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Frequently Asked Questions & Fact Sheets

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The Voluntary Stewardship Program uses incentives to build on existing programs meant to preserve agriculture and protect critical areas.
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Habitat Conservation Plan handbook

Best Available Science



Below is a current list of Frequently Asked Questions. Click the question to see the answer.  Click here for a PDF with all the questions & answers.

Why is the county implementing new land use regulations?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has listed or is proposing to list a number of threatened and endangered species native to our region under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These new regulations will become the basis of the County’s Interim Permitting Strategy (IPS).

What is the new permitting strategy?

The IPS should allow for limited development to continue in the County while our county-wide Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is being developed. The interim permitting strategy is based on the Prairie Habitat Assessment Methodology or PHAM, which uses objective measurements to determine the quality of prairie parcels.

How will the interim permitting strategy be different than current land use regulations in Thurston County?

The main elements of the County’s permitting process will likely remain the same. We currently regulate prairie species using the Critical Areas Ordinance, so proposed activities that could harm a listed species may already require review. Until now, landowners who apply for a permit and have prairie species on their property typically would address their impacts through setting aside habitat areas on-site. With the new interim permitting strategy, the goal will be to protect and enhance large, intact areas of prairie habitat. Small set asides on individual parcels may not accomplish this goal. There should be a number of flexible alternatives that promote effective habitat conservation while retaining economic development opportunities for landowners.

When will the interim permitting strategy go into effect?

The County is working with the USFWS to put the interim permitting strategy in place by September 2014. We are now working on ways to ensure permit processing can continue between the federal listing and an implementation of the approved interim permitting strategy.

What is happening while the Interim Permitting Strategy is being developed?

We’re in the process of categorizing projects based on their possible impact on the listed species.

Our goal is to determine which projects are “good to go,” and which projects may require further review. The County is working with USFWS to clear individual projects that have a low risk to listed species. These are projects that are proposed in areas where there is no known evidence to suggest pocket gophers are likely to be found, or where habitat is not suitable for pocket gophers.

The County is reviewing certain types of projects that we anticipate residents will apply for, but don’t currently have any applications pending. By taking a broad look at the types of projects we expect to see at the permitting counter, staff will be able to better anticipate the needs of applicants.

The County is also working with USFWS to review projects that are vested under state and County law, such as subdivisions, short plats and large lots. This will help us determine which projects may be impacted or otherwise have changed conditions due to the listing.

USFWS is also working with individual landowners on their projects, and encourages landowners to contact them regarding project concerns. In cases where we cannot determine if gophers occupy a site, or for projects that are likely to affect gophers or their habitat, we recommend that project applicants meet with USFWS to obtain technical assistance.

Certain projects have been exempted from the listing by USFWS under a special rule (called the 4(d) rule). Please refer to this 4(d) fact sheet or stop by the Permit Assistance Center for more information.

What properties will be affected by the regulations?

The new IPS will affect properties where the listed and proposed species or habitat are present. For now, those species include the Streaked horned lark, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, the Mazama pocket gopher and the Oregon spotted frog.

How do I know if I have gophers or other prairie species on my property?

The County uses screening tools during the permitting process to determine possible presence of prairie species. If those tools indicate possible presence, a site visit by County staff will be required. If species are present or the results are inconclusive, the applicant may need to hire a biologist to perform a survey.

I received a permit from the County to build a home. Can I still build it if the species are listed under the ESA?

Under current state law, anyone with a project that has an approved permit or complete application is vested (protected) under state and local laws at the time of submission. However, vesting laws for development projects do not apply to the federal Endangered Species Act. Land owners who harm a federally listed species could be held responsible, even with a permit vested with local governments. We encourage landowners with vested projects to contact USFWS to determine if the ESA listings will affect their specific project.

Where can I learn more about the ESA listing?

Are there any ESA exemptions that landowners should know about?

Yes. USFWS developed a special 4(d) rule that exempts certain activities from the Endangered Species Act. You can find a list of those activities here.

Will my property lose value if I have listed prairie species on it?

Property values are influenced by a variety of factors. Contact Thurston County Assessors’ Office for more information.

I’m interested in enhancing habitat on my property but I may want to develop in the future. What are my options?

Contact USFWS and learn more about Safe Harbor Agreements – a voluntary agreement between USFWS and land owners whose actions contribute to the recovery of listed species.

What would happen if Thurston County was not developing an HCP or interim permitting strategy?

Without an IPS, Thurston County would not be able to issue permits that could harm a listed species. Therefore, property owners would have to seek federal approval for any projects that may harm a listed species. Creating a county-wide plan of our own keeps land use regulations local and ensures economic development and prosperity while protecting prairie and prairie-dependent wildlife species in the County.

August 2012 FAQ: What does it mean to be listed?


Below is a video from the Thurston County Connection website, created by the County Commissioners, discussing the topic of the Habitat Conservation Plan:


2014: Gopher soils (warning: large PDF)

2010: Prairie locations (warning: large PDF)

1941 Map of Thurston County (warning: large PDF)

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Contact Us

Interested Parties: If you would like to be added to our Web Mail list, please click here. Staff contact: Andrew Deffobis, Associate Planner. Phone: (360) 754-3355, ext. 5467. E-mail: deffoba@co.thurston.wa.us.

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