when making decisions based on existing laws. When they do, those decisions can and should be nullified by courts. The Supreme Court reaffirmed that principle through PLF’s recent win in Weyerhaeuser v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
PLF will apply this principle and hold agencies accountable to the rule of law through a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association and the Otero County Cattlemen’s Association.