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SPOTLIGHT
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Ferrets remain a topic of controversy, intense interest in northwest Kansas

Published on -12/30/2011, 8:33 AM

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By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

RUSSELL SPRINGS -- Logan County has been the center of attention for almost five years now, and the focus didn't change any this year.

If anything, the focus was intensified.

All of it has to do with the reintroduction -- and controversy -- surrounding the reintroduction of the highly endangered black-footed ferrets. The ferrets attract the attention in large part due to the prey upon which they feed, the black-tailed prairie dogs.

Both animals brought attention their way.

Early this year, it was actually the absence of prairie dogs that brought the focus to the often unwanted animals.

Harsh weather conditions appear to be behind the absence of the prairie dogs, the unusually dry weather forcing them into an almost unheard of hibernation.

Almost, because there was one study in Colorado documenting the hibernation of black-tailed prairie does.

Wildlife biologists believe the hibernation was brought on by dry conditions. Prairie dogs obtain virtually all of their moisture requirements through vegetation.

The poor conditions forcing the hibernation is also thought to be responsible for a lower reproduction rate for perhaps both the prairie dogs and the ferrets that have been released at two sites in Logan County.

The ferrets also became cause for consternation and celebration, in both Oakley and Hays.

It started innocently enough, as celebration after celebration was scheduled across the country to observe the 30th anniversary of the rediscovery of the black-footed ferret.

Because ferrets are located in Logan County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sought to stage an open house and a presentation for Oakley students.

Objections to the Logan County Commission and Oakley school board soon scuttled those plans, moving the event instead to Mitten's Truck Stop.

Mitten's decided it didn't want to let the event go ahead, and the event was canceled entirely.

Or so everyone thought.

Soon, there was a clamor by supporters of ferrets to conduct an event.

Logan County farmer Tim and Rebekah Peterson stepped forward and agreed to host an event locally, even with the protests.

Despite gale-force winds, the event went on as scheduled, with a relatively small group of people turning out for the event.

Two days later, a celebration at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays.

Nearly 1,200 school children raced through the halls of Sternberg learning about ferrets and other denizens of the prairie. That evening, another 200 people showed up.

Obviously, not all of 2011 was ferrets or prairie dogs.

A new insect was discovered and announced, and the FWS started the process to look at wind development from Texas to Kansas -- specifically setting its sights on a corridor that covers the migration route for the endangered whooping crane. FWS threw in the known range of the lesser prairie chicken because of the effect wind turbines might have on the birds.

Finally, after discussing rules for months, the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission in late November agreed to set out new regulations -- set to take effect Jan. 1 -- governing the use of bait fish.

The idea is to stop the spread of aquatic nuisance species, such as zebra mussels, white perch and Asian carp.

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