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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

00-29

October 13, 2000

For Immediate Release Contacts:
Mike Lockhart (FWS) 307-721-8805
Pete Gober (FWS) 605-224-8693, x24
Hayley Dikeman (Cheyenne River Sioux) 605-964-8964
Sharon Rose (FWS) 303-236-7917, x415

Black-Footed Ferrets To Be Reintroduced
on Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation

The black-footed ferret, one of North America’s most endangered mammals, will be returned to tribal lands in central South Dakota on October 16, under a reintroduction planned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Tribal Chairman Gregg J. Bourland will preside over the release of up to 50 wild and captive-bred ferrets.

Under a plan developed by the Tribe, the ferrets will be reintroduced at 11 a.m. Mountain Standard Time into one of two large black-tailed prairie dog colonies located on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation along the Missouri River in Dewey and Ziebach Counties. Black-footed ferrets are dependent upon large prairie dog colonies for food and shelter.

"The return of the black-footed ferret to our lands is an important part of restoring our cultural heritage," said Bourland. "We are happy to cooperate in this national effort by making available one of the last, best places for ferret conservation."

The proposed ferret reintroduction is an essential part of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s Prairie Management Plan to restore and maintain native prairie ecosystems. The Plan focuses on range management, prairie dog ecosystem management, bison enhancement, black-footed ferret reintroduction, and public education. The Service has been working with the Tribe since 1994 to prepare for the reintroduction.

"This reintroduction plays an important part in reestablishing the prairie ecosystem and once again illustrates the delicate balance between the many varied species that inhabit the west," said Ralph Morgenweck, the Service’s Regional Director for the Mountain-Prairie Region. "If we are going to be able to conserve and recover endangered species now and in the future, partnerships such as the one we are entering into with the Cheyenne River Sioux are what is needed to help these programs succeed," he added. "The task of recovering ecosystems and the life that is dependent on those areas is much too large for one entity to undertake."

As part of preconditioning the captive-raised ferrets for a life in the wild, they were placed in large open-air pens on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in southwestern South Dakota where they were exposed to live prairie dogs, burrows, and other natural stimuli. In addition, biologists will translocate up to 25 ferrets born in the wild on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands to the reservation. Biologists expect to release 50 more ferrets in the first year and believe a self-sustaining wild population could be established on the reservation within 5 years.

The reintroduced ferrets will be considered a "nonessential experimental population," like other reintroduced populations of ferrets in Wyoming, Southwest South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, and Colorado/Utah. This special rule, under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, allows for more flexibility in the management of the ferrets without affecting grazing and prairie dog management on private lands within the experimental population area.

"The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe supports the 10(j) rule because it is an essential element of recovering an endangered species and its ecosystem, in that it allows for compatibility between the recovery of the species and activities of local citizens," said Bourland.

Historical records show that black-footed ferret numbers on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation were declining in the 1950’s, with the last record of ferrets occurring in the early 1960’s. Black-footed ferret surveys in the 1990’s did not reveal any remaining populations of ferrets on these tribal lands.

The last wild population of black-footed ferrets was discovered in Wyoming in 1981 but declined soon after due to disease. The remaining 18 wild ferrets from this population were captured in 1986 and 1987 in an emergency effort to save the species. Biologists used these animals to initiate a successful captive-breeding and reintroduction program.

A member of the mustelid, or weasel, family and the only ferret species native to North America, the black-footed ferret was designated an endangered species in 1967. Growing to 2 feet in length and weighing 2.5 pounds, the ferret has a black face mask, black legs, and black-tipped tail. More information on the black-footed ferret can be viewed at  http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/mammals/blackfootedferret

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses 525 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps State, Tribal, and foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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