The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is a recent recipient of a First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) Mapping Ecological Stewardship Opportunities (MESO) grant, a project that is generously supported in part by the Margret A. Cargill Philanthropies. The grant supports the tribe’s work with the national black-footed ferret recovery effort.
The tribe’s Prairie Restoration Department has been active in this recovery effort since 2002 with the release of 69 ferrets onto a complex of several prairie dog colonies on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s lands. For the last decade, Michael Claymore has been the Director of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Prairie Management Program, which analyzes grazing and agricultural practices that are sustainable and promote the conservation of natural resources. Claymore notes, “There is an ecological capacity on the land, which forces choices. It is an altruistic program to reintroduce the black-footed ferret, as there are no direct benefits to the tribe. Instead, there are costs
due to the fact that ferrets require land that could otherwise be used for grazing.”
As Claymore indicated, this effort has not gone unchallenged. The ecosystem that supports the development and preservation of the black-footed ferret relies heavily on the preservation of their main food source, the prairie dog. In a ranching community, preserving prairie dog colonies is a counterintuitive process, as the prairie dogs create unwanted obstacles for grazing livestock. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Prairie Management Program works to educate farmers and ranchers on the importance of the prairie dog populations for the sustainability of the ecosystem and preservation of the traditional black-footed ferret communities. In addition, it has been a challenge to overcome the requirements of a conservation easement to protect the 5,000 acres for the habitat. There is also the ongoing issue to prevent the spread of plague through flea infestations. The current treatments have proven ineffective, and the fleas ultimately become resistant to treatments. There is a cost to running experiments on insecticides, and flea eggs can survive in the ground for 10 years.
The voluntary introduction continues for the most-endangered mammal in North America, the black-footed ferret. The tribe’s participation in this national effort reinforces Lakota traditions and demonstrates that the tribe is working cooperatively with the federal government to implement agreements under the Endangered Species Act.
Claymore says the department “looks to become an example for other tribes, sharing data and knowledge gained with this project, making clear the obstacles and successes in undergoing similar species-recovery projects.”
By Stephanie Cote, First Nations Program Coordinator