The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), once extinct in the wild, remains one of the most critically endangered mammals in North America despite 18 years of reintroduction attempts. Because black-footed ferrets are specialized predators of prairie dogs (Cynomys sp.), a better understanding of how black-footed ferrets select resources might provide insight into how best to identify and manage reintroduction sites. We monitored ferret resource selection at two reintroduction sites with different densities of prairie dog populations-one that contained a high density of prairie dogs (Conata Basin, South Dakota) and one that was lower (UL Bend, Montana). We evaluated support for hypotheses about ferret resource selection as related to the distribution of active burrows used by black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus), interactions between ferrets, and habitat edge effects. We found support for all three factors within both populations; however, they affected ferret resource selection differently at each site. Ferrets at Conata Basin tended to select areas with high prairie dog burrow density, closer to the colony edge, and that overlapped other ferret ranges. In contrast, ferrets at UL Bend tended not to select areas of high active prairie dog burrow density, avoided areas close to edge habitat, and females avoided areas occupied by other ferrets. The differences observed between the two sites might be best explained by prairie dog densities, which were higher at Conata Basin (119.3 active burrows per ha) than at UL Bend (44.4 active burrows per ha). Given the positive growth of ferret populations at Conata Basin, management that increases the density of prairie dogs might enhance ferret success within natural areas. To achieve long-term recovery of ferrets in the wild, conservationists should increasingly work across and outside natural area boundaries to increase prairie dog populations.
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Vol. 31 • No. 3