OLYMPIA – The 2018 gopher review process the Thurston County Commissioners anticipate implementing will look familiar. In 2017, staff completed site visits on more properties than any past year since the multiple site visit process began. The County is committed to processing all applications received for the 2018 review season, as well.
Increased efficiencies implemented by the Commissioners, in coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), contributed to the success of the 2017 season.
In order to meet federal requirements associated with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the County’s 2018 review process will be informed by guidance from USFWS. The County will take this guidance into consideration while mirroring the 2017 review season process.
USFWS determined it will no longer participate in the site visits for the 2018. The County will make the necessary adjustments to shift its resources to accomplish the 2018 season as well as add flexibility to applicants by allowing trained consultants to perform site visits. To ensure consistency in field review, County staff will attend a training in late May conducted by USFWS. The County also encourages local consulting firms to attend this USFWS training.
The objective of the process is to benefit Thurston County residents by continuing to streamline the review process as much as possible.
Elements of this season are anticipated to include:
- Site visits to be conducted between June 1 and October 31, 2018.
- Conducting a maximum of two on-property visits.
- Adding flexibility for applicants by enabling the use of trained consultants to meet the demands of the field inspections for the 2018 season.
- Developing a field methodology for use by consultants.
- Adding flexibility to the timing of visits. This year, the final visit can occur as early as July. In previous years the final visit occurred in August or later.
- Excluding certain project types and site conditions from multiple site visits. The County considers these conditions to be less likely to impact gopher habitat.
- Potentially using multiple field teams to conduct reviews as efficiently as possible to keep up with demand and prevent a backlog.
The County may also prioritize project-related permit applications over non-project reviews when scheduling site visits, if necessary.
The County is advising permit applicants scheduled for gopher reviews to mow Scotch broom and heavy grasses right away, 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 gopher review process is only for those who submit an application to Thurston County’s Building Development Center (BDC). The County does not perform gopher reviews on properties that do not have an active application or that are not on mapped gopher habitat.
The purpose of County gopher review
The County conducts on-site reviews of properties before issuing building permits to help residents comply with state and federal endangered species laws, and to protect the County and its permit holders from liability under those laws. The Mazama pocket gopher – a species found in parts of Thurston County, was listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2014.
Only about 10 percent of permit applicants get gopher reviews
Gopher reviews are only required for projects proposed within mapped gopher soils. That means the County only reviews a fraction of the roughly 4,000 construction permit applications received in a typical year. Most applications for projects like interior remodels and projects outside of the mapped gopher soil areas do not require review.
Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)
County officials say the seasonal gopher review could be a thing of the past if the County adopts a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that would lead to an Incidental Take Permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With an HCP, the County could issue permits year round without requiring gopher reviews. 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 Commissioners are working closely with federal officials to review the best options for the community. A draft of the plan could be available later this year for public review.