Thursday, May 22, 2008

Conservancy district sues NM Game and Fish over rodents

The New Mexico Game and Fish Department and the State Game Commission is being sued by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District over the agency's proposed recovery plan for the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and the Arizona montane vole.

The conservancy district said Wednesday it is seeking a court order to keep the Game Commission from taking action on the plan during its meeting next week so that residents of the Middle Rio Grande Valley can have an opportunity to weigh in on the plan.

The district, in a lawsuit filed last week in state district court in Socorro, claims the plan could have a "devastating impact" on agriculture in the valley and that Game and Fish failed to get input from the residents.

Chuck DuMars, an attorney for the district, claims the plan would result in the diversion of water from agriculture to help rodents and that beaver dams would be encouraged to restore riparian habitats. However, the district usually removes beaver dams to keep its drainages operating properly.

"We're saying that before they adopt such a plan that could include diversions of water from farming and grazing operations, which are directly tied to the MRGCD's function, that we should be given proper notice and be allowed input. That didn't happen," DuMars said.

He also said Game and Fish had published legal notices about upcoming public meetings concerning the proposed plan. The problem, he said, was that the notices referred to the mouse being found in the Jemez, Sangre de Cristo, Sacramento and potentially the San Juan mountains, but not the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

DuMars said it was after the public meetings were held and the draft plan was released that the valley was mentioned.

Dan Williams, a spokesman for Game and Fish, said the agency was reviewing the lawsuit and that it had been forwarded to the state attorney general's office, which represents the Game Commission. He said he could not comment further on the pending litigation.

Both the meadow jumping mouse and the vole are classified as endangered by the Game and Fish Department. The mouse is also a candidate for possible federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Game and Fish has said that recent surveys show the number of New Mexican meadow jumping mice has dropped by at least two-thirds—and possibly as much as 90 percent—throughout the state.

Surveys also show the Arizona montane vole is found only in a very small region of Catron County and in east-central Arizona.

According to the draft recovery plan, habitat alteration due to grazing, water diversion and other recreational activities are the chief threats to both species.

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