Is the threatened species of Mazama pocket gophers really ruining Thurston County and costing us all millions? The current County Commissioners seem to want us to think so. Based on various public comments, the Commissioners blame: the Federal Government; US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS); EPA; former Commissioners; the Governor; and any environmental group that’s handy, but in particular Futurewise, etc.
Popular lies or misleading statements made by Commissioners and their election supporters:
- The Endangered Species Act that protects the ecosystem of the pocket gopher and several associated species will cost all of us taxpayers $150 million
- This issue is holding up all permits, and is impacting all of our properties
- The Feds are going to inspect everyone’s properties and impose retroactive restrictions
- The USDA is killing pocket gophers, while the USFWS is protecting them
- It’s up to the Federal government to make sure all retirement property investments are worth as much as each person thinks they should be.
The Habitat Conservation Plan (The HCP)
A Habitat Conservation Plan that will satisfy USFWS requirements is to use mitigation cost funds to buy land (clustered in large tracts) for ecosystem protections for Mazama pocket gophers and several associated prairie species. Each building permit seeker who happens to be part of the 1% of permit seekers affected does not have to set aside a small portion of their individual property, and then pay to have it inspected annually. They pay an upfront fee only. County Planning Staff, with input from the USFWS, have already told the Commissioners what they need to do. They need to approve the HCP that spells out the details of the arrangement. The County has already received $1.8 million from the USFWS (and they are asking for $600,000 more) to make this HCP.
The Commissioners’’ Dilemma: Fees for a few, or taxes for all
Having courted both the “no fees” and the “no taxes” camps, how do they choose who pays?
The developers, builders and large landowners (of the 1% affected properties)—who contributed money to the elections of our current Commissioners—do not want to pay mitigation fees outlined in the HCP.
The Commissioners can instead propose a tax for all of us. The problem with that is they know their Freedom Foundation/Tea Party supporters may rebel and they risk losing those constituents. They could also lose support from the general citizenry since many might not understand why they’re being taxed for someone else’s building permits.
Response to the conflict?
It appears the Commissioners intend to stall, holding onto hope that the new Federal Dept. of the Interior administration will do away with the Endangered Species Act. Meanwhile, this becomes a blame game that challenges environmental protections in our County, and also vilifies the integrity of those trying to plan for and enforce those protections.
F. R. Knell, longtime resident of Thurston County, is a fan of protecting threatened and endangered species.