The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found
that successful reintroduction of the black-footed ferret is nearly
as rare and elusive as the weasel-like predators themselves. So
when the Bureau of Land Management asked the agency this summer for
an allotment of ferrets for release in less than ideal habitat, it
ranked the request at the bottom of the priority
But in early September, the Fish and
Wildlife Service approved the BLM's request to release about 20
ferrets in a 900-acre area known as the 40 Complex, even though it
has a relatively small population of prairie dogs, the ferrets'
primary prey. The approval came with the stipulation that the BLM
continue to maintain a shooting ban on prairie dogs. Local critics
view the reintroduction with suspicion.
extremely wary of the sudden interest in turning (ferrets) loose
after they'd said conditions (on the 40 Complex) were poor," says
Ken Blunt, who grazes cattle near the release site. "The Fish and
Wildlife Service just wants to force the BLM to close land to
prairie dog shooting."
The BLM's Bruce Reed
denies that the agency is considering further releases and shooting
bans on surrounding areas, but the Fish and Wildlife Service has
indicated it would like to see a web of linked ferret populations
across the county.
"We're hoping for a continuum
of habitat between the 40 (Complex) and C.M. Russell (National
Wildlife Refuge, another ferret release site)," says Michael
Lockhart of the agency's Ferret Recovery Program. "It logically
involves BLM lands between the sites, some lands that are very good
habitat ... We've still got a ways to go."