Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

September 22, 2004

For Immediate Release:

Jonathan Proctor, Predator Conservation Alliance, 303-376-4982
Lauren McCain, Forest Guardians, 303-780-9939
Doris Respects Nothing, Great Plains Restoration Council, 605-867-6106

Broad Coalition Acts to Save a National Treasure in South Dakota

Lawsuit is Last Ditch Effort to Stop Destruction of Critical Ferret Habitat

DENVER—A co alition filed suit in Federal District Court in Denver today seeking an injunction to prevent federal and state agencies from conducting a massive effort to kill prairie dogs in South Dakota’s Conata Basin. The planned extermination violates several federal laws including the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act. Despite its status as the only successful black-footed ferret recovery site in North America, U.S. Forest Service lands in Conata Basin will be opened within the next 10 days to extensive prairie dog poisoning and shooting. Black-footed ferrets—an Endangered species—require large numbers of prairie dogs for food and shelter. Conata Basin is the only public land area in the entire Great Plains with enough prairie dog colonies to sustain a viable ferret population.

“This back-room deal to destroy critical black-footed ferret habitat is a breach of the public trust,” said Jonathan Proctor, Northern Plains Program Director for Predator Conservation Alliance. “Our lawsuit is a last-ditch effort to bring some sanity and justice to this situation.”

The new plan set forth in July by the Bush Administration and South Dakota’s Governor excludes public participation, requires the Forest Service to violate its own management plan, and includes no analysis of impacts to ferrets and other wildlife. Public opposition to the illegal destruction of ferret habitat has come from South Dakota landowners and Tribal members, conservationists, and the American Zoological Association.

“The state and federal agencies aren’t considering common sense alternatives; there is a common ground solution, if people can see with their hearts that wild animals have a spirit and a purpose alongside humankind.” said Doris Respects Nothing, an Oglala Lakota from South Dakota. “The prairie dogs have been here longer than anybody and our lands used to be so full of life because of them.”

“By poisoning prairie dogs, we are killing black-footed ferrets, eagles, swift fox, and many other native wildlife," added Ros alie Little Thunder, also of the Lakota Tribe in South Dakota.

The plan to poison and shoot prairie dogs on federal lands in South Dakota is the result of political pressure to force federal land management agencies to conform to a new state prairie dog plan, due out September 25, that calls for prairie dog eradication within one mile of any adjacent private lands. Over 50% of the prairie dog colonies on Buffalo Gap National Grassland are within a mile of private land and will be subject to poisoning and shooting. (map available at http://maps.big The state plan will also apply to private landowners, who could be forced to poison wildlife on their property against their will.

“This is an outrageous plan, what right do they have to make me poison wildlife on my land?” asked Ray Keale, a ranch owner who lives near Buffalo Gap. “I might as well be turning over the keys to my property.”

The black-footed ferret was nearly lost to extinction in the 1980s. In 1996 South Dakota’s Conata Basin once again became home to the ferret, one of the world’s most endangered species.

“Ferret recovery in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland illustrates that with America’s strong commitment to our natural heritage we can recover imperiled species—even from the brink of extinction,” stated Lauren McCain of Forest Guardians “Conata Basin is unique, a showcase for wildlife recovery in South Dakota and the United States.”

Ironically, South Dakota’s planned mass poisoning effort comes exactly 200 years after Lewis and Clark provided the first descriptions known to western science for the black-tailed prairie dog and black-footed ferret. The explorers came across the animals in South Dakota; impressed with the prairie dogs’ colonies, they immediately ordered the Corps of Discovery to pursue a specimen to send back to President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson received a live prairie dog several months later, describing it to friends as a “most harmless and tame creature.”

The groups bringing the suit include: Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (WY), Center for Biological Diversity (CO), Center for Native Ecosystems (CO), Forest Guardians (NM), Great Plains Restoration Council (SD), The Humane Society of the U.S. (DC and MT), Prairie Hills Audubon Society (SD), and Predator Conservation Alliance (MT).


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