COLBY The federal government is considering an experiment that would use ferrets to reduce the exploding population of prairie dogs in Logan County.
The five-year experiment would be administered by the Kansas Ecological Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Manhattan.
Four landowners in the county said they would take part in the government's efforts, but the Logan County Commission voted to decline the experiment on a countywide basis.
Logan County Clerk Pat Schippers said the prairie dog population had multiplied "at a huge rate" this year in the county and the animals were "out of control." But she said the commission was concerned that introducing ferrets would hurt current efforts to control prairie dogs with chemicals.
The black-footed ferrets are one of the rarest mammals in North America and are on the endangered species list.
The Wildlife Service has wanted to reintroduce the black-footed ferret to parts of its historical range on the Great Plains for years, said field supervisor Mike LeValley, and has reintroduced them in South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico with mixed results.
LeValley said black-footed ferret uses prairie dogs' burrows for shelter and feeds almost exclusively on prairie dogs and other small animals, so the animals could create a natural balance with the prairie dogs in Logan County.
Field agents spent last week in Logan County mapping land being considered for ferret placement.
LeValley said his agency must address two key public concerns for ferret reintroduction: keeping ferrets from encroaching on land where landowners want prairie dogs and complying with the Endangered Species Act.
Should the experiment be approved, one of the conditions would be a guarantee to all neighboring landowners that the study would not hinder use of their land in any way, including the right to control prairie dogs on their property.
At the end of the five years, if the experiment is deemed unsuccessful, any ferrets would be trapped and taken to a different site.