We've moved! Come join us at Watchdog Arena, where you'll continue to find the same quality articles that expose waste, fraud and abuse as well as examine policy issues at all levels of government.

Please visit our new home and follow us on social media: Facebook & Twitter

Get Involved!

Sign up as a Citizen Journalist and get involved in Information Activism.

Sign Up for Watchdog Updates!

Outdated essays on pocket gophers reveal lack of evidence for ESA listing

This is Part 7 of a series about a new ESA micro-listing, and its impact on a rural community in south Thurston County, Washington.  Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, and Part 6 here.

UPDATE 2/3/2015 5:05PM ET: Penny Becker from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife confirmed that the pocket gopher hair, not blood, was collected to be used for DNA testing. 

Unsupported claims in obscure essays from 1942, 1944, and 1960 have hurt a lot of people in south Thurston County, Washington.  Oppressive laws are based on them—including the 2014 Endangered Species Act micro-listing of four Mazama pocket gopher subspecies.  Some families have lost everything.

Introduction of 1960 Johnson-Benson essay on the relative penis sizes of two difference pocket gopher species. ("The Murrelet, Vol. 41, No. 2, page 17)

Introduction of 1960 essay on gopher penises. The Murrelet, 41:2, pg. 17

A brief 1960 essay entitled  “Relationship of the Pocket Gophers of the Thomomys Mazama-Talpoides Complex in the Pacific Northwest” (The Murrelet, Vol. 41, No. 2, pages 17-22) is what federal, state, and local officials still rely on to identify Thurston County gophers as the Mazama species.   The top of this essay’s first page is shown at right.

This 1960 essay claims that the pocket gophers living on the prairies around Thurston County are not the same species as the surrounding Northern (talpoides) pocket gophers—for an intriguing reason.

Mazama Pocket Gopher discovered near Crater Lake, OR in 1897.  From Zoological Series, Vol.6

Mazama Pocket Gopher.  Zoological Series, Vol.6

The essay states that, because of the alleged large size of these south Thurston gophers’ penises, they are actually members of the well-endowed Mazama species.  That species was first discovered in 1897 in the mountains and forests around Crater Lake, OR and northern California, as shown at right.

Crater Lake was formed by the massive eruption of Mount Mazama—hence the gopher’s name.

The only evidence of this 1960 claim are the comparative gopher penis drawings in the feature image shown above, and and at lower right.

From 1960 "The Murrelet", Vol. 41, No. 2, page 20.

From 1960 – “The Murrelet”, Vol. 41, No. 2, page 20.

There is no available explanation as to how or why a small band of well-endowed forest rodents would burrow 350 miles across mountains, valleys, and rivers, including the wide Columbia, to settle on Thurston County prairies, which is a dramatically different habitat from their native mountain home.

Yet officials at every level of government fiercely protect the “Mazama” pocket gopher “subspecies” of Thurston County, based on their confidence in this 54-year-old sketch of gopher penises, shown at right.

Neither Mazama or talpoides need a prairie habitat

Federal, state, and local officials also rely on the 1944 essay, “Distribution and Variation in Pocket Gophers, Thomomys talpoides, in the State of Washington” (American Naturalist, Vol. 77, No.777, pages 308-333), for their scientific criteria about pocket gopher habitat.  They enforce stringent laws based on their assertion that pocket gophers can’t live in forests.

1944 Dalquest essay states that encroaching forests will cause etinction of gophers from forests. "American Naturalist" Vol. 77, No. 777, pg. 314

1944 essay states that encroaching forests will cause extinction of gophers. “American Naturalist” Vol. 77, No. 777, pg. 314

This 1944 essay states that Thurston County’s gophers can’t live in forests.  The essay went on to claim that these gophers were even doomed to extinction because of forests encroaching on their prairie habitat, as shown at right.

This dire prediction from 1944 is the basis of these gophers’ current “endangered” status.

Multiple scientific studies have documented that both the Mazama and the “Northern” (talpoides) pocket gophers live and breed prolifically in forests.  The Northern pocket gophers were one of the few old growth forest animals to survive the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

So, whichever species Thurston County’s pocket gophers turn out to be–either Northern or Mazama–they sure don’t need prairie habitat to survive.

WDFW challenges ‘subspecies’ criteria

From first page of 1942 essay identifying three new "talpoides" gopher subspecies.

From first page of 1942 essay identifying three new “talpoides” gopher subspecies.

Federal, state, and local laws protecting Thurston County’s “Mazama” pocket gophers are based on the assertion that distinct subspecies were discovered by a young museum employee named Walter Dalquest in 1942.

Here is the complete two and a half page essay from 1942, claiming to identify three new Northern (talpoides) pocket gopher subspecies in Thurston County.  The essay is followed by a one page chart of gopher measurements:

1942 Essay – Three New Pocket Gophers (Genus Thomomys) from Western Washington

This 1942 essay states that physical appearance–varying colors, sizes, and shapes–would identify a distinct gopher subspecies.

From pg. 5 of 2013 Draft WDFW Mazama Pocket Gopher Status Update.

From pg. 5 of 2013 Draft WDFW Mazama Pocket Gopher Status Update.

This assertion has been refuted by scientists, who have stated that physical appearance is determined more by a gopher’s environment, rather than genetics.

This claim has even been refuted by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) on page 5 their 2013 Draft Mazama Pocket Gopher Status Update, at right.

(Note: On this same page, however, WDFW still apparently relies on the 1960 penis drawings to identify Thurston County’s gophers as being from the “Mazama” species.)

Even though WDFW rejects this 1942 essay’s underlying theory of what makes a subspecies, the agency still fights, inexplicably, to protect “subspecies” that were identified by using this same antiquated method that they clearly discredit.

1997 DNA tests show no subspecies identified in Thurston County

In 1997, two University of Washington Zoologists, Eleanor Steinberg and Dana Heller, published Using DNA and Rocks to Interpret the Taxonomy and Patchy Distribution of Pocket Gophers in Western Washington Prairies.  In this report, they challenged the 1942 theory of multiple gopher subspecies in the Thurston County area, for two reasons.

On page 44, they disputed the 1942 assertion that physical appearance determined a subspecies—just as WDFW did, in 2013.

On pages 45-47, Steinberg and Heller presented the results of DNA tests performed on some of Thurston County’s different “subspecies”—and found no genetic differences.

As a result, Steinberg and Heller asserted that, based on these DNA tests, there was no known evidence of pocket gopher subspecies in the area.

This report has not stopped state, local, and federal protection of these unproven “subspecies,” with oppressive regulations and threats of criminal and civil charges.

Where’s the proof?

P1000110

Larry Weaver

All of these details may explain why WDFW won’t give Rochester realtor Larry Weaver his gopher blood back, after they supposedly collected it from his property for genetic research.

And these details may explain why Larry Weaver’s son Chris was arrested in 2010 by five armed WDFW officers for admitting to trapping two gophers on his own property.

The five armed WDFW officers took his barren mole traps and his buckets–even though he may not have trapped a protected gopher.

Chris Weaver now has a criminal record for admitting to trapping two gophers that may or may not have been protected, with no evidence of his crime–thirteen years after the 1997 DNA tests results that showed no scientific evidence of pocket gopher subspecies in Thurston County.

P1000124

What was supposed to be a yard for a new home in Rochester, WA–until gopher laws took over.

These details may also explain why south Thurston County citizens face heavy civil and criminal charges if they trap their own gophers, to have them DNA tested.

The Weavers’ gophers may or may not have been a protected “subspecies.”

Their gophers may not have been from the ESA-listed Mazama species, from 350 miles away.

Yet the federal government states that it doesn’t need DNA proof for an ESA listing as long as they reference an authority with little credibility, and Washington state can create suspicious documents to hurt south Thurston County citizens in the future.

Crater Lake, created by the eruption of Mt. Mazama--and home to the Mazama pocket gopher species.  Photo from the Crater Lake National Park website.

Crater Lake, created by the eruption of Mt. Mazama–and home to the Mazama pocket gopher species. Photo from the Crater Lake National Park website.

The 1960 gopher penis drawings appear to be the only “proof” that the government has of the Thurston County gophers being members of the Mazama clan. The 1942 essay appears to be the government’s only “proof” of the existence of subspecies, which was clearly challenged 17 years ago, by the Steinberg-Heller DNA tests.

DNA tests are the only way to validate the results of the 1997 Steinberg-Heller report about no gopher subspecies existing in Thurston County.

DNA tests are also the only way to prove whether Thurston County’s pocket gophers are even members of the far away Mazama species, rather than the surrounding “Northern” talpoides species.

Unless someone can find a really good artist this time around.

 

Feature image from “The Murrelet,” Volume 41, Number 2, page 20.

This is Part 7 of a series about a new ESA micro-listing, and its impact on a rural community in south Thurston County, Washington.  Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, and Part 6 here.

Melissa Genson

Melissa Genson, a resident of Washington State, is the regional editor for Watchdog Wire - Northwest. Contact her at Northwest@WatchdogWire.com.

More Posts

Categories: Environment, Government Transparency, Must Read, Policy, Regulation

RELATED ARTICLES

  1. Outdated essays on pocket gophers reveal lack of evidence for ESA listing
  2. Old rBst controversy holds solution to Oregon’s food-labeling debate
  3. An Oregonian Reflection: On the Trail of Our Pioneer Roots
  4. Government claims about pocket gopher protection remain flawed
  5. Secret Gopher Map Reveals Washington Agency’s Power

COMMENTS

comments powered by Disqus
Login