ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — In the latest dispute over public lands in the West, New Mexico ranchers are suing the federal government over its attempts to limit their cattle's access to water and grazing areas after a tiny mouse won endangered species protections in the Southwest.
Nearly two dozen ranchers from across the state, the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, and several cattlemen groups filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque. They contend their private property rights as well as the centuries-old ranching traditions of rural communities bordering the Santa Fe and Lincoln national forests are at stake.
The U.S. Forest Service has already closed off some areas this year to prevent damage to the habitat of the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse under the Endangered Species Act. A proposal by federal wildlife managers also calls for setting aside as critical habitat nearly 200 miles along streams and wetlands in a dozen counties in New Mexico and parts of Arizona and Colorado.
A regional Forest Service spokesman said he was not aware of the lawsuit. The agency previously said it has a duty under the Endangered Species Act to protect the mouse and its habitat.
Environmentalists have also threatened to sue the federal government over the mouse, saying not enough is being done to protect the rodent now that it is listed as endangered.
Meanwhile, the ranchers contend that the government has violated federal law by failing to assess the habitat or range conditions in the areas it says should be off limits to grazing.
"It is my opinion that the actions being taken are being done without consideration of our heritage, cultures or our devoted conservation efforts," northern New Mexico rancher Mike Lucero said in support of the lawsuit. "The effects of ignoring the law will have drastic negative effects on our communities and will serve to destroy our multigenerational agricultural heritage."