“Howdy, I’m from the government, and I’m here to save you.” Those are the words that the government is telling the black-footed ferret these days as they are looking for private lands to reintroduce the animal. That means that they have to find ranchers who have at least 1,500 contiguous acres with black-tailed prairie dogs living on it or 3,000 acres with white-tailed or Gunnison’s prairie dog habitat. These acres could be under one landowner or multiple owners, but must be large enough to support more than 30 breeding pairs. This is starting to sound like the wolf, isn’t it?
Though the comment period is over now, the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center under the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Wellington, Colo. is spearheading the action. They enlisted the NRCS to help with finding appropriate lands, but they soon found out that it was not their most popular issue to promote. As a result, we are not hearing much in Wyoming about it.
To NRCS’s credit, they are just the messengers, so go easy on them. The FWS is really trying to sell a voluntary program, but it is an uphill challenge. After reading the comments from National Association of Conservation Districts, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Public Lands Council, there are numerous concerns, as can be expected.
First, those of us in the Rocky Mountain States, especially Wyoming, are still involved with the wolf issue, and that was a pretty rocky road to get to where we are today. Our memories are not that short to just roll over for the FWS – regardless of whether or not they are using all the right words today.
Now it’s the black-footed ferret – here we go again with single species management.
With the black-footed ferret, they are talking about a voluntary and incentive based approached for ranchers, but they haven’t figured out how to keep the prairie dogs just on the ranchers lands and off the neighbors. What will happen if the ferrets move onto the neighbors? No federal lands will be eligible, and there are no answers to what will happen on split estate lands. What happens to mineral development? The problem is that there are too many unanswered questions. We need to know more to proceed forward.
It seems that the bigger issue today is the sage grouse. Some of us woke up to find our ranches in a green circle known as a core area that has changed our management somewhat and hindered development. One could call it legal blackmail, but Wyoming has stepped up to the plate and is leading the way on managing for the sage grouse to keep it from being listed. Most of us are appreciative for the work being done with the sage grouse, but we are all waiting for 2015 when the FWS decides if the bird needs listed.
Last, just how much can we trust the Endangered Species Act these days? As you visit with those who wrote the Act, they just shake their heads on what the Act does these days. It is punitive and strikes fear as one discusses it.
Before we jump ahead with another species, we need to take a long look and be careful.