Saturday, April 23, 2011

Thurston County Commissioners Put People Last

By Scott Roberts
Property Rights Director
Freedom Foundation

Thurston County property owners find themselves pinned down by government crossfire as county regulators continue their assault on private property rights, supposedly in defense of a gopher.

This current encroachment on private property is an effort by government to protect the allegedly threatened Mazama pocket gopher.

For decades, the federal government called this burrowing rodent a “pest” and conducted extensive programs to exterminate it; ironically, the state is now attempting to protect it.

The pocket gopher is resilient and it survived the federal government’s decades-long extermination efforts. But now the state government believes it is threatened. And Thurston County is restricting the use of private property in hopes of saving it.

True to form, these bureaucrats blame the loss and modification of its prairie habitat for this decline in numbers. Translation: Development by humans—instead of 50 years of attempts to eradicate this “pest”— is the cause of its decline.

Panicked by newfound federal concerns about the pocket gopher, Thurston County commissioners and staff use a possible federal listing of the pocket gopher as their excuse to impose new restrictions on landowners.

Many landowners have already experienced life-changing, irreparable harm from the county’s regulations.

Mrs. Baker, a disabled and retired state employee on a fixed income, needs to sell 5 acres so she can pay taxes, medical bills and maintain the rest of her land. But the county told her she would have to first provide over 50 acres of pocket gopher habitat.

Mr. Howell lost the use of 64 percent of his property to create a private gopher reserve—this as government retribution for trying to install a small manufactured home for his son on his own land.

Ms. Bryant fared even worse, losing her house to foreclosure after Thurston County deemed these rodents more important than her right to run a daycare business out of her home.

And Mr. Weaver now has a criminal record for trying to protect his property from a gopher infestation. Five armed Fish and Wildlife agents arrested him earlier this year for trapping the gopher.

Thurston County officials say they must protect prairie habitat in order to save the pocket gopher. They claim less than 1 percent of the remaining prairie is on public lands and use this as another excuse for their misguided regulations on private property.

Yet pocket gopher population numbers fail to support its current state threatened status. A 2005 state government study said that only 2,000-5,000 gophers remain and caused it to become a state threatened species.

Certified biologists have since found 6,500 of the rodents on just two sites, and thousands more gophers have been found elsewhere. These recent field studies are becoming increasingly hard to ignore.

The evidence suggests that pocket gophers are anything but threatened in Thurston County, and contradicts any so-called need for action by bureaucrats and lawmakers at all levels—local, state, or federal – to restrict use of private property.

Thurston County Commissioners have made no attempt to balance reasonable environmental protection with property owner’s rights. Rather, they subscribe to the radical environmentalist’s agenda that accords rights only to animals, and renders private property useless by approving severe regulations.

Thurston County Commissioners continue to ignore field evidence, common sense, and public input. Their ideological beliefs alone guide their policymaking – and these decisions put people last.

It’s time that taxpayers tell the Commissioners to put people first for a change.

Cross posted at

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