Sierra Club's Position on Ferrets

Subject: CALIF-ALERTS: LegAlert #97-5
Date: 20 May 1997 17:03:32 -0700
From: (Dan Anderson)
Reply-To: calif-alerts-request@LISTS.SIERRACLUB.ORG
Organization: Sierra Club
Newsgroups:, ca.environment

May 20, 1997

Why is the Sierra Club Taking a Position on Ferrets?

AB 363 - One of the highest profile, most political hot potatoes to hit the Legislature this year is AB 363 (Goldsmith), which would remove domestic ferrets from Department of Fish and Game (DFG) jurisdiction and allow them to be privately owned. Ferret fanciers have been trying to legalize these animals for years, first by lobbying the Fish and Game Commission and then by backing legislative initiatives. Though Sierra Club California does not normally become involved pet ownership issues, we strongly oppose this bill and urge you to contact your representatives and ask them to block its passage.

Why is the Sierra Club taking a position on domestic pets? California's sensitive and unique ecosystems need to be protected from non-native and potentially invasive species, including ferrets. We cannot take the risk that a feral population of an introduced species could become established in this state. California has strong public policy restricting the import of non-native species, and the legalization of ferrets would set a dangerous precedent for weakening that policy. Considering the amount of time we spend trying to repair the damage done by non-native species in fragile ecosystems, we must try to prevent any further such damage where possible. Ferret fanciers are a strong lobbying group, and they employ a number of different arguments on behalf of their cause. Here are some of their arguments and our responses:

1) FF: In the 48 states where ferrets are legal, there are no known feral communities.

SC: Very few studies have been conducted on ferrets in the wild, so it is not surprising that there have been limited positive results. A breeding population was found on San Juan Island in Washington during a 1970s rabbit study. Even if there currently are no feral communities, which is unlikely, we don't want to risk starting one in a state with so many endangered species and fragile ecosystems.

2) FF: If they escape, ferrets have no ability to survive on their own.

SC: Ferrets are commonly found surviving in the wild, including in southeast Alaska in the middle of winter. From 1985 to 1996, 58 stray ferrets were turned into a DFG facility in Rancho Cordova. This represents a limited geographical area during a limited time frame, and not all stray ferrets found in the Central California area would necessarily be turned into that facility. Many ferrets are trained by their owners as househunters or rabbit hunters, and are therefore skilled at predating on other species.

3) FF: AB 363 calls for all ferrets to be spayed or neutered, so under this law they could not breed in the wild.

SC: That regulation would be very difficult to enforce, and even individual ferrets could have an impact on certain endangered species.

4) FF: Ferrets pose less a risk to native species than cats and dogs.

SC: This may or may not be true, but cats and dogs are already legal.

Since the Sierra Club took a positionon this issue, the Sacramento office and the national office in San Francisco have been the targets of a broad, often bitter, campaign by ferret enthusiasts. We have been accused of being ignorant, prejudiced, and "bought off" by DFG, among other things.

Status: AB 363 was on the Assembly floor's inactive file as of last week, but the author gave notice of intent to remove it from the inactive file yesterday, May 19. It will probably come up for vote on the Assembly floor next week. Ferret fanciers have generated a lot of support for the bill with their phone, letter, and email campaign to legislators, and they have already won over a number of Assembly Members who are usually on our side.

Action Needed: Contact your Assembly Members and urge them to protect California's native species and habitats by voting no on AB 363. Ask them not to relent to pressure from ferret advocates, many of whom live out of state. Tell them that it is important to you that California maintain its strong public policy prohibiting the introduction of non-native species.

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CFL Response to Sierra Club