The United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA) has led an effort among agricultural groups in sending a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Dan Ashe requesting a delay to the FWS plan to reintroduce black-footed ferrets in 12 western states through an "enhancement of survival" permit under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); to view the letter visit www.uscattlemen.org. The 12 states affected by the reintroduction plan are Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
Official notice of the plan was published in the December 19, 2012 Federal Register and allows only a 30-day comment period, which closes January 18, 2013. USCA leadership says the restricted comment period does not allow sufficient time for groups and individuals to study the plan and submit comments. "The Federal Register notice was published shortly before the holiday season with a 30 day comment period stipulated. USCA appreciates Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) for their proactive response to the issue in sending a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Director Dan Ashe requesting an extension to the current comment period," noted Jon Wooster, USCA President. "The general populace has not had time to review the notice nor to conduct adequate research about the plan in order to understand its effect. The black-footed ferret reintroduction is directly tied to prairie dog populations across the west; prairie dogs are the ferret's principle prey. As we know from past experience, this is a highly contentious subject and this plan deserves much more public dialogue before the comment period closes and decisions are made about moving the plan forward. Therefore, the USCA board of directors has voted to request that this reintroduction plan be delayed indefinitely."
The reintroduction plan stems from a memorandum of understanding signed by the FWS, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) on behalf of 12 member states, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The first signature on the memorandum of understanding was obtained on September 12, 2012, yet the Federal Register notice was not published until more than 90 days later.
"This appears to be a very comprehensive plan that entails the introduction of a new plague vaccine for use in prairie dogs, which is designed to prevent plague and protect the ferret's principle prey," said Wooster. "A proposed safe harbor agreement provides for the reintroductions of ferrets on private property that include prescribed grazing and conservation plans. Essentially, the intent of the plan is to expand the amount of habitat available to ferrets. We have significant concerns about this plan and its potential effect as well as the haste by which it is being shepherded through the federal process. Therefore, USCA has requested that the comment period be extended, an economic analysis be conducted and public meetings held so that landowners have an appropriate amount of time to understand its impact and possible benefits. We will continue to monitor this and provide information as this unfolds."