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10th Circuit upholds $23 million estimated cost for ranchers in jumping mouse habitat

The ranching organizations not only considered this a gross underestimate, but worried existing water rights were not being adequately protected.

(CN) — The 10th Circuit upheld the dismissal of a complaint filed by New Mexico ranchers claiming their economic burden was inadequately considered when the federal government designated critical habitat for the state’s endangered meadow jumping mouse.

"We conclude the Fish and Wildlife Service’s method for assessing the economic impacts of critical habitat designation complied with the Endangered Species Act,” wrote Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich in a 40-page opinion.

“The service adequately considered the effects of designation on the ranching association members’ water rights; and the service reasonably supported its decision not to exclude certain areas from the critical habitat designation,” continued the George W. Bush appointee.

A small rodent with a long tail, the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse can jump three feet, nearly 10 times the length of its body. Because it hibernates most of the year, the mouse depends on a riparian habitat during summer that is vulnerable to loss from cattle and wildfires.  

The mouse was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. In March 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule designating critical habitat for the rodent across 14,000 acres and 170 miles of streams in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.

The Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association and others sued Fish and Wildlife in 2018, claiming the agency designated critical habitat for the jumping mouse without proper economic analysis. A federal judge dismissed the complaint in 2020, finding the agency properly considered economic impacts as part of the designation and in upholding the protections for the mouse. The ranchers appealed.

The ranchers trace their lineage on the land back centuries, according to legal documents, before the establishment of the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the Santa Fe and Lincoln national forests at issue.

Based on a contractor’s estimate, the federal government estimated the designation would amount to $23 million in regulatory costs for the ranchers, including building fences and changing grazing ground rotation.

In its brief, Fish and Wildlife emphasized a ceiling of $100 million in costs and broke down its estimate with $15 million authorizing and regulating grazing alongside $24,000 borne by ranchers in three locations.

U.S. Circuit Judges Gregory Phillips and Carolyn McHugh, both appointed by Barack Obama, rounded out the panel and joined the opinion.

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