One species living in western Washington prairies is the pocket gopher, (Thomomys mazama), a vital component in the maintenance of Washington state prairie ecosystems. The burrowing activities of the T.mazama gophers contribute to the maintenance of the diversity of plant species in prairies.
Washington State has experienced population growth that has resulted in development of prairie regions. This development creates interruptions in the pocket gopher’s habitat that resulting in the creation of edge effects that contribute to habitat fragmentation and possibly to species extinction. Extinction rates for species residing specifically in prairie landscapes are highest for the species that are rare, or that require large patches of unbroken habitat and have short distances between those patches, or for species that have limited dispersal distances. All these conditions may apply to the T.mazama gopher in Western Washington prairies.
Immediate research should be conducted to determine how the T.mazama is affected by habitat fragmentation and to preserve this species valuable place in prairie ecosystems. There are many modeling programs available to estimate possible impacts to the gopher’s habitat. Although these modeling projections are useful, they cannot provide complete solutions, because little data currently exists on the T.mazama gopher to use in these models. A population survey should be conducted for the presence of T.mazama gophers in Washington prairies. Once species identification is complete for the T.mazama, this information may then simultaneously be incorporated within a landscape ecology approach that addresses prairie ecosystem maintenance on large landscape scales and small scales of biologic and habitat requirements. This approach addresses a multi-scale systems perspective that must be incorporated within policy decisions in order to provide maximum protection for the T.mazama habitat and the larger ecosystem functions.
It is only by these methods that adequate policy can be created to identify and protect the T.mazama from extirpation. Once accurate gopher inventory data is adapted to modeling programs, it will be possible to create informed wildlife and land development policy so Washington prairies may be preserved and priority habitat may protected for the T.mazama.