October 1, 2008

Hanford Reach

By Scott Mayes

By Annette Cary

Tri-City Herald

The plan guiding management of the Hanford Reach National Monument for the next 15 years has been approved by the regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ren Lohoefener signed a record of decision Thursday on the much- discussed management plan. It calls for leaving the White Bluffs boat launch open to motorized boats and opening more acreage to the public, although the Rattlesnake Mountain area will remain off- limits.

However, the public should not expect to see immediate changes in recreation opportunities on the horseshoe-shape monument surrounding much of the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Fish and Wildlife will be looking at its budget and setting priorities for projects outlined in the plan, said Dan Haas, a natural resource planner for Fish and Wildlife. It will be working on projects over the next 15 years.

This is the first management plan for the monument, which was created in 2000 from the buffer zone around Hanford and where land has remained undeveloped for more than six decades. It includes a remnant of the shrub-steppe land that once covered the region and the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River outside its tidal area.

After years of discussion and work, a draft management plan was released in late 2006 and a final plan released last month.

Although the draft plan called for closing the White Bluffs boat launch to motorized boats, concerns were raised about how difficult it would be for people with small motorized boats to reach the central stretch of the Columbia River on the monument where the fishing is good.

The plan approved Thursday keeps the White Bluffs boat launch open and calls for working with government partners to develop better boat launches in the areas of the Vernita Bridge and the Ringold Fish Hatchery.

The plan calls for opening about 26,000 more acres of land to the public as Hanford cleanup progresses. Hanford is contaminated from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program, and until more cleanup is finished, some areas of the monument north of the Columbia River will remain closed to the public to serve as a security buffer zone for unused reactors on the south side of the river.

Opening more of the monument north of the Columbia River will provide more options for hikers and hunters. A total of 67,117 acres eventually would be available for hunting, but hunting and other public access will not be allowed above the high-water mark on Columbia River islands.

The plan also calls for closing about 2,000 acres along the Columbia River to the public. The closure would be on land from the White Bluffs overlook to just north of the White Bluffs boat launch. Much of that land is a slide area that is not accessible.

Fish and Wildlife plans to gradually develop as many as 15 new interpretive sites on the monument and up to 100 miles of trails, including a trail in the Rattlesnake Mountain area that otherwise is closed to the public.

Horseback riding will only be allowed on existing roads and trails, but Fish and Wildlife plans to work with riding groups to look at the need to develop trails.

The plan, which is lengthy, is posted at www.fws.gov/ hanfordreach.

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