Formed by extreme natural forces the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge reveals a unique geologic history and provides an important wildlife sanctuary. Scattered across four counties in the Columbia Basin of east-central Washington near Othello, the refuge was established in 1944 in conjunction with the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. With 23,200 acres immediately downstream from Potholes Reservoir, and another 6,000 acres of scattered tracts toward the Columbia River, refuge lands surround much of Crab Creek, formerly an ephemeral stream now running yearlong. Seepage from the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project has created lakes, sloughs, streams, wet meadows and marshes that provide diverse habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds.
Located in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains, the refuge averages less than eight inches of annual precipitation. Most precipitation occurs late fall to early spring; summers are generally hot and dry. Yet, despite this desert environment, the refuge is a land of water—water provided as an after effect of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project.
Most of the refuge is within the Drumheller Channels National Natural Landmark. Surrounded by irrigated cropland, this area is characterized by a tapestry of rugged cliffs, deep coulees and canyons, lakes, wetlands and shrub-steppe. These diverse environments provide critical habitat for numerous species, both common and rare. Located along the Pacific Flyway, the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge is particularly important as a stop-over and wintering ground for migratory birds and waterfowl, although it is migratory lesser Sandhill cranes for which the refuge is best known.
A refuge brochure is available. For a copy please contact the refuge office.