The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Prairie Management Program has received a $10,000 grant from the First Nations Development Institute of Longmont, Colorado. This award will support the efforts of the Prairie Management Program’s Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Project by providing funds that will be used to provide incentive(s) to continue with recovery activities demonstrating Lakota environmental traditions.
The Tribe has been actively supportive of a national endeavor to reestablish the Black-footed Ferret throughout the ferrets native range since 1998. After studies and surveys located suitable ferret habitat and navigating federal red tape to obtain the required permits needed under the Endangered Species Act protecting North America most endangered mammal the project then requested an allocation of ferret kits from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The Tribe had initially approved Black-footed ferret recovery efforts in the 1993 Prairie Management Program plan and subsequent to recovery planning agreed to a release of sixty-four ferret kits onto a prairie dog colony northeast of Whitehorse, South Dakota in the fall of 2000. To paraphrase what the Chairman Greg Borland said at the time, “ Cheyenne River will take on what no others are willing to take on”.
The ferret recovery proceeded very well and had produced a self-sustaining population of ferrets by 2004 and produced 164 kits in that year. The Tribe had also approved additional release sites to place that expanding population. But, by 2008 nature had other plans. Prairie dynamics, the ebb and flow of prairie dog populations, of which the ferret is totally dependent on for food and shelter and an epidemic of Sylvatic plague had, by 2012-14, diminished the prairie dog acreage by an estimated 80-90%. Most devastating was the reduction of the ferret population to numbers unable to sustain the ferrets, even with supplemental kit releases from the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center. What has happened on the Cheyenne River Reservation has happened on every recovery site throughout the nation. It’s a sad thought that Black-footed ferrets may soon only exist in zoos.
From time to time the program does get reports of ferret sighting throughout the reservation and has collected one road kill Black-footed ferret. There may be a surviving population on the reservation, we know some immigrated to the Standing Rock Reservation, with limited staff the program is unable to locate an established population on our reservation. Ferrets are nocturnal and as such are normally located by spending long night hours spotlighting on small sites. With the plague seemingly having ran its course and the resurgence of prairie dogs the current recovery plans are to find suitable prairie dog colonies with cooperating landlords and release experimental populations of Black-footed ferret kits. If there are any questions, concerns or individuals wanting to provide the program with comments please contact the Prairie Management Program at 605-964-8964 or firstname.lastname@example.org.