Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1937 by Franklin D. Roosevelt, encompasses over 20,000 acres of the Channeled Scablands habitat of eastern Washington. The ecosystem that predominates the refuge is unique within the National Wildlife Refuge System and has characteristics that distinguish it from natural reserves worldwide with its broad diversity of plants and animals. The powerful forces of volcanism, glaciation and the largest floods in geological history have combined to forge a distinct environment. The combination of basalt outcrops, flood eroded channels, and ponderosa pine forests infused in a diverse landscape of over 130 marshes, wetlands and lakes, create an environment of aesthetic beauty as well as high quality wildlife habitat. Refuge ecosystems represent an ecological transition between the dry, dotted grasslands of the Columbia Basin and the timbered Selkirk and Bitterroot Mountain Ranges that rise up to the east. The more than 3,000 acres of wetlands on Turnbull NWR represent some of the last quality breeding habitat available in eastern Washington for waterfowl, which have experienced tremendous population declines across North America due to loss and degradation of breeding, migration, and wintering habitat. The area serves as an important link in migrations for at least 139 species of birds, but its best function is a production area for at least 100 bird species. Habitat diversity provides a stable, productive and flexible resource to ensure that the native faunal diversity of the Refuge is maintained. The Refuge restores and maintains ecosystem processes that provide for a natural diversity of flora and fauna native to the wetland, aspen/ , steppe, and ponderosa pine communities of eastern Washington. Maintenance of biodiversity is further supported by the conservation of threatened and endangered species.
The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
The mission of Turnbull NWR is to restore and maintain ecosystem processes that provide for a natural diversity of flora and fauna native to the wetland, steppe and ponderosa pine communities of the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington.
The Refuge is located within a globally unique geological area known as the Channeled Scablands, created by massive scouring from Ice Age floods 15,000 years ago. An extensive complex of deep permanent sloughs, semi-permanent potholes and seasonal wetlands formed in the depressions left in the scoured landscape, while soils only centimeters thick on upland sites, support primarily ponderosa pine intermixed with grasslands (steppe) and exposed basalt cliffs. Aspen is scattered throughout the area. The juxtaposition of all these contrasting habitats in such close proximity is unique to the Channeled Scablands and creates conditions of exceptional wildlife and plant diversity.
Prior to settlement, ducks, geese, and other water birds nested in the area in large numbers. Many waterfowl also used the productive marshes and lakes during the spring and fall migrations.
Because of its unique resources, this area was also important to local indigenous cultures. The Northern Plateau peoples frequented this vicinity in spring to dig the roots of camas, bitterroot, wild onion and numerous species of Lomatium, and to gather waterfowl eggs.
Pioneers arrived in the late 1800s and rapidly began altering the landscape. Many of the marshes were drained to expand crop areas for hay. By the late 1920s few wetlands remained unaltered; instead a network of drainage ditches and expansive hay meadows became the more common feature of the landscape. In addition, as in most developing communities, timber was harvested, native plant communities were grazed by livestock, exotic plants were introduced, and fire, a natural part of the ecosystem, was suppressed. The wildlife values of the area would have been seriously compromised if it had not been for the failure of the drained lakebeds to produce crops.
Turnbull was in the first group of refuges purchased with Duck Stamp Funds. Local activists, sportsmen, and naturalists were instrumental in obtaining the areas designation as a National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge was named after early settler Cyrus Turnbull, who built a cabin on the north end of Turnbull Slough and lived there with his wife and children from 1880 to 1886. The name "Turnbull" has origins in Scottish folklore. According to the folktale, a brave farmer jumped on the back of a raging bull an turned it away from the king that was standing nearby.
Other Facilities in this Complex
Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is managed as part of the Inland Northwest National Wildlife Refuge Complex. A National Wildlife Refuge Complex is an administrative grouping of two or more refuges, wildlife management areas or other refuge conservation areas that are primarily managed from a central office location. Refuges are grouped into a complex because they occur in a similar ecological region, such as a watershed or specific habitat type, and have a related purpose and management needs. Typically, a project leader or complex manager oversees the general management of all refuges within the complex and refuge managers are responsible for operations at specific refuges. A complex often shares common work priorities and budgets. Shared supporting staff, composed of administrative, law enforcement, refuge manager, biological, fire, visitor services, and maintenance professionals, are centrally located and support all refuges within the complex.
Other lands in the Inland Northwest National Wildlife Refuge include: two National Wildlife Refuges, several subunits, and conservation easements in northeastern Washington and northern Idaho. Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, located just outside Cheney, Washington, serves as the complex headquarters. Turnbull is a 2-3 hour drive from Little Pend Oreille and Kootenai Refuges, respectively.
Despite common management oversight, each of the three complex refuges is unique.
Turnbull features over 130 wetlands, ponderosa pine forest, steppe grassland, aspen, and rock outcroppings set in a distinctive landscape that offers many possibilities for experiencing nature.
Location: Southwest of Spokane, in Spokane County, Washington in the “Channeled Scablands”
Purpose: “. . . as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife (EO 7681, July 30 1937) and “. . . for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.”
Acreage: nearly 19,000 acres
Habitat: The Refuge supports an extensive complex of deep permanent sloughs, semi-permanent potholes and seasonal wetlands formed in the depressions left in a landscape scoured by Ice Age floods over fifteen thousand years ago. The uplands are a mixture of ponderosa pine, Palouse steppe, basalt outcrops and scattered aspen.
Public Use: Turnbull attracts an estimated 49,500 annual visitors to its 2,200-acre public use area. Wildlife observation is the primary use but hiking and bicycling on the auto tour are also popular. In 2010 Turnbull offered its first elk and youth waterfowl hunts.
Little Pend Oreille NWR
Little Pend Oreille is a mountainous forested refuge with clear streams, scattered lakes, and diverse outdoor pursuits.
Location: In Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, Washington in an area dubbed the Forgotten Corner.
Purpose: “. . . as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife (EO May 1939) and “. . . for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.”.
Habitat: Six forest types including ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, grand fir, cedar, western hemlock, subalpine fir as well as 60 miles of stream, lakes, and wetlands.
Public Use: Little Pend Oreille attracts about 60,000 visitors annually who hunt, fish, view and photograph wildlife, hike, mountain bike, camp, horseback ride, cross country ski and snowshoe.
Kootenai is a small gem of diverse wetland, cropland, and upland habitats and recreational opportunities.
Location: West of Bonners Ferry, Idaho in Boundary County’s scenic Kootenai River Valley
Purpose: “. . . as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife." (June 24, 1964 approved by MBCC Memorandum).
Acreage: 2,774 acres
Habitat: Provides diverse habitats including wetlands, forests, streams, and areas as well as crops for foraging wildlife.
Public Use: Wildlife observation, wildlife photography, walking, bicycling, hunting, interpretation.