Recovery of the black-footed ferret: Progress and continuing challenges- Proceedings of the Symposium on the Status of the Black-footed Ferret and Its Habitat, Fort Collins, Colorado, January 28-29, 2004

Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5293

Edited by:
James E. Roelle , Brian J. Miller , Jerry L. Godbey , and Dean E. Biggins ORCID iD



The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is a member of the weasel family (Mustelidae) and is closely related to the Siberian polecat (M. eversmannii) of Asian steppes and the European polecat (M. putorius). Compared to its relatives, the black-footed ferret is an extreme specialist, depending on the prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) of North American grasslands for food and using prairie dog burrows for shelter. The black-footed ferret’s close association with prairie dogs was an important factor in its decline. Prairie dogs were regarded as an agricultural pest as human settlement progressed westward, and they became important hosts for plague as that disease colonized eastward from its sources of introduction on the west coast. Prairie dog numbers were dramatically reduced by poisoning, cropland conversions, and plague during the first half of the 20th century, and black-footed ferret populations declined precipitously. The black-footed ferret was included on the first lists of endangered species, and its status was precarious by the time the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was passed. Its rebound from a low point of 10 known individuals in spring of 1985 (Biggins and others, 2006) is impressive, but the species is not yet “recovered” in either the biological or legal sense (for further details, see Lockhart and others, this volume).

Table of Contents



Section I. Background.....1

The Symposium in Context (Dean E. Biggins) .....3

A Historical Perspective on Recovery of the Black-footed Ferret and the Biological and Political Challenges Affecting Its Future (J. Michael Lockhart, E. Tom Thorne, and Donald R. Gober).....6

Section II. Managing Captive Populations.....21

An Adaptive Management Approach for Black-footed Ferrets in Captivity (Paul E. Marinari and Julie S. Kreeger) .....23

Use of Reproductive Technology for Black-footed Ferret Recovery (JoGayle Howard, Rachel M. Santymire, Paul E. Marinari, Julie S. Kreeger, Linwood Williamson, and David E. Wildt) .....28

The Genetic Legacy of the Black-footed Ferret: Past, Present, and Future (Samantha M. Wisely).....37

Section III. Searching for Wild Black-footed Ferrets......45

A History of Searches for Black-footed Ferrets (Louis R. Hanebury and Dean E. Biggins).....47

Section IV. Locating and Evaluating Habitat.....67

Areas Where Habitat Characteristics Could Be Evaluated To Identify Potential Black-footed Ferret Reintroduction Sites and Develop Conservation Partnerships (Robert J. Luce).....69 A Habitat-based Technique To Allocate Black-footed Ferret Recovery Among Jurisdictional Entities (Andrea E. Ernst, Aaron L. Clark, and Donald R. Gober) .....89

Habitat Restoration and Management (Joe C. Truett, Kristy Bly-Honness, Dustin H. Long, and Michael K. Phillips).....97

Black-tailed Prairie Dog Interactions with Other Herbivores: Mediation via Alterations of Vegetation (James K. Detling).....111

Shooting Prairie Dogs (Archie F. Reeve and Timothy C. Vosburgh).....119

Habitat Preferences and Intraspecific Competition in Black-footed Ferrets (Dean E. Biggins, Jerry L. Godbey, Marc R. Matchett, and Travis M. Livieri).....129

Evaluating Habitat for Black-footed Ferrets: Revision of an Existing Model (Dean E. Biggins, J. Michael Lockhart, and Jerry L. Godbey).....143

Section V. Reestablishing Populations .....153

Monitoring Black-footed Ferrets During Reestablishment of Free-ranging Populations: Discussion of Alternative Methods and Recommended Minimum Standards (Dean E. Biggins, Jerry L. Godbey, Marc R. Matchett, Louis R. Hanebury, Travis M. Livieri, and Paul E. Marinari).....155

Radio Telemetry for Black-footed Ferret Research and Monitoring (Dean E. Biggins, Jerry L. Godbey, Brian J. Miller, and Louis R. Hanebury).....175

Postrelease Movements and Survival of Adult and Young Black-footed Ferrets (Dean E. Biggins, Jerry L. Godbey, Travis M. Livieri, Marc R. Matchett, and Brent D. Bibles) .....191

Does Predator Management Enhance Survival of Reintroduced Black-footed Ferrets? (Stewart W. Breck, Dean E. Biggins, Travis M. Livieri, Marc R. Matchett, and Valerie Kopcso).....203

Section VI. Managing Diseases .....211

Recent Trends in Plague Ecology (Kenneth L. Gage and Michael Y. Kosoy) .....213 iv

Exposure of Captive Black-footed Ferrets to Plague and Implications for Species Recovery (Jerry L. Godbey, Dean E. Biggins, and Della Garelle).....233

Use of Pesticides To Mitigate the Effects of Plague (David B. Seery).....238

Vaccination as a Potential Means To Prevent Plague in Black-footed Ferrets (Tonie E. Rocke, Pauline Nol, Paul E. Marinari, Julie S. Kreeger, Susan R. Smith, Gerard P. Andrews, and Arthur W. Friedlander) .....243

The Quest for a Safe and Effective Canine Distemper Virus Vaccine for Black-footed Ferrets (Jeffrey Wimsatt, Dean E. Biggins, Elizabeth S. Williams, and Victor M. Becerra) .....248

Section VII. Extended Abstracts.....269

Identifying Focal Areas for Conservation of Black-footed Ferrets and Prairie Dog Associates (Jonathan Proctor,Bill Haskins, and Steve Forrest).....271

White-tailed Prairie Dog Population Survey and Habitat Evaluation in Western Wyoming (John A. Baroch and David A. Plume) .....275

Can the Systemic Insecticide Nitenpyram Be Used for Flea Control on Black-tailed Prairie Dogs? (Jeff N. Borchert and Jeff J. Mach).....278

Fleas and Small Mammal Hosts Within and Adjacent to the Coyote Basin White-tailed Prairie Dog Colony in Northeastern Utah (Lianna K. Etchberger, William E. Stroh, Brent D. Bibles, Matthew R. Dzialak, and Richard C. Etchberger) .....281

Effects of Moonlight on Cover Usage and Spatial Learning of Black-footed Ferrets (Samantha N. Marcum,Dean E. Biggins, and Jennifer A. Clarke) .....284

Modeling Black-footed Ferret Energetics: Are Southern Release Sites Better? (Lauren A. Harrington, Dean E. Biggins, and A. William Alldredge) .....286

Additional publication details

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USGS Numbered Series
Recovery of the black-footed ferret: Progress and continuing challenges- Proceedings of the Symposium on the Status of the Black-footed Ferret and Its Habitat, Fort Collins, Colorado, January 28-29, 2004
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Fort Collins Science Center
viii, 288 p.
Time Range Start:
Time Range End:
Conference Title:
Symposium on the Status of the Black-footed Ferret and Its Habitat
Conference Location:
Fort Collins, CO
Conference Date:
January 28-29, 2004
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