The Hanford Reach encompasses the last 51 undammed miles of the Columbia River and is a significant spawning area for endangered chinook salmon as well as a treasure for wildlife and waterfowl. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and the U.S. Park Service want to make the Hanford Reach part of the national Wild and Scenic River system. This move would also give the agency control over a quarter-mile strip of land on both sides of the Columbia. It is supported by The Nature Conservancy, the National Audubon Society and a host of other organizations.
But the proposal needs the support of Congress to become a reality. That seemed assured until last November's elections changed the national political climate. Murray's bill, for instance, faces opposition from Washington Republicans Sen. Slade Gorton and Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings, who represents the eastern part of the state.
The northern portion of Hanford, outside the Columbia River corridor, includes Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Preserve, currently jointly controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Energy, and the Wahluke Slope Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by both the DOE and the state of Washington.
A Park Service study recommends the two become a national wildlife refuge, run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That's a proposal that commissioners from several area counties threaten to sue over. They insist on private development by someone who will pay property taxes.
But the most spirited battle may be over the future of the Fitzner-Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology Reserve, known as ALE in the local vernacular. Never touched by plutonium production, the reserve has been used for scientific research since 1967. The Yakima Nation and Bureau of Land Management both have advanced formal proposals for the land, and the Department of Energy may produce its own plan for long-term control.