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Last Chance To Comment On Prairie Dog Plan On Thunder Basin

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This is the last week the public can comment on four options in an amended plan for how prairie dogs are managed on the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. Some wildlife groups hope to build their population in hopes of eventually re-introducing the endangered black footed ferret there since the prairie dogs are their main food source.

Currently, there's a protection zone where they can't be shot or poisoned; all four options would now allow that to some extent, which is why the group Defenders of Wildlife doesn't fully support any of the options. They're one of the stakeholder groups that've attended stakeholder meetings over the last few months to try and reach compromises.

"Defenders of Wildlife isn't supporting any of these alternatives in particular because we believe the Forest Service already has the ability to control prairie dogs in buffer zones and to manage the conflicts it's having with landowners," said Lauren McCain, a senior federal lands policy analyst with the group.

But she did concede the fourth option is better since it would kill prairie dogs more discriminately.

But McCain said, she's disappointed the altered plan doesn't do more to ensure healthy prairie dog populations so ferrets can be brought back to the area. She said, without Thunder Basin, the outlook isn't good for the endangered ferret.

"Thunder Basin is one of those very few places, like a handful of places, that is one place we could reintroduce and potentially recover a self-sustaining population of ferrets," McCain said.

She said, during a time when many wildlife species are going extinct quickly, the Forest Service should do everything they can to bring this one back.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department provided technical advice at the stakeholder discussions since they're the agency in charge of re-introducing ferrets around the state. Game and Fish spokeperson Sara Direnzo said, the agency isn't for or against any of the options, but she said the research they conducted for their ferret reintroduction plan shows numerous areas in Wyoming where the ferret could be reintroduced.

"The [Wyoming Game and Fish] plan says that Wyoming contains substantial amounts of prairie dog acreage statewide," Direnzo said. "So, there's the potential to support multiple recovery sites."

Direnzo said the agency has re-introduced black footed ferrets elsewhere but always with support of local landowners, something Thunder Basin doesn't have much of.

"To be able to have a successful re-introduction of black footed ferrets it requires both good ecological conditions on the ground. But also the social conditions have to support any reintroduction of black footed ferrets," said Direnzo. "So, both of those have to be in place."

To weigh in on the issue, click here. The deadline is this Friday, January 9.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Melodie Edwards, at medward9@uwyo.edu.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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