DENVER — Flood-ravaged Colorado communities may need to delay recovery projects due to a federal guidance that requires relief efforts to mitigate the impact on the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) decision infuriated Colorado Republicans who accused the agency of placing the needs of mice over men.
“This mouse has cost millions of dollars to Colorado taxpayers already,” Republican Rep. Cory Gardner told CBS4. “It threatens the livelihood of agriculture and now it’s threatening flood recovery efforts. This is absolutely incredible.”
Gardner called on the Obama administration to grant Colorado a disaster-relief waiver from the Endangered Species Act so that “needed recovery efforts can move forward as scheduled.”
“FEMA’s announcement is deeply troubling and I find it reprehensible that the federal government has chosen a mouse over people – a mouse whose ESA status remains questionable at best,” Gardner said in a letter to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
FEMA issued guidance Tuesday stating that recovery efforts stemming from the disastrous September floods must take into account the impact on the Preble’s mouse, which is listed as a threatened species.
The agency acknowledged that the “legally required review may cause some delay in projects undertaken in the Preble’s mouse habitat,” adding that, “[L]ocal officials who proceed with projects without adhering to environmental law risk fine and could lose federal funding for their projects.”
State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) called the FEMA guidance a “highly unnecessary roadblock to Colorado’s flood recovery efforts.”
“For the federal government to put concerns of a field mouse ahead of Colorado families struggling to recover from the floods is deeply concerning,” Sonnenberg said.
There was no immediate public response from Gov. John Hickenlooper, prompting state Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) to post a Twitter message: “Come on @hickforco stand up for CO.”
Gardner pointed out that scientists disagree on whether the Preble’s mouse is actually endangered.
“The fact that so many people were impacted, thousands of people lost their homes or had their homes damaged, and here we are having federal relief dollars held up by a mouse that may not even be endangered—it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Gardner.
The South Boulder Creek drainage has been cited as “critical habitat” for the mouse, but Gardner said the 1973 Endangered Species Act allows for an exemption in regions designated by the White House as major disaster areas.
The flooding resulted in an estimated $1 billion in damage along a 200-mile swath of the Northern Front Range. Eight people were killed, while more than 19,000 homes were damaged and nearly 2,000 were destroyed.
Colorado has collected about $1.1 billion in state and federal disaster relief funding, and the Hickenlooper administration has requested another $3 billion in federal assistance, according to the Denver Post.