This national wildlife refuge was established in 1965 to provide winter habitat for Dusky Canada Geese, a subspecies that winters primarily in the Willamette Valley. Four other subspecies also regularly winter here. Grass fields provide forage for wintering goose flocks, and restored wetlands provide roosting habitat for geese, as well as habitat for other waterfowl and waterbirds. An Oregon white oak woodland, oak savanna, and upland prairie provide habitat for other wildlife and rare native plants. (Contributed by Karen Viste-Sparkman).
Baskett Slough and nearby private lands provide habitat for one of the largest concentrations of the Streaked Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata), which is currently a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, and is listed as critical on the Oregon sensitive species list. No formal surveys have been done on the refuge alone, but anecdotal information estimates a population of at least 10 breeding pairs. Together with adjacent private lands the breeding population easily exceeds 25 pairs. The entire population in the Willamette Valley is estimated to be less than 200 pairs. The refuge also supports a rare community of upland prairie and Oregon white oak woodland/oak savanna. Restored wetlands support concentrations of wintering waterfowl, and the mid-winter waterfowl survey detected 35,988 ducks, geese, and swans in 2001. The refuge regularly supports more than 100 shorebirds during spring and fall migrations. (Contributed by Karen Viste-Sparkman).
Natural succession has been taking place since early settlers arrived and eliminated fire from the ecosystem. Woody vegetation is invading prairies and conifers are over-topping oak trees, destroying these rare plant communities. The refuge is managing woody vegetation by repeated mowing and a prescribed burning program. These communities would be lost without these actions. Invasion of non-native plant species is an ongoing problem that requires repeated chemical and mechanical treatment of vegetation.
Oak restoration is needed in the form of removing conifers and possibly thinning oaks and returning fire to the oak community. Prairie restoration needs to take place in degraded prairie areas and retired farm fields by controlling invasive plants through mechanical, and chemical control; controlling encroaching woody species through mechanical removal and fire; and reintroducing native prairie plant species. (Contributed by Karen Viste-Sparkman).