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Black-footed ferret

Use of an oral vaccine that protects prairie dogs from the plague will be expanded on the Charles M. Russell and UL Bend National Wildlife Refuges in Montana under a plan proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The new plan would allow for vaccine distribution on wilderness areas within the refuges and on nearby private lands when requested by landowners. The Service has completed an environmental assessment for the action and is seeking public comment on the proposal.

Prairie dogs are highly susceptible to sylvatic plague, which can kill entire colonies of prairie dogs, a ground-dwelling animal. Endangered black-footed ferrets rely almost exclusively on prairie dogs as a source of food and shelter, so efforts to maintain and grow prairie dog colonies by inoculating them with this oral plague vaccine would benefit ferret populations, as well as a host of other prairie species.

After several years of experimental research, the Service announced its plans to begin administering the sylvatic plague vaccine at the two Montana national wildlife refuges in April 2016. Proposed and designated wilderness areas on the refuges were not included in that plan. Some prairie dog colonies occur contiguously on wilderness and non-wilderness lands of the two refuges. Since it is desirable to vaccinate as many prairie dogs as possible across a colony, the Service has completed this environmental assessment to extend the areas where the vaccine can be applied.

The 30 day comment period for the EA ends on July 1. Copies are available on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge website at: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/charles_m_russell/ or by contacting the refuge at 406-538-8706.

Comments may be emailed to: randy_matchett@fws.gov or sent by mail to: Attn: Randy Matchett, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 333 Airport Road, Lewistown, MT 59457.

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