PASCO -- From north Richland to a planned new business park within the Big Pasco Industrial Center, there only are two shoreline areas that still have native vegetation, said a local naturalist.
Some of the native vegetation in one of those areas recently was removed when the Port of Pasco cleared a cottonwood stand as part of its planned Osprey Pointe business park.
The trees were within two areas of native shoreline vegetation that have "been here longer than most of the people have been," said Scott Woodward, president of the Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network.
The other area of native shoreline vegetation is in the Yakima Delta, he said.
An amateur naturalist, Woodward estimated some of the cottonwoods removed were 70 to 80 years old.
But Port of Pasco officials said they removed the trees that were adjacent to the Sacagawea Heritage Trail partly because they were a safety hazard.
"We had a number of trees fall over, their limbs fall off," said Randy Hayden, the port's director of planning and engineering.
Consultants from a Vancouver, Wash.-based consulting firm that the port worked with said the cottonwoods were dying.
Hayden said the port intends to make the area into a parklike setting, with grass and newer park-type trees.
Port officials envision the one-third-mile stretch as a place where people could picnic and walk down to the shoreline, which is one of the last remaining undeveloped, levee-free shorelines in the Tri-Cities.
Hayden said the port also wanted to offer a variety of uses along the two-thirds-mile-long shoreline of Osprey Pointe.
Port officials want to develop an attractive, riverfront business park to attract the public to the area as well.
The port plans to leave the other one-third-mile of the Osprey Pointe shoreline in a more natural setting, and by removing the cottonwoods on the other one-third mile, they provided easier access to the river for those who may not want to walk through the more natural area, Hayden said.
Woodward said he appreciates that port officials' concern for public safety prompted them to cut the cottonwoods. But he said any biologist or ecologist would say dying trees also play a vital role in ecosystems.
"Woodpeckers and birds live there," Woodward said. "There's plenty of insects available for those birds."
He said the port's decision to remove the cottonwoods will have ripple effects throughout the ecosystem. The trees helped provide habitat for birds, large and small mammals and bugs.
"Anything that lives within that system is going to be gone," Woodward said.
Because of the distinctive habitat the cottonwoods provided, they acted as a corridor for animals traveling through the area, he said.
Private property owners may do whatever they want as long as their permits are in order, Woodward acknowledged, and the port received the needed permits to remove the trees.
"But once it's gone, it's gone," he said.
* Kathy Korengel: 509-582-1541; email@example.com