Deer Flat National Refuge

A nest of goslings with discarded eggshells

It’s been a wildlife refuge for more than 100 years, but it’s doubtful most Idahoans understand the boundaries of Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge.

That’s because it’s both a lake -- Lake Lowell -- and a series of Snake River islands that stretch for 113 miles.

“A lot of people don’t realize that Lake Lowell is part of the national wildlife refuge, and some of the folks that do know, don’t really know what that means,” explains Elaine Johnson, manager of Deer Flat refuge. “One thing that sets refuges apart is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the only agency that has wildlife first as their mission. We really are here for wildlife and wildlife habitat.”

One of the hundreds of islands in the Snake River that are part of the Deer Flat Refuge

Deer Flat, once a wintering range for deer, owes its existence to President Theodore Roosevelt. He established it in 1909, long before there were jet skis and other recreational devices that can get crosswise with the needs of wildlife.

The guide books suggest that the best season for viewing wildlife at Deer Flat is from September through December. But this really is a refuge for all seasons.

In late summer and early fall, as Lake Lowell slowly drains, the exposed mudflats attract all manner of shorebirds.

As winter approaches, the duck population peaks. In fact, wintering waterfowl was the original impetus for the refuge.

Lake LowellIn the spring time, it’s relatively easy to find Canada goose nests on many of the Snake River islands. These goslings are just a few hours old, and hopefully will avoid the predator – likely a fox – that just made its way onto the island.

We met up with refuge manager Elaine Johnson, on her last official week at Deer Flat. She is leaving to manage another refuge in the southwest.

“I always kind of felt a special calling, that wildlife don’t have a voice of their own and there needs to be some people that look out for their best interests,” she said. “So I always viewed myself as that was my job, to look out for their best interests.”

Friends of Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge