Lake Mason National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is one of four satellite national wildlife refuges in central Montana managed by Charles M. Russell NWR and consists of three separate tracts of land: Lake Mason Unit, Willow Creek Unit, and North Unit.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8770 on June 3, 1941 that established Lake Mason Refuge “as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife”. At establishment, this refuge was managed as a flowage and refuge easement. The Service acquired fee title lands within this refuge through a transfer authorized by the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act. The Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act authorized the federal government to acquire damaged lands (lands homesteaded and later abandoned), rehabilitate these lands, and use them for various purposes. Executive Order 10787 (November 6, 1958) and Secretary’s Order 2843 (November 17, 1959) transferred jurisdiction of selected lands from the Secretary of Agriculture to the Secretary of Interior. It directed that these lands be “for use and administration under applicable laws as refuges for migratory birds and other wildlife.” These lands were received in scattered parcels of various sizes and provided a land base for this refuge and had been previously grazed or farmed.
Vegetation for all units consists mainly of mixed-grass prairie (western wheatgrass, bluebunch wheatgrass, needle and thread, and prairie junegrass) with sagebrush scattered across the refuge. Wetlands associated with the units are frequently dry, but are very productive for waterfowl and shorebirds when they have water. The refuge is an important staging and nesting area for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, and other migratory birds. It provides habitat for resident game species including pronghorn, elk, mule deer, greater sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, and gray partridge. A black-tailed prairie dog colony provides habitat for mountain plovers and burrowing owls.
With the exception of the north half of the Lake Mason Unit, the refuge is open to hunting of migratory game birds, upland game birds, and big game as well as hiking and wildlife observation. The north half of the Lake Mason Unit is closed to all public access to increase the security and attractiveness of this area to migratory birds.
Lake Mason NWR is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Refuge is one of over 550 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System - a system of lands set aside to conserve wildlife and habitat for people today and generations to come.