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Anonymous 2011

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Endangered SpeciesMountain-Prairie Region
Black-footed Ferret

Black-Footed Ferret Photos by Charlene Bessken (click on thumbnail for larger image)

Colorado Block Clearance Map

New Items:
May 17, 2010 - Response to Administrative Procedure Act Petition by WildEarth Guardians

May 17, 2010 - News Release - U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rejects black-footed ferret population reclassification petition

Legal Status under the ESA: On March 11, 1967, the black-footed ferret was listed as endangered range-wide.

Species Description:[3] The black-footed ferret is a medium-sized mustelid typically weighing 1.4 to 2.5 pounds (lbs) and measuring 19 to 24 inches in total length. Upper body parts are yellowish buff, occasionally whitish; feet and tail tip are black; and a black “mask” occurs across the eyes. It is the only ferret species native to the Americas (there are no recognized subspecies). Other ferret species in the genus include the Siberian polecat (M. eversmanni) and the European ferret (M. putorius).

Habitat:[2] The black-footed ferret depends on prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) for food and their burrows for shelter. Historically, ferret habitat largely coincided with habitats of the black-tailed prairie dog (C. ludovicianus), Gunnison’s prairie dog (C. gunnisoni) and white-tailed prairie dog (C. leucurus).

Range:[1] The black-footed ferret historic range spanned much of the western North America’s intermountain and prairie grasslands extending from Canada to Mexico. The species now exists at 17 reintroduction sites across 8 States, Canada, and Mexico (2 of the 19 reintroduction sites no longer have a ferret population).

Once Thought Extinct: [5]The black-footed ferret was considered extinct or nearly extinct when a small population was located in Mellette County, South Dakota in 1964. Attempts at captive breeding with a few captured animals from the Mellette County population failed. The last wild ferret observed at the Mellette County site was in 1974. When the last captive animal died at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland in 1979, the ferret was again presumed extinct.

In 1981, a second population was discovered in Meeteetse, Wyoming. Following disease outbreaks at Meeteetse, all surviving wild black-footed ferrets were removed between 1985 and 1987 to initiate a captive breeding program. No wild populations of black-footed ferrets have been found since the capture of the last Meeteetse ferret, despite extensive and intensive range wide searches. It is unlikely that any undiscovered wild populations remain.

Seven of the black-footed ferrets captured at Meeteetse successfully reared young, leading to a lineage of continuing captive reproduction. Extant populations, both captive and reintroduced, descend from these seven “founder” animals.

Captive Propagation Program: The captive program maintains a core breeding population of at least 240 adults (90 males, 150 females). Captive breeding populations are currently housed in 6 locations across the United States and Canada and currently number approximately 290 animals. Through the implementation of the Black-footed Ferret Species Survival Plan, captive propagation has been able to maintain 87 percent of the genetic diversity of the founding animals.[6] Since 1987, more than 6,500 ferret kits have been produced in captivity and over 2,300 kits have been released into the wild.

Reintroduction Program: Since 1991, 19 specific black-footed ferret reintroduction projects have been conducted across 8 States, Canada, and Mexico. All five of the first ferret reintroductions (from 1991 to 1996) continue to be occupied by ferrets. Half of all reintroductions sites ongoing long enough to be gauged are considered “successful” (i.e., self-sustaining with 30 or more breeding adults capable of supporting other sites with translocations) or “improving” (i.e., increasing population) (33 percent and 17 percent, respectively). Successful reproduction has been documented by ferrets at every reintroduction site, although 2 of the 19 reintroduction sites no longer have a ferret population.

Recovery Planning & Progress Towards Recovery: The current Black-footed Ferret Recovery Plan was approved in 1988. An earlier recovery plan was drafted in 1978, when no extant, wild black-footed ferrets were thought to exist. A revision to the recovery plan is underway. One of the objectives from the 1988 Recovery Plan was to establish a population of 1,500 free-ranging adult black-footed ferrets in 10 or more populations with no fewer than 30 breeding adults in any population. As of early 2010, we believe the free-ranging adult standard (i.e., 1,500 individuals) is approximately 47 percent achieved and the establishment of 10 populations with no fewer than 30 breeding adults is 40 percent achieved (i.e., we have 4 populations that meet this criterion).

Recent Actions: [7] Since 2006, the Service has initiated 7 new reintroduction sites including: Espee Ranch, Arizona, Logan County, Kansas, Lower Brule, South Dakota, Northern Cheyenne, Montana, Saskatewan, Canada, Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. It is too early to gauge the success of these sites.

[4] In November 2008, the Service completed a 5-year review of Black-footed ferret. This review found that the black-footed ferret remains one of the most endangered mammals in the United States and continues to warrant endangered status.

In August 2009, the Service completed an action plan outlining the actions necessary to facilitate the continued improvement in the species status and increase the number of ferret reintroduction sites.

In May 2010, the Service responded to a petition, filed pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, to reclassify three black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) populations under the Endangered Species Act (Act).

•Press Release
•Petition Finding
Other Information:

•Black-footed Ferret Recovery Program
•More information can be found on the Service's ECOS webpage

Last updated: April 5, 2011

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