The Yakama Nation is asking a federal court to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from conducting wildflower tours like this one in May 2012. The visitors went onto a section of the Hanford Reach National Monument usually closed to the public to see the brief spring bloom of desert wildflowers.
Tri-City Herald file photo
The Yakama Nation is asking a federal judge to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from conducting wildflower tours on Rattlesnake Mountain starting this week.
Fish and Wildlife has finished a lottery to award seats on two bus tours a day on Friday, Sunday, May 8 and May 10 to a portion of the Hanford Reach National Monument closed to the public.
Fish and Wildlife had not received official notice of the lawsuit Wednesday and told the Herald that it had no plans to alter the tour schedule. No hearing is set in U.S. District Court on the injunction request.
It's the third year that Fish and Wildlife has offered the tours. This year, like last year, stops are planned on the Arid Land Ecology Reserve, as well as a possible trip up Rattlesnake Mountain on the reserve if the weather is good.
The Yakama Nation told Fish and Wildlife two years ago that the cultural significance of the Rattlesnake Mountain area "is not conducive to tourism and recreation" and that tours would adversely affect it.
Rattlesnake Mountain, the highest point in the Mid-Columbia, was designated at a Traditional Cultural Property by the Department of Energy in 2007, recognizing its religious and cultural importance to the Yakama Nation.
Wildflower tours could be held elsewhere on the national monument, some of which is open to the public, the tribe argued.
But Fish and Wildlife issued a finding in April 2012 that the wildflower tours would have no affect on the integrity of the Traditional Cultural Property. Any potential threat by the tours to the setting or feeling of the area would be fleeting, it said.
Four days later, Allyson Brooks, Washington state's historic preservation officer, notified Fish and Wildlife that she disagreed with the finding, according to the lawsuit. The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended that Fish and Wildlife develop a management plan for the Rattlesnake Mountain area.
More tours were held last year, but the Yakamas said government-to-government consultations were not held with the tribe before the tours, according to the lawsuit.
It also said that a news story on the tours, evidently produced by a TV station, showed visitors standing next to a rock cairn -- a manmade stack of rocks -- in the Rattlesnake Mountain area, which was not allowed under the controls set by the Fish and Wildlife.
Earlier this month the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended more consultation with the tribes before more tours were held, but Fish and Wildlife notified the Yakama Nation a week later that it was going ahead with tours this spring, according to the lawsuit.
The tribe is asking that a U.S. District Court judge issue a temporary order to stop the tours unless Fish and Wildlife reduces the potential for harm and follows procedures under the National Historic Preservation Act to consult with the tribes.
It also wants Fish and Wildlife's actions declared unlawful and the agency's decision that the tours have no adverse effect overruled. It also requests that Fish and Wildlife pay its legal costs.
The Yakamas call the area of Rattlesnake Mountain "Laliik," which means "standing above water."
Stories passed down through generations say that Laliik offered refuge for people during the cataclysmic floods 13,000 years ago.
"Laliik is associated with the cosmological, religious and cultural practices and beliefs of the Washani community of the Yakama Nation and other Indian tribes," according to the lawsuit.
The Yakamas believe that spirits ascend to the sky from the summit of the mountain after death. It also serves as an important place for vision and spirit questing, resource gathering and other cultural activities by enrolled members of the Yakama Nation, said the lawsuit.
The mountain is part of the land ceded by the Yakama Nation to the United States under the Treaty of 1855, but the tribe retained hunting, food gathering, fishing and religious rights to the land.
Since 1943 the land has been owned by the Department of Energy as part of the original security perimeter around the Hanford nuclear reservation, but is managed as part of the Hanford Reach National Monument by Fish and Wildlife.