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Rattlesnake Mountain

Rattlesnake Mountain
[Time 01:19]
28/56K / BroadbandPhoto of Rattlesnake Mountain

 Rattlesnake Mountain forms the western boundary of the Hanford Site. It is 1,097 meters (3,600 feet) high, just a bit higher than the summit of Snoqualmie Pass in the Washington Cascades. The wind blows hard here, and blows hardest up on Rattlesnake. The highest winds recorded on Rattlesnake by Battelle meteorology equipment were around 241 kilometers per hour (150 mph).

Rattlesnake Mountain plays many research roles. There are two observatories on top of the mountain; one is a radio-telescope and the other houses a 79-centimeters (31-inch) optical telescope, the largest in Washington State. The second observatory was established by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 1967, and most of the research programs conducted there were funded by the DOE. However, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration also sent astronauts to the observatory to study space materials. Although it is no longer a working observatory, the Battelle facility is still used several times a year as a teaching aid for astronomy students from Columbia Basin College.

Like the North Slope, no nuclear activities were ever conducted on Rattlesnake Mountain. However, Army anti-aircraft defense installations, including a Nike missile emplacement, were located here in the 1950s. The missile installation was deactivated in 1961.

Rattlesnake Mountain lies within the Arid Lands Ecology (ALE) Reserve which is part of the National Environmental Research Park. ALE is 312 square kilometers (120 square miles) (about 75,000 acres), and contains the largest natural animal and plant community in the arid and semi-arid shrub-steppe region of North America.

This area was renamed in memory of Richard Fitzner and Lester Eberhardt, longtime Hanford scientists who died in a plane accident at the Yakima Firing Center in 1992. The FEALE (Fitzner-Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology) Reserve is dedicated to non-destructive research and is protected from human development. In 1997, DOE entered into a co-management agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study, protect and oversee ALE.

In arid lands, water is extremely important and animals must be able to reach it easily. The Hanford Site is home to mule deer, elk, coyotes, badgers, rabbits, skunks, bald and golden eagles, herons, ducks, ground squirrels, several species of mice, lizards and three species of snakes. Wild horses also have lived here over the years, but they were removed because they were not native to the area and were competing with the wildlife.

There are many varieties of desert shrubs at Hanford; the most common is known as Big Sagebrush. Cheatgrass is the most abundant grass at the Hanford Site, but there are up to 30 other kinds of grasses that grow here. There is even one cactus variety, the prickly pear, a low-growing cactus that is less than a foot high.

In 1994, the DOE provided a grant to the Nature Conservancy of Washington, a non-profit group dedicated to protecting the plants, animals and natural communities of Washington State, to perform independent inventories of the biodiversity of the Hanford Site. The Nature Conservancy also contributed some private funding to these studies, and found that an amazing number of species exist at the Hanford Site. Some species are very rare. The 1994 study covered only 30 percent of the Hanford Site but found 56 new populations of rare plants and discovered a completely new Lesquerella species. The 1994 study also found 205 species of birds on the Hanford Site, including 31 species of special concern, 72 species considered rare, and 9 species never before documented at the Hanford Site. Close to 1,000 insect species also were documented, including 19 species new to science and 200 species new to Washington State.

The Nature Conservancy's biodiversity studies of the Hanford Site have continued, and many new discoveries have been made.

  Last Updated: 12/13/2006 01:58 PM
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