Recovering black-footed ferrets may get the shaft

Recovering black-footed ferrets may get the shaft

It appears that even the endangered black-footed ferret will feel the impacts of accelerated energy developments on public land, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (Bureau) recently sold leases on several parcels of land within the Wolf Creek Management Area in northwestern Colorado. This management area is where black-footed ferrets?considered by many to be one of the most imperiled mammal species in North America?were reintroduced. Nine of 20 parcels offered for lease in the reintroduction area were sold. The remaining parcels remain open for bid.

Since 2001, nearly 190 ferrets have been released in the area. Just last fall, a juvenile ferret was found, providing at least some evidence of breeding in the population. Plans call for release of another 40 ferrets this year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The reintroduction program has been a considerable investment of human and fiscal resources by federal and state wildlife and land management agencies. Ferrets are highly dependent on prairie dogs for food, and the Wolf Creek reintroduction site was considered ideal for ferret relocation because of its abundance of prairie dogs.

Because there are so few of them, little is known about black-footed ferrets in the wild; even less is known about the species' ability to adapt to increased human activity. Given that the Wolf Creek ferret population is new, small and has demonstrated only minimal recruitment, the potential impacts of energy development are considered more likely than not to hinder seriously the five years of species-recovery work.

The Bureau has announced that it will require energy companies that develop the leases to minimize impacts on ferret habitat. Both Bureau and energy companies assert that all parties knew from the reintroduction outset that the area was open to leasing and that additional energy development could occur. The Bureau also has noted that, when an area is designated as open for leasing in Bureau land management plans, the Bureau is required to process any parcels that are nominated by energy companies. The various agencies, at least, did not expect or anticipate the short timeline and extent of western energy development.

Supposing that, in some circumstances and areas, the preemption of energy need, miscalculation and profit is not in the public interest, protests about the Wolf Creek Wildlife Management leases have been filed by environmental and recreational groups. They are not hopeful, which isn't news at all.

The Bureau news release on the lease sale can be found at


June 13, 2006