ESA listing could undercut Washington’s economy | Don Brunell

A small critter is causing big problems in the South Puget Sound. It’s called the Mazama pocket gopher.

A small critter is causing big problems in the South Puget Sound. It’s called the Mazama pocket gopher.

Some 100,000 pocket gophers inhabit prairie lands throughout northern California, Oregon and Washington. Our state is the northernmost part of its range, where separate populations are scattered in pockets throughout the area, including Thurston and Pierce counties.

Last December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed to list several subspecies of the Mazama pocket gopher in Washington as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Why should we care? Because this listing will come at a very high price — a price we will all pay.

Populations of pocket gophers have been found near the Olympia airport, the Port of Olympia and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. A federal listing could result in federal review of virtually every proposed project in Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and the surrounding area. 

An ESA listing will bring strict limits on development and restrictions on how properties can be used. It doesn’t matter if you’re already operating a business, or you’re in the middle of constructing a housing development or you’re running a farm — protecting the pocket gophers’ habitat will take precedence.

The unique issue here is that a significant portion of the pocket gopher’s territory is within the Urban Growth Boundary created under the state’s Growth Management Act. This land, designated for development and growth, will be severely restricted if the listing becomes final.

What will those restrictions be? No one knows at this point. How much will mitigation requirements cost if your land is targeted? There’s no way to know.

The impact is already being felt.

Property owners are seeing their land values plummet virtually overnight, and some have lost sale contracts or investors, scared off by the proposed listing. The main problem is uncertainty. Would you purchase or develop a piece of property if there was a chance you couldn’t use it?

The ESA listing process for the pocket gopher is on a fast-track because of an agreement USFWS made to settle a lawsuit filed by the WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Critics say that, as a result, the government is moving too fast to collect and consider the scientific information it needs to make an informed decision.

For example, the U.S. Geological Survey is in the middle of a study that could determine whether the gophers genetically qualify for protection as separate subspecies. That study won’t be completed until March, but the USFWS has indicated it cannot wait because of the lawsuit. After repeated protests, the agency recently announced a delay of up to six months to make its final determination – but at that point it will proceed with or without the USGS results.

The Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, along with public and private groups, opposes the ESA listing for the pocket gopher, saying it is not supported by science, that existing regulations already provide adequate protection, and there is already enough protected land to preserve the gopher without federal intervention. They point to $12.6 million in federal funds provided to Joint Based Lewis-McChord to purchase and conserve 2,600 acres of prairie habitat around the base to benefit the pocket gopher.  

Fish and Wildlife has extended its window for public comments until October 18. Concerned citizens should weigh in with their comments and contact their U.S. senator and congressional representatives. Tell them not to let the USFWS trample the people of Washington in its rush to list the pocket gopher under the ESA.

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business. Formed in 1904, the Association of Washington Business is Washington’s oldest and largest statewide business association, and includes more than 8,100 members representing 700,000 employees. AWB serves as both the state’s chamber of commerce and the manufacturing and technology association. While its membership includes major employers like Boeing, Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser, 90 percent of AWB members employ fewer than 100 people. More than half of AWB’s members employ fewer than 10. For more about AWB, visit their website.

More in Business

Avoiding trouble while Tweeting | Don Brunell

Your social media can hurt you or help you when looking for a job.

Lampson beating odds for family-owned businesses | Don Brunell

According to The Family Firm Institute, only about 30 percent of family-owned businesses survive into the second generation and fewer than 12 percent are still viable into the third generation.

Columbia River treaty talks too vital to ignore | Don Brunell

The United States and China are currently renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty.

Bellevue company patent infringement win gives small investors hope | Don Brunell

Until recently, our courts have been little help to patent owners.

Podiatrist opens Enumclaw practice

Go see Dr. Bock at 853 Watson Street North, Suite 100.

American giving has surpassed $400 billion | Don Brunell

“Americans’ record-breaking charitable giving in 2017 demonstrates that even in divisive times our commitment to philanthropy is solid.”

Cementing radioactive wastes could save billions | Don Brunell

According to a recent article in the Tri-Cities Herald, the first phase of the demonstration project, grouting three gallons of waste held in Hanford’s underground tanks was successfully completed last December.

Mining contaminated waters to increase copper supplies | Don Brunell

With worldwide demand for copper soaring and there is new pressure to open new mines, expand existing ones, and add ore processing capacity — all of which have serious associated environmental challenges.

GE’s tumble from grace | Don Brunell

General Electric, once the world’s most valuable company, has been topped by Walgreens.

Vintage items, gifts and more at new Enumclaw shop

Featuring an eclectic mix of merchandise, partners Tori Ammons and Melissa Oglesbee… Continue reading

Jetsons cartoon robots now reality | Don Brunell

In April, the U.S. Labor Dept. reported a record high 844,000 unfilled positions in the hospitality industry — which is one out of eight jobs available today.

New shop a sweet spot in downtown Enumclaw

Cole St. now has a new fudge and bakery shop.