McNary Refuge Plays Host to
by Alfred Diaz
Bird populations at the McNary National Wildlife Reserve swell into the hundreds of thousands in the winter months.
Located primarily along western Walla Walla County on more than 15,000 acres, the McNary National Wildlife Refuge is a noncontiguous grouping of ponds, riverbanks, islands, backwaters, brush lands and agricultural fields managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The collection of lands stretches from Hat Rock in Oregon to a number of islands near the confluence of the Columbia and Snake rivers.
The wildlife refuge serves a variety of uses that include hunting, birding, education and, most of all, a refuge for migratory birds.
Visitor Services Manager Dan Haas says the population of waterfowl at the refuge swells to the hundreds of thousands in December and January. Some flocks of snow geese number 30,000 to 40,000 birds.
Mallards migrating along the Pacific Flyway are one of the more prolific species found in the refuge this time of year.
A popular area of the refuge is the Burbank Sloughs, which thousands of years ago was an oxbow of the Columbia River, Haas said.
When the McNary Lock and Dam was built, the water table rose and created the four ponds that make up the Sloughs.
Along with wild lands, the refuge also contains about 700 acres of corn fields that are part of a crop-share agreement to help provide forage for wintering fowl.
"The farmer takes three-quarters," Haas said, "and leaves the other 25 percent standing, which is our version of rent."
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