Mazama Pocket Gophers – What Do They Mean For Me?

By Andrew Rossi

In 2014, four subspecies of Mazama pocket gopher endemic to Washington state were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The justification for this listing was that an estimated 95% of the gopher’s historic prairie habitat had been lost to development. Further, the remaining habitat patches suffer from disturbance by humans and their pets, as well as general habitat degradation due to pollutants, isolation, and overgrowth of woody vegetation.

As with most additions to the list of species receiving federal protection, the new listing for the gopher was met with strong opinions from conservationists as well as landowners. While the pocket gopher is a critical component of the prairie ecosystem (an individual gopher can churn up to 7 tons of soil per acre, per year), these animals are also responsible for damaging waterlines, endangering livestock, destroying crops and even weakening dams. Their presence within a property can also result in substantial restrictions on development.

With these regulations , it can be difficult to understand what the specific implications are if you suspect you may have pocket gophers on your property. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) provides guidelines for assessing the status of Mazama Pocket Gophers on a parcel. If you live in Pierce or Thurston Counties, you will likely need to follow these guidelines before development can occur. The USFWS stresses that the Endangered Species act prevents the “take” of pocket gophers, which means to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”

The first step to determining if your development project will result in the “take” of pocket gophers is to conduct a site screening. Factors such as types of soils, proximity to known pocket gopher sites, and the county in which you are located will affect the number of surveys that are needed. During the site assessment, biologists trained by The US Fish and Wildlife Service follow a protocol to determine whether a site is actively occupied by Mazama pocket gophers. Telltale evidence of active gophers inhabiting your property is the presence of fresh gopher mounds, which have very specific characteristics.

Raedeke Associates has biologists trained in the US Fish and Wildlife Service Mazama pocket gopher assessment protocol to be able to help you determine whether you have pocket gophers on your property.