“Black-footed Ferret Stretched Out, National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, Colorado”

“If you take away the prairie dogs, there will be no one to cry for the rain.” Unknown Arizonan Navajo

Last week, I attended the Prairie Dog Technical Meeting at the Boulder County Humane Society. The meeting was attended by an impressive who’s who of grassland conservation leaders and my friend Lindsey Sterling-Krank did a great job coordinating the event. Tons of important information was shared and it’s great to know that black-footed ferret reintroduction is being planned for sites smaller than 10,000 acres. And it’s a good thing, because there aren’t many large prairie dog complexes left. Here’s prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets by the numbers:

$885.82 – Restitution that a Arizona “hunter” was ordered to pay after he killed a relocated white-tailed prairie dog on the Las Cienegas site. He also lost hunting priviledges for 5 years.
99% – Prairie dog mortality rate when plague visits a colony.
100 acres – Approximate acreage required to support one black-footed ferret.
885 – Approximate number of black-footed ferrets in the wild. They are the most endangered mammal in North America.
5 – Number of North American prairie dog species. Mexican, Utah, White-tailed, Gunnison’s, and black-tailed prairie dogs are all imperiled.
3,000 – The number of black-footed ferrets required to be living in the wild to remove the species from the Endangered Species List.
1 1/2 – 2 years – Lifespan of a black-footed ferret in the wild.
< 5% - The generally agreed upon prairie dog habitat remaining in North America. Many biologists say the number is less than 2%.
1 – Number of Black-footed ferrets in the wild in Colorado today.
30 – Number of breeding adults required for a self-sustaining black-footed ferret population.
12,000 – Number of white-tailed prairie dogs surviving.
1 – Large prairie dog complexes remaining in North America (> 10,000 acres). The site is Conata Basin in South Dakota.
1961 – When concerns about prairie dog habitat and species decline began.
78 hours – The time it takes a prairie dog to die after plague exposure.
90% – Diet dependence on prairie dogs for black-footed ferrets.
222% – Survival rate improvement when prairie dog burrows are dusted for plague with Deltamethrin.
550 – Number of black-tailed praire dogs relocated to Thunder Basin National Grassland in July, 2010.

I think that we can all agree that these aren’t fun facts and that prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets have huge hurdles ahead, to simply survive. It is heartwarming to see so much passion, energy, and intellect assembled in one place; professionals and volunteers working for the survival of misunderstood species. As with many conservation issues, ignorance and hard-wired hatred are playing a major role in preventing habitat protection and reversing steep declines. How is it that all five species aren’t on the Endangered Species List? But there is hope. This summer, the US Forest Service welcomed a relocation of black-tailed prairie dogs on their land – the first ever relocation to public lands. The work was planned, and coordinated by Humane Society U.S., World Wildlife Fund and Defenders of Wildlife. I was fortunate to be asked to photograph the event on assignment for HSUS’ All Animals Magazine. This precedent-setting occurrence gives all of the hard-working prairie dog advocates hope that we can work together to recover these imperiled species and find large complexes that grow black-footed ferret populations to a sustainable future. The All Animals article, written by Ruthanne Johnson is here.

4 thoughts on “$885.82

    1. Thanks for the kind comment, Chessie. This situation was a little different than most, well… a LOT different. I photographed the ferrets in the pen that is the last step before they are trapped and released into the wild. There are burrows in the pen and prairie dogs are part of their diet, just like a wild grassland. In spite of the close quarters, I was amazed at the lightning speed and gregarious nature of the ferrets. I thought at the time they’re like slinkys with teeth. And seeing a ferret do a backflip is just laugh out loud funny. I was there in September a few years ago, and the remaining ferrets were trapped while I was still at the facility; ready to be transferred into the wild. At the time, there were approximately ten large prairie dog complexes in North America suitable for black-footed ferret reintroduction. Now, there are one or two and ferrets are getting released on smaller sites… We’re at a crossroads for the five prairie dog species and black-footed ferrets.

  1. Three comments on your blog.

    Thanks for mentioning PD technical meeting; it was great!

    On AZ reintroduction. That species is black tailed prairie dogs- no white tails in AZ. In 2009 and 2010 that reintrodiction ocurred on Federal BLM land. While Conata Basin project last summer was a great accomplishment. It was not the first.

    Thanks for all you do for wildlife & for your wonderful photographs.

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