By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The Kansas black-footed ferret reintroduction program in Kansas was highlighted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species program's look back at 2011.

Written by Peter Gober, the black-footed ferret recovery coordinator, asked of the species recovery: Are we there yet?

"The short answer, but not the final answer, is no -- not yet," he wrote. "Nevertheless, the right partners and the right actions have been, and continue to be, in place, and the status of the black-footed ferret has improved dramatically as a result."

While Gober only made a glancing reference to the Logan County reintroduction program, now in its fifth year, he did include a photograph of landowners who opened up a 10,000-acre complex to the ferret program.

Pictured on the online review of 2011 are Larry and Bette Haverfield and Gordon and Martha Barnhardt, owners of one of two sites where the ferrets have been released.

Last year was a landmark year for ferrets as it represented the 30th anniversary of the rediscovery of the ferrets, inextricably intertwined with prairie dogs -- loved and loathed in virtually the same neighborhood.

"Because ferrets rely on prairie dogs for food and shelter," Gober wrote, "their historical fate was to decline simultaneously with the majority of most prairie dog populations that were displaced by farming, removed to limit grazing competition with introduced domestic livestock, or devastated by sylvatic plague, a disease that was inadvertently introduced from overseas via flea-infested rats."

Despite all the efforts that have been made, he said the "most formidable challenge facing ferret recovery is whether suitable prairie dog habitat will be available to achieve the objectives of establishing enough multiple, viable populations of black-footed ferrets in the wild."

Already reintroduced populations will continue to be managed by FWS as the agency prepares for future releases. Management practices to conserve prairie dogs in some areas will be refined, Gober wrote.

"Incentives initiatives will also be explored in an effort to increase private landowner participation in black-footed ferret recovery," he said. "Large prairie dog complexes of at least a few thousand acres are necessary to support ferret populations of at least 30 breeding adults; without the support of private landowners, many prairie dog complexes will remain too small and fragmented to sustain ferret populations sufficient in size to contribute to recovery goals."

Ferret recovery can lead to the conservation of other species utilizing similar habitats, including burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, golden eagles, mountain plovers and swift fox.