Pocket gophers

The Yelm pocket gopher is a threatened species found in Thurston County, Wash. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the status of it and six other federally protected species in Washington.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review the status of seven threatened or endangered species in Washington state, including four types of pocket gophers found in only two westside counties.

USFWS also solicited new information about the Oregon spotted frog, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and streaked horned lark. The three are found in Oregon, as well as Washington.

Washington Farm Bureau CEO John Stuhlmiller said producers should welcome the reviews. “I view this as a very positive thing,” he said. “The review doesn’t make anything tougher on you.”

The Endangered Species Act calls for USFWS to look at a listed species every five years. All the species up for review were granted federal protection in 2013 or 2014. USFWS has not proposed any changes in status.

Endangered species are populations that are on the brink of extinction. Threatened species are heading that way. The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly is endangered, while the other six are threatened.

The Olympia, Tenino, Yelm and Roy Prairie pocket gophers are subspecies of Mazama pocket gophers. They live primarily underground, and there is no practical way to count them or document whether the population is increasing or decreasing, according to USFWS.

USFWS considers them threatened because their prairie habitat has been reduced in Thurston and Pierce counties. The suppression of fires has allowed forests to expand, and development has brought dogs and cats, predators to the gophers, according to USFWS.

More hospitable are Army artillery ranges on Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Pierce County. Exploding shells ignite fires and prevent “woody encroachment,” according to USFWS.

When listing the pocket gophers five years ago, the USFWS exempted most farming and ranching activities from the “take” provisions of the ESA. Although plowing could accidentally kill pocket gophers, the USFWS determined it was better to encourage rather than discourage agriculture.

Farmers and ranchers, however, have faced building restrictions, as have other landowners with pocket gophers on their property, said Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights President Glen Morgan, a board member of the Thurston County Farm Bureau.

“It’s a policy that loves farming, but hates farmers,” he said. “The assumption is farmers don’t need to live anywhere.”

Thurston County Farm Bureau President Rick Nelson, a rancher, said producers who don’t change their operations are unaffected by the listing.

“The real problem is if you want to build any new buildings,” he said.

If applying to build on “gopher soils,” a landowner must pay for a site review to rule out the presence of pocket gophers. If gophers are found, plans may have to be changed, according to the county planning department.

“Eventually the cost and the delay can become insurmountable,” Nelson said.

The Oregon spotted frog has been documented in eight counties in Washington and 10 in Oregon, mostly west of the Cascades.

The streaked horned lark’s range covers six Western Washington and 11 Western Oregon counties.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies are found in Clallam, Pierce and Thurston counties in Washington, and Benton County in Oregon.

USFWS asked for new information to be mailed by Aug. 12.

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