Editorials

Our Voice: A week left to comment on Hanford Reach

The White Bluffs along the Columbia River have been part of the Hanford Reach National Monument since 2000.
The White Bluffs along the Columbia River have been part of the Hanford Reach National Monument since 2000. Courtesy Tom Foster

People care more about places they have visited.

That’s a thought members of the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society have been considering for several months. In particular, they think it is time to figure out a way to improve public access near the Hanford Reach National Monument.

Rick Leaumont and Dana Ward, both local Audubon leaders, met with the Tri-City Herald Editorial Board last week on their concern for President Donald Trump’s decision to review 27 national monuments established in the past 20 years.

The Hanford Reach is on that list.

We already have taken the position that the review is unnecessary and unsettling.

The presidential order was provoked, in part, by a few Utah politicians who want national monument land in their state made available for oil and gas drillers, and potash mining companies.

But the effort goes beyond Utah, and poses a threat to usurping federal protection of some of the most scenic and culturally significant lands in the country.

As it happens, Leaumont and Ward said local Audubon members already were discussing the need to open up more land near the Hanford Reach before Trump gave his order.

Seeing it is the best way to appreciate it, they said.

We agree.

The Hanford Reach National Monument covers nearly 200,000 acres of mostly shrub-steppe land that is home to rare birds, elk, deer and other wildlife. While it is a popular location for hunters and anglers, about 70 percent is closed to the public.

Balancing preservation with public access is a challenge. Leaumont said the trick is to open up more land to the public, while at the same time protect it from “people loving it to death.”

Comments can be submitted at regulations.gov by entering “DOE-2017-0002” in the search bar and clicking “search.” Or mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.

Audubon members were in preliminary stages of creating a plan for more public access when Trump ordered the U.S. Department of Interior to proceed with the national monument review.

They planned to unveil a proposal this fall, but have shifted their focus to saving the Hanford Reach.

Now they would like the community to rally in favor of protecting Hanford Reach land and weigh in on the issue. The public comment period began May 12, and will run until July 10.

That gives Tri-Citians just another week to make their opinions known.

Comments can be submitted at regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the search bar and clicking “search,” or by mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street N.W., Washington, DC 20240.

Although the attention now must be given to ensuring the Hanford Reach maintains its national monument status, the idea of improving public access in that area is a good one — and one that has been discussed before.

In 2013, the Tri-City Development Council and the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau hired a consultant to look at the potential for more recreational access as Hanford lands are released after cleanup. The study created a vision for hiking and biking trails and camping, but the momentum dropped off.

The local Audubon Society should work with TRIDEC and Visit Tri-Cities and other civic organizations before submitting any plans of its own to government agencies involved. A united voice is bound to be more powerful and more effective.

Leaumont said meeting with the Herald editorial board was a first, preliminary step in getting the discussion for improved public access to the Hanford Reach rekindled.

If anything, Trump’s order to review the country’s national monuments is renewing our appreciation for the Reach and its pristine beauty. The local Audubon Society is right in thinking there should be more access to it so more people can enjoy it.

And in the meantime, we should encourage keeping it a national monument.

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