Pocket Gophers Are Now Taxed
Pocket Gophers are Pests, But Govt Can Still Find a Way to Tax them

The Thurston County Commissioners in collusion with the US Fish and Wildlife Service have created a novel method of extracting additional tax dollars from prospective new homeowners in Washington State.  According to public documents, Thurston County staff has proposed a new gopher tax, up to $42,000 for new homeowners who might consider building a home on or near land that might be inhabited by a rodent called the Mazama Pocket Gopher.  This gopher tax (called “mitigation” in planner-speak) would be in addition to any other fees, permits, taxes, or other costs that might be imposed on the construction of a new home in Thurston County, Washington.  For direct links to the concept files written and presented by Thurston County planning staff go here and here.

For Whistleblowers, please go here to learn more 

The $42,000 gopher tax is likely to become law later this year.   Two of the three Commissioners (Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe) have been supportive of the plan and the process for many years now.  In addition, the Thurston County Planning Department has been largely controlled by the US Fish & Wildlife Service for years – many of the county employees are entirely subsidized by USFWS grant money.  This has been a concern of property rights advocates for many years because local county staff won’t question their orders from USFWS when their jobs depend on grant dollars from that federal agency.

Another aspect of the gopher tax that has local observers concerned is the current plan for much of this money to be transferred to an out-of-state nonprofit organization.  Some of these gopher tax monies would stay in Thurston County, but it appears that after insiders get their cut, most of these funds would be sent to an out-of-state organization to manage local taxpayer-purchased land that could be set aside as bonus pocket gopher habitat.  

The Pocket Gopher – Endangered Animal or Convenient Excuse?

The Thurston County Mazama pocket gopher was listed as a threatened species by the USFWS in April,  2014.  The listing process was controversial, and generated a lot of local citizen backlash as well as open ridicule by rural Thurston County residents directed at the Commissioners, USFWS, and others who championed the original listing process.  Most casual observers could see that something was very wrong in Thurston County.

Protesting pocket gopher listing
A pirate might know it is stealing, but Thurston County calls it a tax or a “fee.” It is all about the money.

Pocket gophers are considered pest rodents throughout most of the United States where they live.  They are prolific and resilient creatures, often found in areas that have been heavily disturbed by agriculture or forestry efforts.  In fact, the two largest concentrations of pocket gophers in Thurston County were found at the Olympia Airport and the surrounding industrial park and at the nearby Fort Lewis Firing Range.  Interestingly, the very gophers who USFWS claims are threatened, thrive in the middle of the artillery impact range on a piece of land that has been repeatedly pulverized, destroyed, and burned for most of a century.  Now, both USFWS and the Thurston County planning department argue that building a home on 5 acres will so harm the gophers that a prospective homeowner must pay $42,000 for permission to apply for a home – maybe.

Few observers accuse the USFWS of staying true to science or the facts when it comes to listing endangered species.  On the east side of Washington State, USFWS attempted to list the “White Bluffs Bladder Pod” as an endangered species certain that this plant was so rare that it justified land restrictions.  However, a local agricultural organization took samples of the “endangered” plant, conducted DNA tests, and determined that it was a very common weed found in many Western States.  USFWS still plans to list the plant as endangered regardless of the truth or science.  This wouldn’t be the first time USFWS has listed an animal on the Endangered Species list that wasn’t endangered.  In some cases, the listed animals haven’t even been proven to exist.  

The pocket gopher listing process has become just as silly.  No USFWS employee is willing to say how many of these endangered pocket gophers actually exist.  In fact, they tend to become angry if anyone dares ask.  Partly, this is because past population counts have proven to be wildly inaccurate.  Another reason government staff requires forced ignorance of the gopher population numbers is that it would lead to a logical question which they also refuse to answer – how many gophers do you need for them to no longer be considered threatened?  None dare even think these thoughts, at least not if you want the grant gravy train to continue.  Solving a real problem has never been the goal.

Gophers can be killed, just not by humans
Gophers are a natural part of the food chain, but Thurston County is the ultimate predator and plans to profit from the gopher tax they impose on new home owners.

Interestingly enough, the DNA samples for this “endangered” gopher exist at the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife, but they refuse to allow an outside organization to take samples for an independant DNA test.  It is illegal for someone to trap a gopher and take independent samples – you could be arrested and get a criminal record like this guy.  Willful ignorance appears to be the order of the day in Thurston County and at the USFWS.  Science and the facts are entirely irrelevant.  The process is the point and the punishment.  

It isn’t about the gopher

stop work order - pocket gopher
Thurston County gets a lot of mileage out of the pocket gopher – a great excuse to prevent people from living rurally.

As the handful of extremists who have testified in favor of these pocket gopher property restrictions have publically stated in the past, “it isn’t about the gopher.”  It is about the private property inhabited by the gopher. For those using the gopher as their excuse to legislate rules and taxes, it is about power, money, and control.  It will never be enough.

A casual review of these proposed gopher tax plans also reveals an effort by Thurston County planning staff (under the direction of the USFWS) to severely restrict the use of the homesite property, even after the gopher tax has been paid.  The diagrams and concept homesite maps indicate restrictive size limits on the home, restriction of outbuildings, landscaping, and even how far away from the home a dog house could be located.  It appears that a “buffer” around the home will be “allowed” for a yard and maybe playground equipment, but the rest of the property will become NO Touch zones of some type.

Gopher habitat restrictions have been in place throughout rural Thurston County for several years.  These have included forcing homeowners to hire a gopher site inspector to inspect the property to verify if the gophers live there (only between the months of June and October – if you need to build something else at a different time of year – you must wait until the gophers are more active).  Eventually, this changed to three different gopher site inspections by government gopher experts three times during the limited months gophers would be active.  Despite the large amount of taxpayer resources dedicated to gopher plans, Thurston County failed to match their written policies with their actual policies, which has led to another lawsuit filed a few months ago by the Olympia Master Builders, Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, and other local business organizations.

These past property restrictions, lack of science, evolving rules, and unpredictable outcomes has created resentment in the affected communities.  Thurston County local government has clearly lost credibility with rural residents.  Many rural south county residents have complained that Thurston County refuses to adequately fund law enforcement while devoting massive resources towards gophers and other central planning schemes like increasing taxes on septic systems, increasing (or just inventing)  wetland buffers, denying permits to make minor property improvements, and building doggie parks.  Some of this resentment was translated into election outcomes in 2014, which confounded local political insiders.  Newcomer Independant candidate Bud Blake became the newest Thurston County Commissioner by defeating incumbent Democrat Karen Valenzuela who had been a champion of the gopher tax plans and private property restrictions.  Commissioner Blake beat the incumbent veteran politician despite being new to politics.  He was outspent by the Democratic incumbent almost three to one.  His overwhelming support from the rural voters helped him achieve a nine point margin of victory.

Glen Morgan speaking to 200 citizens in Rochester, WA about Pocket Gophers
Pocket Gopher Town Hall – Glen Morgan speaking to 200 rural residents in 2011 in Rochester, south Thurston County. Most concerns recognized then, are becoming reality now.

The two legacy incumbent commissioners Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe have both stated they will not seek reelection.  Instead, they are pushing staff to finalize the $42,000 gopher tax and other rural property restrictions as early as this summer before they depart their offices.  Two new commissioners will be confronting the gopher legacy when they take office next year.  Many residents have begged the lame duck commissioners to delay imposing further harmful restrictions before they leave.  Those constituent requests have fallen on deaf ears.  In fact, County Manager Cliff Moore has often told local residents that it is just their tough luck because owning property in Thurston County is a gamble.

cliff-moore, Thurston County Manager
Thurston County Manager Cliff Moore – ridicules property owners for daring to own land in Thurston County.

Thurston County is a test location for USFWS and their effort to control local planning

For those who do not live in Thurston County, this story may seem like a parody of government gone awry.  The absurdity seems like it could never happen elsewhere.  However, bad ordinances and central planning schemes, no matter how absurd, tend to fester and spread like a disease to other local governments.  It is well known that USFWS is using Thurston County to test this concept of outsourcing local planning control to a federal agency like USFWS.  USFWS tosses a few million dollars into the local jurisdiction, effectively rents the staff for a few years to do their bidding, then once the final nail is in the coffin for local residents, USFWS staff move on to their next victims.  It is interesting to note

Ken Berg
USFWS Lacey, WA Director Ken Berg gets award in Thurston County after gopher gets listed. Then he leaves the state.

that most senior USFWS staff who laid the groundwork for this pocket gopher tax scheme have moved to other states to continue their harmful work on the taxpayer dime.  We can laugh at Thurston County today, but nobody will be laughing when they experience the same rules where they live.

Thurston County has operated like a caricature of incompetent local government over the past several years.  Many scandals have plagued the Thurston County Commissioners including an expensive jail that was built against the will of the voters and then

Stop Taking Our Property Thurston County
Many Citizens opposed Thurston County’s aggressive land abuse ordinances from the beginning

remained empty for almost 5 years because they failed to budget for operations.  Budgets have been difficult to produce, impossible to decipher, and frequently didn’t even follow basic rules of addition, subtraction, or even Common Core math.   Strange financial decisions have plagued the legacy commissioners.  Additionally, the Democrats on the Commission have achieve a new land use jury verdict state record  of $12.4 million when they lost the Maytown lawsuit in 2014 (mainly for reckless disregard of the law – according to the jury, the Thurston County Commissioner’s actions “shocked the conscience”).  Their obsession with trivial, farcical issues like plastic bag bans, animal costume dances, and doggie parks have been a concern because those have become higher priorities than public safety.  Now, they have invited USFWS to direct and manage local planning resulting in this new proposed gopher tax scam.  Rural residents certainly believe they have been targeted by the outgoing Democrat Commissioners Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe.
This absurd, but very innovative gopher tax provides another example of harmful political leadership in Thurston County.  The scheme can still be prevented, but the effort to stop the gopher tax scam will take maximum public exposure, serious political will, and new commissioners who actually want to put people first for a change.

Thurston County Commissioners
It is good to be king in Thurston County where only the little people pay the price…

If you are interested in contacting Thurston County directly, they can be reached at (360) 786-5440.  It is always interesting to see how they spin their story, taxpayer funded public information officers are standing by…

Related articles for further background:

Thurston County Punishes Rural Serfs Again

Gophers, Artillery, and US Fish and Wildlife

Gopher wins ESA Listing Based on Genitalia Size

Can a Well-Endowed “Endangered” Gopher Really Drive a Tractor?

Shooting Owls, Counting Slugs, and Fighting Evolution, USFWS hard at work.

A Plague of Consequences in Thurston County

Thurston County Commissioners Deny the Reality of Math

Thurston County Bag Ban – Paper or Plastic?

Lawsuit Filed Against Thurston County over Pocket Gopher Process

Stifling Human Ingenuity

Tales of Tyranny – Bert Wasch Story – Thurston County denies his right to build a home for 5 years

Thurston County to Citizens:  Living here is a real gamble

Childish Political Leadership in Thurston County is costing Taxpayers Millions

Thurston County Demonstrates How Not to Build a Jail

Washington State Protects Gophers Better than Cops, Citizens

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature Behind Pocket Gopher Hoax

Secret Gopher Map Reveals Washington Agency’s Power

Government Claims About Pocket Gopher Protection Remain Flawed

Outdated Essays on Pocket Gophers Reveal Lack of Evidence for ESA Listing

Washington State Fish and Wildlife “FAQ” sheet about pocket gophers


  1. The answer to 1984 Thurston County govt and there pocket gopher scheme, is 1776 !

    The reasons why this gopher thing can happen is cause no one reads nor cares.
    “And when the citizens/owners give central county govt control over their land/s. First by not voting , then by not caring or reading , and lastly by not acting peaceful, they will one day wake up powerless and or homeless on their very land/s they and their fore fathers paid and fought for. This is a true tragedy.”
    Brandon A.
    If people were Americans, they would go up to those commissioner business meetings. Exercise there state and federal first amendment. For those reading this , Don’t let them scare you. The commissioners are hoping they can conduct business with – out you ! Or with little input. Honor the open public meetings act ! And the open public records act ! people had to fight for those rights before they became law rcw’s.

    By not caring and excising those 2 basic law rights. And the constitutional laws. Your dishonoring all that fought for right of all citizens to be free and informed and represented.

    As for the 2 county commissioners , You can pass all the code laws and resolutions you want. And all the budgets you want. That’s your power now. When you quit or leave, there will be 2 new elected persons. And they can repeal parts or all of it and that’s the citizens power. And i hope a light will be casted on all the business that has been passed and overseen the time you 2 were in office.


  2. When it comes down to it. Everyone will pay . Especially new homeowners. We have a huge lack of inventory in Thurston County. Builders down here openly state it is hard to build in Thurston County due to how many regulations there are. They were backloaded for applications in March for the gopher study. They had no idea what Fish and Wildlife were going to mandate. Anyone wanting to buy land that had common sense would not buy if the study was not done. What does this mean for people trying to purchase ,more constrictions for anyone wanting to build.IE private homebuyer,builder,business, so many did not and looked for that home that was already built.. It means prices for property have gone up and will continue to go up. More demand then supply. This is not a republican vs democrat situation. What is truly disturbing is how at one moment it is about saving the pocket gopher to next taxing people AGAIN for the possibility of a pocket gopher being on the property. When did it become a crime to want to purchase land?

    • Amanda,

      Good points. It is rapidly becoming a crime to want to purchase land because the two legacy Commissioners and the central planning staff have agendas that drive their policies.

  3. Well 42K per lot does sound like alot. Its not clear why an acre of pocket gopher mitigation costs 42K in Tumwater. Can’t we buy for less than 42K, as mitigation credit, our ‘critters that creep on the earth’ AND provide duck habitat, nice views and reasonably priced hay for cattle on the same piece of land? It might be good. Heard the gophers especially like alfalfa, which commands a premium price now.

    • Well, nobody has ever accused Thurston County Central Planners or the US Fish & Wildlife Service of using common sense, science or rational thinking…

  4. This is a joke they are pest !!!! I hope they invade the dumbasses houses and have hundreds of babies so they have to move out of there own home !!!!

  5. People shouldn’t build in wildlife habitat anymore. We’ve taken too much land. If humanity wants to survive climate change and mass extinction, half the planet needs to be set aside. Paying your fair share for the destruction of the planet is a good idea, but the better idea is look elsewhere to live. The rest of the public shouldn’t suffer for your selfishness.

    • You and the rest of the public live in what was once a wildlife habitat, are you willing to pay your fair share?

      • The people who promote these laws and rules don’t believe they apply to them. They believe they are exempt. These rules are just for us little people…

    • I bet Al Gore just loves you. You in your ignorance have bought into a load of unscientific conclusions. You do realize that EVERYWHERE is wildlife habitat, including what ever room or car you may be occupying at this very moment. What are you paying as your fair share?

  6. Is this a coincidence that the Commissioners that are quitting are both women and both Democrats. If in truth they are really quitting. I agree it sounds like pocket gopher shenanigans on the surface.. It also sounds like Republicans playing games with the truth. If the elected members were men and Republicans we wouldn’t know anything about this problem. They fight dirty with any lie they can think of to cause us more problems. The people that complain about the Government still vote in more Republicans so we have more to complain about. Also one point here if this is a real problem let all the truth be told. People who own mobile homes can not remove them because of so many regulations. They can’t replace the homes for three years. Swampland can be used for schools [Black Hills High] and St buildings but private parties can not build or sell this land. The Port can condemn surrounding land but not use the land for anything. Guess who paid for that? All of this did not start with women, Democrats. It started with White Male Republicans with their agendas to take as much and not worry what it does to the people. Shame on you!

    • I am sure there are some Republicans to blame out there. They are pretty rare in Thurston County, but you can probably find a few that went along with the insanity. Frankly, I don’t care about who pushes stupid policy – they should be called out regardless of their party affiliation. I agree with your critique of the Port and the money we wasted there. Not sure what we disagree about other than you don’t like the party affiliation of the people pushing the scam to be identified…

    • How did this all start with “white male republicans”? Everything I have read and found out about the gophers, Maytown gravel and some other crazy stuff appeared to be all democrats. I personally don’t care what party, gender or color of the people who started this mess are. I would like to see some common sense and what the voters want…..all of the voters, not the special interests that will get votes so they can stay in power. Basically do the right thing. The last time I check there are very few republicans running the county.

    • This isn’t about Dems or Republicans. This is about the UN Agenda 21 and the rewilding of the US. This is about Property Rights. The UN Agenda 21 and UN Agenda 2030 are what they are trying to impose across the US.

    • I live here, and I love it. The problems here are political, and politicians can be replaced. No law that is written can’t be repealed. However, it takes people who are willing to engage for the long haul. I believe it is our historic apathy that has allowed us to get to this place. It is no longer acceptable to remain silent on these things.

      • I cant stand the far right or the far left . Commissioners like this give the Democrats a bad name . What happened to common sense ? They got the spotted Owl thing wrong and there wrong on this one. I for one will donate money to the lawsuit and do my part to vote out nuts that push for protection of a rodent that is NOT endangered in the first place.

        • Matthew,

          All we ask is that the local elected officials have common sense, which has long disappeared for the legacy commissioners in this county. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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