Black Footed Ferret
© Michael Lockhart/USFWS

Black-Footed Ferret

Success Stories

Ferrets Reintroduced to Fort Belknap Reservation

In 2013, Defenders helped reintroduce ferrets to Fort Belknap Reservation in northcentral Montana. Along with our partners from Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife department and World Wildlife Fund, we mapped the recovering prairie dog colonies, dusted them to prevent plague, and reintroduced 32 ferrets in the fall. Our hope is that this site will grow in size and become home to a stable ferret population in future years.

Ferrets Reintroduced to Western Kansas

Defenders is also helping a group of ranchers in Kansas who are fighting to save prairie dogs and their newly-reintroduced ferret population from a century-old state law requiring the death of all prairie dogs. In December 2008, Defenders of Wildlife sent an alert to our members in Kansas and elsewhere to ask then-Governor Sebelius to do what she could to help these landowners. Almost 33,000 members responded, helping to raise the profile of this important conservation effort. For several years, Defenders has also helped these landowners with coexistence tools to reduce conflict with neighboring landowners who do not want prairie dog colonies expanding onto their properties. Finally, in 2013, after years of legal attacks from the county commissioners, these ranchers won their right to maintain wildlife – including prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets – on their ranches.

Ferrets Now Reintroduced to 20 Locations

A successful black-footed ferret captive-breeding program was initiated in 1987 and continues to this day. As of 2013, an estimated 500 ferrets were living in the wild in 20 locations across the West, with four of the sites surpassing the required minimum of 30 breeding adults. Though we have a long way to go, by nearly all measurements, the ferret’s reintroduction to the wild has been a stunning accomplishment. Our challenge now is to establish more large colonies of prairie dogs so that we can finish the job of restoring one of the most endangered mammals on the continent.

Poisoning Halted at Conata Basin Ferret Recovery Area

In 2007, Defenders of Wildlife succeeded in preventing the U.S. Forest Service from poisoning tens of thousands of prairie dogs in Conata Basin, South Dakota, home to the most successful ferret recovery site. After tens of thousands of Defenders members took action to contact federal officials, the media picked up on the importance of this story and CNN brought it to the public’s attention on one of their “Broken Government” segments. Once people understood that this proposal entailed killing native wildlife on public lands, with public dollars, in an area critical for survival of an endangered species, the proposal was revoked.