Umatillas to conduct Hanford research at new field station

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldOctober 30, 2012 

MISSION, Ore. -- Some 580 species of native plants grow on the Hanford nuclear reservation. But as land is restored after portions of environmental cleanup are completed, just eight species are replanted.

Increasing the diversity of species used to replant hundreds of acres of land is one of the goals of the new field research station of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation that was dedicated Monday. The station is on tribal land east of Pendleton.

The ceremony opened with prayer, song, brief speeches and a tour for David Huizenga, the senior adviser for DOE's Office of Environmental Management in Washington, D.C.

The field station will be used to protect, preserve and enhance treaty-protected rights, said Les Minthorn, chairman of the confederated tribes' board.

"We are not going to own them if we do not preserve them," he said.

The tribes have treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather on Hanford land and also are recognized as a trustee of Hanford natural resources.

Not only will tribal research that helps improve survival rates for additional native species increase the availability of treaty resources, but it also will reduce wildfire risk, according to the confederated tribes.

"We could have no better partner than you to set the stage for the future of Hanford and bring it back to its natural state," said Huizenga, who leads environmental cleanup work across the DOE complex, at the dedication.

The field station, which was paid for in part with $730,000 from DOE, includes two geodesic dome greenhouses with a combined growing space of about 8,800 square feet. They will be used to grow tens of thousands of seedlings.

Field testing of replanting methods for the greenhouse seedlings will be done on an acre of land east of the greenhouse. It can hold 30 raised-bed plots.

The project also includes a biology laboratory and an analytical chemistry laboratory.

In research already done, confederated tribes staff have collected seed for 83 of the native species at Hanford and continue to add to the seed collection. However, in attempts to grow 14 of the species, germination has ranged from none to 85 percent, with more research needed to determine why the rate varies.

That the field center was built is a tribute to Stuart Harris, director of the confederated tribes' Department of Science and Engineering, Huizenga said.

He had been looking for a way to get tribal youths interested in science and engineering, Harris said. When DOE decided to increase cleanup of land along the Columbia River to finish most of it by 2015, there was a reason for the tribes and DOE to interact, he said.

The tribes looked past cleanup to restoration and reclamation of land that had been used for production of weapons plutonium from World War II through the Cold War, Harris said. It presented a chance for the tribes to decide the quality of restoration of land, he said.

But even more important than the research and scientific analysis that will be done at the field research station will be its role in training tribal and other students during the summers, he said. They will get a taste of what it would be like to work at a university or federal research laboratory, he said.

The project will help train a new generation of tribal members in scientific disciplines to help protect and preserve tribal resources and to evaluate the long-term effects of contaminants, according to the confederated tribes.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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