- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Endangered black-footed ferrets soon will hunt prairie dogs at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, a sign that land once deemed one of America’s most toxic waste sites is now is considered clean.

However, the ferrets and prairie dogs will still be blocked from a fenced, 1,000-acre area where contaminated materials are buried under a clay cap. A crew of monitors patrols it daily, checking groundwater and filling in holes.

Only 4 square miles of the refuge is open to the public, but officials hope to open up more land in the future, The Denver Post reported (https://tinyurl.com/kfu46x3 ).

Federal wildlife managers said they plan to release 30 captive-bred ferrets in September onto the 27-square-mile refuge, a former Army chemical weapons and Shell pesticides plant that became a superfund environmental disaster eight miles from downtown Denver.

The endangered ferrets will join the herd of about 80 bison, including eight new calves, along with growing populations of eagles, migratory songbirds, heron, rabbits, ducks, mice, snakes, coyotes, deer, geese, badgers, owls and frogs.

The ferrets will help control prairie dogs that are threatening newly restored native prairie, refuge manager Dave Lucas said.

“This really is turning a new chapter,” he said. “Are the soils safe? We’re going to continue to sample. Our studies are showing they are absolutely safe. The chemicals are not here.”

For decades, arsenal weapons and pesticides production leaked toxic chemicals that contaminated soil and water, forcing a $2.1 billion cleanup completed in 2012.

To make sure soil at the refuge is clean enough, refuge managers commissioned a study last fall. Soil sampling showed there was no significant contamination, Lucas said.


Information from: The Denver Post, https://www.denverpost.com

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