Endangered Amargosa Voles Begin to Repopulate Desert Habitat

Seven years of carefully planned habitat restoration on private land in the Mojave Desert has given hope to the survival of the endangered Amargosa mouse. A July 3 photo taken from a wildlife camera deployed by researchers at the University of California, Davis, in early August revealed the presence of one, possibly two, mouse pups born to the parents. Shoshone Village, Inyo County.

The Amargosa mouse was first discovered in the Shoshone swamps in the late 1800s, but disappeared in the early 1900s due to habitat conversion to agriculture and other uses that destroyed the wetlands. The only other place in the world where mice remain in the wild is near the town of Tecopa, about 8 miles south of Shoshone.

Shoshone Spring marsh restoration began in 2015 as a collaborative effort between Shoshone Village, the Amargosa Conservancy, UC Davis, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The restoration was funded by Division 6 of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Partners for Fish and Wildlife.

Footage from a UC Davis trail camera shows a mother mouse and her pups. (UC Davis

Homecoming of mice

By 2020, the Shoshone Spring marsh habitat was comparable to the Tecopa marshes that support wild voles, and so the team was ready to take the next step: returning the voles to their home in the Shoshone. The USFWS and the landowner entered into a voluntary agreement and—in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—UC Davis and CDFW since 2020 have relocated 16 voles from wetlands with stable feral populations near Tecopa to new Shoshone habitat.

“The goal is to create an independent population of Shoshone to increase the persistence of the species,” said UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine professor Janet Foley. “We were incredibly excited to see the cubs on camera this year. This indicates that the restored wetland has the necessary conditions to support voles.

Amargosa mice are highly specialized animals and require special conditions to thrive.

“Amargosa mice do not live anywhere else on Earth except in these unique Mojave Desert wetlands, which are fed mainly by natural springs and the underground Amargosa River,” said Deana Clifford, CDFW senior wildlife veterinarian and lead mouse reintroduction effort. “By restoring wetland habitat, we will not only help voles, but also provide critically needed water and habitat that many other species need and will increasingly rely on in the future to survive the projected impacts of climate change. The two go hand in hand – to save the mouse we need to save and restore the wetlands that support not only the mouse, but many other species as well.”

This view shows the Amargosa Valley at sunset. Amargosa mice are endemic to the unique Mojave Desert wetlands fed by natural springs and the Amargosa River. (UC Davis)

Joint effort

The work involved collaboration between scientists, conservationists and the landowner.

“The Amargosa Vole Recovery Implementation Team is an excellent example of how federal and state agencies, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and private partners can work together to protect a listed species,” said Scott Sobiech, field supervisor for USFWS Carlsbad and Palm Springs. offices. “We can achieve more for wildlife through joint planning.”

Land management

For landowner Susan Sorrells, the achievement is part of a long-term commitment to land stewardship.

“It is exciting to discover that the first generation of Amargosa mice was born in their ancestral Shoshone spring!” Sorrells said. “As landowners, we are committed to connecting community and nature, and to protecting endangered species by valuing and managing the entire ecosystem. It’s been a pleasure to partner with the Amargosa vole team as we work together to bring the Amargosa mouse back from the brink. If we are successful, the mouse will be the second subspecies to join the Shoshone cub saved using this approach.”

For now, the vole team will continue to watch for more signs of hope in the marsh and move forward with future habitat restoration plans.

The project is part of a comprehensive, multi-partner program to restore the Mojave’s endangered Amargosa mouse population. The project is being implemented by the “Vole Team” of CDFW, USFWS, UC Davis, BLM, Shoshone Village, USGS, and the Amargosa Conservancy. Efforts have included rescuing and breeding captives; health, demographics, genetics and diet research; releases and translocations; habitat restoration; and community participation.

This news release was originally published on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website on September 2, 2022.

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