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: 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.
- Black-footed Ferret Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement
- Biological Opinion
- Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment
- Findings and Recommendations
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.
- Federal Register Notice: April 23, 2013 Notice of Availability of the Black-footed Ferret Draft Recovery Plan
- Press Release: April 23, 2013 Service Announces Availability of Draft Recovery Plan for Black-footed Ferret
- Black-footed Ferret Draft Recovery Plan
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.
- Notice of Availability for Public Review December 17, 2012 Draft Black-footed Ferret Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement and
- Press Release December 17, 2012
- Draft Black-footed Ferret Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement
- Draft Environmental Assessment
- Memorandum Of Understanding
Clearance Maps: 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.
- Colorado statewide block clearance map
- Northeast Colorado block clearance map
- Southern Colorado block clearance map
- Denver Colorado block clearance map
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: 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 by scientists 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. As of 2011, this Service-led program has since produced more than approx. 8,000 kits in captivity, more than approx. 3,000 of which have been reintroduced into their natural habitat. It is estimated that as a result of these efforts there are currently more than approx. 500-1,000 black-footed ferrets in the wild, and another approx. 300 living in breeding facilities.
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: