Over 300 people angered over "pocket gopher" ordinance

July 12, 2011

from Freedom.org

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.