Our Voice: All we want for Christmas is rational decision from U.S. Fish and Wildlife

December 3, 2013 

In most years, a farmer's Christmas wish list might include a new tractor or pickup or ATV. Or just taking a few days off.

This year, farmers in Franklin County are likely wishing for something else: that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides that a plant with little yellow flowers is not, in fact, a threatened species.

At this time last year, the White Bluffs bladderpod was not a plant most people had even heard of, but it became big news when local farmers learned 419 of their acres was to become critical habitat for the species.

They felt they hadn't been given adequate notice of the listing and wanted their voices heard. Franklin County officials joined the outcry, threatening legal action. As a result, Fish and Wildlife reopened the comment period in May.

As farmers do when their livelihood and land are threatened, they responded loudly and largely, with hundreds turning out at public meetings in July to oppose the designation of the plant as threatened. They asked for a DNA test on the plant to show that it was truly a unique species and not a more common varietal before a decision was made.

But the government said it didn't have the money to test every species that it labels as endangered. And that leaves us asking the seemingly silly question: Then how do they know it's endangered?

We wonder how many other species have gotten the protection that comes with being listed as threatened or endangered without truly deserving that status. And how many private land owners have been affected because of that.

Our farmers were not willing to let the bladderpod go on the list without a thorough vetting, with or without the support of Fish and Wildlife. So they pooled their money to pay for a DNA test of the White Bluffs bladderpod. And guess what? The test showed the plant in question in Franklin County is the same as the common Douglas's bladderpod, a plant found in several other counties in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

That seems like a wide distribution for a plant that's supposed to be endangered.

Unfortunately, that was not enough to deter the process of the federal government. The plant, as well as the Umtanum Desert buckwheat, was scheduled to make the list last week, potentially wreaking havoc for the farmers whose land is home to the bladderpod in question.

Fortunately, the farmers here made enough noise that the decision has been delayed until Dec. 20. The agency needs the extra time to address the volume of public comments it received. A bulletin posted by Fish and Wildlife doesn't hint at what that means.

At least it's a sign that the matter is being given full consideration.

The idea that a plant or species can be determined to be endangered or threatened without thorough study still gives us a pause.

Other potential listings in our region will likely be given extra scrutiny by those who are affected given the bladderpod's saga.

We look forward with eager anticipation to the Fish and Wildlife's decision. The agency has all the information it needs to make the right decision.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service