US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge

Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge

Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge.

The islands and estuary of the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge have always been a meeting place of waters and people. The Chinook and Cathlamet Indians were famed traders encountered by early European explorers and traders. As Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery journeyed toward their goal of the Pacific Ocean, they traveled through the estuary of the Columbia River in November 1805. Their notes and journals record our first scientific knowledge of the geography, plants, animals, and native peoples they encountered in the American Northwest. Lewis and Clark passed through the estuary and noted the weather, birds, and land. The refuge today looks much like it did when the Corps of Discovery traveled through.

The earliest archaeological evidence of human habitation in the Columbia River Basin dates to 10,000 B.P. [Before Present Time] The earliest groups lived by fishing, hunting large mammals, and gathering plant foods. One particular root vegetable, the wapato, grows along shallow ponds, swamps, slow moving streams, and was harvested in abundance.

For 200 river miles (322 km), from the ocean to above the city of The Dalles, Oregon, the Columbia River was home to peoples speaking several related Chinookan languages, beginning with the Chinook on the north bank and the Clatsop on the south side. The banks of the Columbia River were studded with villages of large rectangular longhouses constructed of huge cedar planks. The natural abundance of the region, including five types of salmon, wapato, camas, and other bulbs, berries, and many other plant and animal resources, sustained a complex culture, and made the lower Columbia one of the most heavily populated and richest areas north of Mexico.

Did you know?

  • The refuge is the largest marsh in western Oregon and provides habitat for peak populations of 1,000 tundra swans, 5,000 Canada geese and 50,000 ducks in February and March each year as they gather here before the northward migration.

Learn more/get involved:

  • Volunteers are vital to for the operation of US Fish and Wildlife Refuges. Opportunities may arise for maintenance and biological survey work on the Lewis and Clark Islands. For information about current volunteer opportunities, please contact or 360-795-3915.

  • Reduce Your Energy Use: Climate change impacts on our oceans, from the burning of fossil fuels, include increased ocean temperatures, sea level rise, and acidification of the ocean.  There are many simple ways you can reduce your energy use. Leave your car at home when you can and ride a bike, walk or use public transportation. Use high efficiency appliances and compact fluorescent light bulbs in your home. Turn off and unplug appliances and electronics when they aren't in use. Turn up your thermostat a few degrees in the summer and down a few degrees in the winter.  For more information, visit: and