The chipmunk native to New Mexico could become an endangered species
A chipmunk native to the Sacramento Mountains in southern New Mexico may be on the verge of extinction and the federal government was hoping to intervene.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service recommended last week classify the little Penasco chipmunk as endangered, the strongest protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and called for restrictions on approximately 6,500 acres in the mountainous region near the Lincoln National Forest.
The recommendation followed a 12-month study conducted by the Service, which noted that the species was devastated by climate change, habitat fragmentation, and human land uses such as agriculture and recreation.
Chipmunks historically inhabit the Sacramento and White Mountains at high elevations, about 7,290 to 8,580 feet above sea level.
Logging threatened the species in both regions, and it has not been seen in the Sacramentos since 1966, according to records, with a small but declining population existing in the White Mountains.
WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group based in Santa Fe petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to register the chipmunk for federal protection in 2011.
Registration was recommended in 2012 by the Service but delayed for other priorities.
On September 28, the Service again recommended that the animal be placed on the list and opened a 60-day public comment period to solicit comments from stakeholders.
Comments can be submitted online at Regulations.gov using case number FWS-R2-ES-2020-0042, or by mail to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R2-ES-2020-0042, US Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB / 3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.
“Maintaining representation in the form of genetic or ecological diversity is important to preserve the ability of Peñasco’s little chipmunk to adapt to future environmental changes,” reads the service’s proposal.
The two chipmunk populations in the White and Sacramento mountains must be maintained, the proposal says, in order to ensure its survival in the face of climate change and future extreme weather events such as floods and wildfires.
“To be robust to stochastic events, the Peñasco Least Chipmunk must have at least two resilient populations,” the proposal says. “Redundancy reduces the risk that a large portion of the species’ range will be adversely affected by a catastrophic natural or man-made event at any given time.
“Because one of the two populations of Peñasco’s little chipmunk is likely extirpated, the Peñasco’s little chipmunk currently has no redundancy. “
The key to chipmunk survival is to restore its habitat
The lesser Penasco chipmunk is known to inhabit and around ponderosa pine forests along the James and Penasco canyons, for a report from the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game.
Chipmunks are active during the day and retreat to burrows at night. Their diet consists of weed seeds, sunflowers, grains, fruits and nuts.
Young are born between mid to late summer, with litters ranging from three to eight per season
They are described as greyish brown mixed with cinnamon buff on the rump and thighs, with a blackish head.
While the lesser chipmunk is found in abundance statewide, the department has warned that the Penasco subspecies in particular is “declining dramatically.”
“If the Penasco chipmunk is to survive in the Sacramento mountains, the key to its survival is restoring and maintaining suitable habitat,” the report said. “Population surveys and strict control over the killing of these chipmunks, including for scientific purposes, should continue. “
When announcing the proposed listing for the chipmunk, Joe Bushyhead, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said it was heartening to see the federal government resume the process to protect the animal from it. ‘extinction.
“These rare animals have been on the verge of extinction for decades, and we are happy to see the Fish and Wildlife Service finally pull them out of bureaucratic purgatory and restore them,” he said.
In its petition, WildEarth Guardians said that an ESA registration would help rebuild the chipmunk’s habitat, create a recovery plan and establish stronger environmental protections for the mountains where it lives.
“Listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would allow the Chipmunk to be identified as critical habitat, a recovery plan and the strict federal protection it needs to survive.” , we read in the petition.
“Designating the Peñasco Least Chipmunk as ‘Endangered’ or ‘Threatened’ would also benefit its unique home range in the Sacramento Mountains, an area that is home to many other rare and endemic species. “
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.