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Washington farmers await bladderpod ruiling

Matthew Weaver
The final ruling on federal protection for the White Bluffs bladderpod is slated for Dec. 20. Farmers nearby are anxious about potential impacts to their private property rights and irrigation. Franklin County Farm Bureau President James Alford says his organization has plans of action whether the bladderpod is ruled to be threatened or not.

Farmers in Washington’s Franklin County are prepared should the White Bluffs bladderpod be declared a federally protected species, a local leader says.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is slated to publish a final ruling Dec. 20 on whether the White Bluffs bladderpod, found on the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River, is a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

It will also rule on the status of the Umtanum desert buckwheat.

James Alford, president of the Franklin County Farm Bureau, said it’s uncertain whether the service will declare the plant(S) threatened.

“It’s up in the air at this point,” he said. “We think it’s a 0-50 draw at this point.”

Representatives of the Washington office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not return calls seeking comment.

The farm bureau and other stakeholders submitted DNA testing results in July to the service. They said that the white bluffs species has the same DNA as other bladderpod plants throughout the Pacific Northwest and is not eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Alford said there’s been no indication either way from the service about the ruling.

“We expect the final ruling not to include endangered species protection because we feel the plant isn’t endangered, but with U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s track record, we’re not 100 percent sure,” Alford said.

Growers are worried that 419 acres of private farmland would be considered a part of critical habitat for the bladderpod, Alford said. He’s also concerned about the potential effect on US. Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Natural Resources land with irrigation canals and wasteways outside of the original 419 acres.

“There’s concern that there could be greater operating challenges in that area for irrigation canals and restrictions on the private property rights for the people who own the 419 acres under critical habitat,” Alford said. “They’ve effectively had their land labeled in the action plan to bring this species back.”

The farm bureau has plans once the ruling is made public, but it is not disclosing them, Alford said. The organization continued working on the issue following closure of the public comment period on the bladderpod in July.

The farm bureau intends to increase vigilance within the county and the state. The group is working with Rep. Doc Hastings, who is reviewing the Endangered Species Act as part of a working group for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, to look at things which potentially impact farmers’ private property rights, according to Alford.

“We’re not sitting idle at the moment,” Alford said. “We’re not going to stop either way. If it doesn’t gain protection, that’s great, that’s what we’ve proven with the DNA testing. If it does gain protection, we actually have a fairly in-depth game plan.”



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