Strengthening the food chain could help an endangered species climb to healthy numbers. It’s the premise behind the newly-unveiled plan for managing black-tailed prairie dogs on the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. The goal is better habitat to boost the number of prairie dogs to the point where Wyoming-native black-footed ferrets could be reintroduced.
Wildlife expert Duane Short at the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance says the ferret depends on the prairie dog for 95 percent of its diet, and as prairie dogs declined, the ferrets came close to extinction.
The catch in all of this is that the black-tailed prairie dog is seen as a pest by some land owners because it digs underground dens and tunnels. Short says the new plan promises to be aggressive about minimizing conflicts by moving problem prairie dog colonies – which will help spread the species into more public land areas, and in cases of last resort, poisoning them.
Short says while the poisoning part of the plan has raised hackles in the conservation community, he doesn’t expect it to be routine and he's focusing on the bigger picture – that restoring prairie dog populations is for the good of more than just black-footed ferrets.
Short said that if prairie dogs multiply as expected, black-footed ferrets could be reintroduced next year.