Defenders Magazine

Fall 2016

Volume 90, Issue 4


Black-Footed Ferret, USFWS

With the closest paved road 50 miles behind me and the nearest town at least three hours away, this expansive area beneath the Big Sky of Montana is the perfect habitat for the elusive and endangered black-footed ferret. Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest grassland refuges in the United States is also home to bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, meadowlarks, greater sage-grouse, bald eagles and prairie dogs. Prairie dog towns are the all-inclusive resort of the grasslands, with burrows providing homes for black-footed ferrets, rattlesnakes, swift foxes and burrowing owls. More than 100 wildlife species depend on prairie dog towns and their burrows for shelter and food, taking advantage of the prairie dog’s hospitality. And on this crisp fall day, I am here with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service colleagues, Native American partners and local officials to bring some guests: a truckload of captive-bred black-footed ferrets. This species, once widely distributed throughout the Great Plains, was thought extinct in the wild until a family dog named Shep sniffed out a colony in 1987 and the last 12 known ferrets in the world were captured in an effort to save the species. When we open the back of the truck, we are met with the distinctive and musky smell of ferrets—similar to a pair of rank sweat socks forgotten at the bottom of a gym bag. As we each grab a small crate to carry to a burrow, these cute critters with their little bandit masks and furry bodies, start chattering and barking, clearly on high alert.


Tricolored bat, © Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark
Given their fluttery flight pattern and tiny size, tricolored bats are often mistaken for moths as they hunt at the forest edge near streams.
California Birds, Bob Wick/BLM
Wildlife struggle amid years-long California drought
Sea Turtle, NOAA
Awash in Trash, Turning the tide on the problem of marine debris