The refuge features 145 acres of ponds, 841 acres of lakes, and 17.8 miles of streams rimmed by cool columnar basalt cliffs and buttes, topped off by sagebrush and grassy uplands. This amazing landscape was born when Ice Age (Pleistocene) flood waters tore through the basalt layers creating the channeled scablands of Eastern Washington in the Columbia River Basin in which the refuge is located.
A few years after mother nature sculpted the bones of the refuge, humans came along and began to put their mark on the area. Cattle ranching in the 1860's led to overgrazing. Then sheep were introduced! (to eat what the cattle wouldn't, no doubt).
There was only an intermittent creek when the Columbia Salish Indians first used this area. Then, in 1918, folks began planning to irrigate the Columbia Basin. After the Grand Coulee Dam was built, irrigation water began flowing into area farmlands (in 1951). Even though the region receives only 8" of precipitation per year, the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project has developed over 630,000 acres of productive, irrigated farmland in the region. Water from this irrigation project raised the water table, creating the wetlands as we see them today.
The 3,800 acres of wetlands in the refuge are winter habitat for 100,000 ducks (mostly mallards) and Columbia Basin Canada geese. Some mallards, redheads, and cinnamon teal nest on the refuge along with various song, water, marsh, and shore birds. The refuge also provides nesting grounds for red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, and a few ravens. Sandhill cranes visit the refuge in increasing numbers.
The wet parts of the refuge are populated with scaly critters such as rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout, largemouth bass, black crappie, yellow perch and sunfish. They are popular with the fishermen and Great Blue herons.
Coyotes are relatively abundant but are secretive and not often seen by visitors. However, if you lounge about at night under the amazingly brilliant stars you will hear them singing. Their calls spread across the refuge like wildfire, first rising on one side of you, spreading all around you and then passing off into the distance as different bands of coyotes take up the call and pass it on. Also, five species of snakes are found on the refuge, including the western rattlesnake, which hopefully is not often seen by visitors either. I only saw a little bull snake which rather startled me just the same.