“Native species such as swift foxes and black-footed ferrets disappeared from the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation generations ago, wiped out by poisoning campaigns, disease and farm plows that turned open prairie where nomadic tribes once roamed into cropland and cattle pastures.
Now with guidance from elders and outside wildlife groups, students and interns from the tribal college are helping reintroduce the small predators to the northern Montana reservation sprawling across more than 1,000 square miles (2,600 square kilometers) near the U.S.-Canada border.
Sakura Main, a 24-year-old Aaniiih woman who is entering Fort Belknap’s Aaniiih Nakoda College in January, is helping to locate, trap and vaccinate the severely endangered ferrets against deadly plague in a program overseen by the tribal fish and game department.
The nocturnal animals live among the mounded burrows of prairie dog colonies, where ferrets stalk the rodents almost as big as they are, wrapping themselves around their prey to strangle and kill it.
On a recent clear night, the Nakoda sacred site Snake Butte looming on the horizon, Main shined a flashlight into a long, skinny, wire trap atop a prairie dog burrow. Inside was the second ferret that she’d caught that night with fellow wildlife worker C.J. Werk, daughter of the former tribal president.
“We got one in there!” Main quietly exclaimed.
“Wow, really another one?” replied Werk, who was engaged in a friendly competition with another worker, her cousin, to catch the most ferrets. “I’m going to rub it in.”
Hurried back to the “hospital trailer,” the animal was sedated and vaccinated against sylvatic plague carried by their favorite prey, work done in partnership with World Wildlife Fund. It had a microchip inserted beneath its skin for future tracking, before being released back into the prairie dog colony to a soft cheer from Main and Werk.
As extinctions of animals and plants accelerate around the globe, Native American tribes with limited funding are trying to re-establish imperiled species and restore their habitat — measures that parallel growing calls to “rewild” places by reviving degraded natural systems.”
Comment: I am not Indian or even part Indian. Repeated DNA testing has established that, but I wish the tribes well in this effort to re-establish their world. pl