A first-of-its-kind venture in Colorado is bringing public and private entities together to sustain a tiny mouse whose habitat has shrunk as development, livestock grazing and mining have increased along the Front Range.
The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, found only in Colorado and Wyoming, is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. A program announced Thursday will conserve about 200 acres of the mouse’s habitat in Larimer County.
Conservation Investment Management, Colorado Open Lands and the Colorado State Land Board are creating a conservation bank to leverage private funds to help the species, which has been declining in numbers. The Table Top Conservation Bank will maintain 200 acres of state land in perpetuity under a conservation easement.
This is the state’s first-ever commercial conservation bank to sell credits to offset negative impacts to the mouse’s habitat across a broad area, the three participants said in a statement.
“Colorado is known for its beautiful landscapes and diverse wildlife, and as Coloradans we must do what is necessary to protect all species who call Colorado home,” said Marlon Reis, first gentleman of Colorado.
Conservation banking is a win-win-win that boosts the economy, restores land, and conserves important species or habitat, Reis added.
Tony Caligiuri, president and CEO of the nonprofit Colorado Open Lands, said in an interview that in addition to protecting the mouse’s habitat, the conservation bank is an effort to prevent the animal from being designated as endangered.
The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Changing its designation to endangered would signal a further decline in its population and lead to more stringent restrictions on activities in areas where it lives.
A conservation bank protects habitat for federally protected plants or animals. Conservation Investment Management, which invests private capital in conservation, leased land from the state land board, made improvements to the land in Larimer County and got approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create the bank.
Caligiuri said the goal is to protect a certain number of miles along stream corridors, where the mice are found.
Conservation banks are established to offset adverse impacts that occur in other parts of a protected species’ habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service approves a specified number of credits that bank owners can sell. Credits will be sold to third parties to offset the effects of their projects elsewhere.
“Instead of various developers setting aside relatively small areas of habitat in a scattered approach, we will be able to concentrate our efforts and resources in one location which will give these guys a much better chance for long-term survival,” Caligiuri.
The state land board will manage the long-term stewardship of the site and Colorado Open Lands will be responsible for the on-the-ground monitoring to ensure the conservation objectives are maintained.
The first credits for the Table Top Conservation Bank are expected to be sold soon.
The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse was first added to the Endangered Species List in 1995, triggering multiple challenges from people contesting the restrictions on land use and arguing it isn’t a distinct subspecies but just the same as more plentiful mice.
After a yearlong review, the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 decided to keep the mouse on the endangered species list. The agency said habitat loss continued to threaten the animal’s existence.
And in 2018, the federal agency rejected a petition by ranchers and homebuilders that sought to remove the mouse’s protections.
The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is 9 inches long, with 5.5-inches of that in its tail. The mouse can jump 4 feet in the air and hibernates for eight months of the year.
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