Lake Helena is a shallow backwater that was created with the construction of Hauser Dam on the Missouri River. The IBA includes Lake Helena proper plus a state-owned wildlife management area, parcels of private land, and lands owned by Pennsylvania Power & Light in sects 19 & 30 in T11N, R2W, and sects 22-27 in T11N, R3W. In addition to the open-water lake, habitats include marshland, riparian cottonwoods and willows, native prairie, and agriculture. The IBA is the largest parcel of under-developed marsh and riparian habitat in the Helena Valley.
Lake Helena provides important breeding and stopover habitat for a variety of waterfowl species, and the surrounding riparian and upland habitats support a high diversity of passerines from spring through early fall. A pair of Bald Eagles nests on the site, as do dozens of species of passerines. Year-round surveys by local Audubon volunteers have documented more than 170 species on the IBA.
Private lands within the IBA could be subdivided, and efforts are underway to obtain conservation easements on some of these lands. Mining activity on Prickly Pear Creek, which runs into the lake, and aerially deposited smelter emissions, have resulted in elevated levels of arsenic, copper, lead, cadmium, and zinc in the lake sediments. Non-native plants are a problem throughout the valley.