The 10,000-acre ranches owned by Larry and Bette Haverfield, Gordon and Martha Barnhardt and Maxine Blank in Logan County, Kansas contain more than 6,000 acres of prairie dog colonies. This is the only prairie dog complex of this size in the state, making the area also the top site for black-footed ferrets, which that had not been seen in Kansas for fifty years. But on December 18, 2007, fourteen ferret kits were released onto those private lands, beginning a successful recovery effort.
A century-old Kansas statute allows county commissioners to trespass onto private land to poison prairie dogs and charge the landowners for the costs. The Logan County commissioners have been doing just this on the Haverfields’ ranch, threatening to destroy the entire ferret recovery effort.
How We’re Helping
In March 2008, the landowners won a partial victory. A Kansas judge ruled that the county may not trespass more than 90 feet onto the ranch property to poison prairie dogs. Since the landowners had already established a 90-foot tall-grass buffer around their property (which prevents prairie dogs from moving to other areas), the vast majority of the prairie dogs—and therefore the black-footed ferrets—are safe.
Where We Are Today
For long-term protection of prairie dogs, the state law allowing counties to trespass and poison prairie dogs must be revised. 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. Still, the state has taken no action to help these landowners any step of the way.