Politics & Government

Gophers found in Thurston and Pierce counties to be added to endangered species list

FILE - The Mazama pocket gopher.  (Curtis Wambach/PE Consultants)
FILE - The Mazama pocket gopher. (Curtis Wambach/PE Consultants)

After more than a decade of debate, environmental studies and lawsuits, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials plan Wednesday to list four subspecies of Mazama pocket gophers as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

A threatened species is one that’s likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future if steps aren’t taken to protect it.

The critters, known as the Olympia, the Roy Prairie, the Tenino and Yelm pocket gophers, are found only in Pierce and Thurston counties.

Along with the listing rule, Fish and Wildlife officials say they’ve also designated 1,607 acres in Thurston County as critical habitat for the Olympia, Tenino and Yelm pocket gophers. A special rule will allow continued agricultural activities on farming and ranch lands, according to the agency’s new release.

“We have such a unique environment here in Thurston County that we share a special responsibility to save the last of our prairies,” Karen Valenzuela, chairwoman of the Thurston County Commissioners, said in a news release. “The prairies are important in their own right, but it’s especially important when you consider that they provide habitat to a disappearing species.”

The critical habitat proposed for the Roy Prairie pocket gopher in Pierce County is on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Officials worked to meet the needs of wildlife but also allow military training to continue, according to base Commander Col. Charles Hodges.

The Department of Defense submitted a management plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and as a result the JBLM land has been exempted innew critical habitat rules related to the listing, according to the news release.

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a statement saying the listing was part of a landmark settlement with the conservation organization.

“With this decision, the unique Mazama pocket gopher and its Puget prairie home have a fighting chance” said the center’s director Noah Greenwald. “It’s deeply disappointing, though, to have activities that clearly destroy these pocket gophers’ homes – like plowing – categorically exempted so they can go on as usual.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first identified the Mazama pocket gopher as a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection in 2001.