Post-colonial history

In 1775, Spanish explorer Captain Bruno Heceta arrived at the coast of WA. In the following years, the area was explored by Europeans. European settlers encroached on native territories in Washington and throughout North America with violence and bloodshed in a struggle to remove Native people from their homelands. In the Columbia plateau, the Palouis (Palouse) tribe native to the Palouse Prairie joined the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation following the Treaty of 1855. The Yakama Nation includes the tribes and bands Yakama Palouis, Pisquouse, Wenatchsahpam, Klikatat, Klingquit, Kow-was-say-ee, Li-was, Skin-pha, Wish-ham, Shyiks, Ocehchotes, Ka-milt-pha, and Se-ap-Cat. In surrounding areas of Washington, European colonizers also forced surviving Native peoples onto the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce), Spokane, and Coeur d’Alene reservations. For more information about current tribal activities and governments, please visit the Land Acknowledgment page.

In 1846 the U.S. gained control of Washington through the Oregon Treaty with Great Britain. Washington became the 42nd state in 1889. The Palouse Prairie bioregion has been intensely developed for agriculture, housing development, and grazing since European colonization. Wheat, garbanzo, and lentil are the main crops cultivated in the area. Less than 1% of the land within the historic Palouse Prairie range hosts remnant native plant communities (Erik Peterson, MSc. dissertation, Brown Ecology Lab EWU). Smoot Hill and the surrounding parcel have been owned by multiple farming families who attempted to cultivate the land with little success. The steep and rocky slopes characteristic of Palouse Prairie grasslands are not ideal for farming. The last family sold the land now known as the Hudson Biological Reserve to WSU in 1968 at the behest of George and Bessy Hudson, who also lived in the area, to preserve one of the few remnants of the Palouse Prairie.

Climate change and invasions by non-native species, especially exotic annual grasses like Ventenata dubia (North Africa grass), Taeniatherum caput-medusae (L.) Nevski (Medusahead), and Bromus tectorum L. (Cheatgrass or Downy Brome), threaten what little remains of the native Palouse Prairie habitat. Restoration ecologists with WSU, other universities, and community stakeholders such as the Palouse Conservation District and the Rose Creek Conservation Association, are actively working to improve the success of native plant restoration and conservation efforts to preserve these fragile ecosystems.

Geological History

The Palouse Prairie Bioregion spans across Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho and covers approximately 40,000 m^2 around the Palouse River basin.

Bordered by the Snake and Columbia Rivers to the South, and by Idaho’s Bitterroot and Clearwater mountains to the East, the fertile Loess soils characteristic of the region were formed by the layers of volcanic basalt bedrock, nearly 10,000 feet thick from deposits dating back 6-17 million years ago, that are covered by rich yet vulnerable wind-deposited (aeolian) topsoil.

The gently rolling hills of the Palouse span in elevation from 1,200ft to 2,800ft. These dark nutrient-rich soils make the Palouse Bioregion highly arable and able to foster vast biodiverse communities of flora and fauna.