The battle over the meadow jumping mouse moved has from New Mexico to Washington, D.C.
Ranchers who complain the federal government is acting with a heavy hand to protect the mouse appeared at a congressional hearing last week conducted by the House Natural Resources Committee.
Among the New Mexico contingent was a member of a hunting and fishing group who defended the U.S. Forest Service.
“They are abiding by the law,” Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said of the Forest Service, which has reinforced a gate to keep out cattle along a creek in Otero County and is considering a 4-foot-high fence in a meadow in the Santa Fe National Forest near Los Alamos.
At issue is trying to protect the habitat of the meadow jumping mouse, listed earlier this summer as endangered.
“What’s good for the meadow jumping mouse is also good for big game,” VeneKlasen said.
Other witnesses called before the subcommittee told a different story.
Jose Varela Lopez, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, said his family has ranched in New Mexico for decades. He accused the federal government of going overboard, accusing officials of trying to “extinguish the customs and culture of our country’s land-based people.”
Mike Lucero, a rancher fighting the proposed fence accused the Forest Service of mismanagement. “If we’ve been overgrazing, why have they not told us that we have?” Lucero asked, pointing to a photo of the Rio Cebollo creek that runs through a grassy meadow.
The only New Mexico lawmaker at the hearing, Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, sided with the ranchers. “The arrogance and the bullying by the federal government must stop,” he said at the start of the hearing.
It’s not clear whether Thursday’s hearing will prompt further congressional action, but it seemed clear each side sees the controversy in a very different way.