Uplands make up most of the refuge. Because of the amount and timing of precipitation, the refuge is considered to be a northern mixed grassland and is a combination of trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs (flowers). Historically, lightning fires determined and structured the upland habitat. Fire patterns on the refuge were and still are complex: some areas are exposed to frequent fire while others are very fire sheltered. Fire patterns were and will continue to be influenced by the complex combination of soil types, the surrounding mountain ranges, and the historic use of the refuge by vast herds of native bison and the current use of present day wild and domestic ungulates. Climate change will also contribute to future changes in habitat on the refuge over time. BadlandsBadland type upland habitat includes areas that range from completely barren rock outcrops to rock outcrops with some vegetation (dominated by short grasses, big sagebrush, juniper and pine). Many badland areas have steep slopes. Big Horn Sheep use the badland areas in the Larb Hills on the north side of the Missouri River. Greater short horned lizards are a commonly found reptile throughout the badlands. Swallows, wrens, swifts and hawks are some of the representative birds found in this type of upland habitat.
Prairie/ Sagebrush PrairieThe refuge falls in an area of both shortgrass and mixed grass prairie depending on soil types and precipitation. Some of the more lush upland areas (mixed grass areas) has abundant little bluestem, green needlegrass and bluebunch wheatgrass whereas a majority of the refuge uplands is a mixture of short grass species such as blue grama, needle and wheat grasses. Big sagebrush was historically only found in areas of shallow clayey soil but with current fire management practices, fire intolerant big sagebrush has been able to colonize deeper soil areas. Complexes of prairie dog towns are common. A variety of sparrows and raptors are commonly seen birds.
Ponderosa Pine Savannah and Ponderosa Pine/Douglas Fir SlopesCentral Montana ponderosa pine areas are different than western Montana pine woodlands and savannahs in that they are surrounded by grasslands. Ponderosa pine savannah areas occur in areas with a higher fire frequency which eliminates juniper and Douglas-fir. Numbers of ponderosa pine trees vary from very sparse patches on drier sites to nearly closed canopy forest stands on north facing slopes. Shrubs present in drier pine savannah areas are fire tolerant and can grow back after being burned. Examples of fire tolerant shrubs include silver sage and skunkbush. Grass cover in these areas can be lush. Juniper increases over time when fire is absent. Douglas fir in the Missouri Breaks occurs primarily on north facing slopes (along with Ponderosa pine). Douglas fir is not fire tolerant and has increased on the refuge with the absence of natural fire. The very oldest stands of Douglas fir occur in small pockets in deep ravines which are naturally fire sheltered. Cavity nesting birds such as Mountain Bluebirds and swallows use these areas. Spotted Towhees are commonly seen and heard throughout. Boreal chorus frogs spend the majority of their life cycles in upland wooded areas leaving them primarily during spring breeding when they breed in temporary ponds and small lakes.
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The refuge was named in recognition of this colorful western artist who often portrayed the refuge’s landscape in his paintings and whose conservation ethic was years ahead of his time.