Magpie Forest is like something out of the Wizard of Oz, a strange green land in the middle of a field.

Nestled in a 33-acre parcel of wheat north of Pullman, the 14-acre tract is a remnant of the original Palouse prairie. Last spring, Washington State University purchased the property from a local landowner to protect it from being developed.

Accessible only through a network of game trails, the spot is covered with hawthorn thickets, quaking aspen, mountain ash, and native shrubs, grasses, and flowering plants. The University hopes to upgrade these trails and encourage people to visit the property. Plans for an access road and parking lot are underway.

The University wanted to preserve one of the last relatively untouched pieces of Palouse prairie left, says Mel Taylor, WSU’s director of special projects and external relations. The site will serve as a research facility for students and faculty to study the wide variety of native plants found in the Palouse.

Rod Sayler, associate professor of natural resource sciences, says that many groups already use the site for study. Thanks to the school’s preservation of the land, he hopes to be able to cultivate plants there that were once found throughout the Palouse, and re-introduce them in other sites. He also wants to increase the size of the existing forest.

The local community has welcomed the move to purchase the forest and protect the native prairie at a time when land around it is being developed into student apartments, says Tom Lamar, executive director of the Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute, based in nearby Moscow, Idaho. “It’s great WSU has taken on the challenge,” he says.

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Gallery: Magpie Forest – Photography by George Bedirian