The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is a landscape of contrast with a variety of habitats supporting native birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and plants. Human activity in the Gorge over the past 100 years changed the landscape, negatively impacting the quality of habitat by reducing the variety of food and shelter available to wildlife.
Franz Lake is one of several national wildlife refuges within the Scenic Area. Protected and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this refuge is a riverside (riparian) system of Franz and Arthur Lakes, mature cottonwoods, permanent basins, springs, and seasonally flooded wetlands. In the spring and fall, migrating birds rest and feed at this riverside sanctuary on their way to northern breeding grounds or southern wintering homes.
When natural resources are protected, so are the wildlife that depend upon them, like the tundra swans that winter on Franz Lake. Wapato, a starchy bulbous root, was not seen at Franz Lake for years until the 1980s, resulting in the swans returning to the lake to rest and feed.
Franz Lake and its tributaries also provide refuge for migrating juvenile salmonids from high water levels and rapid flows in the Columbia River during their migration. The springs along the north shore of the lake provide summer rearing habitat for coho salmon.
The refuge is located along Highway 14, 15 miles east of Washougal. Closed to public access, the lakes can be observed from a viewing platform just west of Skamania, Washington.