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Mazama Pocket Gopher Surveys

The Mazama pocket gopher (Thomomys mazama) is a WDFW and Federally protected species of rodent native to the southern Puget Sound. In 2014, four subspecies of pocket gopher became listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A HABITAT STUDY MAY BE REQUIRED WHEN BUILDING IN SUSPECTED POCKET GOPHER HABITAT.



Nine subspecies of Pocket gopher reside across Washington, but only those in Pierce, Thurston, Clark and Mason County are protected.  Olympia, Roy, Tenino and Yelm are all home to genetically independent subspecies, and all are protected (See map).  Mazama Pocket Gophers exist only in specific pockets of glacially deposited prairie soils across the greater Olympia area. These soils are low in sand and clay content and well drained, providing the right consistency for tunneling. Gopher territory generally exists in open, un-vegetated prairie land.

Where and what are they?

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Mazama Pocket gophers are generally 6-9 cm, and can range in color from blackish to light yellow brown, but are typically reddish brown. They are very well adapted to life underground, and generally spend a majority of their time within their burrow systems. The Mazama is one of the smallest of the 35 species in the pocket gopher family, and gets its name from Mt. Mazama (The mountain that is now Crater Lake, Or.) where they were first found, and from their large external cheek pouches which they use for transporting food.


Why are they important?

Though they can be a nuisance, Pocket Gophers provide tremendous ecological benefit to the areas they inhabit. As a keystone species, gophers shape the presence and abundance of plants and other animals in an environment (Vaughan 1961, 1974; Reichman and Seabloom 2002). Through extensive tunneling activity, pocket gophers loosen, aerate and enrich soils, dramatically changing the structure and chemistry. A single gopher may till 3 to 7 tons of soil per acre every year, and increase biodiversity by up to 48%. Gophers also eat and disseminate the spores of ecologically important fungi, and are a food source for birds of prey, coyotes and other predators. Their tunnels provide habitat for a number of amphibians, invertebrates and small mammals. Altogether, they are recognized and protected by State and Federal wildlife agencies as biologically significant "ecosystyem engineers."

Do i need a study?

Several agencies may require an on-site visit by a certified Mazama Pocket Gopher consultant before obtaining a building permit. 


County or city jurisdiction will determine if a Pocket Gopher habitat study is needed during the building application process. Government staff will use geo-spatial resources to search for the presence or absence of gopher bearing soil on your land. 


To rule out the presence of Pocket Gophers on your property, two site visits will be conducted, 30 days apart. Site visits can be conducted between June 1st and October 31st. During these visits, a biologist will survey for the presence of distinct pocket gopher mounds and other signs of gopher activity


If gophers are found, some applicants will be required to modify their building plans to avoid mitigation requirements. Others will work with USFWS staff to create a mitigation plan. Each case will be different, but it is suggested that you hire a private biological consultant to help through the process. 

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