Refuge’s ferrets wiped out after plague strikes prairie dogs

A Montana plague outbreak that reduced prairie dogs numbers has nearly wiped out a population of black-footed ferrets. ©Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

Biologists say a sylvatic plague outbreak that decimated prairie dogs in Montana’s UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge has nearly eliminated the refuge’s black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) population. Biologists counted just one ferret at the refuge this spring, following a plague event that killed nearly 70 percent of the refuge’s black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) in the winter of 2017-2018. The ferrets rely on the prairie dogs for much of their diet. In the fall of 2017, biologists counted 24 black-footed ferrets at the refuge. Last fall, the number dropped to four. All of the ferrets were born in the wild but descended from ferrets raised in captivity and released, part of an effort to save the endangered species, which was once thought to be extinct.

Read more in the Great Falls Tribune.