Habitat Loss

The Vanishing Prairie

As European settlements moved westward, people began to realize that the prairie was some of the most fertile land available. Crops were fairly easy to grow, and there was plenty of grass for farmers to graze their livestock. With the arrival of the plow, large expanses of native prairie were converted to farmland, thus eliminating land for native plants and grassland dependent animals.

Despite being a keystone species prairie dogs were, and in many areas still are, considered pests. Many people believe prairie dogs compete with cattle for forage. Large-scale poisoning programs initiated in the early 1900s dramatically reduced prairie dogs numbers, leaving only small and isolated populations. Poisoning is still common in many areas of the Great Plains.

In addition to cultivation and prairie dog eradication campaigns, urban sprawl also contributes to prairie habitat loss.

Before European settlers, there were an estimated 502,000 square miles (320 million acres) of prairie habitat. Researchers estimate that only one percent of the original prairie in the United States remains undisturbed by human activity. However, much of the former range of the ferret and prairie dog remains suitable for their existence.

Below is a map of the historic range (in green) of the black-footed ferret.

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