top of page

Backvalley Ferrets

University of Georgia Press: Crux, 2023


Finalist for the Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers

Runner-Up for the Waterston Desert Writing Prize.


Pushcart Nominee

anthologized in Letters to America


Best of the Net Nominee









Winner, "Best Adaptation Essay"

Notable Essay, Best American Essays 2017

Notable Essay, Best American Essays 2020

  • "Backvalley Ferrets" 



  • "Letter to America/Dear Milo" 


  • "How to Talk Dlak-Thooted Therret: Ventriloquism for the Eremocene" 

               Quarterly West

  • "This Taxidermy Will Be Mounted to an Interior Wall" 

               Passages North

  • "If the Ferret Crosses the Road," 

               Creative Nonfiction, Fall 2017

  • "A Ferret by Any Other Name"

               Willow Springs, Fall 2020

  • "My Son Was Born to Rob Me of the    Glory of Saving the Black-Footed Ferret From Plague"

               Orion, Summer 2020

  • "Where's My Little Ferret"

               River Teeth, Spring 2020

  • "From Petri to Prairie"​​

                High Country News, 2022​

Twice declared extinct, North America’s most endangered mammal species, the black-footed ferret (BFF), is making a comeback thanks to an evolving conservation regimen at more than thirty reintroduction sites across the continent. Lawrence Lenhart lingers at one such site in his proverbial backyard, the Aubrey Valley in northern Arizona. He clocks hundreds of hours behind the wheel, rolling over ranch ruts as he shines a spotlight over dusky sage steppe in the hopes of catching a fleck of emerald eyeshine.The beguiling weasel at the center of this book is more than a charismatic minifauna; it is the covert ambassador of a critical ecosystem that has dwindled to 1 percent of its former size. In a landscape menaced by habitat fragmentation, bacterial plague, settler colonialism, and soil death, a ferret must be resilient. Lenhart investigates the human efforts to sustain the species through monitoring, vaccination, captive breeding, and even cloning.Lenhart balances this lens of environmental witness with personal essaying that captures the parallel story of his wife’s pregnancy as he realizes the ferret’s conservation story is dramatically synchronized with her trimesters. In preparing to raise a child in the Anthropocene, Lenhart takes stock of his own ecosystem and finds something is amiss. Through an ethic of “deeper ecology,” Lenhart must hone his ecological interest in the black-footed ferret to assure it isn’t overshadowed by his own paternal interests.

Backvalley Ferrets taught me all about Lenhart, Seligman, environmental issues, and so much more. Lenhart also so beautifully weaves in his journey into fatherhood and how to survive within the Anthropocene. Lenhart is an artist. He has built a beautiful book.

     —Sean Prentiss, author of Finding Abbey

Lawrence Lenhart somehow made me care about ferrets. I guess that’s the job of great writing: to move the reader’s needle on matters that are esoteric or hard or sad or just too weird to believe. It helps that this is a great story he’s spinning here—of birth and death and rebirth—both ferret and human—of love and ecology and the people out there saving Ferris, I mean ferrets, and the complicated interplay between ecology, biology, people, and politics in what outsiders refer to as flyover country but what those of us who live in these places just call home. It’s hard work keeping anything alive is what I thought a lot, reading this, and it’s hard work just being alive and bringing new living things into the world. I can say definitively that this is the most fun you’re going to have reading about the art of ferret insemination. Although this excellent book is about ferrets, what it’s really about is us.

     —Ander Monson, author of Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir

Lawrence Lenhart writes with wit and science smarts about his affection for the black-footed ferret and its place in North American conservation. What makes this book so engaging is the juxtaposition of ferret breeding with human breeding, as the author contemplates having a child in an era when it’s clear that he is a member of the super-predator species laying waste to the natural world. His research takes him from a restoration site on the Colorado plateau to the 'frozen zoo,' where genetic material from the orca whale, white rhino, and black-footed ferret lies together sleeping in the cryogenic night. The result is a fascinating and good-hearted book that prods the reader to think anew about conservation in our urban and technologically mediated times.

     —Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of A Woven World: On Fashion, Fishermen, and the Sardine Dress

Out now! High Country News: The Cloning Conundrum [link]


Featuring the essay, "Should We Clone the Black-Footed Ferret?" From petri dish to prairie with North America’s most endangered species. For decades, cryopreserved cells have been stored at the Frozen Zoo in San Diego, CA. Thanks to biotechnology, those cells were thawed, split, shipped, cloned, and implanted in a surrogate in Rochester, NY. The clone, Elizabeth Ann, was born in Carr, CO and now represents the most genetically diverse living BFF.  

Keywords: endangered species, cloning, conservation, frozen zoo

Screen Shot 2022-07-26 at 2.36.31 AM.png
bottom of page