Washington State Protects Endangered Gophers Better than Cops, Citizens

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Melissa GensonThird in a series on new ESA list­ing. Part Four will be pub­lished on Octo­ber 28, 2014.

todd-screenshot-630x286Do Wash­ing­ton State offi­cials believe that threat­en­ing exces­sive force against peace­ful cit­i­zens is jus­ti­fied if a rodent’s life may be in dan­ger?  Or that rodents have more rights and deserve more pro­tec­tion than under­staffed cops and the cit­i­zens they pro­tect?

Based on their track record with the new­ly mint­ed ESA micro-list­ing of the well-endowed pock­et gopher, it appears they do.

Five cops rein in unarmed man for killing a gopher

In 2010, five armed offi­cers gath­ered to arrest Chris Weaver, a Rochester res­i­dent of Wash­ing­ton.  Weaver was unarmed, and vol­un­tar­i­ly showed up for his arrest on his prop­er­ty.

How many crimes require that kind of fire­pow­er and man­pow­er?  Mur­der? Assault? Rob­bery?

Weaver’s crime was trap­ping a gopher that wasn’t even list­ed as endan­gered at the time.  In 2010, trap­ping the gopher was sim­ply a vio­la­tion of a Thurston Coun­ty ordi­nance.

How many gov­ern­ment agen­cies have the bud­get to send five armed offi­cers to arrest an unarmed man who vol­un­tar­i­ly turned him­self in for killing a rodent? Wash­ing­ton Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife has ample bud­get for that–and more.

WDFW appar­ent­ly had suf­fi­cient dol­lars to run DNA tests to ver­i­fy that a trapped gopher had a vis­i­bly huge penis. It is unclear why DNA tests were need­ed to see if a gopher had a fea­ture that was sup­posed to be vis­i­ble to the naked eye.

The DNA-test­ed gopher was trapped on prop­er­ty owned by Lar­ry Weaver who, along with his fam­i­ly, has been long-time crit­ics of the cur­rent coun­ty offi­cials and their gopher pro­tec­tion.

So far, WDFW has not com­plied with cit­i­zen requests for doc­u­men­ta­tion of the DNA evi­dence from Lar­ry Weaver’s gopher.

Crim­i­nal” Chris Weaver is Lar­ry Weaver’s son.

In this video, Chris describes the events that led to his arrest by five armed WDFW offi­cers, and the after­math: 

The politics of the gopher habitat

Much of the Rochester-area gopher “habi­tat” had been pre­vi­ous­ly slat­ed for busi­ness and res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment in this strate­gi­cal­ly locat­ed area near the inter­change of north-south Inter­state 5 and east-west U.S. 12.  Rochester’s I-5 exit is mid­way between Seat­tle and Port­land.

Besides the I-5 inter­change, Rochester also boasts a stop on the rapid­ly grow­ing Puget Sound and Pacif­ic Rail­road, which con­nects the Port of Grays Har­bor to major rail lines Union Pacif­ic and Burling­ton North­ern San­ta Fe.  Grays Har­bor is Wash­ing­ton State’s only deep water ocean port.

This incred­i­bly valu­able real estate has become essen­tial­ly worth­less to own­ers, through the pro­gres­sion of a series of local gopher ordi­nances that paved the way for April’s micro-list­ing for this local fam­i­ly of gophers, based on bureau­crats’ claims of these rodents’ mas­sive penis­es.

Rochester cit­i­zens have been vocal about their oppo­si­tion to gopher pro­tec­tion laws, espe­cial­ly in light of the great finan­cial loss­es incurred by many res­i­dents.  Some have lost their fam­i­ly homes and life sav­ings because of gopher laws.

After gopher pro­tec­tion became an issue, Rochester cit­i­zens vot­ed over­whelm­ing­ly against the incum­bent Thurston Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­ers.

In Octo­ber 2012, Thurston Com­mis­sion­er San­dra Romero told the Lacey Cham­ber of Com­merce that the Rochester cit­i­zens who told of all they lost because of gopher pro­tec­tion were “just back­ground noise” to her.

Republican Rochester is safer for gophers than Democratic Tumwater

It took five armed offi­cers to avenge the death of a Rochester gopher. Yet just a few miles to the north, gopher traps are peace­ful­ly vis­i­ble in the yards of res­i­dents of the heav­i­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic Tumwa­ter area.

To meet that community’s demand, a wide vari­ety of gopher traps are sold in Tumwa­ter stores.

Democratic Thurston County Assessor Steve Drew refused to lower assessed value for useless gopher land

Mean­while, Rochester prop­er­ty own­ers strug­gle with the effects of not being able to use or sell their for­mer­ly valu­able land that still remains taxed at its pre­vi­ous val­ue.

The doc­u­ment at right shows a prop­er­ty owner’s unsuc­cess­ful attempt to get Thurston Coun­ty Asses­sor Steve Drew to reduce the assessed val­ue of his once-valu­able com­mer­cial lot, that is now use­less vacant land because of gopher pro­tec­tion.  This prop­er­ty is right by a super­mar­ket on busy U.S. High­way 12, at the main Rochester inter­sec­tion.  The own­er is try­ing to sell the land for a frac­tion of its for­mer val­ue, with no offers.

More protection for rural rodents than rural cops

Some Rochester cit­i­zens have lost their life sav­ings because of the ridicu­lous claim about rodents with super-sized gen­i­tals.  Some lost their life­long homes.  Job mar­kets dried up when con­struc­tion and busi­ness devel­op­ment halt­ed.

Peace­ful, law-abid­ing Rochester res­i­dents are mulling over a changed world where they are con­front­ed with new kinds of armed police pow­er like WDFW.

How many oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies now have the unbri­dled author­i­ty, mas­sive bud­get, exces­sive man­pow­er, and lethal weapons to con­verge on unarmed cit­i­zens for sim­ply try­ing to live nor­mal life and do nor­mal things?

Where is all of this head­ing?  The “new police” aren’t telling us.

Mean­while, Wash­ing­ton State’s rur­al offi­cers who have rules, fol­low pro­to­col, and have real respon­si­bil­i­ties for cit­i­zens’ safe­ty, have to con­tend with a bare bones bud­get.  They fre­quent­ly work alone while fac­ing poten­tial dan­ger to them­selves and oth­ers.

These offi­cers and cit­i­zens lack the pro­tec­tion, con­cern, and tax­pay­er dol­lars that are lav­ished on pro­lif­ic rodents that are lucky enough to have armed guards to ensure their right to live on valu­able and polit­i­cal­ly charged real estate. 

Despite cit­i­zen protests, USFW stands by their micro-list­ing based on the Rochester gophers’ alleged trait of super-sized penis­es, com­pared to the penis­es on gophers in near­by com­mu­ni­ties with dif­fer­ent real estate val­ues and vot­ing records.

The bureau­crats have pro­vid­ed no evi­dence of this trait–nor does the ESA require such proof.

Based on a review of Thurston Coun­ty prop­er­ty assess­ments, it appears that the larg­er a gopher’s penis is, the more he prefers high val­ue real estate for his habi­tat.

This is Part 3 of a series about a new ESA micro-list­ing, and its impact on a rur­al com­mu­ni­ty.