Nature & Science
“Our traditional relationship with the earth was more than just reverence for the land. It was knowing that every living thing had been placed here by the Creator and that we were part of a sacred relationship…entrusted with the care and protection of our Mother Earth, we could not stand apart from our environment.” –Elsie Maynard (Nez Perce)
The natural resources of Nez Perce National Historical Park are diverse and complex. The park sites, scattered throughout four states, are mostly small pockets of land surrounded by a patchwork of private, local, state, tribal, and federal lands.
The people and culture of this park are inextricably tied to the natural resources in the area; it is impossible to separate them. If the areas did not contain natural resources—salmon, elk, bison, camas, balsamroot, dogbane, lodgepole, pine, grasses, water, minerals, and fertile soil—the Nez Perce (Nimiipuu), the fur trappers, the missionaries, the pioneers, and the miners would not have come to these areas. Intimate familiarity with and use of natural resources led to the development of Nez Perce culture. Others saw the richness of the land too and came using additional resources . An understanding of the cultural ties to the natural resources is critical to the management of this park.
Nez Perce National Historical Park falls into three basic ecoregions: the shortgrass prairies of the Palouse Grasslands and Missouri Basin, the sagebrush steppe of the Columbia and Snake River Plateaus, and the conifer/alpine meadows of the Blue Mountains, the Salmon River Mountains, the basins and ranges of southwestern Montana, and the northern Rocky Mountains of Idaho and Montana.
Shortgrass prairies are characterized by flat or rolling expanses of low to moderate relief. Park elevations range from less than 1,000 feet to about 3,500 feet on the Camas Prairie. These prairies are dissected by rivers and streams forming canyons and valleys.
Nez Perce NHP sites in this ecoregion: Ant and Yellowjacket, Asa Smith Mission, Camas Prairie, Canoe Camp, Clearwater Battlefield, Cottonwood Skirmishes Site, Coyote’s Fishnet, Craig Donation Land Claim, Donald MacKenzie’s Pacific Fur Company, Trading Post, East Kamiah (Heart of the Monster), Fort Lapwai, Hasotino Village Site, Lapwai Mission, Lenore, Lewis and Clark Long Camp, Looking Glass Camp, Musselshell Meadow, Pierce Courthouse, Saint Joseph’s Mission, Spalding, Tolo Lake, Weippe Prairie, Weis Rockshelter, White Bird Battlefield.
Sagebrush steppe is characterized by the plains and tablelands of the Columbia and Snake River Plateaus. These mid-elevation (3,000 feet) plateaus include most of the Northwest’s lava fields and are surrounded by lava flows that have been folded or faulted into regions.
Nez Perce NHP sites in this ecoregion: Dug Bar, Buffalo Eddy, Camas Meadows, Nez Perce Cemetery, and Nez Perce Campsites.
The Idaho Batholith, which forms the Bitterroot Range over which the Lolo Trail crosses, and the Wallowa and Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon, are marked with distinctive elevation zones of vegetation. Severe winters in the higher elevations are usual in these areas. Winter temperatures frequently drop below 32 degrees F, and summer highs may reach only 70 degree F. Temperature and snowfall vary greatly with elevation. Precipitation varies from 20 to 40 inches per year and comes predominantly in snowfall during the winter months.
Nez Perce NHP sites in this ecoregion: Lostine Campsite, Old Chief Joseph Gravesite, Joseph Canyon Viewpoint, Lolo Trail and Pass, and Big Hole National Battlefield.
Did You Know?
Salmon is a sacred fish for the Nez Perce. It is sustained them for thousands of years and has shaped their culture and religion. Today the Nez Perce Tribe is playing a leading role in the restoration of wild Salmon runs in the Columbia River Plateau.