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Proposed Lochsa River designation loses ground

Karen Sprute-Francovich stares at the Lochsa River on Friday, June 29, 2018. (Eli Francovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Karen Sprute-Francovich stares at the Lochsa River on Friday, June 29, 2018. (Eli Francovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Lewiston Tribune

GRANGEVILLE, Idaho – There’s a chance a proposal to designate the Lochsa River corridor as a National Historic site could be scuttled even before the state review board considers it.

Tricia Canaday of the Idaho State Historical Society said Friday public comments, so far, have been running strongly against listing on the federal register the 763,350-acre property that runs from Syringa along U.S. Highway 12 to the Montana border. Letters she has received so far, along with comments at a public meeting in Grangeville on Wednesday, show a preponderance of opposition to the proposal. Because of the intense public interest, the matter has been deferred from consideration by the State Historical review board from next Saturday to next March.

Canaday said there are two potential ways that the proposal would not be listed, in addition to consideration by the State Historical review board.

“In this case, if the county commissioners and the local county historical preservation commission send letters recommending they do not want this to move forward, then the state will not move forward unless it’s appealed,” Canaday said.

The county commissioners already sent a letter to the state historical society objecting to the nomination. The Idaho County Historical Commission, however, is down about six members. Idaho County Commission Chairman Skip Brandt said some of the members’ terms had expired without being reappointed and others resigned, so the historical commissioner is in the process of reorganizing.

In addition to letters from county officials, Canaday said, “If the majority of property owners object to the listing of their property, then the (National Park Service) may not list their property.

”So we have to have a notarized letter from the property owners. It’s what we’re required to do.“

Canaday said notification has already been sent to 87 property owners in the corridor. There could be a few others who have been overlooked, and her office is working to identify everyone who is affected.

If county officials and property owners strongly object, she said her office would notify the Nez Perce Tribe, which submitted the original nomination of the Lochsa corridor, and the process would be put on hold. The tribe would have 30 days to appeal that decision, and then the matter would continue on to the review board in March.

Canaday said the negative reaction at the public meeting in Grangeville, along with written comments, is not unusual when people are faced with a potential historic designation.

”This is not an uncommon concern. It’s that they’re afraid it’s going to restrict them in some way. All we can do is tell them the facts of the program – that it doesn’t – and they will take that information and do what they will with it,“ she said.

Nakia Williamson, director of cultural resource for the Nez Perce Tribe, could not be reached for comment Friday.

In the official nominating form, the tribe articulated the reasons it hopes to see the corridor listed on the national register.

”Although there are some modern intrusions within the Lochsa River Traditional Cultural Property that impose visual, auditory and physical disturbances (such as Highway 12), the property’s physical appearance and integrity of setting, feeling and association remain intact in the eyes of the Nez Perce people, who value and interact with the property on a regular and ongoing basis,“ the nomination form reads.

”For the Nez Perce Tribe, the Lochsa River continues to be a significant, heavily-used landscape connected to the Nez Perce since time immemorial. Through the millennia, Nez Perce peoples regularly traveled, subsisted and lived within the lands of the (corridor), and through these activities, established gathering and hunting grounds, fishing holes, spiritual and cultural places, ceremonial sites, legend sites, and extensive, interconnected trail systems.“

The nomination form is heavily redacted to protect the maps and exact locations of cultural sites, but continues: ”Within this 763,350-acre property are numerous culturally significant places, including: Nez Perce legend sites and landmarks; prehistoric village sites, campgrounds and occupation areas; gathering, fishing and hunting grounds; water sources used for cleansing, conditioning, the collection of potable water, and ritual; birth places and burial grounds; sites for spiritual supplication and vision questing; named aboriginal places and landforms; along with many other esoteric individual, familial and tribal places frequented by Nimmipuu, or Nez Perce people. Each of these many sites within the (corridor) hold various levels of historic and contemporary significance to tribal members, and are essential for the perpetuation of Nez Perce society, culture, well-being and identity. The name ‘Lochsa’ originates from the Nez Perce word laqsa, meaning “heavily wooded area” or “place of pine trees.”

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