Over 300 people angered by proposed ordinance - citizens object to protection of pocket gopher adversely affecting property rights

July 16, 2011

STOP Thurston County.com

Thurston County, WA - Over 300 people opposing the Thurston County Commissioners’ proposed land use regulation swarmed the Thurston County Courthouse for a public hearing this past Thursday. The Commissioners are considering extending a 6-month emergency ordinance aimed at protecting the Mazama pocket gopher.

Three buses, two from Rochester and one from Yelm, brought people to the hearing who are directly affected by the emergency ordinance. About half of them had never attended a public hearing before.

Controversy surrounded the venue. In May, The Freedom Foundation asked the Commissioners to move the hearing to a location that would accommodate the anticipated crowd. The Commissioners held the hearing in a small courtroom behind metal detectors, instead of moving it to a larger facility as the Freedom Foundation suggested.

People packed the hearing room and filled two overflow rooms beyond capacity. The facilities were too small and had an inadequate audio visual system. People in the overflow rooms could barely see or hear what was happening in the hearing.

Outside the courtroom, one protester dressed as a pirate held a sign that read, “Even a pirate knows you shouldn’t steal property and give it to a gopher.” “Gopher” dogs were served, and a guitar player entertained the long line of people waiting to get through the metal detectors and into the small hearing room.

The hearing began at 5:30 p.m. and lasted until well after 9:00 p.m. The commissioners limited testimony to only 2 minutes so that over 100 people would have time to speak. Of all the people who spoke in favor of the ordinance, only a handful actually lived in the area affected by the measure. Other proponents of the extension wanted land protected for the “collective” or “common good”, and didn’t have any property at stake.

The outpouring of opposition was from people who are directly impacted by the commissioner’s regulations. They are tired of having their land so heavily restricted it is rendered nearly useless—and having to pay full property taxes on it.

The Freedom Foundation has been working since February of this year educating citizens about what kind of impacts landowners have experienced because of the ordinance. Donna Baker, for instance, just wanted to sell 5 acres of her land and was unfairly denied because of the County’s “emergency” ordinance. Others have been prevented from installing fences, playsets or gardening.

The STOP Thurston County project (StopThurstonCounty.com) is reaching people by direct mail, town halls, parades, community events, small group presentations, and earned media. The education effort has reached over 20,000 people in Thurston County and approximately ½ million people statewide.

The Mazama pocket gopher has been listed since 2006 as “threatened” by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The State is late in producing a recovery plan that should provide population targets that have been missing.

Emergency measures must be renewed every 6-months. If the emergency prairie ordinance is extended once again, it will be the third renewal—the ordinance will have been in place for over two years.

The Commissioners have kept the hearing record open until July 15th for additional public comment, and are expected to vote in favor of the extension on July 19th.

The Freedom Foundation remains committed to this project and is steadfast in its strategy of educating citizens. The Freedom Foundation has engaged hundreds of new people into the political process because of the STOP Thurston County project.


Land protections draw emotions

July 17, 2011

NATE HULINGS; Staff writer
The Olympian

Thurston County, WA - The development of critical areas took center stage Thursday night as hundreds of people packed the Thurston County Courthouse complex for a marathon public hearing, which pitted property rights against protections for the county’s woodland habitats.

Nearly 100 people spent three hours speaking – along with some shouting, applause and a few boos – before county commissioners decided to delay a decision to extend the prairie and oak woodlands conservation ordinance.

The interim six-month ordinance expires July 28 and will eventually roll into a larger critical-areas ordinance, which is making its way through the planning commission.

According to the county, less than one percent of the remaining prairie and Oregon white oak woodland habitat are contained in protected parks or reserves.

The prairie ordinance regulates property owners who want to develop or clear land on or within 600 feet of a prairie or Oregon white oak habitat. (Projects on existing footprints, impervious surfaces or minor road repairs are exempt).

If owners want to develop in prairie or white oak habitats, they may need a habitat management plan, which the county says costs $3,000.

Written public comment on the ordinance will be taken until July 15.

Speakers Thursday included a variety of county residents, including farmers, prairie property owners, city residents and business owners.

William Aldridge of Tenino spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying he’s had encounters with wildlife on his prairie land and said he’s set aside property for conservation.

“I wouldn’t take anything for that experience,” he said.

Olympia resident Cliff Snyder said he’s lived in the county since 1968 and said he’s tired of what he sees as the degradation of the environment.

“It is not a question of development versus environment,” he said. “We can have both, but in a logical, rational, scientifically based matter.”

Others spoke out against the county regulating private property, saying the ordinance is unbalanced, lacks common sense and needs more research.

Bruce Morgan, who owns prairie land near Tenino and said he has a background in land-use law and the state Growth Management Act, said the county is using “junk science” and “heavy-handedness” when it comes to protecting species that don’t need it.

“It’s wonderful to protect this prairie, but leave us along and let us protect it,” he said.

Grand Mound resident Terry Schrader said he owns 16 acres and has had issues with the county when he’s tried to cut timber he planted on his property.

‘If you don’t have private property, you don’t have nothing,” he said. “I’m a little pissed off.”

Those on both sides of the issue said the county should provide incentives for property owners who live on or near critical areas.

STOP Thurston County, a group created by the Freedom Foundation to oppose the county updates, was visible at the meeting, including handing out yard signs and buttons and busing in residents from south county.

The group has attacked protection of the Mazama pocket gopher, which they consider a pest. Many who came to Thursday’s meeting had grievances with the animal, but the ordinance under consideration doesn’t address regulations surrounding the gopher, according to the county.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is evaluating four prairie species, including the pocket gopher, as to whether they should be added to the federal endangered-species list. The gopher is listed as threatened by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Planning Director Scott Clark said that since 2007, the county has no records of property owners requesting a prairie plan. Even if the gopher didn’t exist, Clark said, the county still would have the duty to preserve prairie land.

Public hearings on the full critical-areas ordinance have not been scheduled.

STOP Thurston County's website can be found at: www.StopThurstonCounty.com