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For Immediate Release, December 19, 2013

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Endangered Species Act Protection Affirmed for Two Washington Plants

After 8-Month Delay to Reexamine Science, White Bluffs Bladderpod,
Umtanum Desert Buckwheat Still Found to Need Protection

PORTLAND, Ore.— Federal scientists confirmed today that two extremely rare eastern Washington plants granted Endangered Species Act protection in April 2013 do indeed need protecting. Rejecting a Rep. Doc Hastings-led effort to derail the plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reaffirmed that the best available science shows that Umtanum desert buckwheat and White Bluffs bladderpod deserve federal protection and designated critical habitat.

White Bluffs bladderpod
Umtanum desert buckwheat photo by Ted Thomas, USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

Protections for the two plants, which are found only in Washington’s Hanford Reach National Monument, are the result of a settlement reached between the Center and the Service in 2011 to speed up protection decisions for 757 species around the country. 

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has gone the whole nine yards and determined that the science showing these plants to be endangered is sound,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “No doubt Congressman Hastings and his ilk will still not be satisfied, though — and not because of problems with the agency’s science, but because they just oppose saving these plants in the first place.”

As part of today’s decision, the Service affirmed its designation of 344 acres of protected critical habitat in Benton County for Umtanum desert buckwheat, but reduced critical habitat for the White Bluffs bladderpod from 2,861 acres to 2,033 acres in Franklin County. All private lands were removed from the critical habitat. The Service contended the areas removed are now too degraded to support the plant, a decision that highlights the importance of protecting species as quickly as possible. Both plants were discovered during a 1995 botanical survey of the Hanford Reach and made candidates for protection in 1999, when more habitat may very well have been suitable.

“These plants are part of what makes the Hanford Reach, the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River so special,” said Greenwald. “Each of these plants is found on only one spot on Earth, leaving no doubt the Endangered Species Act’s powerful protection is crucial to their survival.”

The buckwheat is a woody plant that can live up to 150 years and is limited to a weathered basalt outcrop on the top edge of the Umtanum Ridge in Benton County, where it is threatened by fire, invasive species, off-road vehicle destruction and stray cattle. The bladderpod is a showy flowering perennial limited to the White Bluffs area of the Hanford Reach and threatened by fire, invasive species, ORV damage and landslides caused by seepage from agricultural irrigation. 

The Hanford Reach was designated a national monument in 2000, in part because of its well-recognized plant and animal diversity. Since then, some threats have been reduced. For example, newly constructed fences now keep ORVs and cows away from rare plant populations.

Endangered Species Act protection will trigger development of a recovery plan for these species, as well as further actions to secure their future, including removal of nonnative plants, plans to protect them from fire, and further protection from irrigation-related harm and recreational activities like ORV use. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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