Project hopes to establish one of 10 free-ranging populations in Great Plains
PRATT -- Due largely to habitat destruction, only 18 black-footed ferrets existed in 1986, down from a population that once covered the entire Great Plains. Thanks to aggressive conservation and reintroduction efforts, today ferrets number well over 600. The latest reintroduction occurred in Logan County in December, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in cooperation with local landowners and The Nature Conservancy, has released 24 captive-reared ferrets on private land.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has been involved in the planning process but currently has no active involvement. However, if asked by the USFWS, KDWP biologists may assist with monitoring and surveillance efforts in the future.

The experiment will continue for five years, after which it may be terminated or continued indefinitely depending upon success and cooperating landowner desires. The national goal to improve the status of the species from endangered to threatened is to establish 10 free-ranging populations of ferrets, spread over the widest possible area within their former range. To meet this goal, it is hoped that 1,500 breeding adult ferrets will be established in the wild by the year 2010.

Black-footed ferrets, one of the rarest mammals in North America, were once found throughout the Great Plains from northern Mexico to southern Saskatchewan. Their range extended from the Rocky Mountains east through the Dakotas and south through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. They are found almost exclusively in colonies of prairie dogs, their primary prey.

Ferrets live and rear their young in prairie dog burrows. They have one litter each year, with an average of about three kits per litter. In the wild, kits do not come above ground until they are two to three months old. Mothers and young remain together until early fall. By October, the kits are able to take care of themselves.

More information on black-footed ferret introductions is offer by the USFWS. For copies of the Application for an Enhancement of Survival Permit, Finding of No Significant Impact, and Black-Footed Ferret Reintroduction Plan for Logan County, go online to mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/mammals/blackfootedferret or phone the USFWS Mountain-Prairie Regional Office, 303-236-4256.
- 30 -