By MIKE CORN
OAKLEY -- Logan County Commissioners wanted and received answers to most of the questions they had about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's black-footed ferret reintroduction project.
But that didn't stop Commission Chairman Carl Uhrich from suggesting the time might be right to abandon the Logan County project, given what he considers a sharp decline in the number of ferrets on two reintroduction sites.
FWS officials, however, countered the project is working, and the smaller numbers instead reflect harsh weather conditions and the onset of breeding season.
Wednesday's meeting in the basement of the Logan County Courthouse attracted nearly 20 observers, most of whom were opponents of the reintroduction program, first started in December 2007 when 24 captive-raised animals were released on two sites. It also attracted Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, Rep. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, and a representative of Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas.
While there have been three previous meetings between commissioners and wildlife officials, Wednesday's was difficult to arrange.
With the help of Fred Grant, widely acknowledged as the commission's lawyer on what he calls coordination meetings with federal officials, a series of letters have been sent out demanding a meeting.
Uhrich pressed the three FWS officials with a series of prepared questions about the Logan County project and a recent review by the Environmental Protection Agency on a prairie dog poison.
He peppered them with information about the cost of controlling prairie dogs by landowners adjoining the two reintroduction sites.
And he took aim at the number of ferrets remaining, suggesting the number of ferrets on the ground should exceed 150 rather than the 22 spotlighted by a team of searchers about a month ago.
"That's what nature does," said Mike LeValley, in charge of the FWS ecological services field office in Kansas. "They go up and down."
The 22, said FWS wildlife biologist Scott Larson, are essentially breeding stock.
"I would expect with the 22, the number will be up to 40-some with the kits," he said of what the numbers might be when a fall survey is conducted.
Uhrich also wanted to know if the project will continue beyond this year, the end of a five-year experiment.
"The way things are going, unless something drastic happens, we plan on renewing the application," LeValley said.
That process won't start until after the fall survey is conducted.