Alabama exceeds all eastern states in plant and animal diversity. Yet more than 54 species are listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Some 100 lakes and streams in the state are considered impaired in terms of cleanliness. It’s no wonder, then, that over 100 animal species are now extinct due to loss of habitat and pollution.
Barely surviving this threat is the federally endangered Alabama beach mouse. The tiny mouse (it weighs a bit less than two nickels) is a nocturnal critter that has extra large eyes and ears. It is now relegated to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and inhabits a four-mile stretch of white sand dunes along the Fort Morgan peninsula on the Alabama coast.
As if house cats and the loss of habitat due to coastal development were not enough, along come a few hurricanes to wreak more havoc. According to FWS biologist Carl Couret, “Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina severely damaged 95 percent of the mouse’s primary habitat, the frontal dune system, which consists of low sand dunes vegetated with beach morning glory, false rosemary, seat oats, bluestem and other grasses.”
A condo expansion in 2009 was halted by a Sierra Club lawsuit against the developer and FWS. As a result, developers decided to move their condo buildings inland. Then, in December 2008, FWS held a Dune Restoration Workshop where they taught local property owners how to restore dunes by using drift fences and planting native vegetation favored by the mice. Moreover, the FWS is reintroducing the mouse to its historic haunts in nearby Gulf State Park, a 6,000-acre tract of coastline in the city of Gulf Shores.
So popular is the mouse that it has spawned a book of fiction written for children. Bama the Beach Mouse will be released later this year, according to Dorothy Allen, of Spanish Fort, Ala. The author hopes to educate students everywhere about the tiny mouse. “Bama will be followed by a sequel that extols the mouse’s ingenuity even further,” she said recently. “In fact, its friendship with a young boy illustrates how we can all help advance Bama’s cause.”
In that sense, the beach mouse becomes a metaphor of our concern for America’s threatened species, as well as its fragile ecosystem. “My task as a writer is to endear people to the beach mouse,” Allen said. “I wrote it to entertain, but if I can raise people’s consciousness for the welfare of one endangered species, perhaps they will be inspired to save other species as well.”