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

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Melissa GensonSec­ond in a series on new ESA List­ing. Part Three will be post­ed on Octo­ber 27, 2014.

Critical Area - Buffer BoundaryIn Wash­ing­ton state’s Thurston Coun­ty, bureau­crats won Endan­gered Species Act (ESA) pro­tec­tion for a tiny clus­ter of pock­et gophers because of their alleged super-sized penis­es. How­ev­er, nobody but local offi­cials appear to have seen this fea­ture.  They have offered no proof of this endow­ment, nor does the ESA require such proof.

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment spent fifty years unsuc­cess­ful­ly try­ing to kill off the pock­et gopher.  They breed uncon­trol­lably under any con­di­tions, and are the most destruc­tive mam­mal to struc­tures, pipes, under­ground cables, trees, crops, and the envi­ron­ment.  They breed pro­lif­i­cal­ly on the Fort Lewis artillery impact range, and were one of the few species to sur­vive the 1980 Mount St. Helens erup­tion.

Larry Weaver reads decision to list local gophers because of large penises.  Photo by Steve Genson

Lar­ry Weaver reads deci­sion to list local gophers because of large penis­es.  Pho­to by Steve Gen­son

The gophers’ physique and viril­i­ty has been over­shad­owed, how­ev­er, by their appar­ent innate abil­i­ty to oper­ate heavy equip­ment.  This abil­i­ty was also iden­ti­fied by local offi­cials, to jus­ti­fy tar­get­ing a piece of pri­vate prop­er­ty and mak­ing it vul­ner­a­ble to van­dal­ism.

Local developer endures gopher inspection

Lar­ry Weaver is a real­tor and small devel­op­er in the south­west Thurston Coun­ty com­mu­ni­ty of Rochester.  He pur­chas­es res­i­den­tial lots and builds afford­able hous­es to sell.  Each of Weaver’s hous­es includes a nice yard in its mod­est price.

Weaver is a fourth gen­er­a­tion Rochester res­i­dent, and has worked in real estate since the 1970s.  He is own­er and bro­ker for Dream Weavers Real Estate, and is on the Board of Direc­tors of the Rochester Water Asso­ci­a­tion.

A few years back, Lar­ry Weaver applied for a per­mit to build a small home on a 50 ft x 100 ft lot.  Local offi­cials then start­ed pur­su­ing an ESA micro-list­ing for the pro­lif­ic, destruc­tive pock­et gophers with the alleged trait of large penis­es, com­pared to the penis­es of gophers in neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

WDFW first accepts professional assessment of no gophers – then reverses on tractor evidence

WDFW first accepts pro­fes­sion­al assess­ment of no gophers – then revers­es on trac­tor evi­dence

On Novem­ber 26, 2013, after a long series of vis­its by state and local employ­ees to his planned home build­ing lot, Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) emailed Weaver’s pro­fes­sion­al sci­en­tif­ic con­sult­ing firm, Key Envi­ron­men­talWDFW final­ly appeared will­ing to accept Key’s opin­ion that Weaver’s lot had no gophers with penis­es of any size.

If WDFW had accept­ed Key Environmental’s no-gopher report, they would have advised Thurston Coun­ty that Weaver should be able to final­ly build on his lot, after he had paid thou­sands of dol­lars to var­i­ous agen­cies and pri­vate con­sul­tants.

WDFW vis­it­ed Weaver’s lot one more time.

Inspector concludes: gophers can drive a tractor, excavate a drain field

Dur­ing field inspec­tions to search for evi­dence of these spe­cial gophers, offi­cials are not required to look for any rea­son­able signs of gopher activ­i­ty.  They are not required to find gopher holes, hair, feces, or any actu­al evi­dence.  They are not required to take pho­tographs or show any rea­son­able proof of gophers with any size of gen­i­tals.

Their only require­ment is to show any sign of soil dis­tur­bance, from any cause.

Owners must keep their yard exactly this way, or face criminal and civil charges.  Photo by Steve Genson

Own­ers must keep their yard exact­ly this way, or face crim­i­nal and civ­il charges.  Pho­to by Steve Gen­son

Dur­ing this field inspec­tion, WDFW employ­ee Tam­my Schmidt locat­ed a scrape on the ground and stat­ed that it was evi­dence of the pro­tect­ed gophers.

Lar­ry Weaver point­ed out that he had caused the scrape him­self, with his trac­tor buck­et.

Schmidt then went on and found some rocks and rough ground and declared that it was yet anoth­er sign of a rodent with a large penis.

Weaver point­ed out that she had actu­al­ly dis­cov­ered the new­ly built sep­tic drain field, which was on the site doc­u­ments for the lot.

How­ev­er, Schmidt had found all she need­ed to report signs of well-endowed gopher activ­i­ty.

Height of Dry Grass in “Gopher Park” Compared to People in New House Site. Photo by Steve Genson

Height of Dry Grass in “Gopher Park” Com­pared to Peo­ple in New House Site. Pho­to by Steve Gen­son

A trac­tor buck­et scrape, and a sep­tic drain field.

That was all that was need­ed for WDFW to refute the pro­fes­sion­al sci­en­tists, and to noti­fy Thurston Coun­ty gov­ern­ment that Lar­ry Weaver’s lot had pro­tect­ed gophers.

It was fur­ther deter­mined that the trac­tor scrape and the drain­field showed evi­dence of three gophers on the lot, that would require a large amount of habi­tat space.

As a result, Weaver had to severe­ly lim­it the size of the house that he was build­ing, to a width of six­teen feet.

This document tells owners of criminal and civil charges if they take care of their property responsibly

This doc­u­ment tells own­ers of crim­i­nal and civ­il charges if they take care of their prop­er­ty respon­si­bly

He was fur­ther required to set aside essen­tial­ly all of the usable yard and turn it into “gopher habitat”–an unkempt, over­grown, dry mess of weeds.

WDFW has not respond­ed to any requests for an expla­na­tion of their deci­sion on this lot.

Gopher habitat encourages vandalism, theft

Unkempt, over­grown yards are a mag­net for van­dal­ism and theft.  Prince William Coun­ty, VA states:

Over­grown yards are not only an eye­sore but a com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty issue: Weed­ed lots give an impres­sion no one cares for the neigh­bor­hood. This attracts crime and van­dal­ism, erod­ing com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty and val­ue.

Required sign is hidden by required weeds

Required sign is hid­den by required weeds

Tall grass and weeds also har­bor rodents and oth­er ver­min that are unsafe and unpleas­ant in res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties. In many cas­es one uncar­ed for lot slow­ly leads to a clus­ter of neglect­ed prop­er­ties.

Because of that, some insur­ance com­pa­nies will raise rates for unkempt, over­grown yards.

Over­grown, unkempt yards will also decrease the sales val­ue of neigh­bor­ing prop­er­ties.

Res­i­dents of Coven­try, Rhode Island can be fined for the kind of unkempt yards that are required by law in south­west Thurston Coun­ty.

Law requires this new planned home to keep unsightly tall weeds as their yard – existing homes shown in background have green lawns, landscaping and trees.  Photo by Steve Genson

Law requires this new planned home to keep unsight­ly tall weeds as their yard – exist­ing homes shown in back­ground have green lawns, land­scap­ing and trees.  Pho­to by Steve Gen­son

A short dis­tance from Weaver’s lot, neigh­bor­ing homes boast love­ly, green, man­i­cured lawns, trees and gar­dens.

These homes and yards were cre­at­ed, and grand­fa­thered in, before the local offi­cials became obsessed with the penis size of ordi­nary rodents.

South Puget Sound Prairies, an orga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports the ESA micro-list­ing, dis­plays decep­tive web­site pho­tos pur­port­ing to show what pro­tect­ed gopher habi­tat looks like, with­out human inter­ven­tion.

The pho­tos dif­fer dra­mat­i­cal­ly from the actu­al land­scape.

New house site on left. Law requires these tall weeds be their view of their yard. Photo by Steve Genson

New house site on left. Law requires these tall weeds be their view of their yard. Pho­to by Steve Gen­son

Missing DNA evidence?

WDFW told Lar­ry Weaver that they had trapped a pock­et gopher on one of his oth­er lots, and had per­formed DNA tests to ver­i­fy that it actu­al­ly belonged to the clan of well-endowed gophers.

Weaver asked for doc­u­men­ta­tion of these DNA tests. He was told that the doc­u­men­ta­tion was unavail­able.

A pub­lic records request has been sub­mit­ted to WDFW for these DNA tests.

Law requires new homeowners keep their whole yard as this “Gopher Park,” or face criminal and civil charges. Photo by Steve Genson

Law requires new home­own­ers keep their whole yard as this “Gopher Park,” or face crim­i­nal and civ­il charges. Pho­to by Steve Gen­son

WDFW has respond­ed that they need until Sep­tem­ber 15 to deter­mine which request­ed doc­u­ments can be dis­closed, or even locat­ed.

Any DNA doc­u­men­ta­tion dis­closed by WDFW, or lack there­of, will be report­ed here at Watch­dog Wire.

Any DNA doc­u­men­ta­tion will also be giv­en to inde­pen­dent sci­en­tists, for ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

Fea­ture image pho­to by Steve Gen­son.

Photo deceptively portrays protected gopher habitat as a lovely green meadow with wildflowers, from website of organization that supports this pocket gopher micro-listing. Photo from southsoundprairies.org

Pho­to decep­tive­ly por­trays pro­tect­ed gopher habi­tat as a love­ly green mead­ow with wild­flow­ers, from web­site of orga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports this pock­et gopher micro-list­ing. Pho­to from southsoundprairies.org

This is Part 2 of a series about a new ESA micro-list­ing, and its impact on a rur­al com­mu­ni­ty.