Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mountain-Prairie Region
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

September 28, 2007

Contact:  Pete Gober 605-224-8693, x24





Recovery of the black-footed ferret, North America’s most endangered mammal, will fall under the responsibility of another U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee with the retirement of Mike Lockhart on October 1, 2007.


Lockhart will turn the reins over to Pete Gober, a former black-footed ferret recovery coordinator, and the field supervisor for the Service’s Pierre, South Dakota, Ecological Services office.


During 32 years of government service, Lockhart worked on issues involving eagles and livestock; oil shale; development of ski areas; contaminants at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Denver; tribal subsistence and polar bears in Alaska; and since 1996, the black-footed ferret program.


Over the last 13 years, Lockhart has seen remarkable progress in black-footed ferret recovery.  Much of this success can be attributed to the many partners, both inside and outside of the government, who have diligently worked on the many aspects of the recovery program.


“We aren’t ready to say the black-footed ferret is recovered, but we are a lot further down the road to recovery because of Mike’s dedication to this resource,” said Mike Stempel, Assistant Regional Director for Fisheries and Ecological Services in the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region. 


By the late 1970s, biologists feared that the black-footed ferret was extinct.  The rediscovery of a small population near Meeteetse, Wyoming, in 1981 was widely heralded as a second chance to save the species.  Starting in 1985, the Meeteetse population declined precipitously when disease decimated both the ferrets and their prey base.  Captive breeding efforts were started in 1986 following the capture of only 18 surviving ferrets.


Over 6,000 kits have been produced in captivity since 1987.  Since 1991, over 2,700 kits have been reintroduced within the black-footed ferrets’ historical range at sites in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, and northern Chihuahua, Mexico.  To date, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are over 650 individuals in the wild. 


Ferrets were once found throughout the Great Plains, from northern Mexico to southern Saskatchewan, Canada.  Their range extended from the Rocky Mountains east through the Dakotas and south through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  The national goal to improve the status of the species from endangered to threatened is to establish 10 free-ranging populations of ferrets, spread over the widest possible area within their former range.  To meet this delisting goal, it is hoped that 1,500 breeding adult ferrets will be established in the wild by the year 2010.


Black-footed ferrets are found almost exclusively in prairie dog colonies.  Prairie dogs are their principal prey, and ferrets live and rear their young in prairie dog burrows.  Black-footed ferrets have one litter each year, with an average of about three kits per litter.  In the wild, kits do not come above ground until they are two-three months old.  Mothers and young remain together until early fall.  By October, the kits are able to take care of themselves.


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 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 548 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 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 and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


- FWS -