Judd, Suvia. Letter from the Land: Follow-up on Planning, Progress, and Prairie,
Moscow Food Co-op Community News. June 2004. p. 13. [Excerpt]

Several readers of my columns on Palouse prairie have sent corrections and clarifications, which have reached me courtesy of David Hall. I wrote in the April issue that tundra swans flying over Paradise Ridge before European settlement would have passed over clusters of ladybugs awakening in the winter in the pine needles under the ponderosas. I am alerted that when I see ladybugs (more correctly "ladybird beetles") today, they may be the aggressive Eurasian invader, the seven spot ladybird beetle, Coccinella septempunctata. We are most likely to see this [species] in crop fields. A native species, which does congregate as I described, is Hippodamia convergens.

In the same article, I placed sharp-tailed grouse in nests, but, in fact, in March, when I heard the swans overhead, the grouse would have been in leks, which are flat grassy open spaces where up to 25 males gather and perform mating dances for the females. Later in May, or June farther north, the females, having chosen a male, settle in nests in more shelters, brushy areas, which may or may not be adjacent to the leks. I am still working on the etymology of "lek."

Sharp-tailed grouse, Tympanuchus phasienellus, have been extirpated over much of North America, as their habitat has been eliminated by cultivation and grazing. They are gone from the Palouse, as the prairie is virtually gone, but are still present in southeast Idaho, although declining and listed as a species of concern in the state.

For those interested in local prairie wildflowers and grasses, there is a tiny demonstration planting at the east end of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station on South Main in Moscow. I walked home that way yesterday and admired the lava alum-root (Heuchera cylindrica), prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), and, about to bloom, the little sunflower (Helianthella uniflora).

[Written May 20, 2004]

Judd, Suvia. Letter from the Land: Spring and Summer Walks,
Moscow Food Co-op Community News. May 2004. p. 19. [Excerpt]
The Palouse prairie ecosystem once comprised as much as 3.9 million acres of land in what are now Latah County and Whitman County. Perhaps a little less than one percent of that ecosystem remains--mostly as tiny remnants on private land. I asked several members of the Palouse Prairie Foundation (PPF) where a person should go to view some Palouse Prairie today. The consensus was that Kamiak Butte County Park between Pullman and Palouse was the place. (From Pullman, take State Highway 27 north 11 miles, turn left on Clear Creek Road for 1/2 mile; turn left on Fugate Road and go 1/2 mile to the Kamiak Butte County Park Road. More at <www.whitmancounty.org/Parks/Index_Pages/Kamiak.htm>.) In the park, walk the Sunset Trail, which goes to the west end. In early May, I think you will see some nice wildflowers. Last week, driving to Dayton, Washington I saw slopes ablaze with the yellow flowers of Balsam root. By the time you read this, balsam root should be blooming on Kamiak Butte as well.

If you are interested in helping preserve and/or restore Palouse Prairie remnants, or just want to know more about the subject, log on to the PPF website at <palouseprairie.org>. If you want to visit some other regional prairie ecosystems, the PPF is sponsoring May field trips to the Zumwalt Prairie near Joseph, Oregon, and to the National Bison Range in Montana.

[Written April 20, 2004]

Judd, Suvia. Letter from the land: the lost prairie.,
Moscow Food Co-op Community News. April 2004. p. 16. [Slightly modified] [corrections]
On the evening of March 13, I was out in the field filling hay feeders when I heard an unusual sound. At first it resembled the high notes of coyotes, but with the tones of a wooden flute. Then I realized: I looked up and saw a flock of sixty or more tundra swans flying north overhead. Huge, pale, powerful, arranged beak to wingtip in tight chevron formation, they called out melodiously as they flew steadily over Moscow and passed out of my sight. I felt a real thrill, an actual shiver of awe.

I felt grateful for the sight of the swans, for their continued existence in a natural world with so many broken links. I started thinking about what they would have seen as they flew over this area 200 years ago, and perhaps for ten thousand years before that. After leaving the confluence of two fast rushing rivers in what is now Lewiston, they would have passed over the rim of the canyon and been crossing Palouse Prairie, a hilly "meadow-steppe ecosystem" of grasses (Idaho fescue and bluebunch wheatgrass), and dozens of species of forbs (broadleafed non-woody plants), mixed with snowberry bushes. The hills would have been a variegated tan and brown with a haze of green; the new growth would have just begun on the grasses, but most of the wildflowers (prairie stars [?], biscuitroot, balsamroot, brodaea (sp), shooting stars, bluebells, red kittentails, prairie smoke) would still have been dormant, or been just emerging at their crowns. Sharp-tailed grouse would perhaps have been nesting. The many creeks would have been bordered by dense thickets of Douglas hawthorn and wild rose, with scattered open groves of huge old ponderosa pines. Loggerhead shrikes would have been nesting in the thorn thickets. The many streams draining southwest off Paradise Ridge and other hills and feeding Thorn Creek would have spread out into wetlands in every flat place. These wetlands would have been full of camas and wild iris, barely pushing up their leaves at this time of year.

As the swans passed above Paradise Ridge, they would have looked down on a shrubby landscape of serviceberry, mock orange and wild rose, at first mixed in with grassland species and then higher up with large pines. In sheltered places, the ladybugs and the first sagebrush buttercups might have begun to wake up under the pine duff. On the north side of the ridge, patches of snow might have lingered under the Douglas firs and tamaracks, and especially under the cedars and grand firs along the streams. In the valley between the ridge and the mountain, streams met and flowed west through a huge camas meadow, the whole area a great mingling of fingers of forest and fingers of prairie. Paradise Creek and the South Fork of the Palouse River would have meandered westward through thorn thickets and pines with the prairie grassland-covered hills rising above them all around for miles, part of perhaps 3.9 million acres of prairie.

The swans still pass overhead, but less than one percent of the Palouse prairie habitat remains. A landscape with as many as 30 plant species per square meter has been replaced by one with a single crop species per field, and a scattering of alien invaders. The sharptailed grouse are gone, and the shrikes, and the ferruginous hawks. The remaining habitat survives in little bits, mostly on private land. To learn more about this ecosystem and the efforts underway to conserve it, contact palouseprairie.org. Be sure to view the link, "Changing Flora of the Palouse (WSU)".