Little gophers could cause big problems at Lewis-McChord

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- A tiny animal is causing huge problems at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The base is busy prepping for a major exercise scheduled for Wednesday, but that training may be interrupted if any Mazama pocket gophers turn up.

The federal government is considering listing the underground critters as an endangered species, which could mean the base would have to stop using as many as 1,000 acres of prime target land.

Larry Weaver lives in Thurston County. He said he and hundreds of other private landowners are also facing the loss of land due to the gopher. Weaver said there's no reason to protect the species because the gophers rarely leave their holes and are doing just fine on their own.

"In my opinion, we can't get rid of them (if we tried)," he said. "Not only are they not threatened, you can't get rid of them."

Thurston County homeowners have been fighting the gopher battle for years, ever since the county and state listed the species as threatened. Homeowners have to get a $5,000 study done and move their buildings if just one gopher is found.

Many of the gophers have been moved to a nearby sanctuary, but the fact remains that government protection of a species comes first.

"People are going to be unhappy about any restrictions you put on a person's property, but we also do have an obligation to one, comply with federal and state law and two, protect the species," said Thurston County planning director Scott Clark.

Weaver thinks the government should worry more about protecting homeowners.

"If we're protecting one species, why is the other species -- mainly the landowner -- why are they not protected as well?" he said.

JBLM officials say they'll comply with protecting the species, but say they will also continue their training. No decisions on the animal will be made right away. There is a 60 day comment period and then the government will take up to a year to decide if the gopher should be included on the endangered list.