Monday, October 25, 2010

Kansas rancher scores victory for endangered black-footed ferrets over prairie dogs

A Kansas rancher has secured a key victory for wildlife conservation after a judge ruled last month that Logan County commissioners couldn't exterminate prairie dogs on his property. The black-footed ferrets in question are among the most endangered mammals in the world. "Larry Haverfield, the 74-year-old rancher on whose land the colony thrives, went to court to stop commissioners in Logan County from exterminating the prairie dogs without his permission, despite a 1901 state law that allows them to do so," Joe Stumpe reports for The New York Times. (Hays Daily News photo by Steven Hausler)

"It’s important because it says the Endangered Species Act trumps a 100-year-old state law that forces the extermination of prairie dogs," said Randy Rathbun, the lawyer representing Haverfield and Gordon Barnhardt, who owns some of the land. Prairie dogs are treated as pests by most ranchers in the region as they spread rapidly and can compete with cattle for grass. "They’re a very destructive animal that comes in, and if you don’t control them some way they will take over your fields and pastures," said Lynn Kirkham, president of the Logan County Farm Bureau. "If you were in a city and had somebody next to you that was infested with rats and they kept coming over to your place and you couldn’t do anything about it, that’s how I feel about this situation."

Haverfield, who says cattle can coexist with the prairie dogs, allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to "release endangered black-footed ferrets on his property as part of a program to increase their population," Stumpe writes. Some locals took issue with outside conservation groups like Audubon of Kansas and the Defenders of Wildlife becoming involved in the controversy. "They’re not taking economic factors into play," Kirkham said. "It’s not their livelihood." (Read more)

The success of the black-footed ferret population in Logan County has given some hope that the animal will one day be removed from the endangered species list, Mike Corn of The Hays Daily News reports. "This is one of the wonderful success stories of endangered species recovery," Travis Livieri, executive director of the Prairie Wildlife Center in Wellington, Colo., told Corn. "Look at all the volunteers and people who come out here and helped." (Read more)

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