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Know the West

Adopt-a-ferret is under way

  Once close to extinction, the black-footed ferret is making a comeback this year. Over the past decade, thousands of the critters have been raised in captivity by a federally funded breeding program. This year, scientists plan to release around 250 ferrets in five Western states, adding to the estimated 200 captive-bred ferrets already in the wild.

"It's not going to be easy to reintroduce them," says Bureau of Land Management biologist Mike Albee. Since ferrets feed on prairie dogs, he says, recovery of the declining prairie dog population is critical for ferret survival.

To raise money for the reintroduction project, the BLM is introducing an adopt-a-ferret program in Colorado. "Since people are responsible for the demise of the ferret, it's only right that we do whatever we can to preserve and recover them," says Albee. Program supporters will receive general information about black-footed ferrets, whose numbers hovered at just 18 in 1987. They'll also get a photo of a specific ferret and reports throughout the year about that animal's health and progress. "It's a great educational thing for kids to do," says program coordinator Charlene Bessken. "They're helping a ferret get back to the wild where they belong." The cost is $100 for each ferret. Write to Bessken at the Bureau of Land Management, 455 Emerson St., Craig, CO 81625, or call 970/365-3613.

* Rebecca Clarren