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Charles M. Russell
National Wildlife Refuge

A large mule deer buck stands gazing at the photographer.  Mule deer have larger ears than white-tailed deer as well as a black-tipped tail.
333 Airport Road
Lewistown, MT   59457
E-mail: cmr@fws.gov
Phone Number: 406-538-8706
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For centuries, people have been awed by the wildlife and landscapes found on Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Don Jones)
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Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge

Extending 125 miles up the Missouri River from the Fort Peck Dam in north-central Montana, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is approximately 1,100,000 acres in size and includes the 245,000-acre Fort Peck Reservoir. Given the size and remoteness of the Refuge, the area has changed very little from the historic voyage of the Lewis and Clark expedition, through the era of outlaws and homesteaders, to the present time.

Visitors will find spectacular examples of native prairie, forested coulees, river bottoms, and "breaks" badlands. Elk, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, sage and sharp-tailed grouse, and bald eagles make the Refuge home. The Refuge's namesake famously portrayed the rich diversity of native wildlife and habitats of the area in many of his paintings.

UL Bend NWR, a "refuge-within-a-refuge," lies within Charles M. Russell NWR and contains 20,000 acres of designated wilderness. The Refuge complex also contains Hailstone, Halfbreed, Lake Mason, and War Horse NWRs. These small satellite refuges are scattered throughout central Montana and were established primarily to protect wetlands for migratory birds and waterfowl. Several waterfowl production areas are also managed as part of the Refuge complex.

Hunting and fishing opportunities abound on Charles M. Russell NWR, its satellite refuges, and the waterfowl production areas. Boating is popular on the Missouri River and Fort Peck Reservoir. Several state parks and recreational areas have been developed within the Refuge. Each fall, hundreds of elk congregate in the Slippery Ann Wildlife Viewing Area, creating a spectacle not to be missed. Camping is permitted anywhere on the Refuge. The entire Refuge is open to hiking and horseback riding although no formal trails exist. Excellent wildlife viewing and photography opportunities are found throughout the Refuge.

Getting There . . .
Charles M. Russell NWR is located about 150 miles northeast of Billings, Montana. The headquarters for the Refuge Complex is located in Lewistown. From Great Falls, follow U.S. Highway 87 east for 100 miles to Lewistown. Turn right onto Airport Road. From Billings, follow U.S. Highway 87 north to Grass Range and then west to Lewistown for 130 miles. Turn left onto Airport Road. The Refuge headquarters is located about 1 mile up the road to the left.

Three staffed field stations are located around the Refuge. Sand Creek Wildlife Station is located 2 miles south of the Missouri River on the east side of U.S. Highway 191. Jordan Wildlife Station is located south of Montana Highway 200 in the town of Jordan. Fort Peck Wildlife Station is located east of Montana Highway 24 in the town of Fort Peck.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Charles M. Russell NWR lies in the transition zone between the Rocky Mountains to the west and the Great Plains to the east. Bisected by the Missouri River and Fort Peck Reservoir, the landscape is characterized by rolling uplands punctuated by steeply eroded "coulees" that run down to the water.

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Long before the Charles M. Russell NWR was established, the area was an important hunting ground for various Native American tribes. In May of 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition followed the Missouri River through what was to become the Refuge.

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Management Activities
The overall management goal at Charles M. Russell NWR Complex is to promote biological diversity and maintain the natural abundance of native flora and fauna. To that end, the Refuge staff has implemented a number of management programs.

UL Bend NWR, which lies within Charles M. Russell NWR, is a reintroduction site for the endangered black-footed ferret. Twenty thousand acres of UL Bend NWR are managed as federally designated wilderness with another 160,000 acres within Charles M. Russell NWR pending designation.

When the Refuge was first established in 1936 as the former 'Fort Peck Game Range', sharp-tailed grouse and pronghorn antelope were identified as the primary species in need of conservation. Since the 1980's, Refuge staff has collected information on the number of birds found on traditional lekking sites for both sharp-tailed and sage grouse. Drought, domestic livestock grazing, and loss of native prairie to agricultural cultivation have led to population declines in both native grouse species throughout much of their historic range. Since Congress designated CMR as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1976, domestic livestock has been reduced and restoration of cultivated fields back to native vegetation has improved habitat not only for grouse, but also for many other wildlife species.

There are currently no active management activities directed towards increasing pronghorn populations. However, we are pursuing research opportunities with many partners in the U.S. and Canada to better understand their movements, habitat requirements and ecology at the landscape level. Pronghorn are generally found on flat or rolling terrain, and thrive in wide open areas where they rely on their speed and keen eyesight to escape predators. For the relatively large area that CMR covers, it offers relatively little habitat for pronghorn because most areas are too steep and rugged. Pronghorn are a migratory species; a lucky passerby can sometimes catch a glimpse of large herds moving through the Breaks as they cross the Missouri River on their biannual journey.

The Refuge has an active grazing program that is managed to promote grassland health. Big game populations are managed by hunting, which is closely coordinated with State partners. Invasive species are a growing problem for the Complex. Biological, chemical, and mechanical control measures are targeted at eliminating weed infestations.

A reintroduction program for the endangered pallid sturgeon is ongoing in the section of the Missouri River that passes through the Refuge. Wildfires commonly occur during the summer, and the Refuge has an active fire management program.