Endangered Species
Mountain-Prairie Region

black-footed ferret

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 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:  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:  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. 

Reintroduction Sites Map

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:


Last updated: April 13, 2015