From the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department
-- South Dakota has joined Wyoming and Arizona to support a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to provide assurances for private landowners cooperating with black-footed ferret recovery efforts.
The USFWS announced the rejection of a petition to reclassify three black-footed ferret populations now managed under the experimental, nonessential designation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
The petition filed by a nonprofit organization requested reclassification of ferret populations in Wyoming, Arizona and South Dakota from Nonessential Experimental to a more tightly restricted Endangered or Essential status where they occur on public lands.
“Maintaining Nonessential designation is an extremely important part of black-footed ferret reintroduction efforts,” GFP Secretary Jeff Vonk said. “With a more restrictive status, progress toward restoration of the black-footed ferret would be much more difficult. Private landowners have been key to the success of South Dakota’s recovery efforts, and a more restrictive change in the classification of ferrets would have a negative impact on our re-introduction work.”
Black-footed ferrets are the only ferret species endemic to North America. The species was thought to be extinct until a small colony of ferrets was discovered near Meeteetse, Wyoming in 1981. Outbreaks of canine distemper and (possibly) sylvatic plague reduced this population to about 18 individuals. The remaining ferrets were captured to begin a captive breeding program to save the species.
Since 1991, federal and state agencies, in cooperation with private landowners, conservation groups, Native Americans and the North American zoo community, have been actively reintroducing ferrets back into the wild from captive breeding facilities. Beginning in Wyoming, reintroduction efforts have since expanded to sites in Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas, Canada and Mexico. There are currently 19 black-footed ferret reintroduction sites.
Biologists estimate there are currently a minimum of 800 to 1,000 individual ferrets living in the wild. All of these are descended from the 18 individual ferrets captured in Wyoming.