Preble's mighty meadow jumping mouse is back! Eeeek!

Nothing moves swiftly in the upper echelons of government decision-making -- especially when the decisions have to do with a tiny rodent that can stall development projects.

Today marks the public-comment deadline on the proposal for critical habitat designation of the Preble's meadow jumping mouse. But don't expect the battle over where the mouse does and doesn't belong in Colorado to end soon.

Controversy over the shy, nocturnal critter dates back to the 1990s, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed listing the Preble's as an endangered species. That set off waves of panic among some development interests, since the mouse is found principally along a band of riparian corridors on the east side of the Rockies from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs -- the same Front Range that's been all but devoured by urban sprawl.

Most people have never seen a Preble's. They hibernate seven months of the year, weigh less than an ounce, and are mostly tail. There have also been heated debates among scientists about whether the Preble's is even a valid subspecies of the more common Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse.

The FWS supposedly settled all this when it declared the mouse a threatened species in 1998 and designated critical habitat for the mouse in 2003. But the political pendulum in the Bush years swung increasingly against the mouse, as development pressures increased and more was learned about the extent of its northern range.

In 2008, the agency removed habitat protections in Wyoming while leaving them in Colorado. It has since revisited the designation of habitat in Colorado amid "concerns that a former political official in the Department of the Interior inappropriately influenced the outcome, resulting in the exclusion of lands in Boulder, Douglas, and El Paso Counties," according to an FWS press release.

The unnamed official? Julie MacDonald, the deputy assistant DOI secretary who was accused of manipulating scientific research to achieve pro-development outcomes. As noted in my feature last year about Ken Salazar's mission at Interior, the corruption of science to political ends at FWS was one of the problems Salazar had vowed to fix.

Just how the revisions to the designated habitat will shape the future of mouse-human interaction isn't clear. A draft economic analysis estimates impacts on human activity in the proposed area could cost between $21 million and $53 million.

For more on the proposed mouse plan, go here.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast