The Mazama pocket gopher has become a major topic in this year’s campaign rhetoric, and a great deal of inaccurate information is circulating. Citizens need to know the facts and understand what role the County Commissioners have, and have not, played over the years.
In 2001, conservation groups including the NW Ecosystem Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for protection of the gopher, among other species. The county had no role in this. The USFWS needed more information, but the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) listed the gopher, among others, as threatened, in 2006 — again, with no role played by the county.
When I took office, January 2009, the clear goal of the county was to prevent the gopher’s listing by the federal government — a goal shared by WDFW and other state agencies. Clearly, however, this could only be accomplished by adequately protecting the prairie species through county and state government authority. WDFW staff wrote us in 2013 expressing confidence that our efforts would suffice.
These efforts were ongoing when USFWS announced its listing of the gopher, and several other prairie species, in 2014.
The commissioners in no way encouraged this listing; our goal, again, was preventing federal listing.
The Habitat Conservation Plan now under consideration would help landowners in the affected areas get on with their projects without individual consultation with the USFWS and attendant delays.
The plan makes sound economic sense.