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Government Considers Poisoning Habitat of U.S.'s Most Endangered Mammal

WASHINGTON - Almost 25 years to the day that the black-footed ferret was rediscovered, previously having been declared extinct, federal officials announced that they are considering changing rules to allow poisoning of prairie dog towns, even the ones ferrets rely upon for survival. Among the areas being considered for poisoning is the Conata Basin near Wall, South Dakota, home to the world's only successful wild population of ferrets. September 26 is the 25th anniversary of the rediscovery of the ferrets.

The poisoning would also affect endangered swift foxes, burrowing owls, eagles, hawks and other species that live in prairie dog burrows and/or prey upon them in the Buffalo Gap and Fort Pierre national grasslands in South Dakota and Oglala National Grassland in Nebraska.

"Under this proposal, the forest service could poison every prairie dog on three federal grasslands," said Steve Forrest, program officer for WWF's Northern Great Plains program and an expert on black-footed ferrets. "Ferrets rely on prairie dogs 100 percent so the impact could be devastating. This could be the unraveling of 25 years of recovery efforts for ferrets."

World Wildlife Fund is a leading voice for conservation in the Northern Great Plains. WWF is working to establish new protected areas for the benefit of people and wildlife and bring back the endangered wildlife and habitats of North America's grasslands. Globally, grasslands are the least protected biome.

"Black-footed ferrets were considered extinct 25 years ago until a Wyoming ranch dog brought one home to its owner," continued Forrest. "At one point, just 18 ferrets existed in the world and it has taken heroic efforts to get them to where we are today, with about 700 ferrets now living in the wild. Most of those ferrets are in Conata Basin and some scientists believe it is about as small as it can go and remain viable."