WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a new rule to aid the reintroduction of endangered ferrets under a special section of the Endangered Species Act. The action, published Friday, is the result of a collaboration between the USFWS and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and is designed to encourage landowners to establish ferrets on their property. It finalizes a proposed rule from April.
"Private landowners are key to the success of the black-footed ferret recovery effort," Noreen Walsh, Regional Director of the USFWS Mountain-Prairie Region, said. "We are pleased to be working with the state to give Wyoming landowners the comfort level they need to consider establishing ferrets on their property. Black-footed ferrets were originally rediscovered in Wyoming after they were thought to have gone extinct, so it is fitting that this rule will allow more of them to return home."
It is estimated that more than a million ferrets inhabited the U.S. in the early 1900s, but they were virtually wiped out when agricultural development used rodent poisons to eradicate prairie dog populations, the ferret's main source of prey. When a relic population was found in 1981, a captive breeding program was initiated to reintroduce the species to its historical range.
The critically endangered black-footed ferret, a member of the weasel family, is the only ferret native to the U.S. It was listed as endangered in 1967 under the ESA. In 1982, Congress amended the act to include Section 10(j) to ease the prohibitions against harming an endangered plant or animal in the case of reintroduced populations. Such populations can be designated as "nonessential" because the failure of the population would have no significant impact on the overall survival of the species. Under the 10(j) rule, the USFWS's final action will now classify any reestablished black-footed ferret population in Wyoming as a nonessential experimental population, and all black-footed ferrets found in the state are to be considered part of the nonessential populations, without the endangered status protections of ferrets found elsewhere.
Friday's rule designates Wyoming as a special area for ferret reintroductions. Although no specific sites for reintroductions in Wyoming have been determined, the flexibility under the 10(j) rule allows landowners to manage their property without worrying that they might break the law by accidently harming a ferret. The rule is also designed to answer concerns that re-established populations would create restrictions on the use of private, tribal or public lands, the agency said.
"This new rule is a good fit for Wyoming because it builds on voluntary efforts by landowners and recognizes the role they play in species conservation," Scott Talbott, Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said. "The final rule should have positive impacts on black-footed ferrets and Wyoming can continue to play a leading role in the conservation of this species."
The ferrets have been reintroduced in 17 sites spanning seven states and areas in Canada and Mexico. "The biggest obstacle to ferret recovery today is lack of suitable reintroduction sites, which the 10(j) rule in Wyoming is designed to address," the agency said.
The final rule is effective Nov. 30, 2015.
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