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Conata Basin Project

Black-footed Ferret Habitat Enhancement
Land Exchange and Range Allotment Management Plan
Buffalo Gap National Grasslands
South Dakota

Black-footed ferret.
Photo courtesy of Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

How can we increase black-footed ferret habitat and still meet the Buffalo Gap National Grassland's management objectives? The Grassland's management staff developed an alternative to meet the needs of black-footed ferret management and rangeland management through land exchange.

The Buffalo Gap National Grassland (BGNG) encompasses nearly 600,000 acres located in scattered tracts in southwestern South Dakota. Over 100 species of animals can be found on the BGNG, specially adapted to one or more grassland habitats. Habitats found on the Grassland include tall grass prairie, mixed grass prairie, short grass prairie, woody draws, juniper breaks, wetlands, rivers and ponds, and badlands formations. The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), dependent upon prairie dog towns, is an endangered species. It is being re-introduced on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland.


  1. Reduce the impacts to landowners and recreationists.
  2. Block the land up so that grazing management and prairie dog expansion areas are compatible. Adjust stocking rates (increases/reductions).
  3. Provide quality habitat for prairie dogs to introduce black-footed ferret and barrel owls.
Grassland staff displaying the Conata land adjustment plan.
Doug Sargent, District Ranger Bill Perry and Jack Isaac illustrating the land adjustment plan.

Concerns and Opportunities

  • There was local fear and distrust of the government taking over the control of private lands.
  • Required the moving of permittees from their historic grazing areas.
  • Restoration of grazing levels that were reduced during the 1970s.

Permittees Choices

The Permittees were given four choices related to the level of restoration. The greater level of permittee cooperation resulted in a greater restoration of grazing levels that had been reduced in the 1970s.

  1. Status quo: No restoration
  2. Season long to 2 pasture or 4 pasture
  3. Pasture: 10 % level of use
  4. Pasture: 15 or 20 % level of use


Comparison of grazing allocations before and after land exchanges at the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.
Year 1970 1999
Number of Allotments 22 9
Number Pasture/Allotment 1.2 3.2
AUMS 7,800 9,000

Prairie dog holes in the enhancement area
Note prairie dog holes in the foreground. This is within the enhancement area.

Together the permittees and the Forest Service worked together to solve the issues. The land exchanges to block up land ownership took time, but eventually were completed. Permittees moved from historic grazing areas to new areas. Grazing levels could be increased. This improved prairie dog habitat and allowed re-introduction of the black-footed ferret.

US Forest Service, RGE
1400 Independence Ave., SW, Mailstop Code: 1103
Washington DC 20250-1103

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Last modified: Friday, 07-Oct-2016 09:38:02 CDT