What We Do

Turnbull’s focus includes restoring and maintaining the native ecosystem processes of the Channeled Scablands. Habitat on the refuge is managed to sustain the diversity of flora and fauna native to this unique ecosystem.  To achieve habitat diversity, the refuge reintroduces fire to fire-dependent plant communities, restores wetlands, deploys invasive species invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

Learn more about invasive species
control, and plants native vegetation. Research is conducted on various habitats and wildlife to direct future management. Elk is also carefully managed through a limited-entry annual hunt to ensure a healthy regeneration of riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

Learn more about riparian
forests. The Refuge provides an extensive environmental education and outreach program for students of all ages.

Comprehensive Conservation Plan & Habitat Management Plan

Refuge management is guided by strategies developed in the Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan and a step down Habitat Management Plan for a 15-year period.The purpose of a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) is to specify a management direction for the Refuge for the next 15 years. The goals, objectives, and strategies for improving Refuge conditions—including the types of habitat we will provide, partnership opportunities, and management actions needed to achieve desired conditions – are described in the CCP. The Service’s preferred alternative for managing the Refuge and its effects on the human environment, are described in the CCP as well. The Habitat Management Plan (HMP) provides more detail on managing Turnbull’s habitat.

Management and Conservation

Habitat Management

Historically, the primary focus of habitat management at Turnbull NWR was waterfowl, and in the 1970s it was directed more specifically at managing for redheads. In the 1990's, conservation of biological diversity replaced this single species focus as members of the native floral and faunal community declined and disappeared as the ecosystems surrounding the refuge were altered.

Both qualitative and quantitative objectives have been established to provide more detailed direction and targets that will need to be met in order to achieve refuge goals. Objectives address limitations to meeting refuge goals identified by the Service, the habitat needs of native wildlife species, and the maintenance of the integrity of the refuge in its ecoregional setting. The habitat needs of wildlife species were addressed using a wildlife guild concept that groups wildlife by their common use of 10 different habitat strata for both breeding and foraging. Because guilds are often large, key management or indicator species were selected for each guild to focus management actions. These species were chosen because of legislative mandate (threatened or endangered), their significance to conserving biodiversity, the critical status of their populations, or the fact that their habitat requirements represent a subset of the membership of their respective guild.

Management strategies have been developed to meet these objectives. These strategies include both manipulative and administrative actions that will be applied over the next 15 - 20 years. Manipulative actions will include restoration of fire through prescribed burning, tree removal utilizing a variety of silvicultural methods, noxious weed control, experimental livestock grazing and haying, water management, wetland restoration, and riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

Learn more about riparian
and grassland vegetation restoration. Administrative actions will primarily involve increased coordination with other public agencies and private landowners to protect the quantity and quality of water entering the refuge and prevent the further isolation of the refuge resulting from increased urbanization of landscape linkages.

Fire Management

Past logging, grazing and suppression of fire has created pine stands with tree densities 2 to 4 times pre-settlement conditions. Current restoration efforts involving mechanical thinning, piling and burning of excessive downed fuel, and following up with a low intensity understory burn has begun to restore forest to a natural range of conditions.

Fire suppression strategies employed at Turnbull NWR emphasize firefighter and public safety in combination with a well trained and equipped fire management team that is capable of suppressing wildfires quickly, before significant resource damage can occur. Meeting this objective requires a refuge fire management program with a significant initial attack capability of equipment and personnel. Turnbull Fire Staff include a Zone Fire Management Officer, a Prescribed Fire and Fuels Specialist, a Supervisory Forest Technician, and several seasonal firefighters. 

Turnbull firefighters have assisted local Spokane County Fire Districts as well as Washington State Department of Natural Resources personnel on over 100 mutual aid assist fires since 1990, including saving homes and ranches during the infamous "Firestorm 91" which destroyed over 100 homes in eastern Washington. 

With the advent of aggressive fire suppression policies during the 20th century forest conditions at Turnbull NWR as well as many other fire dependent forest types throughout the west have changed dramatically. Historic ponderosa pine forests were described as being "open and park like" with 15 to 25 large diameter trees per acre. Fire exclusion has resulted in the removal of the influence of natural fires to thin the density of pine stands through time. Currently stand conditions in many areas of the refuge have densities exceeding 400 trees per acre, growing in "doghair" thickets of suppressed, spindly trees that barely exceed 3 inches in diameter growth after 60 years. These stands have excessive levels of dead material that will eventually contribute to an extreme wildfire.

Management strategies developed for Turnbull NWR call for the integration of a variety of techniques to restore natural stand conditions, reduce hazard fuels and improve wildlife habitat. These strategies include the use of crews to thin non-commercial stands and contract logging operations to be followed by the application of a prescribed fire and a prescribed fire crew. This crew was established to thin our over-crowded stand of Ponderosa pine and re-introduce fire back into the Turnbull ecosystem.


Turnbull NWR Comprehensive Conservation Plan

Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) is a 15-year planning document that contains goals, objectives and strategies for managing all aspects of the Refuge.


Turnbull NWR Habitat Management Plan

Turnbull NWR Habitat Management Plan is a step down plan from the Comprehensive Conservation Plan that provides more detailed strategies for meeting habitat goals and objectives.

Our Services

Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge 

Passes and Permits

Entrance to the refuge Public Use Area is free.

Visitor access is limited to a 2,200 acre Public Use Area. The remaining portions of the Refuge are preserved as a wildlife sanctuary, with disturbance even by refuge staff kept to a minimum.  

Special Use Permits  

Any use of a National Wildlife Refuge that would require special access and is not covered under existing rules and regulations for wildlife dependent visitation of the refuge will require application for a Special Use Permit through the individual refuge. These special uses include any commercial activities (timber harvest, haying or grazing), research activities, wood cutting or special events.





A series of passes covers the entrance and standard amenity fees charged for using federal recreational lands – including national wildlife refuges. 

Existing Golden Eagle Passports and National Parks Passes with an expiration date will be honored until they expire. Paper versions of the Golden Age or Golden Access Passports should be exchanged for the new Senior or Access passes. However, plastic Golden Age or Access passes are valid for the pass holder's lifetime and do not need to be exchanged.

The Senior and Access passes are good for the lifetime of the holder and make available (to the pass holder only) 50 percent discounts on some expanded amenity fees.

For the first time, decals and hangtags are available: decals for those who park open-topped vehicles (like Jeeps) or motorcycles at unstaffed federal recreation sites, and hangtags for those who anticipate parking closed vehicles at unmanned facilities.

Please visit the National Wildlife Refuge System Web site for more information about passes.  


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits under various wildlife law and treaties at a number of offices throughout the country.  Permits enable the public to engage in legitimate wildlife-related activities that would otherwise be prohibited by law.  Service permit programs ensure that such activities are carried out in a manner that safeguards wildlife.  Additionally, some permits promote conservation efforts by authorizing scientific research, generating data, or allowing wildlife management and rehabilitation activates to go forward.

Permits are handled by permitting programs in International Affairs (Management Authority), Endangered Species, Law Enforcement, and Migratory Birds. 

Visit the National Wildlife Refuge System Web site for Special Use Permits.


Our Projects and Research

Since the first lands were purchased establishing the Refuge, research have been completed on the Refuge to better understand the natural and cultural resources of the Channeled Scablands ecosystems. Research has been conducted by refuge biological staff and students and professors from several universities.  Research topics covered have included; wildlife habitat relationships, limnology, nesting ecology of cavity nesting birds, roosting ecology of bats, predator/prey interactions, effects of management actions on wildlife populations and habitats, impacts of invasive species invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

Learn more about invasive species
on refuge ecosystems, insect/plant co-evolution, fire effects on the ecology of individual plant species, plant communities, animal/plant relationships, and the impact of native browsers on plant growth and development.


In the past decade, the Refuge has hosted between 10 to 20 research projects annually. Although researchers from as far away as University of Illinois, the University of Alberta, Canada and the University of California at Santa Cruz have conducted studies on the Refuge, the large majority of researchers have come from local colleges and universities including Eastern Washington University, Washington State University, Gonzaga University, University of Idaho, and the University of Washington. Eastern Washington University, which is just a few miles north of the Refuge in the City of Cheney, has operated a research facility on the Refuge under a cooperative agreement with the Service since 1973. This is the only facility of this type in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Its presence on the Refuge has resulted in a strong research relationship with the University.

The Refuge has worked with several of these universities to complete research directed at filling information gaps that hinder the development of management strategies to achieve wildlife and habitat objectives.  This type of research is given priority in the approval process. All potential researchers are required to submit a research proposal for review and recommendation by the Refuge Biologist and approval by the Refuge Manager. The Refuge has mostly limited research to 6, concurrently run projects.  Proposals are reviewed for their potential benefit to the Refuge, Ecoregion and Region, their compatibility with the Refuge purposes, and the possibility of conflicts with on-going studies, Refuge monitoring efforts and management activities. Once a project is approved, a Special Use Permit is issued that may stipulate certain special conditions to minimize impacts to Refuge resources and conflicts.


Law Enforcement

Law enforcement is an integral part of managing the National Wildlife Refuge System. Refuge law enforcement officers are responsible for upholding federal laws and regulations that protect natural resources, the public, and employees

Laws and Regulations

There are many fun, interesting, and educational activities you can do on Turnbull. Keep in mind, if an activity is not wildlife related and doesn't help in the protection or understanding of wildlife or their habitat, there are probably refuge rules governing the activity. Please check with refuge management before participating in an activity that could harm the environment or yourself. Be safe and have an enjoyable experience!