The City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department wants to reintroduce the federally endangered black-footed ferret to manage the prairie dog colonies at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area north of Fort Collins.
But first, the city needs approval from the state, after receiving the go-ahead from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013. On Saturday, Gov. John Hickenlooper will attend a signing ceremony at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery to sign a bill allowing the native black-footed ferret to be brought into Soapstone Prairie and Meadow Springs Ranch, both owned by Fort Collins. The ceremony will be at 11 a.m.
The black-footed ferret, a rare indigenous mammal with perky ears and a black mask of fur, relies on prairie dogs for its main food source and resides in prairie dog burrows.
“Without prairie dogs, you don’t have ferrets,” said Daylan Figgs, senior environmental planner for the Natural Areas Department.
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Black-footed ferrets are one of the most endangered mammals in the world and their recovery efforts include a multi-agency captive breeding and reintroduction program. From 1991 to 2010, more than 3,000 captive-reared ferrets were reintroduced at 19 sites across North America. The captive-breeding program has successfully saved ferrets from extinction, but maintaining the captive population and producing kits for reintroduction is expensive. Furthermore, survival rates of captive-reared ferrets are lower than those of wild-born kits.
In an effort to help boost the survival of wild-born black-footed ferrets, scientists with the USDA-APHIS National Wildlife Research Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the University of Montana recently tested the effectiveness and feasibility of electric fencing to protect young ferrets from coyote predation at the UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge in Montana.
Researchers fenced portions of two prairie dog colonies within the wildlife refuge in order to exclude coyotes from areas inhabited by adult female ferrets and their litters. Results showed the electric fencing was an effective tool for reducing coyote activity in the study area and researchers observed a 22 percent higher survival rate for ferret kits living in protected areas versus unprotected areas. However, the fencing was not perfect and coyotes were found inside the fenced area on three occasions.
The cost for the fencing and its installation were approximately $7,200 per mile. Maintenance and monitoring costs for 2 months were an additional $1,025 per mile. Based on these numbers, researchers estimate that a 20–30 percent increase in the survival rate of wild-born kits would cost around $4,500 per ferret kit over 10 years. That cost drops to around $2,100 per ferret kit, if monitoring is done using volunteers and donated or borrowed vehicles. This study provides decisionmakers with valuable information for comparing the costs of breeding ferrets in captivity versus improving the survival of existing wild-born ferrets.
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing the availability of the black-footed ferret Revised Recovery Plan. The black-footed ferret was historically found throughout the Great Plains, mountain basins and semi-arid grasslands of North America wherever prairie dogs occurred. The species is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
The ferret’s close association with prairie dogs is an important factor in its decline. From the late 1800s to approximately the 1960s, conversion of native grasslands to cropland as well as poisoning and disease dramatically reduced prairie dog numbers. The ferret population declined as a result.
Read more: Cortez Journal
The Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) was historically found throughout the Great Plains, mountain basins, and semi-arid grasslands of North America wherever prairie dogs occurred, according to a news release from the federal agency.
The species is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
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