- The region is the largest remaining tract of mixed grass prairie in the United States and has been designated a National Natural Landmark.
Eons ago winds blew sand in from the west, depositing it in the dunes which comprise the Sandhills. Indian grass, big and little bluestem, prairie sand reed, and sand love grass blanketed the dunes and meadows. The grasses shield the dunes from the force of the wind and provide a degree of stability to the shifting sands.
At times the winds scour the vegetation forming areas of open sand called blowouts. In many areas the Ogallala aquifer is near, at, or above the ground level forming numerous lakes, marshes, and grass covered meadows that provide habitat for many kinds of wildlife.
Most of the wildlife species present historically are still present today. More than 260 species of birds have been sighted on the refuge which supports nesting blue-winged teal, mallards, pintails, gadwalls, and shovelers.
During spring and fall migrations as many as 150,000 ducks can be found on the refuge, with peak numbers occurring in May and September. Hersons, terns, shorebirds, pelicans, grassland sparrows, and others nest on or migrate through the refuge. Long-billed curlews and upland sandpipers call from hill and fence post.
In early spring, prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse gather on dancing grounds for their elaborate courtship displays. Winter storms and cold weather bring the bald and golden eagles to hunt the snow covered prairie.
Two endangered plants, the prairie white fringed orchid and blowout penstemon, occur on the refuge. The refuge is also one of the few sites where the endangered American burying beetle can be found.
White-tailed deer prefer the marshes and small wood lots, while mule deer can be found in the open hills. Muskrats and beaver inhabit the marsh edges. Coyote, mink, raccoon, skunk, and weasel hunt in refuge marshes, meadows, and hills. Painted, box, snapping, Blandings, and yellow mud turtles are present in good numbers.
The Valentine NWR lies in the heart of the Sandhills in north central Nebraska.