COMMERCE CITY — Nature’s “prairie dog hunter” is getting some assistance from the federal government this year.
As part of a $5.8-million initiative, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is getting funding for recovery of the black-footed ferret, which is an at-risk species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through its Cooperative Recovery Initiative, is committing $5.8 million this year to this and 16 other projects for recovery of some of the nation’s most at-risk species on or near national wildlife refuges.
“The Cooperative Recovery Initiative capitalizes on the hands-on conservation expertise that is characteristic of our National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “By focusing on efforts already underway at these sites, and working across programs to fund these efforts, we maximize our conservation impact and greatly boost the odds of success for the species in greatest need.”
For the Arsenal project, refuge officials will work to establish a stable population of the weasel, scientific name Mustela nigripes.
The project will complete the preliminary work needed to reintroduce black-footed ferrets in the future at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado, with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining population.
A focus of the effort will be trying to prevent outbreaks of plague in the ferret’s primary prey, the prairie dog; such outbreaks can wipe out entire prairie dog colonies.
As of last month, the refuge has begun using insecticide treatments to target fleas, which are vectors of the disease.
This summer, the refuge will begin a monitoring program for prairie dogs that will create baseline information needed for a successful reintroduction project. The refuge is working with its neighbors and other partners planning for a possible reintroduction in the fall of 2015.
Before the Service can propose downlisting the species, 10 self-sustaining populations of at least 30 breeding adults must be established. An additional benefit will be the opportunity to connect people with nature, specifically the short- and mixed-grass prairie ecosystem and the showcasing of the Service’s conservation successes.