[Federal Register: July 18, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 138)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 44509-44518]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AG26

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed 
Establishment of a Nonessential Experimental Population of Black-Footed 
Ferrets in North-Central South Dakota

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule; availability of supplementary information.


[[Page 44510]]

SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), in cooperation 
with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the U.S. Forest Service, and the 
Bureau of Indian Affairs, propose to reintroduce black-footed ferrets 
(Mustela nigripes) into north-central South Dakota on the Cheyenne 
River Sioux Reservation. We also announce the availability of the draft 
environmental assessment for this action. The purposes of this 
reintroduction are to implement actions required for recovery of the 
species and to evaluate and improve reintroduction techniques and 
management applications. If this rule is finalized, we will release 
surplus captive-raised black-footed ferrets in 2000, if possible, and 
release additional animals annually for several years thereafter until 
we establish a self-sustaining population. If this reintroduction 
program is successful, a wild population could be established in 5 
years or less. The Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation population would be 
established as a nonessential experimental population in accordance 
with section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. 
We would manage this population under provisions of this proposed 
special rule.

DATES: Comments on both the proposed rule and the draft environmental 
assessment must be received by August 17, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Send your comments on this proposed rule or on the draft 
environmental assessment to Pete Gober, Field Supervisor, or Scott 
Larson, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Ecological Services Office, 420 South Garfield Avenue, Suite 400, 
Pierre, South Dakota 57501 or telephone 605/224-8693. We request that 
you identify whether you are commenting on the proposed rule or draft 
environmental assessment. Comments received will be available for 
public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
above address. You may obtain copies of the draft environmental 
assessment from the above address or by calling 605/224-8693.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mike Lockhart at 307/721-8805.



    1. Legislative: Congress made significant changes to the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended, in 1984 with the addition of 
section 10(j) to allow for the designation of specific populations of 
listed species as ``experimental populations.'' Previously, we had 
authority to reintroduce populations into unoccupied portions of a 
listed species' historical range when doing so would foster the 
conservation and recovery of the species. However, local citizens often 
opposed these reintroductions because they were concerned about the 
placement of restrictions and prohibitions on Federal and private 
activities. Under section 10(j), the Secretary of the Department of the 
Interior can designate reintroduced populations established outside the 
species' current range but within its historical range as 
``experimental.'' Based on the best available information, the 
Secretary will determine whether such populations are ``essential,'' or 
``nonessential,'' to the continued existence of the species. Regulatory 
restrictions are considerably reduced under a nonessential experimental 
population (NEP) designation.
    Species listed as endangered or threatened are afforded protection 
primarily through the prohibitions of section 9 and the requirements of 
section 7. Section 9 of the Act prohibits the take of a listed species. 
``Take'' is defined by the Act as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, 
wound, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such 
conduct. Section 7 of the Act outlines the procedures for Federal 
interagency cooperation to conserve federally listed species and 
designated critical habitats. It mandates all Federal agencies to 
determine how to use their existing authorities to further the purposes 
of the Act to aid in recovering listed species. It also states that 
Federal agencies will, in consultation with the Service, insure that 
any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or result in the 
destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat. 
Section 7 of the Act does not affect activities undertaken on private 
lands unless they are authorized, funded, or carried out by a Federal 
    For the purposes of section 9 of the Act, a population designated 
as experimental is treated as threatened regardless of the species' 
designation elsewhere in its range. Through section 4(d) of the Act, 
threatened designation allows us greater discretion in devising 
management programs and special regulations for such a population. 
Section 4(d) of the Act allows us to adopt whatever regulations are 
necessary to provide for the conservation of a threatened species. In 
these situations, the general regulations applying most section 9 
prohibitions to threatened species do not apply to that species, and 
the special 4(d) rule contains the prohibitions and exemptions 
necessary and appropriate to conserve that species. Regulations issued 
under section 4(d) for NEP's are usually more compatible with routine 
human activities in the reintroduction area.
    For the purposes of section 7 of the Act, we treat NEP's as if the 
population is proposed for listing, but we treat NEP's as threatened 
species when they are located within a National Wildlife Refuge or 
National Park. When NEP's occur outside of such refuges or parks, 
Federal agencies are required to confer with the Service, in accordance 
with section 7(a)(4) of the Act, on their actions that are likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of a proposed species. The results 
of a conference are advisory in nature, and agencies are not restricted 
from committing resources to projects as a result of a conference.
    Individuals used to establish an experimental population may come 
from a donor population, provided their removal is not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of the species, and appropriate 
permits are issued in accordance with our regulations (50 CFR 17.22) 
prior to their removal. In this case, the donor ferret population is a 
captive-bred population, which was propagated with the intention of 
reestablishing wild populations to achieve recovery goals. In addition, 
wild progeny from other NEP areas (and which also originated from 
captive sources) may be directly translocated to the proposed 
reintroduction site.
    2. Biological: The black-footed ferret is a member of the Mustelid 
or weasel family; has a black facemask, black legs, and a black-tipped 
tail; is nearly 60 centimeters (2 feet) in length; and weighs up to 1.1 
kilograms (2.5 pounds). It is the only ferret species native to North 
America. The historical range of the species, based on specimen 
collections, extends over 12 western States (Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, 
Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, 
Texas, Utah, and Wyoming) and the Canadian Provinces of Alberta and 
Saskatchewan. Prehistoric evidence indicates that ferrets once occurred 
from the Yukon Territory in Canada to Mexico and Texas (Anderson et al. 
    Black-footed ferrets depend almost exclusively on prairie dog 
colonies for food, shelter, and denning (Henderson et al. 1969, Forrest 
et al. 1985). The range of the ferret coincides with that of prairie 
dogs (Anderson et al. 1986), and ferrets with young have been 
documented only in the vicinity of active prairie dog colonies. 
Historically, black-footed ferrets have been reported in association 
with black-tailed prairie

[[Page 44511]]

dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), white-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys 
leucurus), and Gunnison's prairie dog (Cynomys gunnisoni) towns 
(Anderson et al. 1986).
    Significant reductions in both prairie dog numbers and distribution 
occurred during the last century due to widespread poisoning of prairie 
dogs, the conversion of native prairie to farmland, and outbreaks of 
sylvatic plague, particularly in the southern portions of several 
species of prairie dog ranges in North America. Sylvatic plague arrived 
from Asia in approximately 1900. It is an exotic disease foreign to the 
evolutionary history of prairie dogs, who have little or no immunity to 
it. Black-footed ferrets are also highly susceptible to sylvatic 
plague. This severe reduction in the availability of the ferret's 
principal prey species, in combination with other factors such as 
secondary poisoning from prairie dog toxicants, resulted in the near 
extinction of the black-footed ferret in the wild.
    In 1974, a remnant wild population of ferrets in South Dakota, 
originally discovered in 1964, abruptly disappeared. Afterwards, we 
believed the species to be extinct. However, in 1981, a small 
population of ferrets was discovered near Meeteetse, Wyoming. In 1985-
1986, the Meeteetse population declined to only 18 animals due to 
outbreaks of sylvatic plague and canine distemper. Following this 
critical decline, the remaining individuals were taken into captivity 
in 1986-1987 to serve as founders for a captive propagation program. 
Since that time, captive breeding efforts have been highly successful 
and have facilitated ferret reintroductions in several areas of 
formerly occupied range. Today, the captive population of juveniles and 
adults fluctuates annually between 300 and 600 animals depending on the 
time of year, yearly reproductive success, and annual mortalities. The 
captive ferret population is currently divided among six captive 
breeding facilities throughout the United States and Canada, with a 
small number on display for educational purposes at several facilities. 
Also, 65 to 90 ferrets are located at several field-based captive 
breeding sites in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana.
    3. Recovery Goals/Objectives: The recovery plan for the black-
footed ferret (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1988) contains the 
following recovery objectives for reclassification:
    (a) Increasing the captive population of ferrets to 200 breeding 
adults by 1991 (which has been achieved);
    (b) Establishing a prebreeding population of 1,500 free-ranging 
breeding adults in 10 or more different populations, with no fewer than 
30 breeding adults in each population by the year 2010 (not achieved); 
    (c) Encouraging the widest possible distribution of reintroduced 
animals throughout their historical range. Although several 
reintroduction efforts have occurred throughout the ferret's range, 
populations may have become self-sufficient at only one site in South 
    We can reclassify the black-footed ferret to threatened status when 
the recovery objectives listed above have been achieved, assuming that 
the mortality rate of established populations remains at or below a 
rate at which new populations become established or increase. We have 
been successful in rearing black-footed ferrets in captivity, and in 
1997 we reached captive breeding program objectives.
    In 1988, we divided the single captive population into three 
subpopulations to avoid the possibility of a catastrophic event 
eliminating the entire captive population (e.g., contagious disease). 
Additional breeding centers were added later, and presently there are 
six separate subpopulations in captivity. Current recovery priorities 
emphasize the reintroduction of animals back into the wild from the 
captive source stock. Surplus individuals produced in captivity are now 
available for use on reintroduction areas.
    4. Reintroduction Sites: The Service, in cooperation with western 
State and Federal agencies, Tribal representatives, and conservation 
groups, evaluates potential black-footed ferret reintroduction sites 
and has previously initiated ferret reintroduction projects at several 
sites within the historical range of the black-footed ferret. The first 
reintroduction project occurred in Wyoming in 1991, and subsequent 
efforts have taken place in South Dakota and Montana in 1994, in 
Arizona in 1996, a second effort in Montana in 1997, and in Colorado/
Utah in 1999. The Service and the Black-footed Ferret Recovery 
Implementation Team (composed of 27 State and Federal agencies, Indian 
Tribes, and conservation organizations) have identified the Cheyenne 
River Sioux Reservation (Reservation) as a priority black-footed ferret 
reintroduction site due to its extensive black-tailed prairie dog 
habitat and the absence of sylvatic plaque.
    (a) Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation Experimental Population 
Reintroduction Area: The area designated as the Cheyenne River Sioux 
Reservation, Black-footed Ferret Experimental Population Area 
(Experimental Population Area) overlays all of Dewey and Ziebach 
Counties in South Dakota. The boundaries of these Counties are also the 
boundaries of the Reservation. Within the Experimental Population Area, 
the proposed primary reintroduction area will be in large black-tailed 
prairie dog complexes located along the Moreau River. The approximate 
center of the Experimental Population Area is the town of Eagle Butte, 
the location of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal offices. Eagle Butte is 
approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of Pierre, the 
capital of South Dakota.
    The Experimental Population Area supports two large complexes of 
black-tailed prairie dog colonies located within the two-county area. 
These two Counties encompass approximately 1,141,558 hectares 
(2,820,751 acres). Approximately half or 574,752 hectares (1,420,193 
acres) of the Experimental Population Area is Tribal Trust and Allotted 
lands. The majority of this Tribal Trust and Allotted land, 
approximately 90 percent or 505,875 hectares (1,250,000 acres), is 
native rangeland, which is used for grazing.
    Some lands within the Experimental Population Area are owned by 
private landowners (approximately 50 percent, although much less in the 
primary reintroduction area). No ferrets will be released on private 
lands. The Tribe and other Cooperators have agreed that if any ferrets 
disperse onto private lands they will capture and translocate them to 
Tribal lands if requested by the landowner or if necessary for the 
protection of the ferrets.
    Black-footed ferret dispersal to and occupation of areas outside of 
the Experimental Population Area is unlikely due to the large size of 
the Experimental Population Area, the absence of suitable nearby 
habitat (few if any prairie dogs can be found to the south and west), 
cropland barriers (e.g., expansive cultivation over the northern 
portion of the Experimental Population Area), and physical barriers 
(e.g., the Missouri River to the east). The Tribe estimates a total of 
approximately 8,408 hectares (20,777 acres) of black-tailed prairie dog 
colonies are potentially available to black-footed ferrets in the 
Experimental Population Area and could support over 200 ferret families 
(characterized as an adult female, three kits, and one-half an adult 
male; i.e., one adult male for every two adult females). Large, 
contiguous prairie dog colonies and the absence of physical barriers 
between prairie dog colonies along the

[[Page 44512]]

Moreau River (the primary ferret release area) should facilitate ferret 
distribution throughout the Moreau River reintroduction area.
    (b) Primary Reintroduction Areas: In the early 1990s, the Tribe 
began development of a Prairie Management Plan as a framework for 
managing the natural resources of 574,752 hectares (1,420,193 acres) of 
Tribal and Allotted lands within the Reservation boundaries (Cheyenne 
River Sioux Tribe 1992). The Prairie Management Plan included 
development of prairie dog and black-footed ferret management 
strategies. Phase I of the Prairie Management Plan accomplished initial 
prairie dog surveys along the Moreau River in areas believed to be 
well-suited for ferret reintroduction. Follow up Phase II surveys 
confirmed that prairie dog colonies along the Moreau River are highly 
suitable for ferret releases due to the number and size of prairie dog 
colonies, the spatial relationships of prairie dog towns to each other, 
their location on Tribal and Allotted Trust lands, their remoteness, 
and their distance from human settlements (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe 
1999). Recent surveys revealed 5,739 hectares (14,156 acres) of prairie 
dog colonies within the Moreau River complex. In addition to the Moreau 
River prairie dog complex, a secondary black-footed ferret release area 
was identified to the south in the Southeast Parade Management Area, an 
area that supports 2,280 hectares (6,621 acres) of black-tailed prairie 
dog towns. This area requires further research to ensure appropriate 
conditions exist prior to conducting future reintroductions of black-
footed ferrets. The Tribe selected the Moreau River prairie dog complex 
as the primary ferret reintroduction area because of its location 
within the historical range of the black-footed ferret, our 
determination that ferrets are no longer present, the abundance of 
suitable ferret habitat (lands containing active prairie dog colonies), 
the extensive amount of land managed by the Tribe, and the area's 
isolation from human activities.
    The primary reintroduction area within the Experimental Population 
Area generally includes lands along the Moreau River in Dewey and 
Ziebach Counties in north-central South Dakota. Extensive ferret 
surveys were conducted in this area in the 1980s and 1990s, but no 
evidence of ferrets was found. There are no confirmed records of 
ferrets occurring within the boundaries of the Experimental Population 
Area since the early 1960s.
    Black-footed ferrets will be released only if biological conditions 
are suitable and meet the management framework developed by the Tribe, 
in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Service, private 
landowners, and Federal and State land managers. The Service will 
reevaluate ferret reintroduction efforts in the Experimental Population 
Area should any of the following conditions occur:
    (i) Failure to maintain sufficient habitat on specific 
reintroduction areas to support at least 30 breeding adults after 5 
    (ii) Failure to maintain suitable prairie dog habitat that was 
available on specific reintroduction areas in 1999.
    (iii) A wild ferret population is found within the Experimental 
Population Area following the initial reintroduction and prior to the 
first breeding season. The only black-footed ferrets currently 
occurring in the wild result from reintroductions in Wyoming, Montana, 
South Dakota, Arizona, and Utah/Colorado. Consequently, the discovery 
of a black-footed ferret at the proposed experimental population area 
prior to the reintroduction would confirm the presence of a new 
population, which would prevent the designation of an experimental 
population in the area.
    (iv) Discovery of an active case of canine distemper or other 
disease contagious to black-footed ferrets on or near the 
reintroduction area prior to the scheduled release.
    (v) Less than 20 captive black-footed ferrets are available for the 
first release.
    (vi) Funding is not available to implement the reintroduction phase 
of the project on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
    (vii) Land ownership changes significantly, or cooperators withdraw 
from the project.
    All of the above conditions will be based on information routinely 
collected by us or the Tribe.
    5. Reintroduction procedures: The standard reintroduction protocol 
calls for the release of 20 or more captive-raised, or wild-
translocated black-footed ferrets in the Experimental Population Area 
in the first year of the program, and 20 or more animals released 
annually for the next 2 to 4 years. However, if the proposal is 
finalized, biologists expect to release 50 or more ferrets in the first 
year and believe a self-sustaining wild population could be established 
on the Reservation within 5 years. Released ferrets will be excess to 
the needs of the captive breeding program, and their use will not 
affect the genetic diversity of the captive ferret population (ferrets 
used for reintroduction efforts can be replaced through captive 
breeding). In the future, it may be necessary to interchange ferrets 
from established, reintroduced populations to enhance the genetic 
diversity of the population on the Experimental Population Area.
    Recent studies (Biggins et al. 1998, Vargas et al. 1998) have 
documented the importance of outdoor ``preconditioning'' experience on 
captive-reared ferrets prior to release in the wild. Ferrets exposed to 
natural prairie dog burrows in outdoor pens and natural prey prior to 
release survive in the wild at significantly higher rates than do cage-
reared, non-preconditioned ferrets. The U.S. Forest Service will 
participate in the reestablishment of ferrets on the Cheyenne River 
Sioux Reservation by preconditioning captive-raised ferrets in large 
open-air pens on the Conata Basin District of the Buffalo Gap National 
Grasslands in southwestern South Dakota. In these pens, young ferrets 
are exposed to live prairie dogs, burrows, and other natural stimuli. 
In addition, biologists may translocate up to 25 ferrets born in the 
wild on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands to the Reservation (if 
annual production levels of wild ferrets on Conata Basin are sufficient 
to allow translocation of excess young).
    The Tribe will develop specific reintroduction plans and submit 
them in a proposal to the Service as part of an established, annual 
black-footed ferret allocation process. Ferret reintroduction 
cooperators submit proposals by mid-March of each year, and the Service 
makes preliminary allocation decisions (numbers of ferrets provided to 
specific projects) by May. Proposals submitted to the Service include 
updated information on habitat, disease, project/ferret status, 
proposed reintroduction and monitoring methods, and predator 
management. In this manner, the Service and reintroduction cooperators 
evaluate the success of prior year efforts and apply current knowledge 
to various aspects of reintroduction efforts, thereby providing greater 
assurance of long-range reintroduction success.
    We will transport ferrets to identified reintroduction areas within 
the Experimental Population Area and release them directly from 
transport cages into prairie dog holes. Depending on the availability 
of suitable vaccine, we will vaccinate released animals against certain 
diseases (especially canine distemper) and take appropriate measures to 
reduce predation from coyotes, badgers, and raptors, where warranted. 
All ferrets we release will be marked with passive integrated 
transponder tags (PIT tags), and we may promote use of radio-telemetry 

[[Page 44513]]

to document ferret behavior and movements. Other monitoring will 
include spotlight surveys, snow tracking surveys, and visual 
    Since captive-born ferrets are more susceptible to predation, 
starvation, and environmental conditions than wild animals, up to 90 
percent of the released ferrets could die during the first year of 
release. Mortality is usually highest during the first month following 
release. In the first year of the program, a realistic goal is to have 
at least 25 percent of the animals survive the first winter.
    The goal of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation reintroduction 
project is to establish a free-ranging population of at least 30 adults 
within the Experimental Population Area within 5 years of release. At 
the release site, population demographics and potential sources of 
mortality will be monitored on an annual basis (for up to 5 years). We 
do not intend to change the nonessential designation for this 
experimental population unless we deem this reintroduction a failure or 
the black-footed ferret is recovered in the wild.
    6. Status of Reintroduced Population: We determine this 
reintroduction to be nonessential to the continued existence of the 
species for the following reasons:
    (a) The captive population (founder population of the species) is 
protected against the threat of extinction from a single catastrophic 
event by housing ferrets in six separate subpopulations. As a result, 
any loss of an experimental population in the wild will not threaten 
the survival of the species as a whole.
    (b) The primary repository of genetic diversity for the species is 
240 adult ferrets maintained in the captive breeding population. 
Animals selected for reintroduction purposes are surplus to the captive 
population. Hence, any use of animals for reintroduction efforts will 
not affect the overall genetic diversity of the species.
    (c) Captive breeding can replace any ferrets lost during this 
reintroduction attempt. Juvenile ferrets produced in excess of the 
numbers needed to maintain the captive breeding population are 
available for reintroduction.
    The proposed reintroduction would be the seventh release of ferrets 
back into the wild in six experimental population areas. The other 
experimental populations occur in Wyoming, southwestern South Dakota, 
north-central Montana (with two separate reintroduction efforts), 
Arizona, and Colorado/Utah (a single reintroduction area that overlays 
both States). Reintroductions are necessary to further the recovery of 
this species. The NEP designation alleviates landowner concerns about 
possible land use restrictions. This nonessential designation provides 
a flexible management framework for protecting and recovering black-
footed ferrets while ensuring that the daily activities of landowners 
are unaffected.
    7. Location of Reintroduced Population: Section 10(j) of the Act 
requires that an experimental population be geographically separate 
from other wild populations of the same species. Since the mid 1980s, 
BIA and the Tribe conducted black-footed ferret surveys in the 
Experimental Population Area. In addition to these surveys, they spent 
many hours surveying prairie dog colonies at the proposed 
reintroduction site. No ferrets or ferret sign (skulls, feces, 
trenches) were located. Therefore, we conclude that wild ferrets are no 
longer present on the Experimental Population Area, and that this 
reintroduction will not overlap with any wild population.
    All released ferrets and their offspring are expected to remain in 
the Experimental Population Area due to the presence of prime habitat 
(lands occupied by prairie dog colonies) and surrounding geographic 
barriers. We will capture any ferret that leaves the Experimental 
Population Area (in an attempt to identify its origin) and will either 
return it to the release site, translocate it to another site, or place 
it in captivity. If a ferret leaves the reintroduction area, but 
remains within the Experimental Population Area, and occupies private 
property, the landowner can request its removal. Ferrets will remain on 
private lands only when the landowner does not object to their presence 
    We will mark all released ferrets and will attempt to determine the 
source of any unmarked animals found. Any ferret found outside the 
Experimental Population Area is considered endangered, as provided 
under the Act. We will undertake efforts to confirm whether any ferret 
found outside the Experimental Population Area originated from captive 
stock. If the animal is unrelated to members of this or other 
experimental populations (i.e., it is from non-captive stock), we will 
place it in captivity as part of the breeding population to improve the 
overall genetic diversity of the captive population. Existing 
contingency plans allow for the capture and retention of up to nine 
ferrets that are not from any captive stock. In the highly unlikely 
event that a ferret from captive stock is found outside the 
Experimental Population Area, we will move the ferret back to habitats 
that would support the primary population(s) of ferrets.
    8. Management: This reintroduction will be undertaken in 
cooperation with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Bureau of Indian 
Affairs, and the U.S. Forest Service in accordance with the 
``Cooperative Management Plan for Black-footed Ferrets, Moreau River or 
Southeast Parade Reintroduction Areas''--Cheyenne River Sioux 
Reservation. Copies of the Cooperative Management Plan may be obtained 
from the Prairie Management Program Coordinator, P.O. Box 590, Eagle 
Butte, South Dakota 57625. In the future, we will evaluate whether 
additional black-footed ferret reintroductions are feasible within the 
Experimental Population Area (over 45,000 total acres of occupied 
prairie dog habitat exist within the Experimental Population Area). 
Cooperating agencies and private landowners would be involved in the 
selection of any additional sites. Management considerations of the 
proposed reintroduction project include:
    (a) Monitoring: Several monitoring efforts will occur during the 
first 5 years of the program. We will annually monitor prairie dog 
distribution and numbers, and test for the occurrence of sylvatic 
plague. Testing resident carnivores (e.g., coyotes) for canine 
distemper will begin prior to the first ferret release and continue 
each year. We will monitor released ferrets and their offspring 
annually using spotlight surveys, snowtracking, other visual survey 
techniques, and possibly radio-telemetry on some individuals. The 
surveys will incorporate methods to monitor breeding success and long-
term survival rates.
    Through public outreach programs, we will inform the public and 
other appropriate State and Federal agencies about the presence of 
ferrets in the Experimental Population Area and the handling of any 
sick or injured animals. To meet our responsibilities to treat the 
Tribe on a Government to Government basis, we will request that the 
Tribe inform Tribal members of the presence of ferrets on Reservation 
lands, and the proper handling of any sick or injured ferrets that are 
found. The Tribe will serve as the primary point of contact to report 
any injured or dead ferrets. Reports of injured or dead ferrets must 
also be provided to the Service Field Supervisor (see ADDRESSES 
section). It is important that we determine the cause of death for any 
ferret carcass found. Therefore, we request that discovered ferret 
carcasses not be disturbed, but reported as soon as possible to 
appropriate Tribal and Service offices.

[[Page 44514]]

    (b) Disease: The presence of canine distemper in any mammal on or 
near the reintroduction site will cause us to reevaluate the 
reintroduction program. Prior to releasing ferrets, we will establish 
the presence or absence of canine distemper in the release area by 
collecting at least 20 coyotes (and possibly other carnivores). Sampled 
predators will be tested for canine distemper and other diseases.
    We will attempt to limit the spread of distemper by discouraging 
people from bringing unvaccinated pets into core ferret release areas. 
Any dead mammal or any unusual behavior observed in animals found 
within the area should be reported to us. Efforts are under way to 
develop an effective canine distemper vaccine for black-footed ferrets. 
Routine sampling for sylvatic plague in prairie dog towns will take 
place before and during the reintroduction effort, and annually 
    (c) Genetics: Ferrets selected for reintroduction are excess to the 
needs of the captive population. Experimental populations of ferrets 
are usually less genetically diverse than overall captive populations. 
Selecting and reestablishing breeding ferrets that compensate for any 
genetic biases in earlier releases can correct this disparity. The 
ultimate goal is to establish wild ferret populations with the maximum 
genetic diversity that is possible from founder ferrets. The eventual 
interchange of ferrets between established populations found elsewhere 
in the western United States will ensure that genetic diversity is 
maintained to the maximum extent possible.
    (d) Prairie Dog Management: We will work with the Tribe, affected 
landowners, and other Federal and State agencies to resolve any 
management conflicts in order to: (1) Maintain sufficient prairie dog 
acreage and density to support no less than 30 adult black-footed 
ferrets; and (2) maintain suitable prairie dog habitat on core release 
areas at or above 1999 survey levels.
    (e) Mortality: We will reintroduce only ferrets that are surplus to 
the captive breeding program. Predator control, prairie dog management, 
vaccination, ferret preconditioning, and improved release methods 
should reduce mortality. Public education will help reduce potential 
sources of human-caused mortality.
    The Act defines ``incidental take'' as take that is incidental to, 
and not the purpose of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful 
activity. A person may take a ferret within the Experimental Population 
Area provided that the take is unavoidable, unintentional, and was not 
due to negligent conduct. Such conduct will not constitute ``knowing 
take,'' and we will not pursue legal action. However, when we have 
evidence of knowing (i.e., intentional) take of a ferret, we will refer 
matters to the appropriate authorities for prosecution. Any take of a 
black-footed ferret, whether incidental or not, must be reported to the 
local Service Field Supervisor (see ADDRESSES section). We expect a low 
level of incidental take since the reintroduction is compatible with 
existing land use practices for the area.
    Based on studies of wild black-footed ferrets at Meeteetse, 
Wyoming, black-footed ferrets can be killed by motor vehicles and dogs. 
We expect a rate of mortality similar to what was documented at 
Meeteetse, and, therefore, we estimate a human-related annual mortality 
rate of about 12 percent of all reintroduced ferrets and their 
offspring, annually. If this level is exceeded in any given year, we 
will develop and implement measures to reduce the level of mortality.
    (f) Special Handling: Service employees and authorized agents 
acting on their behalf may handle black-footed ferrets for scientific 
purposes; to relocate ferrets to avoid conflict with human activities; 
for recovery purposes; to relocate ferrets to other reintroduction 
sites; to aid sick, injured, and orphaned ferrets; and salvage dead 
ferrets. We will return to captivity any ferret we determine to be 
unfit to remain in the wild. We also will determine the disposition of 
all sick, injured, orphaned, and dead ferrets.
    (g) Coordination With Landowners and Land Managers: The Service and 
cooperators identified issues and concerns associated with the proposed 
ferret reintroduction before preparing this proposed rule. The proposed 
reintroduction also has been discussed with potentially affected State 
agencies and landowners within the proposed release area. Affected 
State agencies, landowners, and land managers have indicated support 
for the reintroduction, if ferrets released in the Experimental 
Population Area are an NEP, and if land use activities in the 
Experimental Population Area are not constrained without the consent of 
affected landowners.
    (h) Potential for Conflict With Grazing and Recreational 
Activities: We do not expect conflicts between livestock grazing and 
ferret management. Grazing and prairie dog management on private lands 
within the Experimental Population Area will continue without 
additional restriction during implementation of the ferret recovery 
activities. With proper management, we do not expect adverse impacts to 
ferrets from hunting, prairie dog shooting, prairie dog control, and 
trapping of furbearers or predators in the Experimental Population 
Area. If proposed prairie dog shooting or control locally affect ferret 
prey base within a specific area, State, Tribal, and Federal biologists 
will determine whether ferrets could be impacted and, if necessary, 
take steps to avoid such impacts. If private activities impede the 
establishment of ferrets, we will work closely with the Tribe and 
landowners to develop appropriate procedures to minimize conflicts.
    (i) Protection of Black-footed Ferrets: We will release ferrets in 
a manner that provides short-term protection from natural (predators, 
disease, lack of prey base) and human-related sources of mortality. 
Improved release methods, vaccination, predator control, and management 
of prairie dog populations should help reduce natural mortality. 
Releasing ferrets in areas with little human activity and development 
will minimize human-related sources of mortality. We will work with the 
Tribe and landowners to help avoid certain activities that could impair 
ferret recovery.
    (j) Public Awareness and Cooperation: We will inform the general 
public of the importance of this reintroduction project in the overall 
recovery of the black-footed ferret.
    The designation of the NEP on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation 
would provide greater flexibility in the management of the reintroduced 
ferrets. The NEP designation is necessary to secure needed cooperation 
of the Tribe, landowners, agencies, and recreational interests in the 
affected area. Based on the above information, and using the best 
scientific and commercial data available (in accordance with 50 CFR 
17.81), the Service finds that releasing black-footed ferrets into the 
Experimental Population Area will further the conservation of the 

Public Comments Solicited

    Black-footed ferret kits targeted for wild release are introduced 
into preconditioning pens at 40-90 days of age and released at about 
120 to 140 days. It is imperative that ferrets kits are preconditioned 
and released at proper developmental ages to enhance their survival in 
the wild. Because of earlier than usual ferret production at captive 
breeding centers in the United States and Canada (as of early June 
2000), it has become urgent to expedite this nonessential, experimental 

[[Page 44515]]

process in order to ensure that an adequate number of ferrets can be 
released at proper ages and with adequate preconditioning experience on 
the Cheyenne River Sioux Experimental Population Area. Consequently, we 
are proposing a 30-day public comment period for the proposed rule 
instead of the standard 60 days.
    The Service wishes to ensure that this proposed rulemaking to 
designate the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation black-footed ferret 
population as an NEP and the draft environmental assessment on the 
proposed action effectively evaluate all potential issues associated 
with this action. Therefore, we request comments or recommendations 
concerning any aspect of this proposed rule and the draft environmental 
assessment from the public, as well as Tribal, local, State, and 
Federal government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any 
other interested party. Comments should be as specific as possible. To 
promulgate a final rule to implement this proposed action and to 
determine whether to prepare a finding of no significant impact or an 
environmental impact statement, we will take into consideration all 
comments and any additional information received. Such information may 
lead to a final rule that differs from this proposal.
    Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Individual respondents may request that we withhold 
their home address from the rulemaking record, which we will honor to 
the extent allowable by law. In some circumstances, we would withhold 
from the rulemaking record a respondent's identity, as allowable by 
law. If you wish for us to withhold your name and/or address, you must 
state this request prominently at the beginning of your comment. 
However, we will not consider anonymous comments. We will make all 
submissions from organizations or businesses, available for public 
inspection in their entirety.

Public Hearings

    You may request a public hearing on this proposal. Your request for 
a hearing must be made in writing and filed within 20 days of the date 
of publication of the proposal in the Federal Register. Such requests 
for a hearing must be made in writing and addressed to the South Dakota 
State Field Supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Pierre, 
South Dakota (see ADDRESSES section).

Required Determinations

1. Regulatory Planning and Review
    In accordance with the criteria in Executive Order 12866, the 
proposed rule to designate NEP status for the black-footed ferret 
reintroduction into north-central South Dakota is not a significant 
regulatory action subject to Office of Management and Budget review. 
This rule will not have an annual economic effect of $100 million and 
will not have an adverse effect upon any economic sector, productivity, 
jobs, the environment, or other units of government. Therefore, a cost-
benefit and economic analysis is not required.
    All the lands within the NEP area are within the Cheyenne River 
Sioux Reservation, and the specific lands where ferrets will actually 
be released are Tribal Trust allotted lands. Other public areas in the 
NEP include South Dakota school lands, South Dakota Department of Game, 
Fish and Parks lands, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lands. Most of 
the prairie dogs within the NEP area occur on Tribal Trust lands, and 
those occurring on other lands are not needed for a successful ferret 
release. Land uses on private, Tribal, and State school lands will not 
be hindered by the proposal, and only voluntary participation by 
private landowners will occur.
    This rule will not create inconsistencies with other agencies' 
actions or otherwise interfere with an action taken or planned by 
another agency. Federal agencies most interested in this rulemaking are 
primarily other Department of the Interior bureaus (i.e., Bureau of 
Land Management) and the Department of Agriculture (Forest Service). 
The action proposed by this rulemaking is consistent with the policies 
and guidelines of the other Interior bureaus. Because of the 
substantial regulatory relief provided by the NEP designation, we 
believe the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret in the areas 
described will not conflict with existing human activities or hinder 
public utilization of the area.
    This rule will not materially affect entitlements, grants, user 
fees, loan programs, or the rights and obligations of their recipients. 
This rule will not raise novel legal or policy issues. The Service has 
previously designated experimental populations of black-footed ferrets 
at five other locations (in Colorado/Utah, Montana, South Dakota, 
Arizona, and Wyoming) and for other species at numerous locations 
throughout the nation.
2. Regulatory Flexibility Act
    The Department of the Interior certifies that this document will 
not have a significant economic effect on a substantial number of small 
entities under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.). 
The area affected by this rule consists of Dewey and Ziebach Counties, 
South Dakota. A majority of the area affected by this rule is within 
the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, which is administered by the 
Tribe. Reintroduction of ferrets allowed by this rule will not have any 
significant effect on recreational activities in the experimental area. 
We do not expect any closures of roads, trails, or other recreational 
areas. Suspension of prairie dog shooting for ferret management 
purposes will be localized and prescribed by the Tribe. We do not 
expect ferret reintroduction activities to affect grazing operations, 
resource development actions, or the status of any other plants or 
animal species within the release area. Because only voluntary 
participation in ferret reintroduction by private landowners is 
proposed, this rulemaking is not expected to have any significant 
impact on private activities in the affected area. The designation of 
an NEP in this rule will significantly reduce the regulatory 
requirements regarding the reintroduction of these ferrets, will not 
create inconsistencies with other agency actions, and will not conflict 
with existing or proposed human activity, or Tribal and public use of 
the land.
3. Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA)
    This rule is not a major rule under 5 U.S.C. 804(2), the Small 
Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act. This rule will not have 
an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more for reasons 
outlined above. It will not cause a major increase in costs or prices 
for consumers, individual industries, Federal, State, or local 
government agencies, or geographic regions. The rule does not have 
significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, 
productivity, innovation, or the ability of U.S.-based enterprises to 
compete with foreign-based enterprises.
4. Unfunded Mandates Reform Act
    The nonessential experimental population designation will not place 
any additional requirements on any city, county, or other local 
municipalities. The site designated for release of the experimental 
population is predominantly Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Trust land 
administered by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, who

[[Page 44516]]

support this project. Some South Dakota State school lands may also be 
affected. The State of South Dakota has expressed support for 
accomplishing the reintroduction through a nonessential experimental 
designation. Accordingly, this rule will not ``significantly or 
uniquely'' affect small governments. A Small Government Agency Plan is 
not required. Because this rulemaking does not require any action be 
taken by local or State government or private entities, we have 
determined and certify pursuant to the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, 2, 
U.S.C. 1502 et seq., that this rulemaking will not impose a cost of 
$100 million or more in any given year on local or State governments or 
private entities (i.e., it is not a ``significant regulatory action'' 
under the Act).
5. Takings
    In accordance with Executive Order 12630, the rule does not have 
significant takings implications. Designating reintroduced populations 
of federally listed species as NEPs significantly reduces the Act's 
regulatory requirements with respect to the reintroduced listed species 
within the NEP. Under NEP designations, the Act requires a Federal 
agency to confer with the Service if the agency determines its action 
within the NEP is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the 
reintroduced species. However, even if an agency action totally 
eliminated a reintroduced species from an NEP and jeopardized the 
species' continued existence, the Act does not compel a Federal agency 
to stop a project, deny issuing a permit, or cease any activity. 
Additionally, regulatory relief can be provided regarding take of 
reintroduced species within NEP areas, and a special rule has been 
developed stipulating that unavoidable and unintentional take 
(including killing or injuring) of the reintroduced black-footed 
ferrets would not be a violation of the Act, when such take is 
nonnegligent and incidental to a legal activity (e.g., livestock 
management, mineral development) and the activity is in accordance with 
State laws and regulations.
    Most of the lands within the Experimental Population Area are 
administered by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Multiple-use management 
of these lands by industry and recreation interests will not change as 
a result of the experimental designation. Private landowners within the 
Experimental Population Area will still be allowed to conduct lawful 
control of prairie dogs, and may elect to have black-footed ferrets 
removed from their land should ferrets move to private lands.
    Because of the substantial regulatory relief provided by NEP 
designations, we do not believe the reintroduction of ferrets would 
conflict with existing human activities or hinder public use of the 
area. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks has endorsed 
the ferret reintroduction under an NEP designation. The NEP designation 
will not require the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks to 
specifically manage for reintroduced ferrets. A takings implication 
assessment is not required.
6. Federalism
    In accordance with Executive Order 13132, the rule does not have 
significant Federalism implications to warrant the preparation of a 
Federalism Assessment. As stated above, most of the lands within the 
Experimental Population Area are Tribal Trust lands, and multiple-use 
management of these lands will not change to accommodate black-footed 
ferrets. The designation will not impose any new restrictions on the 
State of South Dakota. The Service has coordinated extensively with the 
Tribe and State of South Dakota, and they endorse the NEP designation 
as the only feasible way to pursue ferret recovery in the area. A 
Federalism Assessment is not required.
7. Civil Justice Reform
    In accordance with Executive Order 12988, the Office of the 
Solicitor has determined that the rule does not unduly burden the 
judicial system and meets the requirements of sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) 
of the Order.
8. Paperwork Reduction Act
    This regulation contains information collection requirements under 
the Paperwork Reduction Act (and approval by the Office of Management 
and Budget) under 44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq. Authorization for this 
information collection has been approved by OMB and has been assigned 
OMB control number 1018-0095. An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and 
a person is not required to respond to, a collection of information 
unless it displays a current valid OMB control number. OMB has up to 60 
days to approve or disapprove the information collection but may 
respond after 30 days. Therefore, to ensure maximum consideration, you 
must send your comments to OMB by the above referenced date.
9. National Environmental Policy Act
    The Service has prepared a draft environmental assessment as 
defined under authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 
1969. It is available from Service offices identified in the ADDRESSES 
10. Clarity of This Regulation
    Executive Order 12866 requires each agency to write regulations 
that are easy to understand. We invite your comments on how to make 
this rule easier to understand, including answers to questions such as 
the following: (1) Are the requirements in the rule clearly stated? (2) 
Does the rule contain technical language or jargon that interferes with 
its clarity? (3) Does the format of the rule (grouping or order of 
sections, use of headings, paragraphing, etc.) aid or reduce its 
clarity? (4) Would the rule be easier to understand if it were divided 
into more (but shorter) sections? (5) Is the description of the rule in 
the ``''Supplementary Information'' section of the preamble helpful in 
understanding the proposed rule? What else could we do to make the rule 
easier to understand?
    Send a copy of any comments that concern how we could make this 
rule easier to understand to: Office of Regulatory Affairs, Department 
of the Interior, Room 7229, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240. You 
may also e-mail the comments to this address: Execsec@ios.doi.gov

References Cited

Anderson E., S.C. Forrest, T.W. Clark, and L. Richardson. 1986. 
Paleobiology, biogeography, and systematics of the black-footed ferret 
Mustela nigripes (Audubon and Bachman), 1851. Great Basin Naturalist 
Memoirs 8:11-62.
Biggins, D.E., J.L. Godbey, L.R. Hanebury, B. Luce, P.E. Marinari, M.R. 
Matchett, A. Vargas. 1998. The effects of rearing methods on survival 
of reintroduced black-footed ferrets. Journal of Wildlife Management 
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. 1992. Prairie Management Plan for the 
Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. 54 pages.
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. 1999. Prairie Management Plan: Phase II for 
the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. 37 pages.
Forrest, S.C., T.W. Clark, L. Richardson, and T.M. Campbell III. 1985. 
Black-footed ferret habitat: some management and reintroduction 
considerations. Wyoming Bureau of Land Management, Wildlife Technical 
Bulletin, No. 2. 49 pages.
Henderson, F.R., P.F. Springer, and R. Adrian. 1969. The black-footed 
ferret in South Dakota. South Dakota

[[Page 44517]]

Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Technical Bulletin 4:1-36.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1988. Black-footed ferret recovery 
plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Denver, Colorado. 154 pages.
Vargas, A., M. Lockhart, P. Marinari, and P. Gober. 1998. Preparing 
captive-raised black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) for survival 
after release. Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust 34:76-83.


    The primary authors of this rule are Mike Lockhart and Scott Larson 
(see ADDRESSES section).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulations Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth 


    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

    2. Amend section 17.11(h) by revising the existing entry for 
``Ferret, black-footed'' under ``MAMMALS'' to read as follows:

Sec. 17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

                      Species                                                Vertebrate
----------------------------------------------------                      population where                                        Critical     Special
                                                       Historic range       endangered or        Status         When listed       habitat       rules
          Common name              Scientific name                           threatened

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *
Ferret, black-footed...........  Mustela nigripes..  Western U.S.A.,     Entire, except      E              1, 3, 343, 433,              NA           NA
                                                      western Canada.     where listed as                    545, 546, 582,
                                                                          an experimental                    646, ____.
    Do.........................  .....do...........  .....do...........  U.S.A. (specific    XN             433, 545, 546,               NA     17.84(g)
                                                                          portions of AZ,                    582, 646, ____.
                                                                          CO, MT, SD, UT,
                                                                          and WY, see

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *

    3. Amend Sec. 17.84 as follows: Revise the text of paragraph (g)(1) 
and add paragraphs (g)(6)(vi), (g)(9)(vi), and a new map to follow the 
five existing maps at the end of paragraph (g):

Sec. 17.84  Special rules--vertebrates.

    (g) Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes).
    (1) The black-footed ferret populations identified in paragraphs 
(g)(9)(i) through (vi) of this section are nonessential experimental 
populations. We will manage each of these populations in accordance 
with their respective management plans.
* * * * *
    (6) * * *
    (vi) Report such taking in the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe 
Experimental Population Area to the Field Supervisor, Ecological 
Services, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pierre, South Dakota 
(telephone: 605/224-8693).
* * * * *
    (9) * * *
* * * * *
    (vi) The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reintroduction Area is shown on 
the map of north-central South Dakota at the end of paragraph (g) of 
this section. The boundaries of the nonessential experimental 
population area are the exterior boundaries of the Cheyenne River 
Indian Reservation which includes all of Dewey and Ziebach Counties, 
South Dakota. Any black-footed ferret found in the wild within these 
Counties will be considered part of the nonessential experimental 
population after the first breeding season following the first year of 
black-footed ferret release. A black-footed ferret occurring outside 
the Experimental Population Area in north-central South Dakota would 
initially be considered as endangered but may be captured for genetic 
testing. When a ferret is found outside the Experimental Population 
Area, the following may occur:
    (A) If an animal is genetically determined to have originated from 
the experimental population, we may return it to the reintroduction 
area or to a captive-breeding facility.
    (B) If an animal is determined to be genetically unrelated to the 
experimental population, we will place it in captivity under an 
existing contingency plan. Up to nine black-footed ferrets may be taken 
for use in the captive-breeding program.
* * * * *

[[Page 44518]]


    Dated: June 29, 2000.
Donald J. Barry,
Assistant Secretary, Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
[FR Doc. 00-18123 Filed 7-17-00; 8:45 am]