Feds declare western mouse endangered amid land dispute

This undated file photo provided by the New Mexico Game and Fish Department shows a New Mexican meadow jumping mouse at a marsh near Espanola, N.M. ASSOCIATED PRESS

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A rare mouse found in New Mexico and two other western states now has protection under the Endangered Species Act, and that's expected to aggravate ongoing battles between the federal government and ranchers over water and property rights in drought-stricken areas.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an order Monday listing the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse as endangered.

The tiny mouse lives along streams and in wet areas in parts of New Mexico, southern Colorado and eastern Arizona. Biologists say the biggest threats are grazing and water use and management.

Regional officials with the U.S. Forest Service have acknowledged they will have to put up fences or take other action to protect water sources for the mouse. Ranchers say that could force them to abandon their grazing allotments.

Officials say they will try to consider all options before they set up more fences, CBS affiliate KRQE reported.

The federal government has already installed metal fences and locked gates to keep cattle out of a small spring-fed stream in the mountains of southern New Mexico.

The move has enraged one rural county, where the sheriff has been ordered by the county commission to cut the locks. The U.S. attorney for the district of New Mexico was hoping to ease tensions enough to avoid an escalation like the armed standoff last month over grazing rights in Nevada.

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