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Rare Habitats: Water howelia
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County: Latah

Year Acquired: 2009

Acreage: 50

Public Access: No

Project Partners: 
  • National Audubon Society
  • Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute
  • Palouse Land Trust
Project Summary: 
This property protects the only known Idaho population of a unique, and threatened plant species Howelia aquatilis that is being considered for endangered species listing.  The property also protects an approximately 1/2 mile corridor of the Palouse River and its adjacent riparian wetlands, providing an important travel corridor for larger mammals and birds to other habitats along the Palouse River corridor.

Project Goals: 
  • Protect the threatened Howelia aquatilis plant
  • Provide natural habitat for native wildlife in perpetuity
  • Protect scenic views along State Highway 6
News for this Easement: Protecting the Water Howellia

News for this Easement: Protecting the Water Howellia

Howellia aquatilis (Water Howellia) has to be one of the strangest plants in North Idaho. This inconspicuous annual grows in vernal pools and sprouts in the fall when the pools fill up. It flowers first in the spring, underwater, and then again later in the summer in the open air after the pools have dried out. Water Howellia is a very rare plant and has a range that defies logic. It is known only from a handful of locations: Flathead Lake, Ft. Lewis, Turnbull Wildlife Refuge, and in our own back yard along the Palouse River near Harvard. The only species in its genus, taxonomists aren’t even sure it really belongs in the Campanulaceae (Bellflower) family.

Water Howellia is a fragile species, sensitive to water quality, water temperature cycles, grazing, trampling, invasive species like reed canary grass, and changes in seasonal climate. In 1994 it was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, and the recovery plan developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considered conservation of the Palouse River population vital to saving the species.

In the 1940s Marion Ownbey, a professor of botany at Washington State University, bought the property along the Palouse River where Howellia aquatilis lives. When his widow passed away a few years ago she left the property to the National Audubon Society who in turn decided to sell the property. Before they did, however, they donated a 50-acre permanent easement to the Palouse Land Trust to ensure the perpetuation of this remarkable species.

Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute have joined the Palouse Land Trust to secure Howellia’s Palouse River habitat by fencing the property to keep cattle out, weeding out reed canary grass and other harmful species, planting compatible species such as native sedges, and controlling erosion so the pools don’t silt in.