Rosebud tribe tells feds to remove ferrets

Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) 3-08

Several years ago, the federal government placed some endangered black-footed ferrets on Rosebud Sioux tribal land. Now, the tribe wants the feds to take them back.

During February, the tribal council passed a resolution that tells two federal agencies to remove the animals and reimburse the tribe for its expenses.

The council’s action apparently involves its objection to a federal investigation of the tribe’s prairie dog poisoning program. Prairie dogs are the ferrets’ main food source – but ranchers dislike prairie dogs for the damage they do to rangeland.

The tribe’s resolution says the federal government is threatening to prosecute tribal employees or agents carrying out the tribe’s prairie dog management plan – despite a lack of evidence that prairie dog poisoning killed any ferrets.

Prairie dogs are not protected, but the ferrets are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Tribal official Rose Cordier said federal agents are looking into prairie dog poisoning in the ferret reintroduction area. “But they weren’t poisoning in the ferret area,” Cordier said.

Calvin Waln, executive director of the Tribal Land Enterprise Organization, said the ferrets have migrated to areas where they are not supposed to be. “There never really was a defined boundary for the ferret recovery, which is causing serious problems,” Waln said. “They’re all over now.”

Bob Mandel of the U.S. attorney’s office said he could not comment.

Scott Larson of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said his agency has not responded to the request to remove the ferrets and that he could not comment directly about the resolution.

According to Waln, the Fish & Wildlife Service promised to pay the tribe more than $1 million a year through 2010 for the ferret recovery program but that the tribe has received much less.

Waln said he could not provide exact figures because he was in Washington on tribal business this past week.

The tribal resolution said the ferret program has caused many problems – including conflicts between the tribe’s Game, Fish and Parks Department and the Tribal Land Enterprise Organization.

Black-footed ferrets also have been reintroduced on the Cheyenne River Reservation and in Conata Basin, on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland just south of Badlands National Park.