Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge was created in response to Executive Order Number 7681 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt which was signed on July 30, 1937. The refuge, originally named the Turnbull Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, consists of 16,000 acres and contains Ponderosa Pine forests, deep canyons and large basalt outcroppings. The refuge was originally created in order to increase the breeding ground for the waterfowl after local sportsman and naturalists noticed a sharp decline in birds. Turnbull is unique because it blends the dry arid grasslands of the Columbia Basin and the lush timber of the Bitterfoot Mountains. There are over 200 different kinds of birds that make Turnbull their home as well as elk, white-tailed deer, badgers and over 20 different kinds of bats.
The Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is governed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which includes over 150 million acres of wildlife land throughout the country. The main goal of the service is to preserve the wildlife within the specified lands by education, management and restoration of species within a specific area. The movement of conservation started with President Theodore Roosevelt but Turnbull was not created until Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration in 1937.
When settlers originally moved to this area in the 1880's, they drained the swampland in order to make way for livestock grazing land. To effectively drain the land, the farmers created a series of drainage districts throughout the area. Not only did those settlers drain the water forcing many populations of animals to migrate somewhere else, but they also eradicated the area of many exotic and rare plants. In order to supplement their incomes, the farmers that lived on what is now the wildlife refuge planted and sold hay, hunted and hauled freight. After a while, most farmers gave up on farming the area and moved away.
One such farmer was a Cyrus Turnbull. Even though the site bears his name, Turnbull lived on the land for no more than six years in the 1880's. He and his wife Mary Jane lived in a small cabin on the north end of the Turnbull Slough but after a while, they packed up their children and moved to Idaho. Supposedly the name Turnbull comes from the Scottish folktale of a brave farmer jumping on the back of a raging bull and "turning" it away from the King that was standing nearby. Cyrus was known a fast tempered man with red, fiery hair to match. He died in Sandpoint, Idaho on December 23, 1943.
Currently, scattered around the refuge are the remains of dozens of houses, two schools, roads, etc. In recent years, researchers have also found rock shelters that may have been left over from the Native tribes that inhabited this land over 8,000 years ago.