OLYMPIA – Thurston County government’s plan to locally manage three federally-protected subspecies of Mazama pocket gophers, and other federally-protected species, is one step closer to being finalized.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and Thurston County have completed an environmental report on the Thurston County Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The release of this draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in the Federal Register on September 24, 2021 kicks off a 45-day public comment period, an important final step towards possible federal approval of the county’s plan. Two virtual public meetings will be jointly hosted by the agencies to inform the public about the draft EIS and commenting procedures.
Thurston County government applied to the Service for a federal permit and prepared an HCP as part of that process, in response to the addition of the Mazama pocket gopher subspecies and other animals to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list of federally threatened and endangered species.
Working with the Service, the county developed its HCP to support economic development and wildlife conservation. The ESA listings require local builders and developers to get federal approval, in addition to county permits, before breaking ground on projects affecting listed species. If approved, the HCP will put permit approval processes fully in the hands of the county, providing certainty for continued economic growth and development in a manner consistent with conservation objectives.
“Release of the Draft EIS by the Service and Thurston County is an important milestone for our community,” said Thurston County Commission Chair, Tye Menser. “It is our next step in meeting federal conservation requirements while keeping permit decisions at the county level.”
The Thurston County HCP describes how several species listed or potentially listed under the federal ESA will be protected, and how potential impacts to these species can be mitigated. The draft EIS evaluates the impacts on the human environment from the proposed plan. Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) are one of the many tools under the ESA that promote strong partnerships with landowners on behalf of conserving listed species on private and non-federal lands.
"We are proud to collaborate with Thurston County on this initiative that can both protect imperiled species and simultaneously support economic development," said Robyn Thorson, Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Within the 45-day comment period, the Thurston County government and the Service request data, comments, new information, or suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested party. Comments will be considered when developing a final Environmental Impact Statement. Species proposed for coverage under the Thurston County HCP include three subspecies of Mazama pocket gopher, Oregon spotted frog, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, and the Oregon vesper sparrow.
How to Read the Report, Submit Comments & Attend a Meeting:
Copies of the draft EIS and proposed HCP can be found at: https://www.fws.gov/wafwo/
and also at www.ThurstonHCP.org
, under ‘Documents’. Hard copies may be obtained at Thurston County Courthouse, Community Planning and Economic Development Department, Building 1, 2nd floor, 2000 Lakeridge Dr., Olympia, WA 98502.
To submit written comments or request additional information, please use one of the following methods. Comments must be postmarked or received by November 8, 2021:
- U.S. mail: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, c/o HCP/NEPA Coordinator, 510 Desmond Dr. SE, Suite 102, Lacey, WA 98503.
- U.S. Mail or In person: Thurston County Courthouse, Community Planning and Economic Development Department, Building 1, 2nd Floor, c/o Christina Chaput, Sr. Planner, 2000 Lakeridge Dr., Olympia, WA 98502-6045
- Internet: You may obtain copies of the NEPA notice and supporting documents online in Docket No. FWS–R1–ES–2020– 0101 at http://www.regulations.gov/ or at https://www.fws.gov/wafwo/. Comments can also be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov or www.ThurstonHCP.org.
The Service and Thurston County will host two public informational meetings during the comment period. The meetings will be hosted online at the following times:
- October 12, 2021 at 6- p.m.
- October 14, 2021 at 6- p.m.
A link and access instructions to the online virtual information meetings will be posted to https://www.fws.gov/wafwo/
at least one week prior to the public meeting dates. Formal comments won’t be collected during the public informational meetings.
The public can also find more information about the Thurston County HCP, or submit comments online, at the Thurston County Planning website: www.ThurstonHCP.org