Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station
A black footed ferret.
file photo/courtesy photo NPS

Conata Basin off limits to prairie dog hunting

RAPID CITY, S.D. – The U.S. Forest Service published a final, permanent order Friday that prohibits prairie dog hunting in part of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland in southwestern South Dakota.

The order covers about 125 square miles of black-footed ferret reintroduction habitat in the Conata Basin, within the grassland’s Wall Ranger District in Jackson and Pennington counties. The ferrets also inhabit neighboring Badlands National Park.

The black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered mammals in North America and the only ferret species native to the continent. The ferrets prey on prairie dogs, which were decimated by disease in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

The Forest Service had been reissuing temporary bans on prairie dog hunting in the Conata Basin area every 30 days since 2018.

The rest of the nearly 1,000-square-mile national grassland remains open to prairie dog hunters. The order does not affect other types of recreational shooting and does not impact shooting on private or state-owned land.

Permanently closing part of the Conata Basin to prairie dog hunting will “maintain quality ferret habitat with a sufficient food source (prairie dogs), prevent incidental take of the endangered black-footed ferret, and address the safety of agency and contractor personnel as they study and manage the ferrets,” the Forest Service wrote in its justification for the permanent order.

The same document noted that prairie dog hunting is “one of the top reasons that people contact the Wall Ranger District.”

“While prairie dog hunting can economically benefit outfitters and guides and other local businesses,” the document said, “frequent or intense hunting can affect prairie dog population size, behavior, and reproductive rates.”

The "described areas" in this map are the portions of the Conata Basin in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland that have been permanently closed to prairie dog hunting. (Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)
The “described areas” in this map are the portions of the Conata Basin in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland that have been permanently closed to prairie dog hunting. (Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)

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