Some people describe the Preble's meadow jumping mouse as a fuzzy little critter that likes to forage along the streams around Pikes Peak. Others see the rodent as a beady-eyed, chicken-legged fiend that stands in the way of progress.
Strong emotional reactions dot the debate over the mouse, listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, as El Paso County environmental officials move forward with plans to create a series of conservation zones between Colorado Springs and Monument to protect it.
County officials are accepting comments from the public regarding the proposal until Feb. 2.
Yet as those comments roll in, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is mired in a review that ultimately could snatch away the mouse's protected status. For two years, federal wildlife officials have studied the findings of various research, including some indicating the mouse might not be a distinct species in need of protection after all.
"[The mouse] is the bane of every developer," notes Dave Gardner of Save the Springs, an organization that questions the sustainability of regional growth. "I bear no ill will to the mouse, whether it is a distinct species or not. I love all of God's creatures."
El Paso County Commissioner Douglas Bruce groans at Gardner's comment.
"If [Gardner] loves it so much, why doesn't he let it live at his home?" Bruce retorts, adding that the nation's founders "never thought of endangered species, of protecting a mouse or a minnow -- or some germ."
Fellow commissioner Wayne Williams doesn't sum up the situation that way, but essentially agrees.
"What comes to mind when thinking about the mouse is illegal taking of private and public property by the federal government," says Williams. "I think this particular rodent is not endangered. There's thousands here, thousands in the Dakotas. It ought to be deleted by the feds yesterday -- two years ago."
John Stansfield, a Pikes Peak Sierra Club board member, hopes the county continues to move forward with its plan, noting that the destiny of the mouse is uncertain.
"There's some legitimate scientific questioning going on right now, but it is far from settled," Stansfield says. He adds that he enjoys spotting the mouse in "small and precious areas" along the Front Range.
"I think it's a great creature, and I really like its choice of a home," he says.
-- Michael de Yoanna
For more information on El Paso County's plan for the Preble's meadow jumping mouse, visit adm.elpasoco.com/ environmental_srvc/
To comment to officials in writing:
Fax: 720/406-9114, Attention: El Paso County
Mail: El Paso County RHCPEA, c/o Tetra Tech, Inc., 4900 Pearl East Circle, Suite 300W, Boulder, CO 80301