Back in September, I ranted with frustration over attempts to control prairie dog populations in Logan County, Kansas, through a county-government-initiated chemical poisoning campaign (http://gaiagarden.blogspot.com/2007/09/did-i-miss-timewarp-to-1904.html).
On Christmas Eve, I read a follow-up to that story which made me feel much better. The landowners involved, who were already working with the federal government on a plan to re-introduce endangered black-footed ferrets to their land, were able to get a restraining order to stop the county government from doing any further poisoning.
Then on December 18th, 24 black-footed ferrets were actually released on the property involved. Hopefully it will be the start of a healthy rebalancing of the prairie ecosystem in that area, since black-footed ferrets are a primary predator of prairie dogs.
There are still lots of hurdles to get over. For example, they picked mid-December for the release date to allow the black-footed ferrets a chance to establish breeding territories before the spring mating season occurs. However, the winter months on the prairie are a strenuous time of year for any animal, and mortality may be quite high. (In fact, our last big snowstorm came roaring through just 4 days after the ferrets were released.)
Even if most of the released ferrets survive, it will be years before their numbers build up to the point where they truly keep the prairie dog populations in balance. On the other hand, there are other predators like coyotes and rattlesnakes who will be happy to help the ferrets control the prairie dogs, so all the work of rebalancing the prairie won't be left entirely to them.
I'm choosing to be optimistic about the success of the ferrets' reintroduction, because I have to believe that we can learn to work more effectively with natural processes, rather than always working against them. This is an exciting step in that direction.
Now it's up to the ferrets themselves. I must admit I'm feeling some anxious anticipation, wondering how they're doing. Unfortunately, this is one of those times when all the watchful worry in the world won't affect the outcome, whether for good or for bad. It's too bad my worrying can't help, though, because it's something I'm really good at doing!