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Frequently Asked Questions:

The County receives more than 4,000 permit applications a year. Typically fewer than about 10 percent require gopher review. Of those, typically, fewer than about one percent have gophers.

Will my project site be screened for gophers?
Only if your construction project disturbs ground on or near gopher soils.
Read more.
Check County soils maps or email an address to permit@co.thurston.wa.us and ask staff to check. Be sure to check out the exclusions lists at the bottom of the gopher review process page.

What is the gopher screening process?
Biologists conduct two site reviews, 30 days apart between June and October.
Read more.
This process is the technical method recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (PDF), overseers of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the ESA-listed gopher.

What happens on a property during a gopher screening?
Biologists walk a property observing soils, vegetation and other land features. See the gopher review process.

What if gophers are found?
The County’s Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) allows permit applicants to hire their own biologists to rescreen their sites and to propose their own mitigation, among other possible actions. The County may allow applicants to pursue these CAO options, but is uncertain whether those options satisfy federal Endangered Species Act laws.

Why does the County do gopher reviews?
To continue issuing construction permits without running afoul of the Endangered Species Act.
Read more.
The Mazama pocket gopher was added to the federal Endangered Species Act list in 2014. That means the gopher and its habitat are protected by federal law. The gopher was already protected by state law and by the County’s Critical Areas Ordinance prior to that. The County conducts reviews to comply with state and federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and to protect the County and its permit holders from liability under those laws. Read more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing decision.

Do gopher screenings comply with the Critical Areas Ordinance?
Yes. Washington’s Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) decided they do.
Read more.
The GMHB decision (PDF) concluded that the County’s 2015 screening process complies with County’s Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO). The GMHB decision referenced an infographic (PDF) the County had posted in its permit office in 2015. The GMHB decision upheld all steps, except sub-step 4B which outlines what happens to applications if gophers are found. The GMHB said that part did not comply with the CAO. County Commissioners are discussing options for 2016.

Is there a gopher tax?
No. There is no gopher tax. Nor is there a fee for gopher screenings when you apply for a permit.
Read more.
The County is working on ways to comply with the Endangered Species Act listing of the gopher, while continuing to issue building and development permits. The County is currently preparing a habitat conservation plan (HCP) in order to get a federal Incidental Take Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The HCP includes mitigation. The County is working with landowners, ag producers, realtors and building contractors to research viable mitigation funding options. There are several options being considered. Check out the presentations under the ‘Documents’ section above to learn more.

Will gopher screenings be replaced by something faster and easier?
The County is applying for a federal permit which may allow it to bypass the current screening process.
Read more.
The County is developing a Prairie Habitat Conservation Plan that – if approved by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – will lead to a 30-year Incidental Take Permit from USFWS and could allow the County to issue construction and development permits year round.

Implementing such a plan could speed up the permit process and help permit applicants comply with state and federal species protection laws.

The plan isn’t final yet, but County officials are working with landowners, business leaders and conservation groups on ways to fund the plan and to find offsetting mitigation land.

To learn more about the County’s Prairie Habitat Conservation Plan, go to www.thurstonprairiehcp.org. To receive County email notifications, subscribe to the County’s email list by selecting ‘Subscribe to Email List’ located in the list on the left side of the page.

Do real estate transactions in Thurston County require County surveys, reviews or permits?
Read more.
You can buy and sell your real estate at any time, regardless of whether or not gophers are on site.

Will my property lose value if I have listed prairie species on it?
Many factors affect property values. Visit Thurston County Assessors’ Office for information.

What if I find gophers on site AFTER the County issues my permit?
Harming a federally protected species is against the law.
Read more.
Under current state law, projects with an approved permit are vested under state and local laws at the time of submission of a complete application. However, vesting laws for development projects do not apply to the federal Endangered Species Act. Federal law may supersede approval of a vested permit or approval. Land owners who harm a federally listed species could be held responsible, even with a permit vested with local governments.

If I enhance prairie or gopher habitat on my property now, can I develop in the future?
Learn about Safe Harbor Agreements from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Read more.
These voluntary agreements provide certain protections and guarantees to landowners. Go to the USFWS website to learn more. Or learn more from the Washington Fish and Wildlife Office website – this is the regional office of the federal agency.

Information about the Mazama pocket gopher ESA listing

Federal laws, state laws and county codes



2014 Video - Thurston County Habitat Conservation Plan  - an episode from Thurston County Commissioner’s monthly TV program

2012 Video - The Endangered Species Act Explained – a video produced in 2012 by Thurston County.

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