Integrating Research and Education > Impacts on American Indian Lands > Nez Perce > Environmental Impacts

Environmental Impacts

This case study was written by Joshua Kryston, a lower division undergraduate student who is not an earth science major, as part of the DLESE Community Services Project: Integrating Research in Education. The pages in this case study reflect the personal views of the student author and not of MSU, SERC or the NSF.

Resource development poses a major conflict for the environment. In many cases extraction of resources does more harm than the resources are worth. In the case of the Nez Perce, the environment has been heavily stripped of its natural existence. This has impacted wildlife habitats and increased the chances of natural disasters. Of course people are not excluded from the environment, so what happens to it will ultimately be reflected through us.

Aerial view of a phosphorous plant; what goes up must come down. Air quality and water quality are synonymously associated particularly if a pollutant is like the one pictured. Details

Water Quality

Often times water can be the first noticeable area affected by resource development, but it also can be the last. Mine drainage, phosphorus released from refinery plants, nitrates from fertilizers, contamination from human waste, and construction all significantly alter water systems in and around the Nez Perce region reducing water quality for animals, plants, and humans. Along with dam construction poor water quality has severely impacted salmon populations, for it has contaminated food and redds (spawning beds created by female salmon).

To further investigate water quality resources on and around the Nez Perce reservation, follow the links below.

Resources about the Water Quality in and around the Nez Perce Reservation

Natural Habitat Destruction

Although there are many different cases of habitat destruction in the region, the following are two major cases that the Nez Perce are active conservational participants.

Chinook Salmon.
Chinook Salmon. Freshwater streams and estuaries provide important habitat for chinook salmon. They feed on terrestrial and aquatic insects, amphipods, and other crustaceans while young, and primarily on other fish when older. Eggs are laid in deeper water with larger gravel, and need cool water and good water flow (to supply oxygen) to survive. Mortality of chinook salmon in the early life stages is usually high due to natural predation and human induced changes in habitat, such as siltation, high water temperatures, low oxygen conditions, loss of stream cover and reductions in river flow. These impacts are primarily caused by poor forestry practices, dams, and water diversions. Estuaries and their associated wetlands provide vital nursery areas for the chinook prior to its departure to the open ocean. Wetlands not only help buffer the estuary from silt and pollutants, but also provide important feeding and hiding areas. The draining and filling of wetlands and the pollution of the estuary from industrial discharges and run-off, negatively impact chinook salmon. Details

Salmon Habitats

A century ago, nearly 16 million salmon and steelhead traveled from the Pacific to spawn throughout the Columbia River Basin - today that number has been drastically reduced to an estimated 2.5 million annually. Significantly influencing this decline have been developments such as dam constructions, which have restricted successful spawning passage. Furthermore, many species available for harvest have now been listed as endangered. Direct developmental disturbances of natural habitats, in which salmon relied on for spawning, have been the sole instigators causing declines. Heavily reliant upon salmon, the Nez Perce culture has been the main human dimension experiencing impacts of salmon declines. Aside from the Nez Perce Tribe, other terrestrial life that is reliant upon salmon for food sources have become dramatically impacted. Salmon declines are also reflected in recreational fishing - a significant source of state revenue.

To further investigate development impacts on salmon habitats in and around the Nez Perce reservation, follow the links below.

Resources about the Impacts on Salmon Habitats in and around the Nez Perce Reservation

An image of the gray wolf.
In places such as Idaho the gray wolf plays a vital role in the health and proper functioning of ecosystems. The gray wolf is listed as a threatened species on the U.S. Endangered Species List. Wolves in the Greater Yellowstone area and central Idaho are listed as threatened, nonessential. Idaho has an estimated population of 283 gray wolves. Details

Gray Wolf Habitats

Many endangered or threatened species have become so through a wide variety of factors and circumstances, however the gray wolf is one particular species of animal that humans are sole factor responsible for its decline. Up through the 1800's humans nearly eliminated the natural prey of the gray wolf (deer, buffalo, elk etc.), which led wolves to hunt expanding livestock holdings. In order to protect the livestock from being killed the gray wolf was hunted, poisoned, and trapped. When the gray wolf was poisoned the contaminated carcass was left to transmit poison to other animals such as the bald eagle. This continued as agricultural grazing expanded until the gray wolf was nearly extinct in the lower 48 states. The gray wolf was put on the endangered species list in 1967 and protected by the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Today recovery strategies have been continuing throughout Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Wyoming, and other areas; the Nez Perce Tribe has been actively participating in these recovery strategies.

To further investigate development impacts on gray wolf habitats in and around the Nez Perce reservation, follow the links below.

Resources about the Impacts on Gray Wolf Habitats in and around the Nez Perce Reservation

For ideas on how to use these webpages in a classroom, a Study Guide is provided.