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Tri-City Herald, April 22, 2013

Plants that grow on Hanford Reach get endangered species protection
By Annette Cary

Two plants that grow only in the area of the Hanford Reach National Monument gained protection Monday under the Endangered Species Act.

Both the White Bluffs bladder pod and the Umtanum desert buckwheat grow in narrow bands along bluffs above the Columbia River.

Their protection has been in the works since a July 2011 legal agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. It required the federal government to speed up protection decisions for 757 species across the nation. About a year ago Fish and Wildlife proposed protection for the two plant species.

"These plants are part of what makes the Hanford Reach, the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River, so special," said Noah Greenwald, the center's endangered species director, in a statement. "Each of these plants is found on only one spot on Earth, so the Endangered Species Act's powerful protection is crucial to their survival."

As part of the decision, Fish and Wildlife designated 344 acres of protected critical habitat in Benton County for Umtanum desert buckwheat and 2,861 acres of critical habitat in Franklin County for White Bluffs bladderpod, including 17 acres of state land and 419 acres of private land.

It was unclear Monday what effect the listing might have on the private land. Land would be affected if there were federal action to fund, authorize or carry out activities that might jeopardize habitat for the plants in the designated acreage. Then the federal agency would be required to work with Fish and Wildlife to prevent or reduce impacts on the land.

The designation will have little impact on Fish and Wildlife actions because the agency already has been focused on protecting the plants and better understanding their biological processes to help ensure their survival, said Charlie Stenvall, project leader for the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex. No changes to management practices are planned.

The two species were discovered in the mid-1990s during a botanical survey of land that had been preserved as a security buffer zone around the Hanford nuclear reservation. The land was designated a national monument in 2000, in part because it had remained relatively undisturbed, protecting its plant and animal diversity.

The Umtanum desert buckwheat grows on the McGee Ranch portion of the monument, which is southwest of the Vernita Bridge on the Columbia River. That area of the monument continues to be managed by the Department of Energy and is closed to the public.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton