This is the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse. He/she looks harmless enough, but last week it inadvertently gave cause for three Republicans to go, well, mouse-shit crazy. The mouse itself isn't all that interesting (unless you're into that sort of thing), but the non-scandal that played out over its status as an Endangered Species is a fascinating look at how quickly some politicians can get moving when they think there's an opportunity to score some mindless political points.
This is also a story of how quickly those same politicians shut up and move on once their "scandal" proves misplaced.
Our story begins with a harmless news release that CBS4 in Denver turned into a serious story about flood recovery efforts. The CBS4 report caused Rep. Cory Gardner (CO-4), state Sen. Greg Brophy, and state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg to collectively go crazy about liberals and Endangered Species and anything else that Democrats might have done wrong. It just wasn't true.
Here's a look at the CBS4 story from Feb. 4, titled, "'Endangered' Mouse Could Delay Flood Recovery":
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is warning that many flood repair projects could be delayed because they are in an endangered mouse’s habitat.
The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is listed as a threatened species, which means it and its habitat are protected by federal law. Its habitat lies along rivers and stream beds where flood repairs are underway.
The news upset Colorado State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, who represents many of the flooded communities. He sent a letter to Colorado’s congressional delegation asking it to intervene saying the federal government has put a mouse ahead of Colorado families.
“We’re holding up the ability to redo safe drinking water, to rebuild sewage treatment facilities so we can keep sewage out of the rivers, trying to have a safe environment because of a mouse,” said Sonnenberg.
According to him, communities have to delay repairs after FEMA issued a warning that local governments could lose federal funding if they violate the Endangered Species Act. [Pols emphasis]
Did you happen to catch the spot where this story went off the rails (if you didn't, take a look at the sentences in bold)? "According to [Sonnenberg]" sounds like the title of a convoluted Indie movie, but for some reason CBS4 thought that state Rep. Sonnenberg would be the ideal person to explain the ins and outs of FEMA policy. Congressman Gardner was all too pleased to ride to the rescue. Here's his press release "demanding" immediate relief from the mighty Preble:
Rep. Cory Gardner (CO-04) took immediate action after it became apparent that flood recovery efforts in Colorado could be slowed significantly due to the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse.
Ooohhh…"immediate action!" But before sending his "immediate action" letter to FEMA and issuing a press release, perhaps Gardner's office should have checked with the people who actually do know what is going on. On Feb. 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and FEMA issued a joint press release with a pretty unambiguous lede:
Recent news accounts suggesting the Endangered Species Act and the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse are delaying flood recovery projects in Colorado are inaccurate. [Pols emphasis]
From unambiguous lede we move quickly to unambiguous quote:
“We are working very closely with FEMA and other partners to make sure important flood recovery projects proceed on time while ensuring no harm occurs to species listed under the ESA,” said Noreen Walsh, Regional Director for the Mountain-Prairie Region. “But let me be clear: the Preble’s and other federally listed species have not, and will not, delay flood recovery efforts in Colorado.” [Pols emphasis]
Not only are the USFWS and FEMA clearly stating that the Preble will NOT impact flood recovery efforts…they are unequivocally saying that the Preble "and other federally listed species" have had ZERO impact on flood recovery efforts thus far. In other words, THIS IS ALL HORSESH*T.
So how did all this happen?
It began with a FEMA "Backgrounder" from Feb. 3 (which CBS4, amazingly, included in its coverage) that outlined bullet points about the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse and flood repair and mitigation efforts. The point of the "Backgrounder," as you can see, is simply to outline some federal policies which may or may not be applicable in flood recovery efforts. We assume that this is the line that really freaked everyone out:
The legally required reviews may cause some delay in projects undertaken in the Preble's mouse habitat.
Note that the "Backgrounder" isn't warning about any problems — it is merely stating options for dealing with Endangered Species such as the mighty Preble mouse.
If CBS4 Denver has added a correction to its story, it isn't evident online. Gardner's office, meanwhile, just moved on to the next "crisis," with Gardner seeking answers on a propane shortage, or something.
The sad commentary on this whole affair is that a handful of reporters joined with a few of our elected public officials and chose "scandal" over "information." Gardner sent a letter to Daniel Ashe, director of the USFWS, "demanding" that something be done about the Preble mouse, though he probably could have just called someone at the USFWS and then issued a press release with actual clarifying information instead.
Of course, this could have all been handled differently if CBS4 hadn't gone to Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg to explain a federal policy that he obviously knew nothing about — and called someone at FEMA and USFWS to elaborate instead. CBS4 even seems to have understood that they were pushing a non-story, judging by one lonely sentence at the end of the original story:
A Weld County commissioner said he asked FEMA two months ago about the mouse and was told it wouldn’t be a problem.
And it is still not a problem.