Chipmunk native to New Mexico could soon be protected by feds as population dwindles

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A chipmunk native to New Mexico could see new federal protections. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until August to decide if they want to name the species as endangered.

“This chipmunk could go extinct if things go poorly. It could happen at any time,” said Center for Biological Diversity Senior Conservation Advocate Michael Robinson.

17 Chihuahuas, rescued from Socorro hoarder home, recover in Utah

The organization filed a lawsuit last year against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming they failed to protect the species from extinction. The service proposed to list the species as endangered in 2021, but the Center for Biological Diversity said the government agency failed to make a decision by the one-year deadline.

“The Peñasco least chipmunk is an illustration of the cost of waiting and waiting and waiting. It’s going to be a lot harder to recover the species now that there’s just a few dozen of them,” said Robinson.

Last week, there was a settlement agreement, with the service agreeing to come to a decision by August to possibly list the species as endangered.

According to Robinson, the species is only found in the Sacramento Mountains in the southeastern part of the state. Robinson added the chipmunk is disappearing with only about 46 identified in the state.

“Our lawsuit was to compel the Fish and Wildlife Service to give it the evaluation that needs and make a decision and then act on that decision to give it the protection it needs,” said Robinson.

‘Asha’ the Mexican grey wolf featured in children’s book

The species faces different hurdles like loss of habitat partly due to livestock grazing. The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau is worried the decision to name it endangered or threatened could negatively impact ranchers.

“It could be detrimental, and probably will be detrimental to grazing rights. Our opinion is that grazing reduces wildfire damage, and it actually improves the land for wildlife,” said Larry Reagan, President for the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service said they cannot comment on pending litigation. They said the chipmunk species is one of 6 species in a pilot biobanking program that preserves species’ genetics.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to KRQE NEWS 13 - Breaking News, Albuquerque News, New Mexico News, Weather, and Videos.