Ferrets and Ground Nesting Birds

The Fish and Game Commission, in their rejection of our petition asking them to remove ferrets from the prohibited species list pulled a paragraph out of our own environmental report in justifying their decision:

Regarding potential impacts to wildlife populations, the report finds that while the establishment of feral colonies is improbable, there is a possibility that escaped ferrets might do significant damage to wildlife, such as ground-nesting birds or listed species, during a period up to a few weeks of survival (see Chapter 8, Section 2.2). It further notes that ongoing intentional releases or inadvertent escapes might replenish the population in the wild which could pose a continued hazard to wildlife. In addition, the report states that while pet-store ferrets do not possess the necessary traits to become invasive, pole-cat-ferret hybrids and polecats may possess the necessary traits. The report notes that both fertile ferrets and polecat-ferret hybrids are advertised for sale online. Therefore, some risk of them establishing a breeding population remains. How great a risk that poses to California’s unique biodiversity remains unclear.

Has any damage occurred from ferrets as outlined in their suggestion? We can say with certainty – only in New Zealand and the Shetland Islands. Those are island ecosystems. The environmental impact report they are citing also states that ferrets can’t go feral except on island ecosystems with an abundance of prey and an absence of predators.
We are gathering information from other states and this is what we have so far:

Alaska

No.. seagulls kill more ducks then other wildlife.
Good luck
H
alaskawaterfowlassociation@gmail.com

Florida

We do not have wild ferrets in Florida. Because of this, we cannot speak to whether or not they would have an impact. Also ferrets are considered a domestic animal in Florida and do not require a permit for personnel possession. (See http://myfwc.com/license/captive-wildlife/#not required).
You can also see the attached journal articles.
Thanks,
Kelly
Kelly.Richmond@MyFWC.com

Georgia

We concur with the California Fish and Game Commission’s concerns that escaped domestic ferrets could potentially inflict substantial predatory damage to native birds, small mammals, and herpetofauna. The species’ European ancestors are, of course, known to depredate all of these animals, and like California the state of Georgia has experienced a variety of ecological damages resulting from the unintentional (and sometimes deliberate) release of domestic pets.

Best regards,

Robert Sargent, Ph.D.
Program Manager
Nongame Bird Conservation Coordinator
Wildlife Resources Division
(478) 994-1438 | M: (404) 291-8124

Montana

We have not experienced any incidence of feral populations of ferrets or polecat hybrids in Montana.
Lee, Michael <milee@mt.gov>

Nebraska

We agree that the possibility of problems between ferrets and native wildlife exists; however, we have not documented any major problems in NE that I am aware of.

Sam Wilson
Furbearer/Carnivore Program Manager
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
2200 N 33rd St. P.O. Box 30370
Lincoln, NE 68503
402-471-5174
sam.wilson@nebraska.gov

Texas

Thanks for contacting TPWD. I have never heard of any complaints of ferrets or polecats as invasive species in Texas. However, other small weasels are known to be problematic in many parts of the world.
Jonah Evans
Mammalogist
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
140 City Park Rd.
Boerne, Texas 78006

Wyoming

We received your inquiry regarding potential risks to wildlife posed by feral domestic ferrets.

The situation in Wyoming is not relevant to your question. While it is legal to own domestic ferrets in Wyoming, our climate is far too harsh for domestic ferrets to survive and become established in the wild. The average elevation of Wyoming is 6,700 ft and winter temperatures of 20-30 degrees below zero are not uncommon here. Domestic ferrets are not equipped to survive in such climatic extremes.

My Department is very concerned about risks to native wildlife posed by invasive species released into the wild and we have some of the strictest laws in the country in regard to possession and ownership of live wildlife including nonnative species. Our regulations governing possession and ownership of wild and domestic animals can be viewed at:

https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Regulations/Regulation-PDFs/REGULATIONS_CH10

In general, we do not permit private individuals to own or possess live wildlife or invasive species that may pose a risk to native wildlife either through competition, predation, or disease.

It appears that feral domestic ferrets can pose (and have posed) a risk to native wildlife, including ground-nesting birds, in locations where the climate is suitable for escaped ferrets to survive and become established. For example, see the report from Queensland, Australia at:

https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/66943/IPA-Ferret-Risk-Asessment.pdf

While we do not have feral domestic ferrets in Wyoming, we would note that feral domestic house cats have become a serious problem in various locations. As such, they are classified as predatory animals that can be controlled without a permit or license. Also see the article at:

https://abcbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/NFWF.pdf

Any escaped nonnative species that did not co-evolve with native wildlife is potential risk factor and there are many examples from throughout the world, of native wildlife being decimated by introduced nonnative species. California has a much more varied climate than Wyoming and I suspect there are places where escaped domestic ferrets could potentially survive.

I hope you find my response informative and useful.
Steve Tessmann <steve.tessmann@wyo.gov>