words that say Thurston County


Answers to 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.
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. 
The current process is outlined on the County’s Gopher Review Process page.

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. 
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.
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 noted that the County did not use the words Critical Areas Ordinance in the list of options on that graphic even though the options listed comply with the CAO. The County no longer uses that explanatory graphic. And all options still comply with the CAO.

Is there a gopher tax?
No. There is no gopher tax.
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.

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.  
In order to apply for that Incidental Take Permit, the County must develop a Habitat Conservation Plan. The plan isn’t final yet, but County officials are working with landowners, business leaders and conservation groups to develop it. Learn more on the County’s HCP webpage.

Do real estate transactions in Thurston County require County surveys, reviews or permits?
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 endangered 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. 
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).
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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