Monday, March 31, 2014

Wild Again: The Struggle to Save the Black-footed Ferret



I once chose these grasslands over the woman I loved. It wasn’t a sudden choice, rather an accumulation of days, weeks, seasons, and years that taught me to get in my car and head to the prairie. A slow burn that led me to value a familiar place above all else.” 

So begins my new book Wild Again that documents over 4 decades of work to restore biodiversity to the prairie through the conservation of a single extremely rare carnivore, the black-footed ferret.  The ferret is a worthy totem of prairie biodiversity, because as I describe in the book: “On the Great Plains, grasses dominate the landscape. And on those grasslands, patches of prairie dogs bring the prairie alive in increased plant and animal diversity. And on some of those prairie dog colonies, the presence of black-footed ferrets best symbolizes a healthy, biodiverse piece of ground—a locality likely complete with badgers, swift foxes, burrowing owls, mountain plovers, and ferruginous hawks, some of the prototypical representatives of the prairie.”

So in this way, black-footed ferrets represent the wild heart of the Great Plains.  Through their listing and protection under the Endangered Species Act over the past 40 years, they have served as a driving force for prairie biodiversity conservation in a wave of human development.  More than that, by following their conservation in practice, you can trace the conservation ethic that has recently developed across the Great Plains.

In Wild Again, I dissect the complex conservation story of black-footed ferret recovery from near extinction in the 1970’s and 80’s, to current reintroduction efforts that take place across 8 states and Canada and Mexico.  But rather than a technical book, I tell the story of black-footed ferret conservation from a human perspective.  Conservationists across the west have devoted their lives to the preservation of this rarest of North American carnivores, and I try to encapsulate their dedication and evolving knowledge in a single up-to-date account that “is meant to be taken from the shelf to engage you, to be passed on, bent, folded and dog eared.  Take it on that next road trip to the Great Plains. Open it at a campground in Badlands National Park. Take it to the U.S.–Mexican border and crack the spine while sitting on the Chihuahua grasslands, allowing grains of prairie dust to sneak between the pages, pages that will be stained with coffee cup marks after late nights of searching for badgers, swift foxes, and perhaps even black-footed ferrets.

Still interested?  The 1st chapter is available for free here from the publisher, University of California Press. 

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