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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

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

 

September 11, 2002

Scott Larson 605-224-8693 x 27
Sharon Rose 303-236-7917 x415

Reintroduction of Black-Footed Ferrets Being Considered on Rosebud Sioux Reservation

The black-footed ferret, one of North America’s most endangered mammals, may return to Tribal Trust lands in South Dakota as early as this fall, under a reintroduction effort being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Forest Service.

Under the plan being considered, ferrets could be reintroduced into black-tailed prairie dog colonies located on Tribal Trust lands of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in Todd County. Black-footed ferrets are dependent upon prairie dog colonies for food and shelter, and biologists believe the Rosebud Sioux colonies may eventually support an estimated 200 - 400 adult ferrets. Ferrets will only be released on Tribal Trust lands. No ferrets will be released on private lands.

Todd County and three adjacent or nearby Counties (Gregory, Mellette, and Tripp Counties) are proposed to be part of an Experimental Population Area. Reintroduced ferrets will be designated as a nonessential, experimental population (NEP), a formal designation under the Endangered Species Act that allows greater management flexibility to avoid conflict with existing human activities or hindering public uses of the area.

Under this designation and special rule, neither the activities of private landowners or other State or Federal agencies will be impacted by the presence of black-footed ferrets on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. Grazing and prairie dog management on private lands within the experimental population area will continue without additional restriction from implementation of ferret recovery activities. Including nearby Counties as part of the Experimental Population Area will ensure maximum flexibility should any ferrets from the Rosebud reintroduction effort move to prairie dog colonies in other counties.

"This will be the ninth reintroduction of black-footed ferrets into the wild since 1991 and the second one on tribal lands in South Dakota," said Ralph Morgenweck, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional director for the Mountain/Prairie Region. "The reintroduction will be an important step in reestablishing the prairie ecosystem and in particular the predator-prey relationship between ferrets and prairie dogs."

The black-footed ferret, the only ferret species native to North America, was designated an endangered species in 1967. It is a member of the mustelid, or weasel, family. Growing to 2 feet in length and weighing 2.5 pounds, the ferret has a black face mask, black legs and black-tipped tail.

The last wild population of black-footed ferrets was discovered in Wyoming in 1981 but soon after was struck by 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.

The ferret reintroduction is an important part of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s efforts to restore and maintain native prairie ecosystems. The Tribe is active in the National and South Dakota Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Teams. The Service is working closely with the Tribe and the State of South Dakota to arrange this potential reintroduction.

The Rosebud Sioux Reservation (Todd County) and adjacent Mellette County include areas where the last populations of black-footed ferrets were known to exist in South Dakota. Those populations of ferrets declined throughout the 1960s, with the last known ferrets disappearing in the early 1970s. Black-footed ferret surveys in the 1980s and 1990s did not reveal any populations of ferrets remaining on these tribal lands.

"The partnership effort we have entered into with the Rosebud Sioux is the kind of cooperative effort that is necessary if we are going to conserve and recover critically endangered species like the black-footed ferret," Morgenweck said.

The U.S. Forest Service will also participate in the reintroduction of the ferrets by providing technical assistance and expertise gained from their successful ferret reintroductions in the 1990s on Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. In addition, the Forest Service may provide "preconditioning" - exposing the ferrets to prairie dog burrows and their natural prey in a fenced area - of captive-raised ferrets and translocation of wild-born ferrets from the Conata Basin site. Biologists believe that a self-sustaining wild population could be established on the reservation within five years.

Today’s publication of the proposal to amend the existing black-footed ferret rule under the Endangered Species Act and allow a new reintroduction area opens a 30-day public comment period that closes on October 11, 2002. Comments and requests for additional information can be sent to Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 420 Garfield, Pierre, South Dakota 57501 or e-mailed to R6fws_pie@fws.gov  and the proposed rule and related documents can be viewed at http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/mammals/blackfootedferret .

A public hearing has been scheduled for September 26, 2002, from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. in the Commons Area at the Multi Cultural Center in Mission, South Dakota. An informational meeting/open house will be held prior to this meeting from10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All interested parties are encouraged to attend and learn more about the proposed Rosebud black-footed ferret reintroduction effort.

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 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 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 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.

 

-FWS-

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