OLYMPIA, Wash. – Does size really matter? According to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, it sure does.

The odd claims of state and federal officials have been enough to earn a small group of this incredibly prolific and destructive rodent an Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing, based on a 36-year-old loophole in the law.

This loophole gives a local office of U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFW) broad authority over an ESA listing for a tiny cluster of a prolific species like the pocket gopher, based on some unique trait they claim to have identified, like super sized penises.  USFW does not have to provide evidence of the trait.

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Here is the federal report justifying this ESA listing: Federal Register 4-9-14 Pocket Gopher

The federal government spent over fifty years unsuccessfully trying to kill off the pocket gopher because of its enormous destruction to structures, water pipes, underground cables, trees, vegetation, and anything in its path.

Here is a report about federal work to try to kill off destructive pocket gopher: 1999 Engeman-Campbell USDA Pocket Gopher Study

The pocket gopher lives and breeds on a nearby active Army artillery range, and was one of the few species to survive the massive 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

Thurston County, Washington officials have welcomed the new federal listing with open arms, after years of enforcing their own ordinance relating to the allegedly well-endowed rodents.

Thurston County forces citizens to set aside large amounts of their own property for pocket gopher habitat.  The habitat area can’t be used by owners, or have non-native plants, or even be watered, because the same rodents that can survive artillery blasts and tons of volcanic ash, are somehow hurt by water and Scotch Broom.

As ridiculous as this listing seems, these bureaucrats have the power to force citizens to ruin their own property and structures, or face criminal and civil charges, as shown at right.

These micro-listings can essentially shut down normal life and the economy in a community, as they have in southwest Thurston County.

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Three years ago, Donna Weaver Smith addressed Thurston County Commissioners about the terrible harm to southwest Thurston citizens that would be caused if bureaucrats continued their act on their claims that local gophers had super-sized penises:

What’s even stranger, this gopher’s intimate feature is apparent only to bureaucrats, who have shared no evidence of their peculiar vision with citizens.

What the scientists are saying

In 1978, the Endangered Species Act was amended so “species” encompassed “any distinct population segment (DPS)” of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife, which interbreeds when mature.

The alleged trait of large penises on southwest Thurston County’s pocket gophers met the DPS criteria.

The 2006 University of Nebraska study, “Taxonomic Considerations in Listing Subspecies Under the U.S. Endangered Species Act” explains how the DPS rank can easily be twisted. Read the full report here – 2006 Report on ESA Subspecies Controversy

According to this study:

Among taxonomists, definitions of subspecies are a source of considerable disagreement. This uncertainty is compounded in a conservation context when the specialized taxonomic expertise required to evaluate conflicting interpretations does not exist within management agencies responsible for listing species.

In other words, even scientists can’t agree on what makes a subspecies or DPS.

This is the first in a series on a new ESA listing and its impact on a rural community.

Authored by Melissa Genson