‘International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature’ behind pocket gopher hoax

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Melissa GensonFourth in a series on a new ESA listing. Part Five will be published on October 29, 2014.snipped-zoo-bank-no-pocket-gophers

Larry Weaver wants his gopher blood back.

Larry Weaver at his gopher "subspecies" habitat. Photo by Steve Genson

Larry Weaver at his gopher “subspecies” habitat. Photo by Steve Genson

That smidgen of gopher blood means the world to both Weaver and many in his Rochester community in southwest Thurston County, Washington.

Weaver, a realtor and small developer, allowed the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to trap a mazama pocket gopher on his Rochester property, to collect DNA.  The DNA blood sample was supposed to be tested to find out whether his gopher was indeed a member of an Endangered Species Act federally listed “subspecies.”

To date, there has never been proof that any mazama pocket gopher “subspecies” even exists.  That didn’t stop their ESA listing, or the state and local protection that preceded it.

International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature

In their April 2014 federal listing of four subspecies of the mazama pocket gopher, U.S. Fish and Wildlife defended their lack of DNA proof or other evidence.  USFW stated that these subspecies were recognized by the “International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature,” stating on page 5:

It is possible that ongoing genetic work will clarify the relationship between the subspecies in the future, and if the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature receives and accepts a revised taxonomy for the Mazama pocket gopher that is at odds with the taxonomy used here, we can revisit the listing at that time.

To date, however, there has been no publication of any data that could lead to a formal submission for a revision of the taxonomy of the Mazama pocket gopher to the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, nor is there any record indicating that they have received any petition to consider a revision.

Therefore, consistent with the direction from the Act (i.e., based on the best scientific and commercial data available at the time of our finding), we are using the established taxonomy for the Mazama pocket gopher, which recognizes the Olympia, Roy Prairie, Tenino, and Yelm pocket gopher as separate subspecies.

So who is the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, and what do they have to say about our mazama pocket gopher?

It turns out, the ICZM is a little group who has published a bulletin out of London’s Natural History Museum.  They appear to have no authority or legitimate scientific recognition.  They don’t work with genetics or DNA.

They were never recognized as a non-profit corporation in the United Kingdom.  They were never even legally allowed to have a bank account.

For a while they made money by selling their publications, but that money started to dry up 20 years ago.

The ICZM is now officially broke and is being cut loose from the London Museum.  They are hoping to get picked up by a group in Singapore.

To top it all off, the ICZM apparently has nothing to say about any kind of gopher—pocket, mazama or otherwise.  Nothing gopher-related shows up on their website’s own search.  ICZM also has a website called called ZooBank.org, where apparently anyone can join and submit articles

Brazil’s Mazama Red Brocket Deer. Photo from Univ. of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology

Brazil’s Mazama Red Brocket Deer. Photo from Univ. of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology

In ICZM’s “Zoo Bank,” there is no mention of any kind of gopher, with or without pockets.  There is one mention of “mazama,” but that was for a small red deer in Brazil.

Zoo Bank’s only mention of gopher had to do with a land tortoise and a rockfish–both with the word “gopher” in their name.  No mention of actual gophers who tunnel in the ground.

So USFW got an ESA listing with no proof of any kind.  Their only reference was ICZM—a tiny British group currently looking for a home in Singapore—with no bank account, no authority, and no gophers.

No proof behind ESA listing 

The recent federal listing of four “subspecies” of the mazama pocket gopher was based on two main premises. First, that there were distinct subspecies of the mazama pocket gopher, and second, that these subspecies had dwindling populations throughout their habitat area, as asserted by a December 2011 WDFW report.

That 2011 WDFW report about dwindling populations was based on a 2006 model by New Zealand scientist Darryl Mackenzie, a respected biometrician, known particularly for his work on the development and application of species occurrence models .

The very next month after the WDFW report, Darryl Mackenzie published a detailed report about the WDFW study, clearly refuting and discrediting WDFW’s report that supposedly had been based on his model.

With the “dwindling habitat” theory now lying in the dust, that left only one assertion to legitimately support a federal ESA listing.  The premise was that there were four distinct gopher “subspecies” in Thurston County that needed protection, even though the overall species was plentiful throughout the West.  The Rochester subspecies was supposed to be protected because the males allegedly had super-sized penises.

No government agency has ever offered any actual proof or evidence of this trait–or any proof, such as DNA, of any pocket gopher subspecies of any kind.

Pocket gopher DNA information still on lock-down

WDFW is still sitting on untouched gopher blood samples.  The samples haven’t been DNA-tested, and WDFW has no current plans to test them.

Citizens like Larry Weaver want the gopher DNA independently tested by reputable scientists.  Those blood samples could reveal an enormous hoax inflicted on the people of Thurston County by local, state, and federal officials.

WDFW Regional Wildlife Program Manager Mick Cope says that, by law, Weaver and other citizens can’t have the gopher blood, even though the sample came from gophers found on their own property.

Nor are landowners allowed to collect their own gopher DNA samples for independent testing.  Messing with Rochester pocket gophers is against the law, and can result in criminal charges.

Like much of southwest Thurston County, Weaver’s property is now worthless because of the alleged gopher subspecies.

This is Part 4 of a series about a new ESA micro-listing, and its impact on a rural community.  The series will continue with Part 5, about secret documentation of species on private property.

Featured image from the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature “ZooBank” webpage.