Swan River National Wildlife Refuge
Mountain-Prairie Region

Located in northwest Montana, 38 miles southeast of Creston, in the Swan Valley.
Establishing Purpose:
Lands were acquired in 1973 "for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds" (Migratory Bird Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. 715-715r).
1,568 acres, with an additional 210-acre Forest Service inholding that is managed under a Memorandum of Understanding by the USFWS.
Landscape Characteristics:

  • The refuge lies within the floodplain of the Swan River above Swan Lake and between the Swan Mountain Range to the east and the Mission Mountain Range to the west.
  • The valley was formed when glacial ice poured down the steep slopes of the Mission Range into Swan Lake.
  • The valley floor is generally flat but rises steeply to adjacent forested mountain sides.
  • 80% of the floodplain is composed of reed canary grass and the other 20% consists of forests of old growth fir, spruce, cedar and larch. Large cottonwood trees exist along the river.
  • Swan River, which once meandered through the floodplain, has been forced to the west side of the refuge by deposits of silt, leaving a series of oxbow sloughs within the refuge floodplain.
  • There are no significant developments or facilities on the refuge.


  • Waterfowl species consist of Canada geese, mallards, cinnamon teal and common goldeneye.
  • The refuge provides a nesting site for a pair of bald eagles.
  • Other birds of prey frequenting the area include northern harriers, Swainson’s hawks, red-tailed hawks and great-horned owls.
  • Sora and Virginia Rails hide among the reeds while foraging.
  • Marsh wrens, song sparrows and yellow-headed blackbirds nest and forage on the Refuge.
  • White-tailed deer are the most common large mammal seen. Elk, moose, beaver, bobcat and black bear are known to inhabit the area. Other resident wildlife are coyotes, beaver, muskrat and raccoons.
  • The Swan and Mission Mountain Ranges have been designated as a habitat corridor of the threatened grizzly bear, and bears sometimes move onto the refuge during the early spring to forage.
  • Game fish include yellow perch, bull trout, northern pike, kokanee salmon, largemouth bass, cutthroat trout, brook trout and mountain whitefish.
  • A state plant species of concern, water howelia (Howellia aquatilis) can be found on the Nature Conservancy Preserve that borders the southern edge of the refuge, but the plant has not been confirmed to exist on the refuge to date.


  • The refuge was established in 1973 under authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, at the request of Montana Senator Lee Metcalf, who desired to see the area preserved.
  • The refuge is a satellite unit of the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Day- to-day administration and operations are the responsibility of the Refuge Manager located at Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge, Marion, MT.

Cultural Resources:

  • To date, there are no known cultural resources.

Recreational Uses:

  • Portions of the refuge are open to waterfowl hunting, with the majority being located north of Bog Road and along portions of Swan River.
  • Big game and upland game bird hunting is prohibited. Trapping is prohibited.
  • Fishing is not allowed on Spring Creek from March 1 through July 15; fishing is allowed on those portions of Swan River which flow through the refuge.
  • The refuge is listed in the state Watchable Wildlife Guide and receives a number of visitors to view some of the 171 bird species and deer, elk and black bear.
  • Boating is allowed through the refuge on Swan River.
  • Bog Road (not maintained and not recommended for vehicles) traverses the refuge east to west. The road is open for wildlife observation, photography and provides access to the interior portion of the refuge.

Other Uses:

  • Haying and grazing are conducted periodically with a Special-Use Permit for habitat management purposes.
Last updated: October 18, 2012