The federal government has launched the process of listing the Mazama pocket gopher as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It joins two other South Sound prairie species also on their way to being listed.
Evidence suggests that four of nine Mazama pocket gopher subspecies are threatened with extinction, according the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
To address that threat, the listing would designate 9,234 acres of prairie habitat in Thurston and Pierce counties where the gophers live as critical habitat. That designation could limit use of the property, including property on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The process will take a year and will include opportunities for public comment.
Fish and Wildlife also ruled Monday that the Tacoma pocket gopher, another species reviewed for protection, is extinct.
The Tacoma pocket gopher, discovered in 1853, ranged from Point Defiance in Tacoma south to Steilacoom and east to Puyallup.
Its a tragedy that the Tacoma pocket gopher went extinct waiting for protection, said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which first petitioned the federal agency to list the pocket gopher under ESA in 2002. Endangered Species Act protection will give the other subspecies a fighting chance, and will also protect their habitat some of the few remaining prairie grasslands.
The status of the prairie species have been a concern for a decade. In October, Fish and Wildlife proposed the Endangered Species Act listing for the Taylors Checkerspot butterfly, which was determined to be in danger of becoming extinct, and the streaked horned lark, which is threatened with extinction.
The three species live in South Sound prairie lands. Only about 10 percent of the original prairie remains undeveloped; less than 3 percent of that 10 percent is considered high-quality habitat.
Land-use restrictions caused by the pocket gopher and the streaked horned lark would be less severe because both are potentially being listed as threatened instead of endangered.
Because of that distinction, part of the listing proposal includes exemptions for small residential land owners and their property. Any use of the property that would not otherwise require a permit would not require a permit from the Endangered Species Act, under the proposed exemption.
But the possible listings not only pertain to Thurston and Pierce county property owners; they also could affect Lewis-McChord.
Much of the base training ground is on prairie lands. Ken Berg of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the staff at JBLM has been planning for the possible endangered species listing for a decade.
Not being able to train on the prairie could mean soldiers at the base would have to go elsewhere, Berg said.
If they cant train at Fort Lewis, they will have to go somewhere else, and that will probably be out of the state. None of us want that, Berg said. They cant do it alone; they need help from their neighbors, and their neighbors are Pierce and Thurston counties and the cities inside those counties because they have a shared responsibility for the prairies.
Pocket gophers are burrowing animals that build tunnels used as habitat by other critters, including squirrels, toads, snakes and frogs. They grow to about 11 inches long and serve as prey for snakes, owls, weasels and hawks.
There is a 60-day public comment period on the proposed listing. Submit comments on the Federal Registrys website at www.regulations.gov.
Chelsea Krotzer: 360-753-5476
John Dodge contributed to this story.