National Wildlife Refuge System

Happy 50th Anniversary Toppenish Refuge, WA!


Wetland Restoration
Black-crowned night herons are among the waterbirds that nest at Toppenish Refuge, WA.
Credit: Bill Majoros

April 25, 2014 - Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge at the foot of the Cascade Mountains in eastern Washington was established in 1964, becoming an important link in the chain of feeding and resting areas for waterfowl and other migratory birds using the Pacific Flyway. The refuge is one of eight in the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex. It is situated within the boundaries of the Yakama Nation.

The refuge is especially valuable to wildlife as a transition zone between the wetter, forested mountains and the dry sagebrush-steppe.  In spring, shorebirds probe the exposed mudflats.  Phalaropes, dowitchers, yellowlegs and western, least and spotted sandpipers are a few of the shorebird migratory birds seen at Toppenish.  Swans, Canada geese and many duck species forage and rest on refuge wetlands. 

Wetland Restoration
Toppenish Refuge is an important link in the chain of feeding and resting areas for waterfowl and other migratory birds using the Pacific Flyway, such as the American bittern.
Credit: Jamie Drake

Great blue and black-crowned herons, bittern, sora, several owl species and rails nest on Toppenish Refuge while American avocets, killdeer, snipe and long-billed curlews also breed here. Raptors include bald and golden eagles, peregrine and prairie falcons and several hawk species.

Steelhead Mystique

Steelhead
Much-prized for their fighting ability and their taste, steelhead trout are a management priority for Toppenish Refuge.
Credit: USFWS
Endangered steelhead trout have a special place at Toppenish Refuge. Popularized by the novelist Zane Grey and pursued by anglers from around the world, steelhead can grow up to 55 pounds and 45 inches long.  They are the rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean, developing a slimmer, silvery profile compared to their freshwater cousins. The steelhead spawn upstream, migrating through Toppenish Creek, a tributary of the Yakima River.  

Manager Rich Albers says the challenge is to make sure the smolts don’t get trapped in wetlands as they are drained to stimulate moist soil plant growth, which provides food for wintering waterfowl. “We make sure there are low-flow channels to allow the fish to swim through,” he explains, “and we have fish screens that allow water to pass through but prevent fish from getting trapped in the drained wetlands.” Albers says climate change could affect the frequency and timing of the annual snowmelt flooding on the refuge, which in turn could affect the steelhead runs.

Wildlife-Dependent Recreation
Toppenish Refuge has an active waterfowl hunting program, with established blinds along many of its ponds. To let hunters know which blinds are available, parking spots each have a numbered pole that corresponds to the location of blind sites. If someone is in parking space #1, that means blind #1 is occupied.  Learn more about hunting at Toppenish Refuge here. There are several hiking trails on the refuge as well as a broad mix of species for  birdwatching. See a photo gallery of wading birds here.

Toppenish Refuge plans to celebrate its 50th birthday on May 10 during International Migratory Bird Day festivities with the Yakima Valley Audubon Society. Details here.

Toppenish
Toppenish Refuge is an important link in the chain of feeding and resting areas for waterfowl and other migratory birds using the Pacific Flyway.
Credit: USFWS

 


 


Last updated: April 28, 2014