The black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet.
Thought extinct in the mid-1980s, a surprise finding of a handful in 1987 spawned a capture and eventual captive breeding program that currently has 370 in the wild and more at facilities like the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center near Fort Collins, Co.
In 2014, I spoke with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department biologist Calvin Richardson about ferret restoration possibilities in Texas and he gave some hopeful information.
During the recent meeting of the Texas Black-footed Ferret Working Group on August 12th, the working group members agreed that the drought and past years of drier than average conditions over the High Lonesome have created less than favorable conditions for prairie dog densities, which has direct implications for survival of black-footed ferrets. TPWD will therefore not seek to reintroduce ferrets in Texas in 2013, but instead focus on a potential reintroduction in 2014 on the High Lonesome next fall.
That reintroduction never happened.
I spoke to Richardson Feb. 15 and he said private ranches in the Panhandle that had large prairie dog towns (necessary for ferrets) were no longer under consideration and that a public tract that had the right type of habitat and large prairie dog towns was recently hit by the plague.
This is typical of the black-footed ferret’s story.
On one hand, the poisoning of prairie dogs in the mid 20th century had a huge negative impact on these mustelids and in turn, nature deals a cruel blow every time plague rips through a prairie dog town.
Richardson said TPWD’s Panhandle office has been busy dealing with potentially endangered designations on several species including the western massasauga and the prairie chicken. Ferret reintroduction at least in that region seems to be off the table for the moment or at least until conditions in the region change.
The black-footed ferret once ranged across a huge portion of the west-central United States and perhaps one day they will again.
Their populations will never by back to their former glories but there is hope these unique predators will inhabit far more territory than they do now.
I hope my home state of Texas is included.
It would make the High Plains and the rugged Trans Pecos seem a little wilder and more complete.