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The Mountain-Prairie Region


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

July 18, 2000
Contacts: Mike Lockhart 307-721-8805
Sharon Rose 303-236-7917 x415

Reintroduction of Black-Footed Ferrets Proposed
on Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation

The black-footed ferret, one of North America’s most endangered mammals, will return to tribal lands in South Dakota possibly as early as this fall, under a proposed reintroduction by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Under a plan developed by the Tribe, ferrets would be reintroduced into two large black-tailed prairie dog colonies on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in Dewey and Ziebach counties. Black-footed ferrets are dependent upon large prairie dog colonies for food and shelter, and biologists believe the Cheyenne River colonies could potentially support up to 900 ferrets.

"This would be the seventh reintroduction of black-footed ferrets into the wild since 1991 and the first 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 would 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 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.

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. 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 partnership we have entered into with the Cheyenne River Sioux is the kind of joint effort that is necessary to conserve and recover critically endangered species like the black-footed ferret," Morgenweck said.

If the proposal is finalized, the U.S. Forest Service will help facilitate reestablishment of ferrets on the Cheyenne River Reservation by "preconditioning" captive-raised ferrets in large open-air pens on 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. 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 five years.

The Service would designate ferrets reintroduced on the reservation a "nonessential experimental population," like other reintroduced populations in Wyoming, Southwest South Dakota, Montana, Arizona and Colorado/Utah. This special rule, under Section 10 (j) of the 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 Gregg J. Bourland, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

The announcement proposing to amend the existing black-footed ferret rule under the Endangered Species Act, to allow a new reintroduction area, and a notice of availability of a draft Environmental Assessment for the proposed action, was published today in the Federal Register. These documents can be viewed at

Comments and/or 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 Comments must be received no later than August 17, 2000 to be considered in the final decision.

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 more than 520 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 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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