With white sands, crystal-blue waters, and sunshine, people are drawn to Alabama’s beaches. The shores, however, are not just a tourist destination; they are home to a small, endangered animal. The Alabama beach mouse make its home in the coastal sand dunes with a limited habitat along the Gulf Coast. This is the only place this species is known to exist.
The Story of the Beach Mouse
The Alabama beach mouse was designated an endangered species in 1985. Development along the Gulf Coast was a major factor in the decline of the mouse’s population, as construction contributed to the fragmentation and destruction of its habitat. Damage from tropical storms and hurricanes further affected the beach mouse’s environment. Domestic and feral cats that preyed on the small rodent contributed to its declining population, as well.
The Alabama beach mouse was almost extinct in 2004 due to the combined damage from Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina. 90 to 95% of its habitat was destroyed. Following the catastrophe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed methods to restore the land, including a Dune Restoration Workshop homeowners could attend to learn how to replenish the native vegetation on their properties. Because of these efforts, the population of the Alabama field mouse has returned to pre-hurricane numbers.
Rehabilitating the Species
Designating areas of the Gulf Coast as wildlife refuges has also helped the beach mouse survive. The Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge along the Fort Morgan peninsula is a four-mile stretch of coastline with natural dunes and native vegetation, and although there is some development in this area, it has been sensitive to the environment. The wildlife refuge has elevated walkways over the dunes to prevent their destruction, as well. Gulf State Park is another area that will help the species’ survival.
In 1998, the Sierra Club sued the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), claiming that the agency did not properly review building regulations in the Alabama Gulf Coast area. They argued the FWS contributed to the decline of the Alabama beach mouse because they distributed permits that did not comply with the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama agreed with the Sierra Club and suspended the building licenses until the FWS gathered all the necessary information and reexamined the impact of building in the mouse’s shrinking habitat. Due to this ruling, some development companies have relocated their projects further inland. New construction along the coast is not permitted without a clear analysis of the environmental impacts.
Reclaimed Lands for the Beach Mouse
Areas of the coast are designated as “critical habitat” for the Alabama beach mouse. These are regions where the mouse lives and locations that have food or other elements essential for the survival of the species. There are currently 1,211 acres acknowledged as a critical habitat for the beach mouse.
The combination of rapid development of Alabama’s coast in the 90’s and natural disasters in 2004 almost destroyed the beach mouse. Through conservation and restoration efforts, the endangered species is making a slow comeback. With thoughtful planning and environmental sensitivity, the coast can be a beautiful, sustainable place for its residents – both big and small.