Pocket gopher decision expected tomorrow

By Sophie Osborn







IN EARLY MARCH, WYOMING BRACED FOR A DECISION by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether to list the greater sage-grouse as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. (The bird was not listed.)

Now south-central Wyoming is facing another listing decision that could influence energy development and other land uses:

The federal government will decide tomorrow, April 9, whether the diminutive Wyoming pocket gopher warrants protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is slated to make a public announcement about its decision early next week.

The pocket gopher is Wyoming’s only endemic mammal. Its entire known range lies within the state’s boundaries in Carbon and Sweetwater counties.

Because of its limited range, restricted habitat, and small population size, we are concerned that the breadth and pace of energy development in south-central Wyoming threatens this species.

We’re also concerned by the inadequate regulatory mechanisms currently in place to protect the Wyoming pocket gopher in the face of widespread energy development.

This is a distinct species that occurs nowhere else in the world, and the Wyoming Outdoor Council wants to be sure that the Wyoming pocket gopher is adequately protected. There are very few species that are so uniquely Wyoming’s.

The Council will continue to work to maintain healthy populations of this species, no matter what the federal government decides tomorrow.

ECOSYSTEM ENGINEERS

The Wyoming pocket gopher, or Thomomys clusius, is a sandy-colored, underground-dwelling mammal that feeds primarily on roots, tubers, and surface vegetation near its burrow entrances. Despite their small size and elusive habits, pocket gophers benefit their ecosystem by aerating the soil with their digging and tunneling, enriching it with organic matter, and improving its water retention capacity during spring runoff.

Thomomys talpoides = Northern pocket gopher; Thomomys idahoensis = Idaho pocket gopher; Thomomys clusius = Wyoming pocket gopher.


Pocket gophers are important to native ecosystems because their activities influence the distribution of plants, which in turn affects the herbivores that feed on these plants.

Recent research on Wyoming pocket gophers has confirmed that the species is genetically distinct from other pocket gopher species in southern Wyoming and has refined existing knowledge about its range and its choice of habitats.

Contact: Sophie Osborn, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307-742-6138; sophie@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org.

Sophie Osborn is a wildlife biologist and the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s wildlife program manager. She is the author of the award-winning book Condors in Canyon Country.


Wyoming pocket gopher photo and range map courtesy of the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database.

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