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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on place-based stewardship education. Since 2001, a partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department (KNRD) has supported this newsletter and allowed us to expand class offerings through EPA funding. Further staff support comes through Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA). Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture of this part of the world.

Near the Water


by Carol Mack • WSU/Pend Oreille County Extension

Water is the life-giving element of our landscape. Listen on a spring morning to the many-voiced choir singing from what we call (with little help from the poets) a wetland. Anywhere in Pend Oreille County, where the land kneels to meet water on the edges of streams, rivers and lakes, life abounds.

Two hundred years ago, a band of fur traders navigated the Upper Columbia system all the way to the Pacific Ocean, guided through our area by the Kalispel Indians who knew these waters intimately. A hundred years later, the settlers who followed on the steps of this first contact established this area as Washington State's youngest county. The Indians, the fur traders and the settlers all depended on the life-blood of our waters, nourished and cleansed by the adjacent wetlands.

Anniversaries are a natural time to take stock of our surroundings, looking both back in time, and forward to the world we leave our grandchildren. Like other regions, our Pend Oreille waters have seen many changes over two centuries with major consequences for the wetland-dwelling wildlife. Over the years, a major percentage of our mid-county wetlands have disappeared as dams altered river hydrology, and farm fields were drained or protected from spring flooding by dikes. But a recent study of some of these altered meadows and fields contained surprises for the scientists conducting the inventory. Happily, even here, many viable wetland elements remain. The discovery of these small in-holdings of native vegetation and hydrology may explain why some of our diverse wetland wildlife persists against the odds. And in view of wetland restoration efforts, these findings translate into a much greater chance for success than in many other regions where wetlands were completely obliterated.

We can speculate that these elements have persisted here because so many of our farm families have wisely recognized the quickly diminishing returns in engaging in a battle with nature. Instead of draining every acre, many ranchers simply worked in step with the seasons, patiently waiting until conditions were more amenable for cutting hay or grazing. For generations, families actively appreciated the spring inundations for their role in increasing soil fertility, recharging the sources of dry season sub-irrigation, or for managing competing vegetation—and they also appreciated the wildlife that abounded in wet areas. Today, these families are leading the way in bringing back our missing wetlands.

In this year of centennials, the working farm and ranch families of the Pend Oreille valley deserve our thanks. Their long and continuing history of wetland stewardship helps keep the choirs in full voice to celebrate the welcome advent of spring.

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