Selway River Bank Stabilization Project

Selway River Bank Stabilization Project

Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness

Nez Perce–Clearwater National Forests


Located deep within the SelwayBitterroot Wilderness is an ancient Nez Perce village site consisting of approximately eleven semisubterranean houses and associated archaeological material. Nez Perce oral history indicates this historic property is one of several localities the Nez Perce Tribe originated from, and therefore commands tremendous importance to their culture. Known as Ne’hu-lat-poe to the Nez Perce Tribe, the site vicinity was home to countless generations of Nez Perce prior to its abandonment. Oral histories indicate this departure occurred about the time Lewis and Clark travelled across the Bitterroot Mountains in 1805.

The scientific importance of the site is also high; it is considered one of the most important archaeological sites on the Nez PerceClearwater National Forests. The village location is an anomaly as it is located higher in elevation than any known Nez Perce village site in the Clearwater Basin. The archaeological data at the site thus has potential to help answer important anthropological research questions other sites in the Basin cannot.   

Over the last several decades the Selway River has actively eroded the site. Deflated and destroyed archaeological features can be found on the rocky shoreline within the highwater zone of the Selway River. Within the last ten years, portions of the terrace flanking the Selway River have eroded over two feet, taking with it valuable archaeological data and further threatening ancient Nez Perce house features.

In 2014, the forest made a formal NEPA decision to protect the eroding site. The resulting project reflected the values and concerns of numerous groups involving not only the Nez Perce Tribe, but also advocates for Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers. An engineered design was crafted that incorporated the best ideas of riverine restoration with concepts, methods and native materials compatible with the Congressionally designated nature of the site’s setting. This followed a robust archaeological testing program of the eroding bank meant to identify those areas most in need of protection. This testing program was completed through the kind and thoughtful cooperation of Rain Shadow Research, Inc. of Pullman, Washington. Rain Shadow Research, Inc. also conducted data recovery activities through a cost share agreement with the Forest Service in advance of project implementation. The Nez Perce Tribe was an invited signatory to the Memorandum of Agreement which facilitated this data recovery program. 

The bank stabilization project was implemented in September 2016 by Forest Service personnel having extensive backcountry engineering skills as well as knowledge of primitive tools and techniques. This work was assisted by the Nez Perce Tribe’s Watershed program whose knowledge of riverine restoration and enthusiasm was of paramount importance to the successful execution of the project.

The highwater associated with the spring runoff of the Selway River occurred on June 1, 2017.  The protective measures employed nine months earlier were successful in guarding the site from further erosion. This project exemplifies the successful execution of many tactical stipulations of the National Historic Preservation Act, as well as the more strategic goal of the Act, which ensures tribes and the public have access and participation in agency historic preservation planning and related activities.  


A group shot of those who participated in the Selway River Bank Stabilization project.  Willow-wattles placed at the bottom of the eroding terrace.

A photo of the eroding Selway River bank.














TOP LEFT: The "Heroes of the Selway" - both U.S. Forest Service and Nez Perce Tribe employees participated in the successful implementation of the Selway Bank Stabilization Project. Photo by Justin Peterson, Nez Perce Tribe.

TOP RIGHT: Willow-wattles were constructed and placed at the base of the eroding terrace. Photo by Steve Lucas, USFS.

BOTTOM: The eroding portion of the Selway River site extends along the river shoreline for approximately 100 meters. Photo by Steve Lucas, USFS.

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