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Columbus firm secures grant for endangered ferret

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Jeff Kelly, director of the Standing Rock Game & Fish Department, receives black footed ferret picture from Lauren Toivonen of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in Bismarck, North Dakota. Columbus firm New Century Environmental documented in 2012 that the black-footed ferret was the most endangered animal at Standing Rock.

McIntosch, South Dakota – This week the Standing Rock Indian Tribe Game & Fish Department collaborating with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released 28 ferrets on its reservation in the state of South Dakota.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is located in North and South Dakota under the direction of Jeff Kelly, Director of the tribal Game & Fish Department. USFWS collaborated with the department to release ferrets in acceptable habitats on the South Dakota portion of the reservation, south of McIntosch, South Dakota, where expansive prairie dog towns meet the suitable living requirements for black footed ferret, the most endangered mammal in the United States.


Seth Gutzmer, tribal biologist for Standing Rock, stands next to the carriers of ferrets before the animals' release into the wild on Standing Rock Reservation in October 2021.

The black-footed ferret, Mustela nigripes, is a small to medium-sized carnivore. Female black-footed ferrets range in weight from 645–850 grams. The fur of Mustela nigripes is yellowish-buff with pale under parts. The forehead, muzzle and throat are white, and the feet are black. A black mask is observed around the eyes, which is well defined in young black-footed ferrets. It is the only ferret species native to the Americas, and there are no recognized subspecies.

Twenty-eight ferrets (16 male and 12 female) arrived from the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in Carr, Colorado, via wildlife biologist John Hughes. They left the NBFFCC at 5 a.m. that day.

In October 2012, Mike Gutzmer’s firm New Century Environmental (NCE) of Columbus – the tribal biologist for Standing Rock – documented the most endangered mammal in North America, the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), on Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota, south of the Grand River near Mobridge. NCE has supported Standing Rock Indian Reservation for almost 10 years. 


The first ferret released on Standing Rock south of McIntosh, South Dakota, on the proposed Black-footed Ferret Recovery Area.

Earlier this year NCE secured a grant in getting Standing Rock Game & Fish Department from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to document wild ferrets on the reservation to assess presence and abundance of possible impacts to ESA-listed species like northern long-eared bats – listed as Threatened 4(d) – and black-footed ferrets, listed as ESA Endangered.  

At present, known ferret populations exist only at reintroduction sites where introduced populations remain small, fragmented and intensively managed with only a few of these introduced populations producing wild-born adults. As a result of the bottleneck of the captive breeding program, black-footed ferrets have lost 90% of their genetic diversity.

The long term goal for the tribe is to maintain control for  black-tailed prairie dogs in an primarily used for cattle grazing and the Service goals are to eventually save the ferret from extinction, expanding the ferret’ range into this part of South Dakota.


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