Ferrets added to growing Logan population

RUSSELL SPRINGS -- Black-footed ferrets are doing well in Logan County.

That's why the latest reintroduction of 25 captive-raised black-footed ferrets on the 10,000-acre ranch in southwest Logan County could be the last -- at least for a while.

Researchers will continue to monitor total numbers on the Haverfield-Barnhardt ranch as well as over at the Nature Conservancy's Smoky Valley Ranch on the east side of Logan County.

The late November release is the third that has been made in Logan County over the past three years. It is part of a larger program overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bring the ferrets back from the brink of extinction.

Perhaps as many as 50 people turned out for the release, some there for the 74th birthday celebration for rancher Larry Haverfield and some there to observe the release of the ferrets.

While five ferrets were pulled out and released on readily accessible areas of the Haverfield-Barnhardt complex to provide a photo opportunity, the remaining 20 were split into two groups for release in the more remote portions of the ranch.

FWS biologists were hoping the more remote releases would fill in spots where ferrets haven't been spotted.

Haverfield said he now thinks the area is relatively flush with ferrets.

"We've got 6,500 acres of prairie dog country," he said after the release. "Now, we've essentially got about 75 ferrets. That figures out to about 86 acres per ferret."

Generally speaking, the ferrets, members of the weasel family, stake a claim to a territory, ready to defend it to the death if necessary. A female ferret will cover about 200 acres, while a male's territory covers nearly 400 acres.

Not to worry, said Travis Livieri, director of Prairie Wildlife Research and a consultant to the reintroduction project in Logan County.

"I think it's still beneficial to add a few more," he said of the 25 released last month.

That being said, however, it's unlikely that any more releases will be made -- at least anytime soon -- on either the Haverfield-Barnhardt complex or TNC property.

"It's probably time to sit back and see what happens," he said.

So far, the results of the reintroduction project appear to be good, although still unwelcome by opponents of the project.

Over the course of a two-week nighttime survey in late September, searchers counted 46 ferrets on the two reintroduction sites.

A smaller number of searchers were back out in Logan County in November, and found nine additional animals.

"It will be well over 60 animals confirmed," Livieri said of both locations.

He's confident most of the ferrets were captured over the course of the three-week search, as several of those captured in September were recaptured in November.

"That made me feel good," he said.

In addition to those counted, another 14 animals were released in September on TNC property.

About 40 percent of the recently released ferrets should survive the winter, Livieri said.