Fish & Wildlife Service Awards $5.8 Million for Species Preservation

[node:summary]The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will award $5.8 million to preserving the black-footed ferret, Wyoming toad and razorback sucker.

Nearly $6 million has been allocated to help the black-footed ferret, razorback sucker and Wyoming toad to survive as species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) said.

In total, $5.8 million will be distributed to 17 projects in 15 U.S. states and territories through the Cooperative Recovery Initiative, which focuses on the most at-risk species living on or near national wildlife refuges.

“The Cooperative Recovery Initiative capitalizes on the hands-on conservation expertise that is characteristic of our National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Service Director Dan Ashe in a statement. “By focusing on efforts already underway at these sites, and working across programs to fund these efforts, we maximize our conservation impact and greatly boost the odds of success for the species in greatest need.”

Under the program, the Colorado–Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge will receive funding for recovery of the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). This entails preparing the refuge for the reintroduction of the ferrets in the future, with the goal of creating a self-sustaining population. Preventing outbreaks of plague in the prairie dog, the ferret’s main prey, is key, since the USFWS said the disease has been known to wipe out entire prairie dog colonies. The refuge is working to eliminate fleas to stop the spread of the disease and is going to monitor the prairie dog population.

“Before the USFWS can propose down-listing the species, 10 self-sustaining populations of at least 30 breeding adults must be established,” the USFWS said. “An additional benefit will be the opportunity to connect people with nature, specifically the short- and mixed-grass prairie ecosystem and the showcasing of the Service’s conservation successes.”

Tribes elsewhere have been involved in reintroduction efforts. Ferrets have been released at 20 sites in eight states in previous programs, plus in Canada and Mexico, with six of the release sites on land of the Lower Brule Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux and Rosebud Sioux, all in South Dakota, plus the Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana and a deeded ranch in Arizona managed by the Navajo.

RELATED: Tribes Pull Black-Footed Ferrets Back From the Brink

The razorback sucker is another animal that will benefit from the funds. In Colorado and Utah, the Quray National Wildlife Refuge is receiving money to help in recovery of the fish species Xyrauchen texanus by improving nursery habitat. The project will improve and expand the floodplain wetland habitat in Johnson Bottoms on Ouray National Wildlife Refuge in Utah, the USFWS said.

The grant will be used to modify wetlands in the Green River basin of Utah and Colorado, so as to provide nursery habitat for the fish and help prevent its extinction in the wild, the agency said. Adults reared in hatcheries do survive in the wild and produce offspring, but the lack of habitat means that most never make it to adulthood.

“Project team members plan to reshape wetland connections to the river and add a rigid weir to the inlet that will prevent predation of larval fish by non-native fish,” the USFWS said.

Lastly the Wyoming toad will receive some help from funding being awarded to the Wyoming–Saratoga National Fish Hatchery (Anaxyrus baxteri).

“The Wyoming toad is considered to be one of the four most endangered amphibian species in North America and was once classified as ‘extinct in the wild,’ the USFWS said.

The grants for the toads will go toward managing vegetation, treating fungal infections in wild toads and take other measures to promote survivorship. The long-term goal is to make several self-sustaining populations of the toad take, the USFWS said.

“By working together with a focus on recovery of imperiled fish, wildlife, plants, and landscapes, we achieve more. The Cooperative Recovery Initiative honors its recipients for their exemplary teamwork and conservation of the threatened and endangered species protected by the National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Noreen Walsh in the USFWS statement.