Thurston County officials report a rise in development permit applications awaiting review for any impact on Mazama Pocket gophers, which were listed in April 2014 as an Endangered Species by the federal agency overseeing their protection.
But a shortage of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists is holding back the joint effort to screen the property that developers want to build on. Last year, Thurston biologists made site screenings four days each week, but that is down to three days this year because USFWS biologists must go along. And the federal agency needs to fund additional staff to keep pace with the current demand.
There are currently about 400 permit applications waiting for gopher review. That’s roughly 100 more than Thurston County received by this same time last year, with more coming in daily. Last year, screeners visited 286 properties up to three times each, at least 30 days apart, between June and early October.
The County and federal agency are working on ways to increase the screening capacity for this year, and also ways to move applications through the local permitting system faster.