- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - In the latest dispute over public lands in the West, federal authorities have ordered the closure of parts of Santa Fe National Forest to protect a tiny mouse that recently won protection as an endangered species.

The U.S. Forest Service ordered last week the immediate closure of four pockets in the Jemez Mountains - including a spot near a campground - to protect the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.

“It is prohibited to conduct any activity, go into, or be upon the areas encompassing ‘occupied habitat’ for the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse,” forest supervisor Maria T. Garcia wrote in the closure order

Violators could have fines up to $5,000.

Forest Service officials have already closed off other areas this year to prevent damage to the habitat of the 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.

Last month, New Mexico ranchers filed a lawsuit against the federal government over its attempts to limit their cattle’s access to water and grazing areas after the 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 say their private property rights as well as the centuries-old ranching traditions of rural communities bordering the Santa Fe and Lincoln national forests were at stake.

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.

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