Thousands of acres removed from required review area.
Olympia- Thurston County today released early information about its 2016 gopher review process for construction permits. The announcement focuses on three parts of the process that are different from last year. -30-
First, the County removed 23,000 acres from the required review area based on the soil type of those acres. Soil types are the primary indicator for finding pocket gophers. Site surveys indicate a very low likelihood of finding gophers on the soils that were removed.
Second, in an effort to be more efficient, the County has already begun performing the in-office evaluations of permit applications and is removing those which may be exempt from the 2016 process.
Third, the County is asking permit applicants scheduled for gopher reviews to mow Scotch broom and heavy grasses by the end of March, or immediately after they submit an application that is flagged for gopher review. Overgrowth slows review teams and creates a need for additional visits.
The rest of this year's process is expected to be similar to last year's with up to three site visits from County staff and U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) biologists between June 1 and October 31. Each visit will be at least 30 days apart with third visits in September or October.
Why the County conducts gopher review
The County conducts thorough, systematic site reviews before issuing permits in an effort to comply with state and federal endangered species laws, and to protect the County and its permit holders from liability under those laws.
Not all projects are affected
Gopher reviews are required only for construction projects which are both ground disturbing and proposed within mapped gopher soils. In 2015, such projects made up roughly one-eighth of the more than 4,000 construction permit applications received by the County. Most applications - for projects like interior remodels and those outside mapped gopher soils - do not require review.
An end to gopher reviews
County officials say the seasonal gopher review could soon be a thing of the past. The County is developing a Prairie Habitat Conservation Plan that - if approved by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - will lead to a 30-year Incidental Take Permit from USFWS and could allow the County to issue construction permits year round. And implementing such a plan could speed up the permit process and help permit applicants comply with state and federal species protection laws.
The plan isn't final yet, but County officials say they are working with landowners, business leaders and conservation groups on ways to fund the plan and to find offsetting mitigation land.
A draft of the plan will be available for public review later this year. To learn more about the County's 2016 Gopher Review Process go to www.thurstonplanning.org and select 'Gopher Review Process.' To learn more about the Prairie Habitat Conservation Plan, go to www.thurstonprairiehcp.org. To receive County email notifications about both, subscribe to the County's email list by visiting either web address above and selecting 'Subscribe to Email List' located on the left side of the page.
More about the Federal Endangered Species Act
The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed by the United States Congress in 1973. It prohibits the "take" of listed species through direct harm or habitat destruction. In 1982, Congress amended the ESA to allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue permits for the "incidental take" of endangered and threatened wildlife species.
Permit holders can proceed with an activity that is legal in all other respects, but that results in the "incidental" harm or habitat destruction a federally protected species. In order to get a permit, applicants like Thurston County must come up with a conservation plan to minimize or mitigate harm to the impacted species during a proposed project.