Peñasco least chipmunk proposed for Endangered Species Act protections

Photo by Jim Stuart.

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.

1 thought on “Peñasco least chipmunk proposed for Endangered Species Act protections”

  1. “This week, the U.S. Forest Service proposed listing this rare animal …” I’d love to see that; they can’t, but they could petition for listing (right). Here’s a couple more good news stories for species:

    The Franklin’s bumblebee has been listed as endangered . “The level of public and interagency engagement in the bumble bee survey efforts has been incredible,” said Glenn Casamassa, the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Regional Forester. “The primary habitat for this bee in Oregon is on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. While this species has not been detected there since 2006, our employees continue to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on sampling historic and suitable habitats in order to conserve and recover this species. There’s a collective sense of urgency to protect native pollinators, and this effort highlights not only the strength of our interagency partnerships but also the strength of research and citizen science efforts in Southwest Oregon.” At least the Forest Service is saying the right things.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the petition to remove approximately 50,000 acres of land in the northern Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona and an adjoining critical habitat subunit for endangered jaguars, including land containing the proposed Rosemont copper mine on the Coronado National Forest (which is subject to multiple lawsuits).


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