Ponderosa Pines

A Vision for the WSU Arboretum and Wildlife Conservation Center

Our vision for the WSU Arboretum and Wildlife Conservation Center, situated in the rolling hills and valleys of our unique Palouse Prairie landscape, embraces not only the agricultural, cultural, and natural heritage of plants, animals, and people in the inland Pacific Northwest, but also our hope and commitment for a future sustainable world. The WSU Arboretum and Wildlife Conservation Center at once reflects the history, the present, and the future of this beautiful land we call the Palouse.

The Palouse

The landscape occupied by the Arboretum & Wildlife Conservation Center at Washington State University was created thousands of years ago by wind-blown loess, which formed a dune-like landscape with silt-loam soils 6 - 300 feet thick. This rolling land, sloping down from the forested regions of northern Idaho, was originally a bunch-grass prairie dotted with stands of Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, hawthorne thickets, and galleries of tall cottonwoods and riparian forests lining the streams draining into the salmon-filled Columbia River and Pacific Ocean.

Palouse Landscape Camas flowers Appaloosa

Vast meadows of blue-flowered camas and other plants provided abundant food for indigenous peoples who seasonally hunted, fished, dug root crops, and harvested plants for sustenance and trade. When early white explorers first traversed this landscape, they found a thriving Indian culture living well off of the land.

The Palus1, were one group of Sahaptin-speaking Native Americans living in the Columbia Plateau region and using traditional lands around the Columbia, Snake, and Palouse Rivers. Their land came to be called, "the Palouse", possibly by French-Canadian fur traders who applied the French word pelouse, which means "land with short and thick grass".2

When horses were introduced to the region by 1700, the Nez Perce people of eastern Washington and Oregon quickly became expert horse breeders, and by the late 1800s had developed a distinctive breed of spotted horses. White settlers referred to them as the "Palouse horse", some say because of the Palouse River which drained over a thousand square miles of the prairies. Eventually, the spotted "Appaloosa" horse became a popular breed, noted for its beauty and endurance.

Our fertile land, the Palouse, is now an agricultural bread basket for the world and the home of Washington State University, a major land-grant research university. However, both the Palouse landscape and the greater world have changed in many ways and now face an uncertain future because of global change.

master planning committee

The Master Plan

In 2008, WSU President Elson S. Floyd and the WSU Board of Regents approved a faculty proposal for the creation of a 100 acre arboretum on the WSU Pullman Campus. WSU Capital Planning & Development then coordinated a Planning Committee that worked with The Portico Group and Miller Hull Architects to develop a master plan for a site on campus that had been managed by the USDA for over 60 years.

Master Plan Cover
The resulting Master Plan (see: AWCC brochure or Full Master Plan) includes a beautifully designed science facility to showcase our internationally known work on grizzly bears, as well as facilities for wild herbivores and other wildlife. It also includes a Biodiversity Center, an outdoor Raptor Amphitheater, a Living MachineTM, and a Story Circle to celebrate Native American Tribes, the forefathers of this land.

Our unique teaching and research capabilities at Washington State University will be demonstrated in the Biodiversity Center, where our research on the conservation of threatened and endangered species, including both plants and animals, will be on display as students and researchers actively conduct their studies. The Biodiversity Center will create a year-round facility for public use.

The Arboretum concept is oriented in accordance with the cardinal points of the compass, which is the best use of readily available natural energy and which recognizes the spirit of the Plateau Tribes.

The landscape provides a beautiful series of rolling hills, grassland meadows, woodland, small wetlands, and a seasonal stream flowing into Paradise Creek and then the Palouse River. The site provides rich opportunities for demonstration horticultural plantings, ornamental plant displays, and native plant exhibits all connected with an extensive series of nature trails and paths.

Biodiversity Center

Future AWCC Facilities

The new arboretum has some existing plant and wildlife research facilities, but no public use facilities on the landscape. It is a blank slate on which we and future generations have not yet written.

The AWCC can be started with modest funding because existing plant collections, woodlands, and wildlife research projects are integrated within the master plan. Historically, many of the famous arboretums and national parks in the United States were built during the Great Depression.

They are the places we cherish as a society because they were built during difficult times but with great attention to craftsmanship, quality construction, inventiveness, and creativity. The same opportunity is now presented at the WSU Arboretum & Wildlife Conservation Center.

Arboretum Map

Science and a Sustainable Future

The concept of sustainability is the primary guiding development principle used to design, create, and operate the new WSU Arboretum & Conservation Center. We will create a low-water use facility that will serve as a model for the arid interior Pacific Northwest. We are committed to growing the arboretum using the best technologies and approaches to sustainable landscape development. Our goal is to place our science and our commitment to a sustainable future on open display on this beautiful landscape.

The Arboretum along with its wildlife center will be a living laboratory, growing and displaying native plants of the Pacific Northwest and horticultural varieties well adapted to this inland region. It is a place where our educators, researchers, and students can be empowered to demonstrate their knowledge and skills as they help build a center for sustainable living.

The Arboretum will be important in many different ways for different people. It will at once be a place of beauty and tranquility - a place to observe nature, the changing seasons, and the abundant wildlife living in the arboretum. But it will also be a dynamic outdoor laboratory for teaching and research.

It will be a place for children and laughter and a place to engage and express their excitement about the natural world and science. It will be a place of wonder, where the evolutionary tree of life, and the very art of life itself, will be on display for all to measure and value in their own way.

The WSU Aboretum and Wildlife Center is where we learn to celebrate life and land as we honor the past and create the future.

Learn More: AWCC Brochure (2.1 mb) Full AWCC Master Plan (5.8 mb)

1,2 For more information, see Wikipedia, and other links: (Palus (tribe); Palouse; Colville Confederated Tribes; Nez Perce).