Watch to learn how the Endangered Species Act helps protect and preserve the South Sound prairies.
Below is a current list of Frequently Asked Questions. Click the
question to see the answer.
Why is the county implementing the Interim Permitting Strategy?
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). Once a species is
listed, it is against the law to harm, even accidentally, the species or its habitat. The County is
working on a long-term strategy, known as a Habitat Conservation Plan, which will give landowners the
opportunity to proceed with planned activities that could possibly result in inadvertent harm to the
species. In the meantime, county staff is using an interim permitting strategy that allows limited
development to continue while the long-term HCP is developed.
What is the interim permitting strategy?
The interim permitting strategy, or IPS, is a temporary strategy where County staff works with USFWS to
determine whether pending projects may be liable for “take” under the Endangered Species Act. 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. For projects that are not low
risk, a site visit is required before the application process can continue.
Along with pending applications, the County is reviewing certain types of projects that we anticipate
residents will apply for, but don’t currently have any applications open. By taking a look at a number
of possible projects, staff will be able to better anticipate the needs of applicants in the future.
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, whose vesting status may be in jeopardy with the species
listing. The County is facilitating site visits between USFWS and properties like these to help determine
whether additional steps are necessary to satisfy federal requirements. This will help us determine which
projects may be impacted or otherwise have changed conditions due to the listing.
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.
How is the interim permitting strategy be different than current land use regulations?
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 HCP,
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.
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, 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.
Where can I learn more about the ESA listing?
Are there any ESA exemptions that landowners should know about?
The HCP will likely use the Prairie Habitat Assessment Methodology, or PHAM, which applies objective
measurements to land with existing and proposed development in order to determine the quality of
prairie parcels, both before and after a proposed development. The HCP will also lay out various
options to mitigate impacts to prairie habitat, such as avoidance and mitigation. The plan will
incorporate Best Available Science and the work of County, federal and state staff.
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?
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.
Does a real estate transaction in Thurston County require surveys, reviews or permits from Thurston County?
No. You can buy and sell your real estate at any time.
What if there are gophers on my property, can I still sell my land?
Yes. The County only requires a gopher survey if someone is taking an action on a property in Thurston County
that would potentially impact gopher habitat for which a permit is required. You may apply for a Critical Area
Determination to see what types of critical areas are on the property that you are considering buying or selling.
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)
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: