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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

April 23, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Two desert beauties protected under ESA

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will protect two desert plants under the Endangered Species Act, the agency announced Monday.

Umtanum desert buckwheat and White Bluffs bladderpod have two things in common. Both have a sunny yellow color bright as the desert environment they inhabit. And both are rare, occupying a narrow band of the bluffs above and on opposite  sides of the Columbia River along the Hanford Reach in Eastern Washington.

White Bluffs bladderpod. Photo by Carrie Cordova, US Fish and Wildlife Service

White Bluffs bladderpod. Photo by Carrie Cordova, US Fish  and Wildlife Service

The decision includes designation of more than 3,000 acres of critical habitat in Benton and Franklin Counties — on land already protected within the Hanford Reach National Monument, the only place where the plants are found.

The buckwheat is a low-growing wood plant that astonishingly can live up to 150 years. It lives only on a weathered basalt outcrop on the very top edge of the Umtanum Ridge in Benton County. Among the biggest threats to it are fire, invasive species and stray cattle.

The bladderpod is the looker of the two, with its pretty yellow bloom. One of the biggest threats to it is landslides created by seepage from agricultural irrigation on the lands above it.

Now that the plants are listed, the service will begin the process of crafting a recovery plan.

Desert buckwheat, a delicate desert beauty.  Photograph by Ted Thomas, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Desert buckwheat, a delicate desert beauty.
Photograph by Ted Thomas, US Fish and Wildlife Service

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