Ted Turner group wants to reintroduce swift fox in S.D.

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01/02/2002 1:44 am ET

Ted Turner group wants to reintroduce swift fox in South Dakota

The Associated Press



PIERRE, S.D. (AP) Billionaire media mogul Ted Turner wants the state's permission to release rare swift foxes on his 138,000-acre ranch in central South Dakota.
The Turner Endangered Species Fund has asked the state's Animal Industry Board to allow for the release of the threatened animal on Turner's ranch in Stanley and Jones counties.

The Turner group wants to release 180 swift foxes in the next several years. The animals, about the size of house cats, would be trapped in Wyoming and moved to South Dakota.

"It makes sense to try to advance recovery of this important and imperiled component of South Dakota's natural history," said Mike Phillips, director of the Turner fund, a private, nonprofit charity founded in 1997 to help threatened and endangered species.

Swift foxes once were common from Canada to Texas and from Montana to Minnesota. The disappearance of prairies and accidental trapping, shooting and poisoning under programs aimed at wolves and coyotes have contributed to the animal's decline. Also, food sources such as prairie dogs and ground squirrels have fallen in number.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 1995 that the swift fox needed protection under the Endangered Species Act but the agency has not had the resources to pursue it.

The tiny foxes are listed as a threatened species in South Dakota. A small native population exists in the southwestern corner of the state.

"The science of the fox project is very solid," Phillips said. "This has the potential to be a winner for everybody."

Some ranchers aren't so sure. Steve Willard of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association said his group's members worry that the release of rare animals eventually could result in additional government restrictions on the use of farm and ranch lands. Other farm-group spokesmen have echoed that sentiment.

"More often than not, those who have voiced opposition are ultimately concerned about prairie dogs or what Ted Turner may or may not also do in South Dakota," Phillips said. "We need people to judge this on its merits."

Ranchers have fought efforts to give federal Endangered Species Act protection to prairie dogs in part because that would restrict land use.

The Turner ranch will focus on controlling coyotes to keep them from eating the swift foxes, Phillips said.

"We do not like being in a situation where we have to select one species over another. But we're more inclined to work on behalf of a rare species at the detriment of a common species," Phillips said.

A Jan. 7 hearing has been scheduled on the request. If the Animal Industry Board approves the Turner group's request, the first foxes could be released late this winter or early spring, Phillips said.

The swift fox is the smallest of North America's wild dogs, weighing up to 7 pounds as an adult. The foxes primarily hunt at night, feeding on crickets and other insects, mice and rabbits.


On The Net

South Dakota Animal Industry Board: http://www.state.sd.us/aib/

Turner Endangered Species Fund: http://tesf.org/
 

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