The fencing is up. The next question is whether the fighting is over.
In reaction to the listing of the meadow jumping mouse as an endangered species, the U.S. Forest Service just completed erecting fences along a creek in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains. It has become ground zero in a battle between ranchers who have grazed cattle in the meadow for generations and environmentalists who insist the mouse’s habitat must be zealously protected.
“I’m encouraged,” said Bryan Bird, program director at WildEarth Guardians. “I think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s the reasonable thing to do.”
“We’re not crazy about it but, for now, we can live with it,” said Mike Lucero, a rancher with the San Diego Cattleman’s Association, pointing out his family’s cattle will have access to water above and below the area that’s fenced off. “We can manage around it because we can still get to water.”
First, the fencing is listed as temporary.
Second, each side has filed lawsuits against the Forest Service.
WildEarth Guardians wants to make sure the feds permanently protect the 0.7-ounce mouse, which has a long tail and hind legs that allow it to hop up to three feet.
The ranchers have filed their own suit, asserting they have taken good care of the creek, called the Rio Cebolla, and that the federal government has overreached and is not following its own environmental policies.
New Mexico Watchdog drove to the area Monday to look at the 4-foot-high barbed wire fencing, completed by the Forest Service just before the cows come down for their annual fall grazing.
The fencing extends about 10 feet to 30 feet from the edges of the creek with signs posted by the Forest Service.
Some 222 acres are closed — including 118 acres of fencing along the Rio Cebolla — near Fenton Lake in northern New Mexico on land often used for hiking, fishing and camping.
Ranching families like Lucero’s own federal grazing permits and have run their cattle along the creek though the old New Mexico land grant system that predates the U.S. Forest Service.
Lucero said the cattle graze and drink in the area one to two weeks in the spring and four to five weeks in the fall after the herd is cut.
A little more than a week ago, a judge turned down the ranchers’ attempts for a temporary restraining order to stop the fencing, but the lawsuit is still going forward in U.S. District Court.
By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
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