MISSION, Ore. -- A new research station will be melding traditional tribal knowledge with Western science to help restore hundreds of acres of Hanford land to its natural state.
The field station in Mission, Ore., about five miles east of Pendleton, features two geodesic dome research greenhouses and is the result of a collaboration of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Department of Energy.
DOE contributed $730,000 for the project, plus will help with some of the equipment purchases, with the goal of developing a resource to help replant Hanford land disturbed by wildfires or by environmental cleanup.
Last year, just one project at Hanford, environmental cleanup of part of the BC Control Area where nuclear waste had been spread by animals decades ago, required 140 acres to be replanted.
"The interest is in really seeing a tribal contribution to revegetation that is as true to the indigenous landscape as it can be," said Jill Conrad, DOE's Hanford tribal affairs program manager.
Keeping true to nature is more difficult than it would seem.
"You can't just plant one species," said Stuart Harris, director of the Department of Science and Engineering for the Umatillas. An assemblage of plants in the correct ratio is needed to be fire resistant, weed resistant and to bring back insects and small mammals.
The Umatillas plan to start figuring out the best way to revegetate native land in a methodical way, he said.
The tribe, which has treaty rights at Hanford and is recognized as a trustee of Hanford natural resources, has been involved in Hanford cleanup for 20 years. It already provides native plant seeds and seedlings to Hanford and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and helps with planting and monitoring.
"But having a place to conduct the research and grow plants increase our abilities greatly," said Rico Cruz, manager of the biological services and lab program of the tribe's Department of Science and Engineering, in a statement.
The field station also will provide a platform to encourage tribal students interested in science and engineering, possibly offering internships and giving college students the chance to spend their summers or longer working in a lab, doing research and publishing papers, Harris said. Partnerships are being built with colleges and universities in Eastern Oregon and Washington.
Harris started working toward a native plant research greenhouse eight years ago, first targeting an unused warehouse at Hanford near the Energy Northwest commercial nuclear power plant. But that proved impractical as security requirements tightened in the years after Sept. 11.
The project didn't come together until elected tribal leaders agreed to provide lands on the Nixyaawii tribal governance campus east of Pendleton for the field station, plus two acres for growing native plants. They also helped with infrastructure, including road construction and installation of cable and telephone lines.
Construction is almost finished at the field station. Two research-grade greenhouses have been built with 2,200 square feet of growing space at the bottom of clear domes. Each can grow about 70,000 seedlings.
A 4,000-square-foot research building includes a biology lab and an analytical chemistry lab, which still are being equipped. But they already include equipment, ranging from an extremely cold biological samples freezer to specialized spectrometers, typically not available outside universities and federal research laboratories, according to the tribe.
"There is no similar facility that focuses on growing tribal plants to restore a contaminated site," Harris said.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com; more Hanford news at hanfordnews.com