Posted: April 13, 2009, 5 a.m. EDT
Earth Tones

By Travis Livieri
In 2008, sylvatic plague reached the Conata Basin, an area of South Dakota that was a previous safe haven for black-footed ferrets and one of the most successful sites for reintroducing the endangered black-footed ferret into the wild. Travis Livieri is one of the people working to save the black-footed ferrets, also known as BFFs.

owl on fence post
© Travis Livieri
A burrowing owl seemed to oversee the efforts to save black-footed ferrets in the South Dakota prairie.

September 23, 2008
7:31 p.m., Tuesday
The sun dips behind the Badlands to the west as I bump across the prairie in my pickup, headed toward the anesthesia trailer where I will meet up with the rest of tonight’s crew. There is a definite chill in the air, and I can tell it’s going to be a cool night. Fall is here, the annual migration of birds is upon us, and the landscape is enveloped in earth tones. In the fading sunlight I see a burrowing owl sitting on a fence post, preening its feathers.

8:05 p.m.
This week I’ve got some help, five more spotlighters, from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service. We’re in the Agate area this week, and I expect we will catch a fair number of BFFs. I assign everyone an area, and hand out data sheets and hand-held radios for communication.

September 24, 2008
1:30 a.m., Wednesday
It’s been a somewhat slow night so far. I’ve caught three BFFs, but no one else has brought another one in yet.

5:47 a.m.
The morning rush is on as the other spotlighters bring in BFFs. I’ve got nine BFFs waiting to be processed, not including the unconscious one in front of me that I’m working on.

9:21 a.m.
This has turned into a long night with a multitude of BFFs coming through the trailer. I’m working on the 25th and, thankfully, last BFF of the night, an adult male that I caught. I pause between procedures in my processing routine to look at this BFF. He doesn’t have an ounce of fat on his body, only powerful muscles show through his buff pelage. I marvel at his thick front limbs, which look amazingly like that of a bear but on a smaller scale. He is 2.5 pounds of fur and brawn.

10:14 a.m.
All BFFs have been processed and released safely back into their burrows. I’ve got the trailer cleaned up, and I’m ready to head to bed for the day. The sun is bright in this cloudless sky. The western wheatgrass, buffalograss and blue grama are golden yellows, browns, tans and russets — earth tones contrasted against the powder blue sky. As I bump along in my pickup truck, dust billowing up behind me, I see what I believe is the same burrowing owl earlier, perched again atop a fence post. I swear that the owl winks at me before he takes flight, as if to say, “See you next year.” Rubbing my sleep deprived eyes, I decide that I need some rest.

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Reader Comments
How awesome!
Erica, Denton, TX
Posted: 4/17/2012 11:16:32 PM
I hate to repeat what someone else has just said ,but it is true!I DO love reading about your time with the,(I call them the Black Footed Ones)BFF.Specially when you tell about individuals.I want to Thank You for doing all the hard work that you do! OK everyone who reads The good stuff Travis takes the time to write for us to read.Aay you like love or hate it!!!But let him know you want him to keep writing!!Please?
Eve, Louisburg, NC
Posted: 4/17/2009 9:02:34 PM
I love reading when you write about the BFFs! This one was beautiful; I could almost believe I was there.
Melanee, Eugene, OR
Posted: 4/17/2009 7:55:01 AM
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