Endangered Species | Mammals
Mountain-Prairie Region
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Black-footed ferret

 

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  • Black-footed ferret. Credit: J. Michael Lockhart / USFWS.

    Black-footed ferret. Credit: J. Michael Lockhart / USFWS.

  • Black-footed ferret. Credit: J. Michael Lockhart / USFWS.

    Black-footed ferret. Credit: J. Michael Lockhart / USFWS.

Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)

Since March 11, 1967, the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) has been listed as endangered across its entire range, with the exception of several reintroduced populations designated as experimental.  In November 2008, the Service completed a 5-year review of black-footed ferret recovery efforts.  This review found that the species remains one of the most endangered mammals in the United States, and continues to warrant endangered status.  Despite the radically-altered environment facing reintroduced ferrets today, scientists believe that the recovery of the species is within reach.


Recent actions & links »

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On October 30, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the support of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, has finalized a 10(j) rule to designate the state of Wyoming as a special area for ferret reintroductions. The new rule will make it easier for willing landowners to host ferrets on their property.

Recent Actions:  On April 10, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a proposal to establish a non-essential, experimental 10(j) area for the black-footed ferret throughout the state of Wyoming. This announcement opens a 60-day public comment period, which closes on June 9, 2015. A 10(j) designation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would increase management flexibility and lessen regulatory requirements related to future ferret reintroductions in the state of Wyoming. The goal of this proposal is to help facilitate new reintroductions of the black-footed ferret.

On December 20, 2013 the Service completed a revision of the 1988 Black-footed Ferret Recovery Plan in coordination with interested State, Tribal, Federal, and non-government organizations or agencies within the historical range of the species, as well as through a review of public comments.  The black-footed ferret will benefit from purposeful management of a portion of existing prairie dog habitat in 12 western states; it is obligate predator of prairie dogs and depends upon their burrows for shelter.  The Black-footed Footed Recovery Implementation Team, composed of representatives of the aforementioned organizations and agencies, will use the Revised Black-footed Ferret Recovery Plan to help guide future conservation efforts for the species.

On October 23, 2013, the Service issued a permit for the Black-footed Ferret (BFF) Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA), created in cooperation with State, Tribal, Federal, and local partners in 12 states. This SHA provides opportunities for private and Tribal landowners to volunteer their lands as sites for reintroduction of this endangered species without affecting their land-use activities beyond mutually agreed-upon measures. It also extends these assurances to surrounding non-participating lands and other landowner interests via a Section 7 Biological Opinion (BO) for the SHA. This SHA approach will be an important step in promoting the recovery of this iconic species. The BFF SHA, BO, NEPA documents, and Set of Findings are available below.


Clearance maps »

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The Service in coordination with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, block-cleared various areas of Colorado, after determining that these areas no longer contain any wild, free-ranging black-footed ferrets.  Block clearance means that activities within these areas that result in the removal of black-tailed prairie dogs or their habitat will no longer be required to meet the Service survey guidelines for black-footed ferrets, or undergo consultation under section 7 of the ESA.


Threats »

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Threats:  Despite significant recovery successes, the black-footed ferret remains one of the most endangered animals in the world.  The primary reasons the species remains at risk are the same that nearly caused the animal’s extinction:  loss of habitat and prey.  Conservation or native grasslands to agricultural land, widespread prairie dog eradication programs, and fatal, non-native diseases have reduced ferret habitat to less than two percent of its original range.  The remaining habitat is now fragmented, with prairie dog towns separated by expanses of agricultural land and other human developments.

Population Numbers and Recovery Efforts:  Scientists believe that black-footed ferrets once numbered in the tens of thousands, but a combination of human-induced threats brought them to the brink of extinction in the 20th century. In fact, the species was twice believed to be extinct. In 1987, only eighteen individuals were known to exist in the entire world. Scientists captured these ferrets, which provided the foundation for a successful breeding and reintroduction program that continues today.

In order to meet delisting goals the Black-footed Ferret Recovery Plan calls for 3,000 individuals in populations of 30 or more adults, with at least 10 populations of 100 or more individuals, and at least one population occurring in at least nine of the 12 states in the species’ historic range.  

Due to the nocturnal and fossorial (underground-dwelling) nature of the species, monitoring of reintroduced populations is challenging, but experts estimate that there are likely several hundred individuals disbursed across relocation sites in 8 western states, Mexico, and Canada.  Importantly, black-footed ferrets have a high reproductive rate and even small populations can expand rapidly to fill adequately managed habitat where disease management is in place.

Map showing reintroduction site of the black-footed ferret. Credit: USFWS.

Reintroduction sites map See larger PDF

These recovery efforts are managed primarily by the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado.  All components necessary to achieve recovery have been identified, and have proven operationally successful in the field.  That said, there is still much work to be done, and many potentially complicated variables still exist.  However, if recovery efforts continue at the current pace and do not experience significant setbacks, in time the Service and its partners expect to recover the black-footed ferret.

To learn more about the black-footed ferret and conservation efforts on behalf of the species, please visit the following sites:


Archives »

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On April 22, 2013, the Service announced the availability of the Black-footed Ferret Draft Recovery Plan for comment by the public and Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies.  This plan supports the continued conservation of the species.

On January 23, 2013, the Service is reopening the public comment period for the draft Black-footed Ferret Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement for another 30 days.  The second public comment period will be January 23 through February 22.  If you have submitted comments already, you do not need to resubmit them because the Service will consider all comments submitted during both periods.  The Service is also accepting any comments submitted between the two periods. You can view the Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement at the link below.

On December 17, 2012, the Service announced the availability of the Draft Black-footed Ferret Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) and Environmental Assessment (Draft SHA/EA) for comment by the public and Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies.  The SHA is part of a larger new multi-agency partnership to expand black-footed ferret recovery efforts.  These documents can be viewed at www.blackfootedferret.org or below.

In May 2010, the Service announced it has denied a petition, filed pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, to reclassify three black-footed ferret populations under the Endangered Species Act .

In December 2008, the Service reintroduced black-footed ferrets to Logan County, Kansas.  The primary objections of the proposed action are to experiment with reintroduction of ferrets into much smaller prairie dog colonies than has traditionally been attempted; and to attempt to establish a self-sustaining population outside the known active occurrence of sylvatic plaque.

On July 2005, the Service initiated a 5-year review for black-footed ferrets and pallid sturgeon. 

In September 2002, the Service proposed to reintroduce black-footed ferrets, to Tribal Trust lands in South Dakota, under a reintroduction effort being considered by the Service in partnership with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Forest Service.

In October 2001, more than two dozen endangered black-footed ferrets from Arizona, Wyoming, and Ontario, Canada, made wildlife conservation history by being the first of their species to return to Mexico.

In November 2001, more than three dozen black-footed ferrets were be released along the Wolf Creek and Coyote Basin areas in northwest Colorado.  The effort will mark the ninth wild release of the species since recovery operations began in the mid-1980s. It is the first release of black-footed ferrets in Colorado.

 

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: May 09, 2016
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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