The extensive grasslands, prairies and oak woodlands of western Washington once supported thriving populations of eight subspecies of the Mazama pocket gopher. Today, all eight are endangered, three might even be extinct.

The prime culprit, as usual, is habitat destruction. Ninety-seven percent of the Puget Sound basin's grasslands have be destroyed or degraded by agricultural expansion, livestock grazing, fire suppression, exotic plant invasion, and urban and suburban sprawl. Pocket gophers are also threatened by pesticide and herbicide spraying.

The Cathlamet pocket gopher (T. m. louiei) is known only from the type locality in Wahkiakum County. It may now be extinct.

The Olympic pocket gopher (T. m. melanops) is found in the Olympic National Park in Clallam County where it is restricted to subalpine habitat of the higher Olympic Mountains.

One population of the Shelton pocket gopher (T. m. couchi) remains at the Shelton airport in Mason County. Another may occur on penitentiary grounds near Shelton.

The Roy Prairie pocket gopher (T. m. glacialis) is known only from Roy Prairie in Pierce County. A small population was found south of Roy, and populations were detected nearby on Fort Lewis.

The Olympia pocket gopher (T. m. pugetensis) is known from Thurston County where it occurs in small numbers.

The Tenino pocket gopher (T. m. tumuli) is known from Thurston County. It may now be extinct.

The Yelm pocket gopher (T. m. yelmensis) is known from Thurston County. Several relatively large populations were detected on Johnson and Weir prairies on Fort Lewis near the town of Rainier.

The Tacoma pocket gopher (T. m. tacomensis) was known historically from Pierce County. It may now be extinct.

On December 10, 2002 the Center For Biological Diversity and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Washington's eight Mazama pocket gopher subspecies under the Endangered Species Act. Listing under the ESA will require protection of specific grasslands, prairies, and woodlands as "critical habitat" for the gophers and the development of a federal recovery plan. It will ensure that federal agencies act to save the gopher while encouraging state and private interests to participate as well.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
July 3, 2003
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