The Board of County Commissioners in Thurston County has finalized the interim review process for the upcoming 2019 Mazama pocket gopher review season, which will incorporate a few changes from last year’s review season.

To meet federal requirements associated with the Endangered Species Act, Thurston County engaged in an interim strategy for Mazama pocket gopher (MPG) screening since the species was federally listed in 2014. The county is developing a comprehensive Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to include several species. Until the HCP is completed, project-by-project gopher review screening is needed and each year the gopher review process is reviewed and refined. The goal: to streamline the review process as much as possible, until the US Fish and Wildlife Service approves and Thurston County implements the county’s HCP.

According to the county, several changes are anticipated for the 2019 review season. These changes include:

  • Allowing citizens with properties found to have MPGs in past seasons to apply for another review five years after the initial determination;
  • Adding a cut-off date for submitting consultant reports to the county for review before the close of the field review season on Oct. 31, 2019; and
  • Adding an exemption of review for well and utility replacement.

The remaining elements of the 2018 review season include:

  • Conducting site visits by county staff between June 3 and Oct. 31, 2019;
  • Conducting a maximum of two, on-property visits for field screening;
  • Applying appropriate fees for county staff to conduct field screening;
  • Including the option for citizens to hire a private, qualified consultant;
  • Excluding certain project types and site conditions from multiple site visits. The county reviews all applications for factors that may preclude the need for full field screening; and
  • Prioritizing project-related permit applications over non-project reviews when scheduling site visits, if necessary.

Landowners who want to know if they have gophers on their property can hire, at their own cost, private biologists for a review. However, reviews by private consultants must be submitted to Thurston County for review and final approval.

The gopher review process is only for those who submit a formal application to Thurston County’s Building Development Center.

The county conducts on-site reviews of properties before issuing building permits to help residents comply with state and federal endangered species laws. The reviews protect the county and its permit holders from liability under those laws.

Gopher reviews are only required for projects proposed within mapped gopher soils. Thurston County only reviews a fraction, about 10 percent, of the roughly 4,000 construction permit applications received in a typical year. Most applications for projects like interior remodels and projects outside of the mapped gopher soil areas do not require review.

County officials have noted that the seasonal gopher review could be a thing of the past if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services approves Thurston County’s HCP, which leads to an Incidental Take Permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With an HCP, the county could issue permits year-round without requiring gopher reviews. Implementing such a plan could speed up the permit process and help permit applicants comply with state and federal species protection laws.

To learn more, visit www.ThurstonPlanning.org and select ‘Gopher Review Process, ‘Habitat Conservation Plan’, or subscribe to the County’s Long Range Planning department email list.