The Peñasco least chipmunk, a rare resident of New Mexico’s high country—and an indicator of failing ecosystem health—has been impacted by climate change and habitat loss from logging and livestock grazing. This week, the U.S. Forest Service proposed listing this rare animal (which inhabits National Forest System lands in just two mountain ranges in New Mexico) as endangered under the ESA. Here’s the press release we just sent out. -mk
SANTA FE, NM—The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week proposed to list the Peñasco least chipmunk (Neotamias minimus atristriatus), endemic to just two mountain ranges in New Mexico, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service also proposed to designate 6,574 acres of critical habitat for the species.
“These rare animals have been on the brink of extinction for decades, and we’re glad to see the Fish and Wildlife Service finally move them out of bureaucratic purgatory and towards recovery,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species policy advocate at WildEarth Guardians.
Historically, the Peñasco least chipmunk only existed in two locations: high-elevation meadows in the White Mountains and mature ponderosa pine forests in the Sacramento Mountains. Logging decimated Peñasco least chipmunk habitat in the Sacramento Mountain, where the species hasn’t been seen there since 1966. A small population persists the White Mountains, but it too is declining as a consequence of habitat loss from climate change, lack of genetic diversity, disease, and other stressors. The species could quickly go extinct if faced with a disease outbreak, large wildfire, or drought.
WildEarth Guardians petitioned the Service to list the Peñasco least chipmunk as threatened or endangered in 2011. In 2012, the Service concluded the chipmunk deserved ESA protections, but deferred further action on the basis that listing was warranted but precluded by other higher priorities.
The ESA provides a critical safety net for imperiled species like the Peñasco least chipmunk. Since its enactment in 1973, the ESA has saved 99% of listed species from extinction. Conversely, more than 40 species have gone extinct while awaiting listing.