Thurston County Plan for Pocket Gophers, Other Species, Approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Submitted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service
JThe U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) has given final approval to Thurston County Government’s plan to locally issue building permits for projects that affect animals protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) , including Mazama’s pocket gopher, in unincorporated areas of the county.
This federal approval means the Service has issued a 30-year bycatch permit to Thurston County, which sets the stage for the county to implement its habitat conservation plan in 2023.
“This is more than a regulatory step,” said Thurston County Commission Chair Carolina Mejia. “The HCP is a community success story. Building homes, schools, and roads under ESA rules will now be more affordable, and the county’s conservation efforts will be better. I am grateful to our federal and county staff, community members and elected officials for working together on this extremely complex subject.
County officials say much of the work to ensure a smooth implementation of the plan is already underway. County codes are updated and licensing processes are revamped. And now that the HCP has federal approval, further set-up work can move forward. Habitat and personnel management plans can be put in place, mitigation land can be acquired, and reporting systems can be created.
Thurston County developed its HCP with the Service in response to the listing of the Mazama pocket gopher subspecies and other animals under the ESA to support economic development and the conservation of native wildlife.
Once implemented, the Thurston County HCP will streamline local permits and reduce regulatory burdens. Projects that affect covered species will no longer require separate federal permits in addition to county permits.
PCH will also improve local habitat conservation by ensuring that it is conducted in a manner consistent with the ESA. The HCP proposes the creation of a network of large connected and professionally managed habitat sites that will support the recovery of these species. This method will shift the burden of home improvement from the individual permit applicant to the county government.
SHPs are one of many ESA tools that foster strong partnerships with landowners in the name of conservation of listed species on private and non-federal lands. Public input was received multiple times during the development of the Thurston County plan, including during a scoping period in 2020 and again on a draft environmental impact statement in fall 2021. Public meetings were also held in conjunction with the Service and Thurston County to answer questions from the public.
“We are thrilled to reach this point in our collaboration with Thurston County,” said Brad Thompson, state supervisor with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “Years of hard work have gone into developing this plan and we look forward to this new chapter in our partnership, which both protects species at risk and supports economic growth in the county.”
Species covered by the Thurston County HCP include three subspecies of Mazama’s pocket gopher, Oregon spotted frog, Taylor’s checkered butterfly, and Oregon evening sparrow.
The Final Decision Record and other documents are available online.
More information about the Thurston County Habitat Conservation Plan is available on the Thurston County Habitat Conservation Plan website.