Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The black-footed ferret preys almost exclusively on prairie dogs. Continued loss of prairie dog colonies, principally from poisoning, constitutes the greatest threat to the ferret. Poisoning degrades habitat and fragments what remains, making prairie dog colonies too small for ferret reintroduction. Very few sites have been identified as suitable for reintroduction, and the viability of those sites is uncertain.
Since 1986 and 1987, when the 18 survivors of the last known wild black-footed ferret population were taken for captive breeding, the propagation program has exceeded all expectations. The captive population, distributed among an increasing number of facilities, has grown to more than 400 individuals. With sufficient young to support a sustained reintroduction effort, 49 ferrets were released into Wyoming's Shirley Basin in 1991. Summer 1992 surveys of the site revealed a minimum of four surviving adults, with two wild litters (six young). Successful reproduction during the first year of such a reintroduction program occurs only rarely, making the ferret a significant endangered species success story. Ninety additional ferrets will be reintroduced into Shirley Basin during fall 1992.
Since poisoning of prairie dogs is a significant threat to the ferret, most section 7 activities involve consultations with the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management on the use of rodenticides on private lands. The Fish and Wildlife Service recommends that private applicators conduct surveys for ferrets on sufficiently large prairie dog colonies prior to poisoning. Important section 7 consultations with the Forest Service regarding its management of the Thunder Basin National Grassland, a designated ferret reintroduction site, are under way. These consultations involve proposed oil and gas leasing and the Forest Service's proposed cessation of black-footed ferret surveys prior to prairie dog poisoning.
Agencies responsible for public lands need to develop prairie dog management plans that recognize and publicize the role of this animal as part of a balanced ecosystem. A continued effort to locate, develop, and properly manage ferret reintroduction sites also is needed.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department received $211,000 in FY 1991 and $140,000 in FY 1992 to support its ferret propagation and reintroduction programs.
Bureau of Land Management: The Bureau provides logistical and financial support for reintroduction efforts in the Shirley Basin.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department: The State provides personnel, logistical, and financial resources for ferret reintroduction. It also developed a protocol for releasing additional ferrets into Shirley Basin in 1992.
Henry Doorly Zoo (Nebraska), Louisville Zoo (Kentucky), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (Colorado), Phoenix Zoo (Arizona), National Zoo Conservation and Research Center (Virginia), Metro-Toronto Zoo (Canada), and Sybille Research Center (Wyoming): These institutions house and breed captive ferrets. As of September 1992, 197 ferrets from the captive population were available for reintroduction.
Original plan approved 6/14/78; revised 8/8/88.