The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put a tiny, furry creature known as the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse on the endangered species list, saying it faces extinction if conservation steps are not quickly taken.
The small animals, which hibernate eight to nine months of the year, have extremely specific habitat requirements and the small areas of land they currently inhabit in New Mexico are insufficient for survival, conservationists say.
"Extinction is imminent," says Jay Lininger at the Center For Biological Diversity, noting the species is currently confined to just 12 acres. "Something needs to be done."
The meadow jumping mouse lives around streams and is only able to survive in regions possessing dense vegetation, seeds and insects that provide it with vital food during the brief three- to four-month period during which it must breed, raise its young and put on weight in preparation for its long hibernation.
The mouse usually survives for no more than three years, and produces relatively small litters of around seven young in each of those years.
"As a result, if resources are not available in a single season, jumping mice populations would be greatly stressed," the U.S. Wildlife Service said.
The species has limited capability to sustain the high growth rates that would be necessary to restore its population, experts say.
The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, scientific name Zapus hudsonius luteus, is also found in isolated populations in southern Colorado and eastern Arizona.
"Nearly all of the current populations are isolated and widely separated," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, "and all of the 29 populations located since 2005 have patches of suitable habitat that are too small to support resilient populations of the jumping mouse."
Factors involved in the loss of the mouse's habitat include pressures from drought, grazing, floods, wildfires and commercial and residential development, the service said.
Unregulated recreation, water management and highway construction also impact the mice.
It took a year of research and public comments after the proposal to place the mouse under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, the service said.
There was also input from peer review groups including Native American tribes living in the several habitat areas and from federal and state agencies.
The endangered designation will take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, which occurred June 10.
The wildlife service said it would follow up the endangered listing for the mouse with designations of critical habitats.