Ferret recovery pioneer moves on

 

In his 18 years as Wall District ranger in Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Bill Perry led the effort to restore endangered black-footed ferrets. He helped write the plan to bring in captive-bred ferrets, engineered land swaps to consolidate habitat, and helped manage the pens where the animals were acclimated before being released.

Perry built the West’s healthiest population of ferrets, about 200 animals. But in July, he traded the color-banded South Dakota badlands for the granite foyers of Washington, D.C. Perry accepted a promotion to U.S. Forest Service headquarters, where he’ll work on rangeland issues nationally.

Perry’s departure might appear politically motivated, but it’s not that simple. Some ranchers didn’t like his support for prairie dogs, the prime food source for ferrets. They had an ally in Gov. Mike Rounds, R, who pressured other officials to allow a recent campaign of poisoning prairie dog colonies (HCN, 12/20/04: Rulings keep the West open for business). But other ranchers appreciated Perry’s straight-talking style and knowledge of the issues. And Perry says he sought the promotion to headquarters.

Environmentalists are watching closely to see who takes the key district ranger job. The Forest Service plans to fill it temporarily while searching for a permanent replacement. "We’re going to miss Bill," says Heather Moriah, a local Sierra Club organizer. "He was a visionary district ranger, and we hope whoever (the Forest Service) chooses to replace him maintains the level of commitment to ferrets that Bill had."