The Air Force Academy's Mouse

Article excerpt

Nearly a half century ago, the U.S. Air Force acquired 18,500 acres (7,485 hectares) along the Front Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains for the site of its Air Force Academy. This once sparsely populated area has since become one of the fastest growing places in the United States. As a result, the Air Force Academy, like many military lands, is becoming an island of biodiversity within a sea of urban development.

The main animal of concern now at the Air Force Academy is the Preble's meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius preblei), a small brown rodent with a conspicuous dark dorsal band, large well-developed hind legs and feet, and an extremely long tail. This subspecies only occurs in foothill riparian systems from southeastern Wyoming to central Colorado in the North Platte, South Platte, and Arkansas River watersheds. In Colorado, biologists have documented the subspecies currently in seven counties, with one of the largest and most stable populations occurring at Monument Creek on the Air Force Academy.

The Academy commissioned the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) to conduct a baseline inventory of small mammals at the facility in 1994. That survey resulted in capture of the Academy's first known Preble's meadow jumping mouse, which at that time was a listing candidate. Recognizing the rarity of the find and the implications for management, the Academy, in partnership with the CNHP, conducted an intensive survey in 1995 to identify the extent of the mouse's occupied habitat on Academy lands and provide a baseline population estimate. The study indicated that the Academy was home to a significant mouse population and important contiguous habitat for the species along Monument Creek and its tributaries. As a result, the Academy entered into a partnership with the CNHP for an ongoing study of the mouse to provide the information necessary to develop management and conservation strategies. Field work began in the summer of 1997 and has continued every year since then. With the listing of the Preble's meadow jumping mouse as threatened in 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service became a formal partner in the field research on the Academy grounds.

The Academy's natural resources manager is a member of the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse Science Advisory Team, a group of scientists and managers dedicated to compiling the best science available to support the conservation of the species throughout its range. An Academy representative also holds a position on the executive committee for a habitat conservation plan (HCP) under development for El Paso County, Colorado. Through the HCP process, the Academy will coordinate with nonfederal entities in the development of conservation strategies for the mouse on a regional basis. …