PICT - Black Footed Ferret - USFWS

Endangered Species Act turns 50

Mike Moen

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(Greater Dakota News Service) This Thursday, the Endangered Species Act celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Wildlife experts say the policy has been a big help in such states as South Dakota. Since it was signed into law in 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the act has served as one of the world's most important conservation laws.

Chamois Andersen, Rockies and Plains senior field representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said the policy has been essential in bringing a little more population stability to the black-footed ferret in South Dakota.

"They're the carnivore of the prairie and they're really important to our biodiversity," Andersen explained. "It's a terrific story they're in South Dakota."

PROMO 660 x 440 Animal - Black Footed Ferret - USFWS

While the act has saved the animal from the brink of extinction, Andersen pointed out they have not been able to see a full recovery. Lingering challenges include population controls for prairie dogs, which the ferrets prey on. 

Prairie dogs are considered an agricultural pest, and Andersen urged state agencies to consider nonlethal management efforts and vegetation buffers to avoid broader habitat disruptions.

As for improving the act, Andersen emphasized she would like to see more targeted spending provisions. 

"Species that are of really critical need of dedicated funding, Congress can consider those additional funds for those animals that are on the brink of extinction," Andersen urged. "We believe that they deserve that kind of financial attention."

In Congress, Republicans have pursued efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act, with backers of this approach arguing that certain protections are government overreach. But groups like Defenders of Wildlife counter that saving threatened species and their ecosystems benefits human health by supporting clean water, clean air and pollination.