Collaboration in Civic Spheres

State wants public comment on pocket gopher recovery plan

by February 12th, 2013

Some 6,000 years ago in what became Oregon, volcanic Mount Mazama erupted. That carved out Crater Lake, from around where later originated Thomomys mazama, or the Mazama pocket gopher. It thrived in western Oregon, western Washington and northern California. But the advance of man has spelled trouble for this five-and-a-half-inch long, prominently-incisored rodent – which helps wildflowers grow and provides shelter for salamanders and Western Toads. By year’s end the U.S. government may designate four of its subspecies as officially threatened in Washington. The state has already listed it as threatened, in 2006, and recently released a draft recovery plan upon which public comment can be submitted through April 19.

Largely gone missing
A map (below) from the draft recovery plan by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife shows some of 950 locations surveyed statewide for the Mazama pocket gopher in 2012, emphasizing the south Puget Sound Region, where it has been most concentrated. But it was evident only in a small percentage of the sites, confirming what researchers say has been an ongoing decline – “as suitable habitat has been lost to development or degraded by Scotch Broom and succession to forest.”

From Draft Mazama Pocket Gopher Status Update and Recovery Plan, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Legal protections for the pocket gopher are no joke
The Mazama pocket gopher in Washington has been especially concentrated in Pierce, Mason and Thurston counties, where it has been legally designated in the critical area ordinance of each as a “species of local importance.” This means that land clearing and development which might affect its population levels requires an impact assessment, a permit from the county or a city, and mitigation if potential impacts are identified.

Unfolding WA population explosion could further challenge the pocket gopher
This gopher species favors prairie, savannah and sandy loam, but DFW writes in the recovery plan that “trends in human population suggest that available habitat and quality of habitat will continue to decline without careful management of conflicting uses,” as population in Washington state grows from a U.S. Census estimate of more than 6.8 million now to 7.7 million by 2020 and 11 million by about 2050.

Prairie habitat is vanishing due in large part to housing development, DFW writes, and Thurston County alone by 2040 will absorb 170,000 more people, requiring another 50,000 detached single-family housing units and more than 25,000 units in multi-family complexes.

From Draft Mazama Pocket Gopher Status Update and Recovery Plan, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

10-year recovery test seen in Pierce, Mason and Thurston counties
The draft recovery plan focuses on seven areas within Mason, Pierce and mainly Thurston counties. The Mazama pocket gopher could be “downlisted” from “threatened” to “sensitive” status if a stable or growing population of the species can be maintained in those zones for 10 years; and related conservation agreements can be put in place to preserve and connect the habitats. If this occurs, then a management plan would be drafted to help preserve the species in those places.

State: partnerships key to recovery
The state’s draft recovery plan specifies that “recovery will involve partnerships with landowners, federal, state, and local agencies, and private conservation organizations. Incentive programs and partnerships are recommended to facilitate the maintenance of functional pocket gopher habitat in rural residential and agricultural areas with the help of private landowners.” More details are provided in the 100-page draft plan.

Public comments will be accepted through April 19 by either email at or by post at Endangered Species Section, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA, 98501-1091.

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