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The Palouse Prairie, A Vanishing Indigenous Peoples Garden – Journal of Native Sciences

The Palouse Prairie, A Vanishing Indigenous Peoples Garden

By: Cleve Davis, 2 February 2019

Abstract Native biodiversity has countless benefits to all peoples, but probably no more so than the people of Indigenous societies. However, with global biodiversity declining at unprecedented rates the loss is contributing to the erosion of Indigenous cultures, languages, and health. One place, where biodiversity decline has occurred at an excessive level is the Palouse prairie in the Pacific northwest. Prior to contact with Euro-Americans, the Palouse prairie was once a vast garden for Indigenous peoples. Although Indigenous peoples have relied upon the biodiversity of the Palouse for millennia, very little of the natural prairie remains. The purpose of this study was to quantify what remains of the garden (prairie) and to assess the abundance of culturally important native plants. Using remote sensing, it was found that only 1.7% of the garden remains within the region. Analysis of plot-based data revealed the frequency of food, medicinal, and other beneficial native plants is low. Steps should be taken to preserve the genetic diversity of the region before threats eliminate important native plant species. Establishment and tending to natural gardens, legal protection of prairie, and incentives to landowners to conserve prairie on private lands may help reduce the decline of native plant biodiversity.