Bladderpod decision delayed

Tri-City HeraldNovember 21, 2013 

The White Bluffs bladderpod has been named a protected species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It grows only on the Hanford Reach and nearby private land in Franklin County.

TIM MCCRACKEN — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The effective date of threatened status for two native plants growing near the Columbia River has been delayed another four weeks.

The threatened status, as well as designation of critical habitat, for the White Bluffs bladderpod and Umtanum Desert buckwheat were scheduled to go into effect today, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pushed it back until Dec. 20.

The delay is needed to address the public comments Fish and Wildlife received, according to a document scheduled to be published today in the Federal Register.

The agency reopened the comment period in May after outcry and legal threats from Franklin County officials and owners of the 419 acres of private land that was proposed for bladderpod critical habitat. Many were concerned about a lack of public notice about the initial comment period last year.

Hundreds attended public meetings on the plants in July, while others submitted written comments. Many wanted Fish and Wildlife to perform its own DNA testing on the bladderpod.

Fish and Wildlife officials said they don’t have the resources to do testing in every endangered species listing case.

So area farmers helped pay for a test of the White Bluffs bladderpod, in which a University of Idaho DNA researcher found that there is no genetic deviation between bladderpod samples collected from the White Bluffs in Franklin County and bladderpod samples taken from five other

Washington counties as well as locations in Oregon and Idaho. The bladderpods collected from other areas are not proposed for listing as endangered species.

Officials said the test showed the White Bluffs bladderpod is the same as the more common Douglas’s bladderpod, and not a subspecies, as Fish and Wildlife has claimed.

Fish and Wildlife will determine whether to list the bladderpod as threatened or set up critical habitat by Dec. 20, Franklin County commission Chairman Rick Miller said.

The Umtanum Desert buckwheat listing has not faced the same type of public scrutiny because all of its proposed critical habitat is on federal land in Benton County.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, said it is important to use the “best and most current science” relating to the bladderpod.

“It is my hope that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes this extra time to fully consider the DNA testing and other science that has been brought to their attention in recent months, and to reverse its decision to list these plants and force a critical habitat designation on hundreds of acres of private farmland in Franklin County,” he said.

w Geoff Folsom: 582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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