This 2,774 acre national wildlife refuge was established in 1964 using Duck Stamp Funds. Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR) is comprised of wetlands, meadows, riparian forests, forest and cultivated fields. The fields are used to produce wildlife food crops, which complement the food available in the seasonal wetlands.

KNWR is situated on the Kootenai River floodplain. Beginning in the early 20th century dikes were constructed along most of the Kootenai River’s course through Boundary County, Idaho and the original wetlands were drained to create farm fields.

Photo by D Staal

After land for KNWR was acquired using Duck Stamp Funds, restoration of the wetlands began. This required the creation of a system of dikes, ditches, water control structures, and pumps.


KNWR’s primary purpose is to provide important habitat and a resting area for migrating waterfowl. Among the migratory waterfowl are tundra swans, northern pintail, teal, greater white fronted geese and mallards. It also contains diverse habitats for a large variety of other wildlife including bald eagles, moose, elk, deer, bear, beaver and otter. Altogether, KNWR provides habitat for more than 220 bird species, 45 mammal species and 22 fish species (see the complete KNWR Watchable Wildlife list). It is estimated that the refuge supports peak spring and fall populations of 24,000-40,000 birds.

Today KNWR has permanent wetlands that are kept flooded year-round. These permanent and semi-permanent ponds have a mix of relatively deep water and dense stands of plants that provide breeding and nesting habitat for many birds including redheads, grebes, rails and black terns. KNWR also contains seasonal wetlands are drained, or “drawn down” in spring and summer to promote the germination of food plants needed by waterfowl. In the fall, the seasonal wetlands are reflooded, allowing waterfowl to forage.

KNWR also manages improved pasture for foraging mammals. Elk and deer use the grasslands extensively and occasionally a moose is seen foraging there.  These grasslands are an extremely important winter food source for as many as 240 elk and 80 deer.

Photo by Nancy Russell, © NLRphotography ()

The grassland areas also provide important cover for ground nesting birds.

The refuge’s riparian areas (trees and shrubs along water courses) support more species that any of the other habitat types. The eagle nest along the Auto Tour Route is in the riparian habitat, perched near the top of a cottonwood tree. KNWR also has a small amount of forested habitat on the west side. This steep, “corduroy” terrain is diverse, with some areas displaying old growth characteristics. It has a high value to wildlife and a large variety of birds can be seen or heard here.

Three large creeks feed into KNWR. Myrtle and Cascade Creeks run into the west side of the refuge. Deep Creek forms the southeast refuge boundary before it empties into the Kootenai River. The federally listed threatened bull trout has been documented in Myrtle Creek and in Deep Creek.


Wildlife watching, birding, photography, hiking, picnicking, snowshoeing, taking a leisurely drive – KNWR has an outdoor activity for you. Each activity may offer you the opportunity to see a bird or an animal that you don’t see everyday.

See the Plan Your Visit and Things To Do sections of this website and the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge website to get more detail on the outdoor recreational opportunities in which you can engage.