The Palouse area of eastern Washington and north central Idaho elicits mixed feelings in me. As an admirer of topographic form, the rolling hills are a delight to discover and explore. At this time of year, combinations of earthy browns and greens (with splashes of verdant green from newly-emerged seedlings) dominate the landscape under dusty blue skies. In June, the earthier tones make way for the multiple shades of green of different crops under clear blue skies. Harvest gold, of course, follows in the autumn. It is the most beautiful cultivated landscape I’ve ever observed in person.
The structure of the landscape is the result of wind-blown silt (loess), deposited during the ice ages. Similar to riparian silt deposits, it is very fertile soil and conducive to intensive farming.
It is difficult for me, however, to suppress imagining what the landscape would have looked like two hundred years ago, when the hills were a far-reaching prairie covered with Pseudoroegneria spicata (bluebunch wheatgrass) and Festuca idahoensis (Idaho fescue). The area, however, suffered the same fate of most North American prairie. Only remnant patches of original prairie remain where some rare (and endangered) endemics can be found, like Calochortus nitidus (broadfruit mariposa lily) and Driloleirus americanus, the giant Palouse earthworm (thought to have been extinct by the 1980s, most recently seen in 2005).
Wikipedia’s entry on the Palouse region provides some area history and the environmental changes brought about by agriculture.
The Palouse Prairie Foundation “promotes preservation and restoration of native Palouse Prairie ecosystems in Latah and Whitman Counties (in Idaho and Washington), through public awareness, education, literature resource, encouraging responsible local seed production, and acting as a leader or consultant in Palouse Prairie restoration efforts.”.