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New Rule Will Help Conservation of Endangered Ferrets in Wyoming

LAKEWOOD, Colo. – One of the most endangered mammals in North America received a boost today, thanks to collaborative efforts between the federal government and the State of Wyoming.

As part of its ongoing efforts to conserve the endangered black-footed ferret, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the support of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, has finalized a rule to designate the state of Wyoming as a special area for ferret reintroductions. The new rule will make it easier for willing landowners to host ferrets on their property.

“Private landowners are key to the success of the black-footed ferret recovery effort,” said Noreen Walsh, Regional Director of the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region. “We are pleased to be working with the state to give Wyoming landowners the comfort level they need to consider establishing ferrets on their property. Black-footed ferrets were originally rediscovered in Wyoming after they were thought to have gone extinct, so it is fitting that this rule will allow more of them to return home.”

“This new rule is a good fit for Wyoming because it builds on voluntary efforts by landowners and recognizes the role they play in species conservation,” said Scott Talbott, Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “The final rule should have positive impacts on black-footed ferrets and Wyoming can continue to play a leading role in the conservation of this species.”

Re-establishing a threatened or endangered species in parts of its former range is often necessary to recover a species. To relieve concern that reintroductions may restrict the use of private, tribal or public land, Congress added the provision for “non-essential, experimental” populations under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act.

The flexibility provided by 10(j) rules in other parts of the ferret’s range has allowed the Service to reintroduce the species on public and private lands from Mexico to Canada. Although potential sites for reintroductions in Wyoming have not yet been determined, with the special allowances afforded under the 10(j) rule, landowners will be able to manage their property without the concern they might break the law by inadvertently harming a ferret.

Participation in future recovery actions for the black-footed ferret by private landowners will continue to be entirely voluntary. Implementation of the 10(j) rule ensures that the concerns of private landowners and landowners adjacent to reintroduction areas are addressed comprehensively.

Once thought to be extinct, a remnant population of black-footed ferrets was discovered in the 1980s near Meeteetse, WY. Upon that discovery, the Service and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department founded a successful captive breeding program from those animals, which continues to this day.

The black-footed ferret recovery team has released ferrets at 24 sites across Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, New Mexico, Canada and Mexico. Today, 17 of those sites have confirmed black-footed ferret populations. Current numbers in the wild are encouraging, but more reintroduction sites are needed to fully recover the species so that it no longer requires federal protection. The biggest obstacle to ferret recovery today is lack of suitable reintroduction sites, which the 10(j) rule in Wyoming is designed to address. There are no immediate plans to reintroduce ferrets in Wyoming, but the Wyoming Game and Fish Department will work with landowners who want to volunteer to host a reintroduction.