Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is located in the heart of the channeled scablands of eastern Washington—an area so named because of the pre-historic floods that scoured the soil away down to the bedrock and left the area with an abundance of swales and depressional wetlands. The 27 square miles within the Refuge is largely rugged scabrock, pine and aspen forests and grasslands that are interspersed with numerous small lakes and wetlands. The density of wetlands in portions of the channeled scablands rivals the density of wetlands in the prairie potholes.
Early settlers to the area immediately began draining and filling these wetlands in order to develop cropland or pasture and hayland for livestock. They cut many of the large Ponderosa pine and their livestock removed many of the native shrubs in the uplands and in riparian zones.
Refuge personnel have been restoring degraded habitat within the Refuge for several decades. Recently however the amount of habitat restoration that could be accomplished was accelerated with funding and assistance from Ducks Unlimited, the Spokane Audubon Society, the Friends of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, and the Channeled Scablands North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant (NAWCA). Using NAWCA funding, DU rented heavy equipment such as bulldozers, excavators and dump trucks operated by Refuge personnel to plug ditches, build dikes and restore topographic diversity to pond bottoms. The Audubon Society and Friends of Turnbull planted several hundred native trees and shrubs such as aspen, Ponderosa pine and red-osier dogwood. All of these woody plantings have to be temporarily fenced to protect them from the browsing of deer and an increasing elk population.
DU and Refuge personnel are currently getting their heads together to develop future restoration plans. Further wetland restoration, primarily plugging drainage ditches and tree planting, will be accomplished in the next year using funding from the Channeled Scablands Phase II NAWCA grant with assistance from the Audubon Society, Friends of Turnbull and the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. While the primary mission of Turnbull NWR is to provide habitat for nesting and migrating waterfowl, most notably redheads, ruddy duck, canvasback and tundra swans, habitat is also being improved for over 200 kinds of birds that have been recorded on the Refuge.