The big skies of Montana watch over 21 National Wildlife Refuges and five Wetland Management Districts. On each of these protected expanses of land lives hundreds of fish and wildlife species, many of which are endangered.
Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge
The Refuge is located at the western edge of the famed Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), an area characterized by millions of wetlands or "potholes" which serve as the breeding ground for most of the Nation's waterfowl. These wetlands also harbor scores of other wetland-dependent wildlife, including many endangered species. The PPR is characterized by boom and bust cycles tied to precipitation and runoff.
Above: Marbeled Godwit at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS
For more information about Benton Lake, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/benton_lake/
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Red Rock Lakes, for one, is only about 45 miles from Yellowstone. Still part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, Red Rock Lakes offers mountains, wetlands and wildlife.
The scenery there is largely unadulterated by human impact, which provides a chance to see animals and vistas in an uncrowded setting. Located in a remote wilderness setting, there are minimal facilities, few roads and spotty (at best) cell phone coverage. Fill up on food and fuel before heading into the refuge, as there aren’t gas stations or grocery stores within its boundaries.
Rising more than 10,000 feet, the Centennial Mountains guard the refuge’s southern boundary, protect the area from the southern storms and winds. Upper and Lower Red Rock Lake give the park its name, creeks and rivers wind their way through the refuge and ponds dot the landscape.
The refuge plays home to many of the same animals found in Yellowstone National Park, its famed mammals among them. Grizzly bears use the refuge as a corridor for moving between Yellowstone and other parts of Idaho and Montana. Also keep your eyes open for wolves, moose, elk, river otters, deer and pronghorn. Many other smaller mammals live in the refuge as well, including coyote, fox, badger, skunk, cougar, lynx, bobcat, porcupine, wolverines, mink, marten, weasels, pika, and rodents like beavers, marmots, squirrels, porcupine, chipmunks and mice.
The plentiful forests and rich wetlands of Red Rock Lakes offer an ideal habitat for the feeding and breeding habits of birds. Most notable are the trumpeter swans, known for their distinctive call, which booms out like a French horn. Eagles, owls, falcons and hawks also roam the skies, scanning the grasslands for their next meal. A wide range of colorful and sweet-sounding song birds also live in the refuge, tanagers, grosbeaks, meadowlarks, horned larks, sparrows, mountain bluebirds, woodpeckers, magpies and swallows among them.
For more information on Red Rock Lakes, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/red_rock_lakes/
Other Montana Wildlife Refuges
If the wildness of Red Rock Lakes sounds intimidating, check out one of Montana’s other wildlife refuges. These links provide more information.
- Lost Trail NWR www.fws.gov/refuge/lost_trail/
- Swan River NWR www.fws.gov/bentonlake/swanRiver/
- Bowdoin NWR and WMD www.fws.gov/refuge/bowdoin/
- Charles M. Russell NWR and WMD www.fws.gov/refuge/charles_m_russell/
- National Bison Range Complex www.fws.gov/bisonrange/
- Ninepipe NWR www.fws.gov/refuge/nine-pipe/
- Pablo NWR www.fws.gov/refuge/pablo/
- Northwest Montana WMD www.fws.gov/bisonrange/wmd/
- Lee Metcalf NWR www.fws.gov/refuge/lee_metcalf/
- Medicine Lake www.fws.gov/medicinelake/lake/
Above: Bison Cow and Calf at the National Bison Range in Montana. Photo by USFWS Mike Borgreen