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Milk River Basin

Aerial view of the Milk River Basin showing a series of depressional wetlandsIn Montana, the shortgrass prairie lies under the "Big Sky" and stretches from the Rocky Mountain Front eastward to the Dakotas. These vast rolling high plains grasslands are broken by isolated mountain ranges such as the Little Rocky and the Bear’s Paw Mountains and drained by large rivers, including the mighty Missouri and Milk. Another dominant feature, the Missouri Breaks, forms the southern boundary of the north-central Montana plains and runs west to east along the Missouri River corridor. North of the Milk River and eastward to the state line, along what is now called the "Hi-Line", the land has relatively high densities of depressional wetlands or "prairie potholes." These grassland-wetland complexes are especially important to migratory wetland birds both during the summer reproductive season and annual migrations. Prior to settlement, this "sea of grass" was a land of bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, grizzlies, wolves, swift fox, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets along with a host of grassland birds. Receiving less than 13 inches of precipitation annually, the land was once subject to raging fires and seasonal grazing by nomadic herds of ungulates. Today the land is still impacted by periodic drought and fierce blizzards.

Livestock ranching and farming now dominate the prairie, but the face of eastern Montana seems ever-changing. Small farms and ranches have disappeared, and the human population is declining. Sadly, some rural communities have begun to wither and die. Economists and civic leaders speak passionately of the need for long-term sustainability and resource stewardship in this fragile landscape.


For Information, Contact:

Bruce Barbour
Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge
HC 65, Box 5700
Malta, MT  59538
(406) 654-2863
Bruce_Barbour@fws.gov

12-acre wetland creation in the Milk River Basin Focus Area

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