prairie falcon

News recently made it out to these parts from far-off Olympia, all-knowing seat of political power, that the vaunted razor clam was well on its way to being anointed the official state clam by the Legislature in a rare and fleeting bipartisan gesture.

So glad to see that lawmakers are grappling with the big issues.

Yes, we know that this sort of “symbol designating” has a grand tradition in this and other states. It helps buck up pride of place, lets people puff out chests and crow about what makes the gool ol’ Evergreen State so special.

And, really, no one has stepped forward to begrudge the razor clam its rightful place as a Washington symbol, though we have yet to hear from the geoduck and manila clam constituencies. Regardless, an upcoming Senate vote will be little more than a formality, since any legislator who harbors ill-will toward this bivalve would be wise to clam up, lest their colleagues retaliate by blocking one of her or his pet symbols up for nomination in the future.

There is, we are troubled to note upon further investigation of naming practices, a distinct west side bias at work. If you peruse the list of Washington state symbols, you’ll find that many of the recipients reside on the other side of the Cascades — examples: Olympic marmot (endemic mammal); orca (Marine Mammal); Pacific chorus frog (Amphibian); Western hemlock (tree); Pacific rhododendron (flower) — and a few are located on the far east side, such as the state waterfall, Palouse Falls; and the state gem, petrified wood.

Once more, Central Washington gets ignored, its self-esteem dealt yet another blow. It’s as if we’re the state’s version of “Fly-Over Country,” that vast stretch of Middle America national media and politicians ignore.

There is, of course, one notable exception — the apple. It’s the state fruit, so designated in 1989. Well, duh!

C’mon, people, there’s so much more to Central Washington than tasty Galas and overrated Red Delicious offerings. It’s time for state senators and representatives from here to team with boosters from the Yakima Valley, Tri-Cities and, heck, even Wenatchee, and push for recognition that this part of the state so richly deserves. (That’s how most of these symbol-naming things work, by the way; activists launch a campaign, enlist a legislator, and voila!)

To jump-start the effort, we’d like to suggest a few candidates for state designation in both new and existing categories. Our main criteria: that the flora or fauna (or something inorganic) be inherently interesting, possessing the iconoclastic attitude and gritty élan of Yakima itself.

Here goes:

• Amphibian: The Great Basin Spadefoot. This toad, found throughout the Yakima Valley and well east, is hardier than that diva, the Pacific chorus frog. It can thrive in semi-dry areas, spend months buried underground, and only dabbles in rivers and streams during breeding season. And, according to researchers at the Burke Museum, they “emit a smell when picked up that is similar to peanuts that can also make you sneeze.”

• Flower: Gray’s Desert Parsley. A springtime jaunt to Cowiche Canyon’s shrub-steppe will introduce you to this specimen that thrives on rocky slopes and punctuates the grayness of the sage with bright yellow blooms. Ah, but there’s more than just looks: When touched, it gives off an astringent, malodorous aroma akin to parsnips, as if to say, Don’t mess with me, pal.

• Reptile: Western Skink. Bet you didn’t know that we are the core habitat for the two-inch lizard with the electric-blue tail about twice its body length. Find them on the steppe or by the river. Don’t try to catch one: It will detach that blue tail and skedaddle, according to the Burke Museum’s website.

• Bird: Prairie Falcon. We seriously considered nominating the sage grouse, given that it’s being threatened throughout the inland West by oil drilling, but let’s not get too political. So, we turn instead to the prairie falcon, swooping and gliding on the thermals of the Yakima River Canyon. Herald-Republic “Wildlife Moment” columnist Andy Stepniewski reports the state has identified no less than 125 nests in the canyon alone. Oh, and their favorite meal: sage rats.

• Small Mammal: Sage Rat. They really are ground squirrels, but apparently people like giving them the bad-to-the-bone branding of “rat.” They hibernate about 10 months of the year, coming out to mate — and get shot at by hunters.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. (Feel free to email us your own.) Going beyond all things dealing with habitat, some other suggestions:

• State Billboard: “Welcome to Yakima, The Palm Springs of Washington.”

• State Industrial Smell: Hops processing in downtown Yakima. A cinch now that’s Tacoma’s aroma of wood pulp is gone. But many feel hops offer a scent more aromatic than repugnant.

• State Symbol of Political Corruption: Teapot Dome Service Station in Zillah. This tribute to (or indictment of) the Harding Administration’s oil scandal was built in 1922. It might have some competition on the west side, though. The Capitol Dome in Olympia was built in 1928.

•Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Sam McManis