Gopher wins ESA Listing Based on Genitalia Size

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Melissa GensonFirst in a series on new ESA list­ing. Part Two will be post­ed on Octo­ber 26, 2014.

Does size real­ly mat­ter? Accord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, it sure does.

The odd claims of state and fed­er­al offi­cials have been enough to earn a small group of this incred­i­bly pro­lif­ic and destruc­tive rodent an Endan­gered Species Act (ESA) list­ing, based on a 36-year-old loop­hole in the law.

This loop­hole gives a local office of U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFW) broad author­i­ty over an ESA list­ing for a tiny clus­ter of a pro­lif­ic species like the pock­et gopher, based on some unique trait they claim to have iden­ti­fied, like super sized penis­es.  USFW does not have to pro­vide evi­dence of the trait.

Here is the fed­er­al report jus­ti­fy­ing this ESA list­ing: Fed­er­al Reg­is­ter 4–9‑14 Pock­et Gopher

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment spent over fifty years unsuc­cess­ful­ly try­ing to kill off the pock­et gopher because of its enor­mous destruc­tion to struc­tures, water pipes, under­ground cables, trees, veg­e­ta­tion, and any­thing in its path.

Largest population of WA pocket gophers is on explosive artillery impact range at Fort Lewis

Largest pop­u­la­tion of WA pock­et gophers is on explo­sive artillery impact range at Fort Lewis

Here is a report about fed­er­al work to try to kill off destruc­tive pock­et gopher: 1999 Enge­man-Camp­bell USDA Pock­et Gopher Study

The pock­et gopher lives and breeds on a near­by active Army artillery range, and was one of the few species to sur­vive the mas­sive 1980 erup­tion of Mount St. Helens.

Thurston Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton offi­cials have wel­comed the new fed­er­al list­ing with open arms, after years of enforc­ing their own ordi­nance relat­ing to the alleged­ly well-endowed rodents.

Thurston Coun­ty forces cit­i­zens to set aside large amounts of their own prop­er­ty for pock­et gopher habi­tat.  The habi­tat area can’t be used by own­ers, or have non-native plants, or even be watered, because the same rodents that can sur­vive artillery blasts and tons of vol­canic ash, are some­how hurt by water and Scotch Broom.

Property owners face criminal charges for caring for their own yard

Prop­er­ty own­ers face crim­i­nal charges for car­ing for their own yard

As ridicu­lous as this list­ing seems, these bureau­crats have the pow­er to force cit­i­zens to ruin their own prop­er­ty and struc­tures, or face crim­i­nal and civ­il charges, as shown at right.

These micro-list­ings can essen­tial­ly shut down nor­mal life and the econ­o­my in a com­mu­ni­ty, as they have in south­west Thurston County.

Three years ago, Don­na Weaver Smith addressed Thurston Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­ers about the ter­ri­ble harm to south­west Thurston cit­i­zens that would be caused if bureau­crats con­tin­ued their act on their claims that local gophers had super-sized penises: 

What’s even stranger, this gopher’s inti­mate fea­ture is appar­ent only to bureau­crats, who have shared no evi­dence of their pecu­liar vision with citizens.

What the scientists are saying

In 1978, the Endan­gered Species Act was amend­ed so “species” encom­passed “any dis­tinct pop­u­la­tion seg­ment (DPS)” of any species of ver­te­brate fish or wildlife, which inter­breeds when mature.

The alleged trait of large penis­es on south­west Thurston County’s pock­et gophers met the DPS criteria.

The 2006 Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka study, “Tax­o­nom­ic Con­sid­er­a­tions in List­ing Sub­species Under the U.S. Endan­gered Species Act” explains how the DPS rank can eas­i­ly be twist­ed. Read the full report here – 2006 Report on ESA Sub­species Controversy

Accord­ing to this study:

Among tax­on­o­mists, def­i­n­i­tions of sub­species are a source of con­sid­er­able dis­agree­ment. This uncer­tain­ty is com­pound­ed in a con­ser­va­tion con­text when the spe­cial­ized tax­o­nom­ic exper­tise required to eval­u­ate con­flict­ing inter­pre­ta­tions does not exist with­in man­age­ment agen­cies respon­si­ble for list­ing species.

In oth­er words, even sci­en­tists can’t agree on what makes a sub­species or DPS.

This is the first in a series on a new ESA list­ing and its impact on a rur­al community.