By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Logan County stands head and shoulders above all the other black-footed ferret reintroduction sites in the nation, according to the group charged with the preservation and recovery of the nation's most endangered mammal.

"It means we've got the best place in the world," said a delighted Larry Haverfield, on whose land the ferrets have been released.

A year ago, it was considered the fourth most important site in the nation.

"I think it's pretty neat," said Dan Mulhern, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist heading up the Logan County project.

The lack of sylvatic plague is the divining reason behind Logan County's meteoric rise in importance in the project. Only two other sites can make that claim, in Janos, Mexico, and the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.

Details of the Logan County reintroduction program, now two years old, were passed along to the group earlier this week by Dan Mulhern, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.

"The lack of plague really gave us a lot of points," Mulhern said.

Under a formula used to rank sites, Logan County was well ahead of other locations, including two that are significant contributors to the production of ferret kits for reintroduction elsewhere.

The Logan County effort is being made on private land owned by Larry and Bette Haverfield and Gordon and Martha Barnhardt and a separate site on land owned by the Nature Conservancy. The Haverfield-Barnhardt complex has the most suitable habitat, according to the group.

Mulhern and other members of the conservation committee of the Black-footed Ferret Recovery Program met Wednesday and Thursday in Fort Collins, Colo., to share information on the status of recovery efforts and breeding programs.

The ranking system can be used, if necessary, to allocate ferret kits for reintroduction projects. In the event too few ferrets are available to meet demands, the higher ranked sites have priority.

In Logan County's case, Mulhern said he likely will ask this year for as many as 30 ferrets from the breeding program for reintroduction.

While in Colorado, Mulhern told of how they found 26 ferrets while spotlighting last fall and their success tracking the animals in snow.

"To find 20 in two days, I'm real happy with that," he said of the snow tracking.

Efforts to control the spread of prairie dogs onto adjoining land also has changed in Logan County with FWS no longer paying for the use or application of Rozol.

Through a cooperative arrangement, a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee had been applying Rozol to poison prairie dogs -- at no cost to landowners. The USDA employee had been going out as far as three miles to apply the poison.

Landowners still can use Rozol, Mulhern said, but they will have to pay for it themselves.

Instead, poisoning of land outside the reintroduction sites will involve only zinc phosphide.

The ban on paying for use of Rozol is an outgrowth of a dispute between the FWS and the Environmental Protection Agency over the registration of the chemical for use on prairie dogs. FWS has objected to EPA's registration of the chemical without formal consultation with the wildlife agency.

The EPA is reviewing the Rozol registration and the use of another poison, Kaput-D. A lawsuit against the registration is also pending.