The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish & Wildlife Service, and National Park Service permanently protect some of the finest examples of natural ecosystems as Research Natural Areas (RNAs). The Bureau of Land Management also has a category called Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The purpose of RNAs is to use them in scientific studies and educational activities. They provide for the protection of biological diversity at the species, ecosystem and landscape levels. RNAs also serve as reference areas or controls when baseline monitoring occurs. Natural history studies and educational use by native plant societies and environmental groups continues to occur in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, and on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
University of Idaho professor emeritus Dr. Fred Rabe has prepared a report of established and proposed Research Natural Areas on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.
Clearwater portion of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests
Sneakfoot Meadows RNA is at 6,000 feet elevation and occupies a flat glaciated basin in the northern Bitterroot Mountains. The RNA features a variety of sedge meadows and sphagnum bogs surrounded by several kinds of subalpine fir forest habitat types together with old-growth Englemann spruce. Both elk and moose make heavy use of the meadows and adjacent conifer cover. A low gradient, first and second order stream (E channel) meanders through the forested and wetland complex. Abundant growth of aquatic moss occurs here and herbaceous riparian growth shades the stream occupied by Westslope- cutthroat trout. Oxbows representing old stream channels provide standing water for aquatic biota.
Lochsa RNA is located on two sides of the Lochsa River, and 1,281 acres in size. It occupies a refugium within which coastal species have survived in isolation since the Pliocene epoch and uplift of the Cascade Mountains. The flowering dogwood and red alder are featured species there. Three permanent high-energy streams dissect the steep slopes and the dense canopy and deep pools contribute to the high diversity and biointegrity of macroinvertebrates in Apgar and Glade Creek. The site is adjacent to Apgar and Glade Creek Campgrounds.
University of Idaho professor emeritus Dr. Fred Rabe prepared a report for this area.
Four-Bit Creek RNA contains a small second-order meandering stream forming the northeast boundary of the RNA. It has a sand/gravel substrate and is very sinuous. A high diversity of macroinvertebrate species occur here in the gravel/sand substrate compared to only a few species in the sand substrate. The channel is shaded by sedges and shrubs which comprise a well developed riparian zone in a stringer meadow (see below). The floodplain includes large areas of tall-forbs with no conifers. Thinleaf alder and red osier dogwood adjoin the streambed in places. The stream’s presence in the Clearwater Mountains is representative of the most productive forest land in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Four-Bit Creek runs into Eldorado Creek forming the northern border of the RNA. Eldorado Creek flows into Lolo Creek then into Middle Fork Clearwater River. The creek is on the Lolo trail, an old and historically important Nez Perce pathway across the Bitterroots.
Steep Lakes RNA is located on the Idaho and Montana stateline, is 784 acres in size, and part of the Kelly Creek Roadless Area. Surrounding forests are dominated by mountain hemlock and subalpine fir with some whitebark pine and Sitka alder present. Golden trout (relatively rare in Idaho) were planted in the lower lake in 1962. A graduate study compared invertebrate communities in the upper fishless lake with the lower stocked lake as to size-selective predation by the trout. Most invertebrates were smaller in the lake stocked with fish. The presence of large size freshwater shrimp there may be due to relatively high alkalinity in the water. This shrimp species has not been reported in other mountain lakes in northern Idaho where alkalinity is much less. Water and plankton samples from Upper Steep Lake were collected following the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens to determine what effect, if any, the ash had on lake productivity. There was no lasting effect noted.
Bull Run Creek RNA is 373 acres in size. Plant communities together with western red cedar and grand fir forests are located on soils derived from basalt together with loess and volcanic ash. The forest climax type is western red cedar/lady fern indicating a moist, warm site. The area once supported coastal disjunct species, but the Dworshak Reservoir has inundated part of these ranges.
Bull Run Creek, a moderate steep gradient stream has cut through the lava. This strength consists of a confined channel upstream with little soil present among the boulder and cobble banks. Downstream the creek continues through a shallow valley bottom with gentle slopes on both banks flowing its entire length through a coniferous forest. Pocket pools, small channel bed depressions formed behind boulders, are common in the riffle habitats. A short distance north of the RNA is Bull Creek Falls where the creek cascades over basalt cliffs in several cataracts. A mile east, Elk Creek Falls is more impressive.
Aquarius RNA is 3,900 acres in size, and supports one of the most unique and best remaining examples of coastal related vegetation in the northern Rockies. Elevations range from 1,600 to 3,995 feet. It is a nearly complete river canyon environment with properties similar to coastal regions. It contains the largest remaining red alder habitats not innundated by Dworshak reservoir. It has a high diversity of ferns, an abundance of regional endemic and coastal disjunct plant taxa, undescribed species of earthworms, newly described and undescribed species of terrestrial beetles. In addition, the Coeur d’Alene salamander and contrasting macroinvertebrate communities from different streams occur here. There are six first-order and two second-order tributaries and a waterfall besides a section of the North Fork Clearwater River in the RNA. In addition, ephemeral seeps, some with steep rock outcrops, support a diversity of herbaceous vegetation. Landslides and slumps characterize the slopes with alluvial and colluvial fans along the river. Often, the steep slopes extend directly to the river edge.
Bald Mountain RNA is located on the crest of the divide between the North Fork Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers. In a densely forested country, Bald Mountain is an open south-facing slope grassland caused by snowy transfer and drouthy soils. Of special interest are the green fescue and associated beargrass communities. Forests here have resulted from the 1929 fire; in fact most natural stands on the Clearwater portion of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests have once been burned. Bedrock geology underneath Bald Mountain is intruded Idaho Batholith. Over the years, the Lolo Trail, passing through the RNA, was used by Indians, trappers, miners and explorers. As the grassland bald was one of the few openings amongst the dense forests, it was used for camping and feeding livestock. Bald Mountain Lake, below, is not part of the RNA. However, the lake has been used as an outdoor laboratory to teach concepts of aquatic ecology.
Dutch Creek RNA contains a first-order tributary to the Lochsa River. It is a steeply graded pinnate drainage, actively downcutting. Dutch Creek is primarily a cascade-pool type stream flowing over cobble and huge boulders. Within a distance of 1/2 mile, the channel descends 400 feet. Outside the narrow riparian zone, vegetation is early seral forest and shrubfields. Many large snags remain standing along the stream from early fires and the stream is crisscrossed with downed logs. A number of moss and liverwort taxa are identified in the channel. The major feature of the RNA is old stands of northwest paper birch.
Chateau Falls RNA consists of Chateau Creek, a third-order stream, that joins with Cave Creek before its confluence with the North Fork Clearwater River in the Pot Mountain Roadless Area. It is a high-gradient, cascade-pool type stream in pink granite bedrock. The lower third of Chateau Creek is in the RNA. Along Cave Creek at the western boundary, the vegetation consists of a narrow stringer of primary deciduous trees and shrubs which includes paper birch and Rocky Mountain maple. Upstream from the confluence with Chateau Creek, Rocky Mountain maple dominates the overstory. The widest areas of the stream bottom are occupied by a tall shrub layer of thin-leaf alder, Rocky Mountain maple, serviceberry and a variety of understory plants. The forest habitat type is western red cedar/queencup bead lily. An open forest overstory of Douglas fir with many large snags are still standing from the 1930 fires. The main reason for the establishment of this RNA is four spectacular waterfalls, some of which measure up to 80 feet in height with water cascading from one step to the other. The upper falls drops about 45 feet over a sheer granite face, then cascades through a series of basins in the bedrock. The stream volume, however, is not enough to create much spray.
Upper Hemlock Creek on the Clearwater National Forest has been proposed as a Research Natural Area.
West Fork Bimerick Creek and Bimerick Meadows on the Clearwater National Forest has been proposed as a Research Natural Area.
To learn about the Research Natural Areas on the Nez Perce portion click here.