Another small step toward the preservation of the black-footed ferret, among the most endangered animals in North America, has been taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency has announced a Safe Harbor Agreement involving 12 western states, including Nebraska.
The agreement protects the right of ranchers and property owners who have voluntarily agreed to set aside ferret habitat to routinely graze livestock on the land. Public, private and tribal lands are eligible for the conservation effort, which won’t become official until after a public comment and review period.
Omahans may remember that the Henry Doorly Zoo participated in a highly successful captive-breeding program for the black-footed ferret in the late 1980s that helped establish several wild colonies. The program resulted in the production of more than 6,000 young at three captive-breeding sites. The animals, which eat mainly prairie dogs, also live in abandoned prairie dog burrows.
No ferret colonies have been located in Nebraska, where many ranchers are more focused on eradicating prairie dogs than fostering black-footed ferrets.
Nevertheless, where prairie dogs and the ferrets that depend on them are accepted, an agreement clarifying grazing rights is welcome indeed.