OLYMPIA – The Board of County Commissioners directed staff to finalize the interim review process for the upcoming 2019 Mazama pocket gopher review season. The board and staff implemented efficiencies in 2018, resulting in a successful review season. The 2019 gopher review process will look familiar to the 2018 process.
To meet federal requirements associated with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Thurston County engaged in an interim strategy for Mazama pocket gopher (MPG) screening since the species was federally listed in 2014. The county is developing a comprehensive Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to include several species. Until the HCP is completed, project-by-project gopher review screening is needed. Each year the gopher review process is reviewed and refined.
The objective of the process is to streamline the review process as much as possible, until the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) approves and Thurston County implements the county's HCP.
Changes anticipated to be implemented for the 2019 review season include:
- Allowing citizens with properties found to have MPGs in past seasons to apply for another review five years after the initial determination
- Adding a cut-off date for submitting consultant reports to the county for review before the close of the field review season on October 31, 2019
- Adding an exemption of review for well and utility replacement
The remaining elements of the 2018 review season include:
- Conducting site visits by county staff between June 3 and October 31, 2019
- Conducting a maximum of two, on-property visits for field screening
- Applying appropriate fees for county staff to conduct field screening
- Including the option for citizens to hire a private, qualified consultant
- Excluding certain project types and site conditions from multiple site visits. The county reviews all applications for factors that may preclude the need for full field screening.
- Prioritizing project-related permit applications over non-project reviews when scheduling site visits, if necessary.
County officials also noted land-owners who want to know if they have gophers on their property can hire, at their own cost, private biologists for a review. However, reviews by private consultants must be submitted to Thurston County for review and final approval.
The gopher review process is only for those who submit a formal application to Thurston County's Building Development Center (BDC).
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. The reviews protect the county and its permit holders from liability under those laws.
Only about 10 percent of permit applicants get gopher reviews
Gopher reviews are only required for projects proposed within mapped gopher soils. Thurston 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services approves Thurston County's Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that leads 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 Thurston County Commissioners are working closely with federal officials to negotiate the best options for the community.
To learn more, visit www.ThurstonPlanning.org and select 'Gopher Review Process, 'Habitat Conservation Plan', or subscribe to the County's Long Range Planning department email list.