Some Amazing Conservation is Happening out West Despite Challenging Issues

I ventured down to Tucson, Arizona, for a few days recently for the winter meeting of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA).

Lee Metcalf NWR The landscape at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in western Montana is just one type we manage with WAFWA. Credit: Bob Danley/USFWS

WAFWA represents U.S. states from Alaska and Hawaii to Texas and the Dakotas. Several Canadian provinces are also members. That’s almost 4 million square miles, home to more than 1,500 wildlife species.

WAFWA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked, side-by-side, on a number of conservation successes last year.

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Celebrating Endangered Species

As Endangered Species Day (May 18) nears, I am remembering my small part in the reintroduction of the remarkable black-footed ferret. Along with Service employees and partners, I released 20 ferrets into four prairie dog towns on a trip to South Dakota last November. The ferret feeds on prairie dogs and uses their burrows for shelter.

These members of the weasel family were considered extinct or nearly extinct when a small population was located in Mellette County, South Dakota, in 1964.  When that population died out, and captive breeding failed in 1979, the ferret was again presumed extinct. In 1981, a population was discovered in Meeteetse, Wyoming. This time, captive breeding worked, and in 1991 ferrets were reintroduced into several areas. 

Service biologist releases black-footed ferret.

Black-footed ferret at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in northern Colorado. USFWS photo

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Dan Blogs from the Great Plains

Last Sunday, I was on the road again. Leaving my snow-covered yard behind and flying out to the Great Plains of Pierre, South Dakota.

I've been to South Dakota before, but the purpose of the trip was a first for me.  Before Sunday, I'd only heard about the near-Herculean efforts to protect the black-footed ferret. Now, I can say that I've had the privilege to participate in the reintroduction of this remarkable species.

It wasn't too long ago that the black-footed ferret was on the brink of extinction. Now, people are beginning to use the "R-word" -- recovery. Some are even suggesting that delisting is within reach. This will require a continued commitment and effort, of course, but it's great to see a species come so far. 

I was joined at the reintroduction by our ferret recovery coordinator Pete Gober, the South Dakota Endangered Species Project Leader Scott Larson, Wyoming Game and Fish deputy Director John Emmerich, and several tribal partners from the Lower Brule Reservation.

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Last updated: August 31, 2011