On December 11, 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposed listing (pdf) four subspecies of the Mazama pocket gopher (Thomomys mazama) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Service also proposed designating 9,234 acres of critical habitat in Thurston and Pierce counties in the state of Washington. The four subspecies proposed for listing are the Olympia, Roy Prairie, Tenino and Yelm pocket gophers. The Service declared a fifth subspecies, the Tacoma pocket gopher, as extinct. The pocket gophers were proposed for listing last October, but the action was delayed because the Service requested more time to collect and review information.

Landowners in the region are concerned that the proposed listing and critical habitat designation could limit land use and development. According to the Seattle Times, local stakeholders have begun creating a Habitat Conservation Plan that would “set up a one-stop shop where landowners and builders could go for permits, ensuring they are compliant with both county and federal laws.” (Krotzer, Dec. 11, 2012). The proposed plan includes exemptions for small residential landowners and their properties, and will not be finalized until next year.

Mazama pocket gophers are small, tube-shaped animals with short necks, and external fur-lined cheek pouches that are used to carry plant material for food and nest building. The animals typically live in glacial outwash prairies, and alpine and subalpine meadows. Mazama pocket gopher populations have declined due to the loss of habitat to urban development, gravel mining, and agriculture.