By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

OAKLEY -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been issued an ultimatum by the Logan County Commission: Resume communications over the agency's black-footed ferret reintroduction program or else.

Failure to do so, according to a 31βΡ2-page letter, will force the commissioners to pursue other legal venues, including contacting the Justice Department, the Interior Department's inspector general and the head of Intergovernmental Affairs.

"We will also call for a GAO inquiry into the lawfulness of your practice of the ferrets," the letter states. "We will not provide advance notice of our letters to the newspaper."

The newspaper reference involves stories published in The Hays Daily News about activities surrounding ferret surveys, a twice-yearly event when wildlife biologists take to the field at night in an effort to determine how the ferrets are doing.

In addition to the letter to the federal wildlife agency, a lawsuit by Logan County against landowners Larry and Bette Haverfield and Gordon Barnhardt already is on appeal to the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Logan County appealed the Senior Judge Jack Lively's decision, turning aside a request from Logan County to move ahead with poisoning of prairie dogs on the 10,000-acre complex where ferrets have been reintroduced. The Haverfields are expected to file their legal brief in the case at the end of July.

The county's ultimatum was in a letter sent to LeValley on June 2.

The drop-dead date for the response from Mike LeValley, field supervisor of the ecological services branch of the federal wildlife agency, was June 13.

"Right now, I don't intend to," LeValley said of returning to Logan County to meet with commissioners about the ferret reintroduction project. "It doesn't seem to be helping to improve the situation."

A second letter has apparently been prepared, setting out a new meeting date.

LeValley's already met several times with the commissioners when they -- and other prairie dog opponents -- resolved into what has been dubbed the Logan County Natural Resources Committee.

The latest salvo in the war over prairie dogs -- and by extension, the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets -- came after a meeting between the natural resources committee and LeValley had to be canceled due to winter weather conditions.

LeValley said he has met with commissioners four times.

"I think we've bent over backwards to meet ... and that doesn't seem to help," he said.

Much of the conversation at the meetings have been about poisoning of prairie dogs.

LeValley said the FWS, in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, have been poisoning prairie dogs in a 3-mile area around both the Haverfield and TNC complexes.

That poisoning has been going on since 2008, and LeValley said TNC was doing that as early as 2003.

The poisoning is being conducted by an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services agency.

And it won't stop anytime soon, LeValley said.

"We made a commitment to do that as long as there are ferrets there," he said.