It looks as if this could be the year of the black-footed ferret.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recovery program is enjoying more success than ever with breeding the endangered mammals and is making plans to place them in breeding and reintroduction sites in several Western states.A total of 452 black-footed ferrets were born in captivity this spring and 339 survived, the agency said.

Of those, 217 will be taken to breeding and reintroduction sites in six states, including South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Another 18 will be released from their birth pens in Arizona into the wild.

The remaining 104 will be kept for future captive breeding efforts, the agency said in a news release.

The black-footed ferret was once thought to be extinct, but since the discovery and capture of a small colony in the 1980s in Wyoming, the weasel-like mammal is making somewhat of a comeback.

It still is one of the most critically endangered mammals in North America, the agency said.

The captive breeding program is being done at six different zoos throughout the United States and Fish and Wildlife's own ferret breeding center near Laramie, Wyo.

Reintroduction efforts first began in 1991, and researchers have learned that extended exposure of ferrets to large outdoor pens with live prairie dog prey improves reintroduction efforts.