[Federal Register: October 13, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 199)]
[Rules and Regulations]               
[Page 60879-60889]
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; Establishment of a 
Nonessential Experimental Population of Black-Footed Ferrets in North-
Central South Dakota

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), in cooperation 
with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Forest Service, and the Bureau 
of Indian Affairs (BIA), will reintroduce black-footed ferrets (Mustela 
nigripes) into north-central South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Sioux 
Reservation. 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. We will 
release surplus captive-raised black-footed ferrets in October 2000, 
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 is 
established as a nonessential experimental population in accordance 
with section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. 
We will manage this population under provisions of this final special 

DATES: The effective date of this rule is October 13, 2000.

ADDRESSES: You may inspect the complete file for this rule during 
normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological 
Services Office, 420 South Garfield Avenue, Suite 400, Pierre, South 
Dakota 57501 or telephone 605/224-8693. You must make an appointment in 
advance if you wish to inspect the file.

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, 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) 
    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, ensure 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. Threatened designation allows us 
greater discretion in devising management programs and 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 rule contains the 
prohibitions and exceptions necessary and appropriate to conserve that 
species. Regulations for NEP's are usually more compatible with 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 regardless of conference findings 
and recommendations.

[[Page 60880]]

    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 also which originated from 
captive sources) may be directly translocated to the reintroduction 

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 dogs for 
food, shelter, and denning (Henderson et al. 1969, Forrest et al. 
1985). The range of the ferret coincides with that of three prairie dog 
species (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 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 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, which have little or no immunity to it. Black-
footed ferrets also are highly susceptible to sylvatic plague. This 
severe reduction in the availability of the ferret's principal prey, 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 by 1980.
    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 and on annual reproductive success and mortality. The captive 
ferret population is currently divided among six captive-breeding 
facilities throughout the United States and Canada, with a small number 
of live animals on display for educational purposes at several zoos and 
other facilities. Also, 65 to 90 ferrets are located at field-based 
captive-breeding sites in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana.

3. Recovery Efforts

    The recovery plan for the black-footed ferret (U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service 1988) contains the following recovery objectives for 
    (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 captive-breeding facilities. 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 release into 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 as 
a priority black-footed ferret reintroduction site due to its extensive 
black-tailed prairie dog habitat and the absence of sylvatic plague.

(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 also are the boundaries of the Cheyenne 
River Sioux Reservation. Within the Experimental Population Area, the 
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

[[Page 60881]]

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 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 
protection of the ferrets.
    Black-footed ferret dispersal into 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 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 Trust lands within the 
Cheyenne River Sioux 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. 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 Trust and 
Allotted 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 evaluation to ensure appropriate 
conditions exist for 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 
    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 BIA, 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 available 
within specific reintroduction areas.
    (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, 
Arizona, Utah/Colorado, and elsewhere in South Dakota over 100 miles 
from the reintroduction site on Cheyenne River Tribal lands. 
Consequently, the discovery of a black-footed ferret on the 
experimental population area prior to the reintroduction would confirm 
the presence of a new population and prevent 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) Fewer than 20 captive black-footed ferrets are available for 
    (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. Biologists 
expect to release 50 or more ferrets in the first year and believe a 
self-sustaining wild population could be established on the Cheyenne 
River Sioux 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 ``precon- ditioning'' 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

[[Page 60882]]

cage-reared, non-preconditioned ferrets. The 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 Cheyenne River Sioux 
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 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 burrows. 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 individually coded passive 
integrated transponder tags, and we may promote use of radio-telemetry 
studies 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.
    This reintroduction will 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, the 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 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 attempt to 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 noncaptive 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 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 BIA, and the Forest Service in 
accordance with the ``Cooperative Management Plan

[[Page 60883]]

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 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 Cheyenne 
River Sioux 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 also must 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.

(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 or 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 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 
maintain suitable prairie dog habitat on core release areas at or above 
90 percent of the habitat levels as determined by the 1999 survey.

(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. 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 ferret reintroduction before preparing this rule. 
The reintroduction also has been discussed with potentially affected 
State agencies and landowners within the release area. Affected State 
agencies, landowners, and land managers have indicated support for the 
reintroduction of ferrets in the Experimental Population Area as a NEP, 
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 

[[Page 60884]]

from implementation of 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 within the Experimental Population Area. If proposed 
prairie dog shooting or control will locally affect ferret prey base 
within a specific area, project 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 

(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 will provide greater flexibility in the management of 
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 species.

Summary of Comments

    In the July 18, 2000, proposed rule and associated notifications, 
we requested all interested parties to submit factual reports or 
information that might contribute to the development of a final rule. 
Appropriate Federal and State agencies, Tribes, county governments, 
environmental and agricultural organizations, and other interested 
parties were contacted and requested to comment. Articles providing 
information about the proposed rule and the opportunity for public 
comment were published in South Dakota in the ``Midwest News,'' the 
``Capitol Journal,'' the ``Timberlake Topic,'' the ``Eagle Butte 
News,'' the ``West River Progress,'' and the ``Rapid City Journal.'' 
Information regarding the publication of the proposed rule as well as 
the text of the rule itself was made available on the Region 6 website 
>www.r6.fws.gov during the public comment period. A news interview with 
South Dakota Public Radio was conducted by a representative of the 
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
    We informed the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of the publication of 
the proposal and the opportunity for public comment. Throughout 
development of the proposal we maintained regular coordination with the 
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and have received their full support in this 
reintroduction. Public meetings were held by the Cheyenne River Sioux 
Tribe on June 19 and 22, 2000, in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Contacts 
were made with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks 
regarding the publication of the reintroduction proposal and the public 
comment period. On July 15, 2000, a presentation about the proposal, 
including the public comment period, was given to the South Dakota 
Prairie Dog Working Group, a consortium of Federal and State agencies, 
environmental organizations, and local agricultural groups interested 
in black-tailed prairie dog and black-footed ferret conservation 
issues. No requests for public hearings were made and no public 
comments were received on this proposal.

Required Determinations

Regulatory Planning and Review

    In accordance with the criteria in Executive Order 12866, the 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 and 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 and 
Allotted 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 reintroduction, 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 BIA) and the Department of Agriculture (Forest 
Service). The action allowed 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.

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 
    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 plant or 
animal species within the release area.

[[Page 60885]]

    Because participation in ferret reintroduction by private 
landowners is voluntary, this rulemaking is not expected to have any 
significant impact on private activities in the affected area. The 
designation of a NEP in this rule will significantly reduce the 
regulatory requirements regarding the reintroduction of ferrets on the 
Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, will not create inconsistencies with 
other agency actions, and will not conflict with existing or proposed 
human activity, or Tribal and public uses of the land.

Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act

    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 United States-based 
enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises.

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 and 
Allotted land administered by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, who 
support this project. Some South Dakota State school lands may also be 
    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 


    In accordance with Executive Order 12630, the rule does not have 
significant takings implications.
    Designating reintroduced populations of federally listed species as 
NEP's significantly reduces the Act's regulatory requirements with 
respect to the reintroduced listed species within the NEP. 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 onto 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. A takings implication assessment is not required.


    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 and Allotted 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.

Civil Justice Reform

    In accordance with Executive Order 12988, the Office of the 
Solicitor has determined that this rule does not unduly burden the 
judicial system and meets the requirements of sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) 
of the Order.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This regulation contains collection of information requiring Office 
of Management and Budget (OMB) approval under the Paperwork Reduction 
Act, 44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq. 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 currently 
valid OMB control number.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have analyzed this rule in accordance with the criteria of the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). We have prepared an 
Environmental Assessment (EA) as defined under the authority of NEPA, 
which is available from Service offices identified in the ADDRESSES 
section. In that EA we determined that this rule does not constitute a 
major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human 

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, 
``Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments'' (59 FR 22951) and 512 DM 2, we have closely coordinated 
this rule with the Cheyenne River Sioux. Throughout development of this 
rule, we maintained regular contact with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe 
and have received their full support in this reintroduction.

Effective Date

    We have waived the 30-day delay between publication of this final 
rule and its effective date as provided in the Administrative Procedure 
Act (5 U.S.C. 533(d)(3)). This is necessary to ensure that ferret kits 
are released on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation at the most 
biologically favorable time possible. Previous ferret releases and 
scientific study have demonstrated that ferret survival is markedly 
enhanced by adequate preconditioning of kits in outdoor pens between 
60-90 days of age and subsequent release into the wild from about 120-
140 days of age.
    The bulk of the annual production of captive-reared ferrets for the 
year 2000 was completed between mid-May to mid-June. To facilitate the 
reintroduction of ferrets on the

[[Page 60886]]

Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation site in 2000, we have allocated 
ferrets from later litters. However, in order to ensure that ferrets 
are reintroduced as close to optimal age as possible, it will be 
necessary to release allocated ferrets by October 2000.
    A substantial delay of releasing ferrets at optimal ages would 
necessitate the transfer of allocated ferrets to other reintroduction 
sites and would postpone reintroduction efforts on the Cheyenne River 
Sioux Reservation until 2001. Such an action would substantially impact 
our ferret reintroduction efforts for the year 2000 and would retard 
overall species recovery. Good cause exists under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) for 
the rule to be effective immediately upon publication.

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 62:643-653.
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 Department of Game, Fish 
and Parks, Technical Bulletin 4:1-36.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1988. Black-footed ferret recovery 
plan. 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 at telephone 
307/721-8805 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.

Special Regulations Promulgation

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


    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 where  E                1, 3, 433,           NA         NA
                                                          Western Canada.       listed as an                           545, 546,
                                                                                experimental                           582, 646,
                                                                                population.                                  703
    Do...........................  ......do............  ......do............  U.S.A. (specified     XN                433, 545,           NA   17.84(g)
                                                                                portions of AZ, CO,                    546, 582,
                                                                                MT, SD, UT, and WY,                     646, 703
                                                                                see 17.84(g)(9)).

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *

    3. Amend section 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 Sioux 
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

[[Page 60887]]

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 60888]]


[[Page 60889]]

* * * * *

    Dated: September 28, 2000.
Kenneth L. Smith,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 00-26349 Filed 10-12-00; 8:45 am]