Ferrets vaccinated for the plague: a happy story raises tough questions
"Endangered black-footed ferrets, like children, aren't exactly lining up to be stuck with a vaccine, but in an effort to help control an extensive outbreak of plague in South Dakota, some of the ferrets are getting dosed with a vaccine given by biologists..." It was a catchy opening to today's press release by the U.S. Geological Survey, and the press release contains a happy "human-interest" story. Sadly, however, ferrets are not alone in the animal kingdom in the need for such intervention, and few animals receive such special treatment. For example, a recent issue of Conservation magazine reported on how Tasmanian Devils are being wiped out by an aggressive form of cancer. So, the inequities and unfairness of nature aside, lawyers and policy makers must wrestle with the difficult questions. For example, any such intervention, even for enhancement of survival of a species, requires a permit pursuant to Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act. And the regulatory agencies, FWS and NOAA, must put appropriate conditions on those permits. But that's the easy part, because there are deeper questions too. How much money should we spend on any one species, and how do we best set our priorities on how money is being spent, and whether it is spent on the most worthy species? What criteria do we use in selecting the worthy species? (See Pennsylvania's effort.) And, perhaps most importantly, in some of these cases, should we humans be letting nature take its course, even if it means extinction of a species?
Photo of ferret receiving vaccine, by USGS