Bill would broaden comeback of ferret for prairie dog control

DENVER — As a way of controlling prairie dog populations, at least one private landowner got a law passed last year to allow him to reintroduce the black-footed ferret.

Under a bill that won preliminary approval in the Colorado House on Monday, local governments could do the same thing under certain circumstances.

HB1267, introduced by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, would allow for limited re-introduction of the endangered predator that is particularly good at hunting prairie dogs.

“It allows political subdivisions of the state to be allowed to reintroduce the black-footed ferret under the same conditions that private landowners can,” Fischer said. “This would include only those public lands that are owned by municipalities, county governments and some special districts. It would not include state public lands or federal public lands.”

Those conditions include requiring the private landowner or local government to enter into an agreement with all surrounding landowners and create an agreement under the federal safe harbor act, which is designed to protect adjacent landowners from criminal or civil penalties if the ferrets move onto their land.

The measure has bipartisan support, but some Republicans were concerned that it might open up a can of worms because of the federal Endangered Species Act.

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, wanted to amend the bill to say that any reintroduction could not adversely impact active oil and gas operations already occurring on the land.

That amendment failed.

Then Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Glenwood Springs, said he was concerned about other unknown unintended consequences reintroduction might bring, adding that Western Slope landowners and government officials are contend with the possible listing of the sage grouse as an endangered or threatened species.

Fischer agreed, and amended the bill to limit it to three reintroductions in the first five years.

“We need to go very carefully when it comes to habitat and restoring endangered species because we fall into a whole new regime of public scrutiny and rule making,” Rankin said. “So for that reason, I felt like we should go slow.”

Fischer said his home city saw the idea as a good way to control overpopulation of prairie dogs on open space around the city.

He said they got the idea from Rep. Timothy Dore, R-Elizabeth, who got a law enacted last year to allow a Pueblo West rancher to reintroduce the species to control prairie dogs on his land.

The bill requires a final House vote before it can head to the Senate.


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