Prairie Night: Black-Footed Ferrets and the Recovery of Endangered Species

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9781560986034: Prairie Night: Black-Footed Ferrets and the Recovery of Endangered Species

Once abundant throughout the grassland prairie that stretches from Canada to Mexico, black-footed ferrets today are North America's most endangered mammal. Totally dependent upon prairie dogs for food and shelter, black-footed ferrets fell victim to their own evolutionary specialization when prairie dog colonies were targeted for eradication because they were thought to interfere with ranching. An unparalleled campaign of poisoning, begun in the first half of this century, reduced prairie dogs to 2 percent of their original range. Black-footed ferrets, animals that once coexisted with hundreds of millions of prairie dogs, were thought by 1979 to be extinct.
An insider's critique of endangered-species policy in action, Prairie Night combines an understanding of the biology and natural history of the black-footed ferret with a record of the often controversial decisions on how to save it. In the early 1980s, biologists discovered a few remaining ferrets in the wild. The authors, all of whom worked for many years on ferret recovery programs, describe the turf wars that erupted among state, federal, and private groups over whether and how to intervene.
The fate of the black-footed ferret remains in question - especially as programs to poison prairie dogs continue at the government's expense. Capturing the full scope of the issue, this book reveals that it involves the survival of an ecosystem and the future of endangered-species policy.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

A surprisingly readable treatise on the black-footed ferret recovery program, by three members of the program staff. Listed as an endangered species, the secretive black-footed ferret had been reduced to a minuscule wild population in Wyoming by 1985, the year a captive-propagation effort swung into action. Miller, Reading, and Forrest gather here the fruits of that project. In a text by turns semiscientific and semipopular, they cover ferret courtship, child-rearing and home life, boundary marking, aggression, and predation. They chart the reasons behind the ferrets' decline: poisoning of prairie dog populations (the sole food of the ferret), disease, habitat destruction. The authors outline the recovery program, from measuring the population to trapping to captive-breeding husbandry to release techniques. All of this is presented in extraordinary detail, be it copulation positions or the way in which a ferret goes about eating a prairie dog. Then they probe the other side of conservation biology: organization structure, legal and technical aspects of the program, the range of personnel necessary (public relations professionals, economists, social scientists, and, yes, pure scientists). And they conduct an autopsy on the failed, or at least frustrated, elements of the effort: the conflicts between the state of Wyoming and the feds, the ego problems among the participants, entrenched public attitudes, the absurdity of the US government paying ranchers to poison prairie dogs and billing taxpayers to save the ferret. There is plenty of hard science here, but the book is leavened with affectingly drawn passages following the progression of a ferret's life. Best of all, the authors provide a blueprint illuminating the complexities of such an effort, certain to be of great use to future recovery programs. The ferret couldn't have asked for three more caring, perceptive champions of their cause. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

With an inquisitive, intelligent face and rounded ears like a mouse's, the black-footed ferret, the most endangered mammalian species in North America, might well be the poster child for the Endangered Species Act. The authors, drawing on their years of experience working to keep these animals from becoming extinct?Miller has been involved with programs for the captive breeding and reintroduction of black-footed ferrets; Reading is a conservationist with the U.N.; Forrest is a consulting biologist in Montana?relate conservation strategies specific to ferrets while generalizing to examine what this case study might teach us about saving threatened wildlife more broadly. Of significant interest is their discussion of the political infighting between state and federal officials, dissension that compromises aspects of the captive breeding program and dramatically increases costs. On the biological front, the authors make an articulate case for habitat preservation. Since black-footed ferrets rely almost exclusively on black-tailed prairie dogs for food, prairie dog towns must be protected if the ferrets are to survive, they stress. Yet, ironically, another arm of the federal government spends millions of dollars to eradicate prairie dogs. Although intended to be accessible to a general audience, at times the writing here is too technical and dry to be fully effective. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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