HOLIDAY GIFT IN KANSAS: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Native Black-footed Ferrets
by Audubon of Kansas and Defenders of Wildlife - www.audubonofkansas.org
Ron Klataske, Audubon of Kansas Executive Director, releasing a black-footed ferret to the wild on Gordon Barnhardt's ranch. This ferret scoped out the landscape before disappearing down a prairie dog burrow. (Photo courtesy of USFWS)
LOGAN COUNTY, Kan. – A wondrous event occurred just before sunset on Tuesday evening in rural western Kansas. Twenty-four endangered black-footed ferret kits raised in captivity were released into the wild, beginning the restoration of a vibrant part of Kansas' wildlife heritage that has been missing for fifty years.
The ferrets were released on private properties in Logan County, Kansas on ranchlands owned by Larry and Bette Haverfield, Gordon Barnhardt and Maxine Blank.
"These landowners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have given us all a wonderful holiday gift: the return of the native black-footed ferret to its Kansas home," said Jonathan Proctor of Defenders of Wildlife. "Over 16,000 Americans wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November in support of restoring the black-footed ferret to the Haverfield Ranch. We are thrilled that the government listened to the public and helped make this holiday gift a reality."
Black-footed ferrets – one of North America's most endangered
mammals – live in prairie dog burrows. Their primary food source is the prairie dog and ferrets can only survive in very large prairie dog colonies.
"These ranch lands encompass the only prairie dog complex of this size in Kansas," said Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas. "When I first saw the lands in 2005, I knew they were our best hope for bringing black-footed ferrets back to Kansas."
Audubon has been working with the landowners since 2005, helping them propose the site for an experimental reintroduction of the black-footed ferret. Mapping of the colonies documented that prairie dogs were scattered over approximately 6,000 acres within a combined area of 10,000 acres. This is the only prairie dog complex of this size in Kansas, fulfilling key goals of the state’s prairie dog management and wildlife diversity plans, and forming the top rated site for potential recovery of black-footed ferrets in Kansas.
Because of the prairie dog colonies, these wildlife-friendly landowners have been at the forefront of an ongoing conservation battle. They have resisted the efforts of the Logan County Commissioners and the Kansas Farm Bureau, each determined to force these and other landowners to poison their lands to exterminate prairie dogs.
Threats and legal maneuvers seeking to impose poisoning on the lands of these ranchers--without their permission--have continued for more than two years, and remain the subject of litigation even in the wake of the ferret recovery effort.
A century-old state statute allows county commissions to trespass onto private land to poison native wildlife such as prairie dogs, and charge unwilling landowners for their costs.
"Poisoning with Rozol and Phostoxin not only kills prairie dogs but also the swift fox, burrowing owls, bald and golden eagles, ferruginous hawks and many other species," said Klataske. "It's time for our state laws to be updated to conserve our treasured native wildlife, not destroy it."
Photos of the ferret releases on ranchlands owned by Larry Haverfield and Gordon Barnhardt are available beginning Thursday morning December 20, 2007 for use by the media. They can be obtained on the Audubon of Kansas website: www.audubonofkansas.org.
Audubon of Kansas, with 5,000 members across the state, works to promote the enjoyment, understanding, protection, and restoration of Kansas’ natural ecosystems. For more information, go to www.audubonofkansas.org.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.