Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Black-footed ferrets prey almost exclusively on prairie dogs. The primary threat to the ferret's recovery is the continued loss of prairie dog colonies, principally from poisoning. Such poisoning degrades and fragments ferret habitat, resulting in only small islands of prairie dog colonies. Very few sites have been identified as suitable for ferret reintroduction.
Success of the captive breeding program for the ferret has exceeded all expectations, yielding enough animals to support a ferret reintroduction program. In 1991, ferrets were reintroduced into the wild in Wyoming for the first time. Plans are under way for a draft environmental impact statement and proposed rule on reintroducing a nonessential experimental population of black-footed ferrets into Badlands National Monument and adjoining areas of Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in western South Dakota. The Fish and Wildlife Service will seek public involvement in the environmental impact statement process and any reintroduction proposal.
The Service is also involved in an important section 7 consultation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Rosebud, Cheyenne River, and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations in South Dakota. The consultation involves proposed Federal action in poisoning prairie dogs to reduce perceived competition with livestock for forage. The Service is encouraging the tribes to develop prairie dog management plans for each reservation to allow for control of prairie dogs while conserving sufficient numbers to aid in ferret recovery.
Increased funding will be needed to locate, develop, and manage ferret reintroduction sites across the West. Also, efforts are needed to stem the loss of prairie dog colonies. Federal land management agencies can assist by developing prairie dog management plans for public lands and by publicizing the benefits of prairie dog conservation to wildlife advocates and livestock grazers.
The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department was provided $20,000 in FY 1991 and $40,000 in FY 1992 for use in identifying suitable prairie dog towns that might serve as ferret reintroduction sites, conducting searches for ferrets, and studying potential disease/predator problems that might affect ferret reintroduction in South Dakota.
Forest Service and National Park Service: These Federal agencies are assisting in environmental reviews of a proposed reintroduction of black-footed ferrets into South Dakota. If a decision is made to reintroduce the ferret, both agencies will assist in developing the reintroduction protocol and will make personnel available for the reintroduction.
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department: This State agency is mapping prairie dog towns to identify locations that might serve as ferret reintroduction sites or that might already support wild populations of ferrets.
Original plan approved 6/14/78; revised 8/8/88.