Administrative History
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Most of Nez Perce National Historical Park's natural resource issues have involved vegetation management. Early efforts focused on maintaining a "park-like quality" and prohibiting land uses that would detract from each site's historical appearance. Gradually the park administration adopted a variety of management tools and assumed the more ambitious goal of restoring the vegetation to its historic appearance. These tools included noxious weed control, prescribed burning, reseeding of native grasses, and selective use of grazing and farming. Even as this program gained momentum at the end of the 1980s it continued to be circumscribed by a number of factors. Budget constraints, limited staff, the need to preserve good community relations with neighboring farmers and ranchers, the difficulties of managing small land areas that were surrounded by altered biotic communities, and questions about which historical era should guide each site's vegetation management plan all posed challenges to effective natural resource management.

In the park's early years, natural resource management did not receive high priority. Park managers followed the guidelines set out in the park's master plan of 1968 as well as the NPS manual, Administrative Policies for Historical Areas of the National Park System. These statements of policy allowed for continued use of NPS-owned land for grazing and farming in conformity with good husbandry practices. The Park Service issued special use permits to a number of agriculturalists and ranchers for use of some lands at the Spalding, East Kamiah, and White Bird Battlefield. Other portions of these same sites were allowed to return to a natural state. [304]

At first the curtailment of agricultural and ranching uses seemed to improve the historical appearance of these sites, but soon the Park Service found that noxious weeds invaded rapidly and grasses grew high enough to create a fire hazard where grazing and farming had been abruptly discontinued. During the early 1970s, the park began using the herbicides Roundup and 2, 4-D to suppress weeds. The NPS generally favored the use of Roundup because of its low toxicity and its tendency to break down when it came in contact with soil. The park resorted to 2, 4-D to combat poison hemlock. Although effective against weeds, this management tool had the disadvantage that it was causing a buildup of the herbicide in the soil and could adversely affect other plants and wildlife. [305]

In 1973, Superintendent Williams recommended to Regional Director John Rutter that the time had come to reevaluate this situation. Williams proposed specific changes in management for the Spalding, East Kamiah, and White Bird Battlefield. At Spalding, the land behind and north of the Agent's Residence would be planted with alfalfa and used to pasture horses. Williams recommended alfalfa because it remained green throughout the area's long, hot summers while other crops turned brown, and it did not pose as great a fire hazard as native grasses. As for the horses, Williams suggested that if appaloosa horses were grazed they would serve the interpretive program, too. The Nez Perces had selectively bred these brown and white spotted horses and the breed was named for the Palouse River in Washington. Williams had developed a keen interest in the appaloosa and owned a number of these animals; indeed, it would be his own stock grazing near the Agent's Residence in Spalding. At East Kamiah, Williams proposed to erect a protective barricade around the Heart of the Monster and permit the rest of the acreage to be grazed by horses (again, using appaloosas if possible). At White Bird, grazing would continue but it would be monitored by the Soil Conservation Service in order to determine what type of grazing the area could best sustain. [306]

Rutter responded by sending NPS Historian Vernon Tancil to the park to evaluate the superintendent's suggestions. Tancil concurred that grazing at White Bird would be in keeping with the historical scene, but he questioned the use of alfalfa at Spalding as it was not clear whether it had been planted in that area in the nineteenth century. On the other hand, cultivation of gardens, orchards, potato patches, wheat and other grains, and the grazing of cattle, horses, and sheep would all be in keeping with historical farming activities. Rutter emphasized to Williams that the fire-resistant quality of alfalfa could not take precedence over the Park Service's mission to restore the historic scene. As for the grazing of horses at East Kamiah, Rutter cautioned that the NPS "should be very sensitive to the Nez Perces' views concerning the pasturing of horses so near one of their sacred cultural sites." [307]

Superintendent Williams' initiative led to a study by Entomologist Roland W. Portman on the condition of the arboretum at Spalding. The trees, now nearly forty years old, showed signs of overcrowding, including abnormal limb growth and an overly dense overstory. The removal of some trees had left unsightly gaps in the arboretum. A few trees were dead or overgrown, jeopardizing the health of the Colorado Blue Spruce and Sequoia trees respectively. Thirty-eight years of lawn-mowing, watering, and fertilizing, in addition to extensive trampling by the public, had compacted the surface soil and caused a buildup of grass thatch. To correct these myriad problems, Portman suggested that the park obtain the services of an arboriculturist. Unfortunately, fiscal constraints did not permit this and the arboretum experienced another nineteen years of relative neglect. [308]

Meanwhile, Superintendent Williams decided to attack the exotic weed problem with another management tool, prescribed burning. The superintendent directed his chief of interpretation and resource management, Douglas J. Riley, to develop a prescribed burn proposal and environmental assessment. Riley proposed a series of six burns in different areas of the Spalding site, prefacing the proposal with the comment that these weedy areas became "veritable tinderboxes" during the dry season and that the burns were necessary "to protect historical and managerial 'exposures'." [309] Riley noted in his environmental assessment that while prescribed burning promised to be effective and to allow the park to reduce its use of herbicides, it did have drawbacks. The principal drawback was that prescribed burns made people nervous and did in fact carry the risk of burning out of control and destroying private property adjacent to the park. [310] Prescribed burns were conducted without mishap in 1975 and 1976.

Superintendent Robert Morris made a few changes in natural resource management. At East Kamiah, he took care of the fire hazard by having the ground between the parking area and the Heart of the Monster mown regularly. This controlled the thistle growth and virtually eliminated the danger to visitors from rattlesnakes as well as the fire hazard, and it presented an aesthetically pleasing appearance. In the superintendent's judgment, these factors outweighed the negative effect that a manicured lawn had on the site's historical integrity. [311]

During the unusually dry summer of 1977 the park did not conduct any prescribed burns because they were deemed too difficult to control. In that context, Morris had his staff review the effectiveness of prescribed burns and develop a new fire management plan for the park. The plan renounced the use of prescribed burning and committed the park to the suppression of all wildfires. [312]

Morris also reconsidered the grazing policy at White Bird. The range had been overgrazed in the past and cattle grazing had been terminated, but now the range had mostly recovered. Morris decided to permit a limited amount of sheep grazing in order to "knock down the tall grass and help control spring seed growth." The sheep were pastured so that no area was grazed for more than 30 to sixty days. In addition, Morris began an experiment by having one 80-acre tract seeded with natural grass. This was accomplished with the help of a local rancher, Richard Anderson, who agreed to plant the seed in return for being permitted to harvest a hay crop on the same tract. Experts from the Soil Conservation Service investigated the site and determined that the hay crop would be a help in getting the native grass started. [313]

The 1980s might be considered a decade of transition in the park's natural resource program. Conceptually, park officials moved toward a more ambitious program of ecosystem restoration. Practically, however, there was little change until the end of the decade. In terms of funding and personnel activity, there was more continuity than change as the decade began, with weed control at all three NPS-owned sites and monitoring of grazing use at the White Bird site continuing to be the park's first and second natural resource management priorities. [314]

Park staff developed the park's first resource management plan in 1981. The plan called for continued use of herbicides as the most effective means of controlling exotic weeds at the Spalding site. Concurrently, the park would work with researchers from the University of Idaho's Cooperative Park Studies Unit (CPSU) to obtain base line data and a vegetation inventory. Concerning sheep grazing at the White Bird Battlefield, the authors of the plan took the position that the presence of sheep degraded the historic scene, impacted the vegetation, and might be causing erosion and damage to archeological resources. Under optimal conditions, the grazing would be ended in four or five years. The plan articulated five other natural resource management concerns: erosion of the slope at the Spalding site, control of vegetative overgrowth of the two basalt mounds (the heart and liver of the legendary monster) at the East Kamiah site, vegetation management in the mowed portion of the East Kamiah site, removal or replacement of the above-ground utility line at White Bird, and relocation of the picnic area at the Spalding site. [315]

More than a year after Regional Director Daniel J. Tobin, Jr., had approved the plan, very little of the plan had been implemented. Evidently disappointed, Superintendent Whitaker explained the reasons for the delay:

Cultural resources problems have generally been perceived to be more critical; the natural resources problems are more complex, data is harder to acquire, and expended efforts have yielded smaller payback than in cultural resource management; limited staffing and higher priority uses of Park staff...[in] competition with resources management has meant less time devoted to natural resources and fewer visible and effective results. [316]

In 1983, the park administration requested and obtained special funding to address the two major problems of noxious weed control and grazing at White Bird. According to Acting Superintendent Art Hathaway,

Special funding in FY 83 and FY 84 would provide the necessary foundation for natural resource management programs at Nez Perce National Historical Park so that once the data is gathered, maps developed, inventories completed, and a management program developed and implemented, the Park staff should be able to carry on necessary management activities without requiring any significant degree of funding beyond normal base. [317]

In an updated version of the resource management plan in 1984, park staff created a schedule for noxious weed control at Spalding involving an expenditure of $30,000 from park operating funds over the next five years. In the course of this control program, the park would develop a detailed plant inventory and longterm vegetative management plan, targeting certain exotic species for intensive pest management in the future. [318]

The 1984 update of the resource management plan also contained one additional issue. As base line biological research by the University of Idaho's CPSU finally got underway in the summer of 1983, CPSU researchers thought they discovered three small plots of remnant stands of native bunchgrass. These relict grasslands, totaling no more than three acres, had potential significance both as interpretive exhibits and as a genetic source for vegetative restoration programs that the park might undertake. The park committed modest funds for additional research on these plots during the next five years. In about 1988 visiting botanists identified these grasses as an alpine variety not native to the valley after all. They had been planted by the State Highway Department. A strip of native grasses was planted behind the Visitor Center and maintained in 1990 and 1991. It has since been overtaken by weeds. [319]

While biological research by the CPSU progressed, Superintendent Whitaker ran into difficulties over sheep grazing at White Bird. The grazing permittee, Andrew Dahlquist, decided to resist what appeared to him as Park Service plans to phase out this land use. Instead of a year to year grazing permit, Dahlquist wanted a lease "in perpetuity." Dahlquist claimed that he had purchased the surrounding land from the Hagen estate with the express understanding that he would be able to graze his sheep on park land. Dahlquist alleged that the Hagen family had sold 1111.6 acres of their estate to the Park Service in 1969 with the understanding that grazing was a historical use and would be permitted to continue. It seemed to Superintendent Whitaker that Dahlquist was gathering documentation with the object of garnering community support for his stand. [320]

Dahlquist succeeded in creating a flap that could have served as a reminder, if one were needed, of the conservative political forces that had shaped this Idaho national historical park in the first place. In the winter of 1983-1984, Dahlquist sought help from Idaho Senators James McClure and Steve Symms. McClure inspected the site in June 1984 and satisfied himself that "there was not an overgrazing problem." He and Symms met with NPS Director Russ Dickenson and obtained a statement by the director that grazing was a historical use of the area and need not be terminated. With the director in full retreat, Whitaker disavowed any intention of phasing out sheep grazing at the expiration of Dahlquist's permit. [321] Three years later, an in-depth study of the effects of grazing at White Bird was yet to be started. [322]

When Roy Weaver was appointed superintendent in January 1987, one of his top priorities was to invigorate the park's natural resources management program and bring resource specialists into the park staff. He found a willing assistant in Chief Ranger Jan Dick. It was Weaver's and Dick's philosophy that preservation of resources, even natural resources in a historical park, must come first in the Park Service's overall mission. Dick made this position clear in the park's expanded natural resources management plan:

Management direction should concentrate on ecosystem restoration of the historic scene on the sites rather than just controlling or eliminating noxious weeds. However, an Historic Landscape Plan and a Vegetation Management Plan are necessary before the controlling of noxious weeds can be expanded to ecosystem or historic scene restoration. [323]

The park needed more research with which to develop management plans. These plans would in turn guide resource managers in the use of such tools as prescribed fire, the replanting of native grasses, and eradication of exotics. It was indicative of Weaver's grander outlook on resource management that the updated resources management plan of 1987 lumped previous project statements for East Kamiah, Spalding, and White Bird under the single goal of developing a vegetation management plan. In addition, Weaver wanted to reassess grazing again, give greater protection to resources by stepping up law enforcement, and mark the park boundaries more clearly. [324]

In 1988, the park contracted with the University of Idaho CPSU to conduct base line research and an investigation of grazing effects at the White Bird Battlefield. The CPSU's Gerry Wright took the lead role in designing biological research at Nez Perce National Historical Park. The research team began by inventorying well over 100 species of flora present at the site. It then established nine test plots of 100 square-meter grids each. These test plots would give a measurement of change in species density over time. Each test plot included an exclosure so that the effects of grazing on biomass could be monitored. In addition, the CPSU scientists secured assistance from the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) for field monitoring, and help from the Nez Perce National Forest with aerial photo monitoring. The latter would help determine erosional trends. Both agencies had offices in Grangeville. [325]

Another part of the plan was to increase the Park Service presence in the area and obtain better cooperation from the rancher, Andrew Dahlquist. In 1988, Dahlquist had 1,200 head of sheep grazing in the area and his permit allowed him to graze 400 Animal Unit Months on park land. He was supposed to move the herd frequently. Weaver directed Chief Ranger Jan Dick to visit the site often, make himself conspicuous, and see how much Dahlquist was moving his sheep, or indeed whether he was committing livestock trespass. [326]

By the winter of 1989-1990 the NPS was actively working with the SCS and Dahlquist to develop a revegetation plan for White Bird. The plan involved two stages. In the first stage, a 380-acre central portion of the site would be closed to grazing except in spring and fall when the preferred perennial plants were dormant; thus, only the noxious weeds would be cropped. Also during this phase, Dahlquist would cultivate the 380-acre area with oat or barley hay and harvest the crop at the end of the summer. In the second phase, the area would be planted with native grass seed and fenced off for two years to allow the native grass to become established. Native grass seed would be purchased from the local seed distributor using credit from Dahlquist's grazing fees. The hope was that once native grasses were firmly established in the central portion of the site they could be encouraged to expand to the remaining two-thirds of the site. [327]

Meanwhile, the park administration started to revamp its approach to vegetation management at the Spalding and East Kamiah units. The park developed a new grazing management plan for East Kamiah that sought to bring grazing use into proper adjustment. The plan included eleven schedules and measures for determining proper grazing levels. According to the authors of the plan, "grazing will be managed and regulated to provide for improvement and maintenance of native grass species to the greatest extent possible." [328] At the Spalding site, some eleven separate weed infestations were identified, labeled alphabetically, and treated with various herbicides or removed by different mechanical means. [329]

But in one important respect the park was frustrated before it could fully implement its new revegetation plans. The park's new fire management strategy, approved March 1988, announced that beginning that year the park would once again experiment with prescribed burns to assess (1) the natural role of fire within the various plant communities, and (2) whether prescribed burns could be used as a supplement to mechanical and chemical controls of exotic and noxious weeds. [330] However, due to the unusually severe fire season throughout the West that year, all prescribed burns were deferred. Following the public outcry over the dramatic wildfires in Yellowstone National Park in 1988, the NPS implemented a new system-wide fire management policy. One feature of the new policy was a requirement that qualified burn bosses supervise all prescription fires. Under the new policy, the staff at Nez Perce lacked qualified personnel. As a result, natural resource managers had to improvise a great deal. Essentially they reverted back to mowing, hand-pulling, and spraying weeds with chemical treatments.

In 1993, Mark O'Neill and Susan Buchel began a major revision of the park's resource management plan. With input from the natural and cultural resources staff at the regional office, the authors more than quadrupled the number of projects for both natural and cultural resources management. Complicating the process was the uncertainty about which sites would be authorized and included under the pending park additions legislation. Renee Beymer, appointed to the newly created position of Natural Resources Management Specialist in 1994, brought the plan to completion. The plan was approved in 1995. [331]

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Last Updated: 01-Jun-2000