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Black-Footed Ferrets at Risk

WWF activists have been speaking out for the protection of black-footed ferrets, and their primary food source, the black-tailed prairie dog, since 2001.

black foot ferretsBlack-footed ferrets were considered extinct until a few survivors were found in Wyoming in 1982. Since then a successful captive breeding and reintroduction effort has raised hopes that the ferret will recover. But recovery is impossible unless prairie dogs remain available as a food source for the ferrets and the number of prairie dogs is dwindling due to disease, poisoning and recreational shooting.

Prairie dogs are also a key food source for hawks, burrowing owls, badgers, swift foxes, and other species, and their burrows provide important shelter for these species. Without extensive, healthy prairie dog towns, we won't be able to protect and restore the Northern Great Plains grasslands, an ecosystem that WWF has identified as one of the highest priorities for conservation worldwide and one of the places that must be saved in the next 50 years.

Massive Prairie Dog Poisoning Proposed

In 2006 the U.S. Forest Service proposed allowing the unrestricted poisoning of prairie dogs within three national grasslands in Nebraska and South Dakota.  The loss of so many prairie dogs would cripple recovery of the black-footed ferret.  

The Forest Service proposal would allow prairie dog poisoning anywhere on the three grasslands, including within an area that holds the largest concentration of prairie dogs on public lands in the Great Plains and that is home to about half of the world's approximately 700 remaining black-footed ferrets.

14,700 WWF activists opposed the plan during a first comment period. During a second comment period in 2007, 13,160 activists submitted comments.  Thank you! 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service submitted comments that were also critical of the Forest Service's draft plan plan and recommended the same alternatives that WWF online activists had recommended.

The Forest Service has not yet announced its final plan for prairie dog management.

Inadequate Management Plan Finalized for U.S. National Grasslands

In 2002, Conservation Action Network activists sent close to 5,000 messages urging the U.S. Forest Service to develop a strong plan for managing the national grasslands. The plan affects the future of black-footed ferrets, prairie dogs, burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, swift foxes, and other wildlife that depend on national grasslands within the globally outstanding Northern Great Plains ecoregion.

Once teeming with a mosaic of wildlife, the Northern Great Plains ecoregion has suffered greatly from more than a century of development and agricultural activity. Unfortunately, despite your efforts, the Forest Service adopted an inadequate final plan for managing nearly 3 million acres of the region's grasslands. The plan shortchanges proposed wilderness, opens more wildlife habitat to oil and gas development, and fails to recommend the designation of any Wild and Scenic Rivers.
World Wildlife Fund will work instead toward a different vision: we believe that many parts of the Northern Great Plains ecosystem can be restored and can serve as the foundation of a stable economy.

Partial Victory for Ferret Conservation

In 2001, despite sending the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) tens of thousands of messages, WWF activists were unable to convince the agency to restrict the shooting of prairie dogs. BLM chose to wait for the state of Montana to consider regulating the shooting of prairie dogs. Some people shoot several dozen prairie dogs each day.

The great interest in black-footed ferret recovery expressed through these many messages, however, helped convince the BLM to begin reintroducing ferrets in the small area that it has protected from shooting. In addition, the state acted in March 2002 to restrict shooting on federal lands from March 1 to May 31. Although this was a positive step forward, this partial victory did not adequately protect all of the habitat that is essential for black-footed ferret recovery, nor did it replace the BLM's responsibility to protect habitat for endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had urged the BLM, which manages the public land within the black-footed ferret recovery area, to put an end to the shooting. In 2000, the BLM closed 15 prairie dogs towns to shooting. But that amount is insufficient. It is essential that the BLM also close an area known as the "7-kilometer ferret recovery area" in Montana and reintroduce prairie dogs there in order to rebuild their populations. 

Past alerts

Stop Prairie Dog Poisoning - 6/29/2007
Stop Massive Prairie Dog Poisoning - 10/25/2007
Protect Black-Footed Ferrets and Other Prairie Wildlife - 1/9/2002
Save Endangered Ferrets-3/22/2001

For more information

Read about the prairie dog poisoning plan

Learn about WWF's work to protect the wildlife of the Northern Great Plains