Gopher Inspections

​If you apply for a permit, the County checks its map to see if the project property has gopher soils. If it does, the entire parcel is inspected for a gopher species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. You can get gopher inspection without applying for a building permit. See Inspection Details section below.

Important 2021 Gopher Inspection Dates

  • September 10 by 4 p.m.– Last day to submit permit application if you want gopher inspections by County staff.  
  • October 22– Last day to submit permit application & completed gopher inspection reports, if you used your own consultant, for staff to process consultant reports before Oct 31.
  • October 31– Gopher Inspection season ends for 2021. 

Basic Inspection Information 

  • Gopher inspections start June 1, 2021 & end October 31.
  • Entire parcel is inspected.
  • Follow mowing instructions (PDF) so ground is visible, but don’t dig, move dirt, pull stumps, add gravel or level mounds until AFTER project is permitted.
  • Inspection requires two on-property visits, at least 30 days apart.
  • Inspectors inspect the ground, looking for signs of gophers living underground.
  • Some gopher soils overlap prairie soils, and also get Prairie Plant Inspection.
  • No-contact inspections continue. See the "No-Contact Inspections fact sheet" (PDF).
  • Most projects can still go forward even if gophers are found. See FAQs below.
  • The County will inspect for gophers until it gets federal approval for its Habitat Conservation Plan

Six Very Important Instructions for Applicants

  1. Fill out application forms completely, correctly & neatly
    Inaccurate, incomplete or unreadable forms delay your application.  
  2. Give us your correct email address and phone number & check your messages.
    We use the contact info on your application to let you know your County-scheduled inspection dates. Each year, applicants miss inspections because of unchecked messages.   
  3. Put property access info on your application
    Provide access to locked gates; remove or secure animals; and let us know where and how to access fenced areas. 
  4. Prepare for inspection by mowing & follow Gopher/Prairie Plant mowing requirements & timing.
    When and how you mow is very important. The entire parcel is inspected, and needs a good mowing so inspectors can see the ground. But the ground needs time to settle before inspection. No mowing 3 weeks before inspection. It’s very important that you follow these detailed mowing instructions (PDF).
  5. LET US KNOW if you hire your own inspection consultant.
    You can choose to hire your own inspector, or use the County’s for a fee. But you must notify the County of your choice, by email or in writing. The County automatically schedules and sends inspectors UNLESS you let us know you hired your own. You may end up paying for both if you choose your own, but don’t inform the County. See Inspection Details section below.
  6. When contacting us, include your permit number, and applicant name so we can respond quickly with accurate information.
    Send messages related to gopher or prairie reviews to Vince McDowell. Remember to include permit number and applicant name.

Important Documents & Forms

For Applicants 
Consultant List for Gopher Inspections (PDF)  This list is provided & maintained by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is not a County document.
County Exclusions to Gopher Inspection (PDF)  |   Federal Exclusions  (PDF)      
County Map (Look up address or parcel # to see if a property has gopher soils)  
Soils List for Gopher & Prairie Plant Inspections (PDF)           
Mowing Instructions for Gopher & Prairie Plant Inspections (PDF)   
How to Prepare for Inspection fact sheet (PDF) (In one PDF: Mowing Instructions & fact sheets.)    
Gopher & Prairie Plant Inspections fact sheet (PDF)   
No-Contact Inspections fact sheet (PDF)


Inspection Details

  1. You Have a Choice: County Inspector, or Consultant
    • Notify the County of your choice by email or in writing. If the County doesn’t know you hired a consultant, it sends County inspectors. Avoid paying for both.
    • Your consultant must be on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service list of trained consultants
    • Your consultant must follow County inspection protocols, timing & paperwork. See forms under For Consultants above for details.
    • If you hire a consultant, make sure your consultant follows County protocol. You want to avoid risk of federal liability associated with failure to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act. 
  2. Inspections are Automatically Scheduled for You IF YOU USE COUNTY INSPECTORS
    • The County automatically schedules County inspectors for you.
    • You find and schedule consultants if you hire one. See Consultant List under For Applicants above.
    • Inspections are only done from June 1 – October 31. 
    • You will receive your inspection date via email, or a County inspector will call. If you’re not available, they will leave a message. Inspectors use the contact info from your application, and may leave a message. Many applicants miss their turn because they provide bad contact info, or don’t check their messages.
  3. You Can Get Gopher Inspection w/out a Building Permit
  4. Before you design, build or apply for a permit, consider getting a CAD report or wetland delineation
    • If critical areas are found at inspection, you may be asked for more information later. Many prairies have seasonal wetlands, and other highly regulated land types called critical areas. Knowing if you have them or where they are can help you plan & site your project correctly, and avoid costly surprises during the permitting process.  CAD reports mentioned in #3 above aren’t required, but are helpful.

FAQs


  1. What if the County determines there are gophers on property?
    Most projects can still go forward. Applicants may choose an option that meets the County's Critical Areas code, Title 24, including: site your project differently to avoid gopher impacts; change the project footprint to avoid impacts to gophers; work directly with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to get a federal permit for your project (an Incidental Take Permit w/an individual Habitat Conservation Plan for your project); wait for Thurston County's Habitat Conservation Plan (which will cover most permit applicants); talk to the County's gopher inspection project manager about the County CAO options (PDF). 

  2. Which properties get gopher inspection?
    Properties with mapped gopher soils, within 300' of mapped soils, or within 600' of known gopher locations. On the County map in the links list above, the soils are marked as More or Less Preferred. On the Prairie Soils List PDF document linked above, the soil names are detailed and include slope details.

  3. What do inspectors look for?
    Inspectors look at the ground conditions of the entire parcel. They look for evidence that gophers are living underground on a property. They walk the entire property, examine the ground, soils and vegetation. They may dig a small hole. They replace soil if they do. They don't enter buildings or disturb manicured lawns. Please read how to prepare for inspection, and see 2020 mowing instructions, both linked above.

  4. How can I prepare for inspection?
    Mow so that inspectors can see the ground. Follow the mowing instructions (PDF) carefully. Generally, don’t mow 3 weeks before inspection. Before that mowing is usually okay.

  5. Why does the County government do gopher inspections?
    The quick answer: The County has an okay from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use a temporary habitat inspection process which allows the County to issue permits to applicants whose projects impact gopher habitat, as long as no gophers are found on the project property.  

    The more detailed answer: Thurston County is home to several pocket gopher species which were added to the federal Endangered Species list in 2013, and are now protected by federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations. That means County permit applicants who have the types of soils that are habitat for these animals have federal hoops to jump through before they break ground. The largest of these hoops is a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), a technical study detailing how the property owner will offset the impacts their project has on the habitat of protected animals. Once USFWS approve an HCP, they issue a federal permit called an incidental take permit. After receiving an incidental take permit from the feds, property owners can then apply to the County for a local building permit and go through a separate County permit process. 

    However, federal ESA laws allow the County to prepare an HCP for its permit applicants that would cover many common building projects. An umbrella HCP from the County would mean permit applicants could completely avoid the separate federal process.

    The County started work on an HCP soon after gophers were added to the Endangered Species List. Until the HCP is ready, the feds okayed an interim gopher inspection to reduce the number of County permit applicants that must go through federal process.  If no gophers are found, projects can move forward with County permitting. If gophers are found, permit applicants work directly with the feds. When the County's HCP is approved by the feds, gopher inspections will end, and there will be no separate federal process. Local, year-round permitting will begin for permit applicants with projects that impact gopher habitat. 

    The County submitted a draft HCP to USFWS in July 2020, and is waiting for federal approval.  When the County's HCP is approved, seasonal gopher inspections will be history. Most permit applicants will be able to move forward year-round with no inspections, the one-stop permitting at the County level only. No separate federal process. (Some higher-impact projects like mining operations will not be covered by the County HCP.) Find details about the County's HCP on the County website.