The Wilderness Act of 1964 states:
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and that (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historic value.”
In 1974, the Secretary of the Interior recommended 158,619 acres of Charles M. Russell NWR for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. The acreage is divided into 15 separate areas. Because Congress has not officially designated these 15 areas as wilderness, they are managed as proposed wilderness units in which Service policy requires them to keep their wilderness character in the event they are designated as wilderness. In 1976, Congress designated about 20,890 acres as the UL Bend Wilderness.
Wilderness at CMR and UL Bend National Wildlife Refuges contains critical wildlife habitat. More than 50% of bighorn sheep habitat on the refuge is found within proposed wilderness areas. Pronghorn antelope are known to migrate across the refuge and cross the Missouri River via UL Bend Wilderness and through the Burnt Lodge and West Seven Blackfoot proposed wilderness areas. Winter sage grouse tracking found that grouse migrating from northern Montana and Canada use habitat within the Burnt Lodge PWA and surrounding areas in the winter. The refuges’ wilderness is also significant to conservation of the American prairie grassland ecosystem, which has been identified, by organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and The Wilderness Society, as one of the least protected biomes in the world. CMR wilderness in combination with adjacent BLM wilderness study areas may increasingly provide critical habitat corridors for wildlife and play a pivotal and promising role in the continued conservation of important northern great plains species such as bighorn sheep, sage grouse, black-tailed prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, and mountain lions.
For more information on CMR designated and proposed wilderness, see the Charles M. Russell and UL Bend NWR Report on Wilderness Character Monitoring (PDF, 2.5 MB)
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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.