Idaho Refuge Begins $7.8 Million Project

Last edited 07/26/2022
A pond with tall grass in the foreground and snowcapped mountains in the background.

Written By Brent Lawrence

Camas National Wildlife Refuge is usually a quiet place to immerse yourself in nature. 

Tucked away in eastern Idaho, the 11,000-acre refuge is located in a rural farming area. In addition to a multitude of wildlife, visitors find picturesque 270-degree views of the Teton, Centennial, Beaverhead, Lemhi and Lost River mountain ranges.  

Beginning this summer, however, the chirping of birds will be replaced with the growl of heavy machinery. 

A truck and two pieces of heavy machinery on a flat refuge field on a clear day.

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The refuge has kicked off a $7.8 million project with Great American Outdoors Act funding. The project will rehabilitate the water delivery systems of Camas NWR, improve wildlife habitat, enhance public access to better support visitors with disabilities, and improve roadways to support birdwatchers, photographers and hunters. 

“This will be an incredible improvement for Camas National Wildlife Refuge – for both our wildlife and our visitors,” said refuge manager Brian Wehausen. “The combination of climate change , reduced snowpack and changes in local agricultural practices since the 1980s have altered the hydrology of the area, making it difficult to manage water effectively. This project will make us a good neighbor through improved water use.” 

The Great American Outdoor Act is part of the administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, which is a decade-long campaign to conserve, connect and restore 30% of our lands and waters by 2030. The effort aims to support locally led and voluntary conservation work across public, private, and Tribal lands and waters. This initiative will also create jobs and strengthen the economy’s foundation, tackle the climate and nature crises, and address inequitable access to the outdoors.   

The majority of the Camas NWR project is expected to be completed by fall 2022. 

The water delivery systems of Camas NWR were originally built from the 1940s to 1960s when Camas Creek typically ran every year and water flowed freely from artesian wells. Today, the refuge relies heavily on deep ground water wells to augment limited water received from Camas Creek.

Heavy machinery dredges and clears a path at Idaho refuge on clear day

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This project will: 

  • Relocate wells closer to the most productive wetlands.
  • Replace and rehabilitate three miles of open water delivery ditches. 
  • Add an additional Camas Creek diversion structure , which will improve wetlands within the waterfowl hunting area; and improve riparian habitat. 

“We’ll be using geo tech liners to line the porous delivery ditches on the refuge,” Wehausen said. “We will be able to accumulate more water in our priority wetland basins by eliminating the water loss in our delivery ditches, which will be a boon to waterfowl and other waterbirds.”  

The refuge’s improvements will have a positive impact on people, too. Improvements include:  

  • Construction of an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant four-stall parking area, boardwalk, 15-foot observation tower and overlook deck at Two-Way Pond. 
  • Resurfacing approximately 6 miles of auto-tour route with gravel. 
  • Asphalting a section of bird trail to make it more ADA friendly.  
  • Updating and replacing all refuge interpretive signs, which will include content provided by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. 

Construction workers build a structure at an Idaho refuge, with a truck using a crane arm to pipe in materials, on a clear day.

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The refuge is also looking to the future with its infrastructure projects. The boardwalk will be made with a recycled material, which has a 50-year life expectancy and will significantly reduce the refuge’s cost to maintain. The refuge is also installing solar panels to offset power costs by providing green energy into the system. The three 100 kilowatt solar panel arrays, a first for a Service facility in Idaho, will offset about 80% of the electrical costs associated with providing water to the new habitat.  

Camas NWR was established in 1937 to manage habitat to benefit nesting waterfowl. Birdwatching, photography, and hunting of waterfowl and elk are some of the primary uses of the refuge. 

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