About the Refuge

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For use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds. As suitable for (1) incidental fish and wildlife-oriented recreational development, (2) the protection of natural resources, (3) the conservation of endangered species or threatened species.

  • Overview

    The Bitterroot Valley and Lee Metcalf NWR 150 x 118

    Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, established on February 4, 1964, is a 2,800-acre refuge located in the Bitterroot River Valley of southwest Montana. The refuge is approximately 2 miles north of Stevensville and 25 miles south of Missoula in Ravalli County, Montana. Elevation ranges from about 3, 225 feet on the north end of the refuge to about 3, 314 feet on the south. This floodplain refuge provides a diverse mosaic of western mountain valley habitats including gallery and riverfront forest, wet meadow, wetlands, and grassland benches.

    The refuge provides opportunities for the public to enjoy compatible wildlife-dependent public use activities including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, environmental education, and interpretation. The refuge is a very popular community and tourist destination with 240,000 visits (2013 Refuge Annual Performance Plan).

  • Vision

    USFWS-Conserving the Future Logo

    The following future-oriented statement describes the essence of what the Service is trying to accomplish and achieve through refuge management throughout the life of the Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan and beyond.

    Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is a representation of the diverse native wildlife habitat once found abundantly between the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains and along the ever-changing Bitterroot River. This floodplain refuge, fed by mountain snow, is a diverse mosaic of forest, grassland, and riparian habitat that provides protected lands and waters for migratory and resident wildlife.

    The refuge, in partnership with its neighbors, friends, and the community, is a conservation leader in the valley, ensuring that the biological integrity of this refuge and other valley habitats remains intact or, where appropriate, is restored.

    These protected lands and waters are a place of discovery for visitors to experience fish and wildlife firsthand and where children can experience naturewith all their senses. Visitors to the refuge can appreciate the beauty of the setting and experience a sense of wonder and pride to be preserving this part ofthe Bitterroot Valley and the National Wildlife Refuge System.

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  • Special Values

    Prickly Pear cactus 150 x 118

    Early in the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) process, the planning team and public identified the refuge’s unique qualities or special values—characteristics and features of the refuge that make it special, valuable for wildlife, and an integral part of the Refuge System.

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  • Lee Metcalf

    Stone Dedicating Refuge in Lee Metcalf's Memory

    Lee Metcalf grew up in Stevensville, MT. He worked hard and earned law degrees. Eventually he became a Senator from Montana. He was passionate about America's natural resources and was a champion of the working man. Lee Metcalf's abiding dedication to preservation left a legacy of beauty and natural wonder for generations of Americans to enjoy. The Refuge, originally dedicated as Ravalli National Wildlife Refuge, was renamed to honor Senator Metcalf in 1979.

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  • Land Acquisition

    Land Plat Illustrating Location of Hagen Property, now Refuge Properties

    On December 10, 1963, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission used the authority of the 1929 Migratory Bird Conservation Act (16 United States Code [U.S.C.] 715–715d, 715e, 715f–715r) (45 Stat. 1222) to approve the acquisition of 2,700 acres in 18 tracts of land to establish the Ravalli National Wildlife Refuge. On February 4, 1964, the first purchase was made, Tract 21, consisting of 408.05 acres. Over the next 25 years, the Service purchased an additional 23 tracts for a total of 2,799.52 refuge acres. The history of these land acquisitions is captured in this table.

  • History & Culture of the Bitterroot Valley

    St. Mary's Mission in Stevensville, Montana

    "The Salish & Pend d’Oreille Indians tell of living in this valley since the beginnings of human time, the valley known as Spe’tlemen in their language is the heart of their ancestral homeland. Through this broad, fertile valley flows the river the Salish call In‐schu‐te‐sche, the River of Red Willows" (Montana Preservation Alliance 2009). 


    Lewis and Clark arrived in September 1805 marking the beginning of Euro-American contact with Native Americans in western Montana. Fur traders soon followed. Contact with Iroquois fur traders convinced the Salish to request Jesuit priests to be their teachers circa late 1830's. The priests arrived and in 1841 St. Mary's Mission was established by Father DeSmet et al. This settlement became a catalyst for the creation of Fort Own and the eventual renaming of St. Mary's Mission into the town of Stevensville, the first in Montana.

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  • Geology

    East face of the Bitterroot Mountains-Kootenai Creek

    On March 30, 2009 President Obama signed into law The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 which included the establishment of the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail; the trail is administered by the National Park Service. This geological trail is all about the filling/emptying of Glacial Lake Missoula over a several thousand year period and what that did to the surrounding landscape. This lake was massive in extent and volume; it impacted the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho. A report (executive summary et al) was commissioned by the National Park Service that examined how private/public could collaborate to tell the story of cataclysmic flooding.

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  • Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

    Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Logo

    "Between May 1804 and September 1806, 31 men, one woman, and a baby traveled from the plains of the Midwest to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. They called themselves the Corps of Discovery. In their search for a water route to the Pacific Ocean, they opened a window into the west for the young United States." (taken from National Park Service website detailing the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail). 

    National Park Service research indicates that the Corps of Discovery likely did travel in and/or very near the current Refuge boundaries. Ergo, the Refuge will provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the unique Native American, and Euro-American history of the Bitterroot Valley while maintaining and protecting the integrity of the refuge’s cultural and historical resources.

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  • Montana Vigilantes in Bitterroot Valley

    Interpretive Whiskey Bill Sign

    The "wild west" found its way into the Bitterroot Valley on January 26, 1864 with the hanging of Whiskey Bill (Bill Graves) on or very near current Refuge properties. An interpretive sign (jpeg to left) was in place on the Refuge in the 1970's "marking" the spot of the hanging. What follows are quoted accounts from that time by Thomas Josiah Dimsdale from his book Vigilantes of Montana.

    "Another powerful incentive to wrong-doing is the absolute nulity of the civil law in such cases. No matter what may be the proof, if the criminal is well liked in the community 'Not Guilty' is almost certain to be the verdict, despite the efforts of the judge and prosecutor" (Thomas Josiah Dimsdale, preface [p. 14 & 15] of Vigilantes of Montana, Princeton University, 1905)

    "A company of three, headed by the “old man,” (likely Captain Williams) started off to Fort Owen, in the Bitter Root Valley, in pursuit of Whiskey Bill (Bill Graves, the coach robber). This worthy was armed and on the look-out for his captors; but, it seems, he had become partially snow-blind by long gazing. At all events, he did not see the party with sufficient distinctness to ascertain who they were, until the “old man” jumped from his horse and covered him with his revolver. He gave up, though he had repeatedly sworn that he would shoot any Vigilanter who would come his way. His guilt was notorious throughout all the country, and his capture was merely a preliminary to his execution. The men took him away from the Fort in deference to the prejudices of the Indians, who would have felt no desire to live near where a man had been hanged. Graves made no confession. He was what is called in the mountains a “bull head,” and was a sulky, dangerous savage. Being tied up to a limb, the difficulty was to make a “drop,” but the ingenuity of the leader was equal to the emergency. One of the men mounted his horse; Graves was lifted up behind him, and, all being ready, “Good-by, Bill,” said the front horseman, driving his huge rowels into the horse's flanks as he spoke. The animal made a plunging bound of twelve feet, and Bill Graves, swept from his seat by the fatal noose and lariat, swung lifeless. His neck was broken by the shock" (page 172-73, Vigilantes of Montana by Thomas Josiah Dimsdale [1905, Princeton University], public domain and now digitized by Google at  http://google.com/books?id=X4k-AAAAYAAJ)

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  • Nez Perce National Historic Trail

    Nez Perce National Historic Trail logo

     "The Nez Perce (Nimíipuu or Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail stretches from Wallowa Lake, Oregon, to the Bear Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana. It was added to this system by Congress as a National Historic Trail in 1986.

    The 1877 flight of the Nez Perce from their homelands while pursued by U.S. Army Generals Howard, Sturgis, and Miles, is one of the most fascinating and sorrowful events in Western U.S. history. Chief Joseph, Chief Looking Glass, Chief White Bird, Chief Ollokot, Chief Lean Elk, and others led nearly 750 Nez Perce men, women, and children and twice that many horses over 1,170 miles through the mountains, on a trip that lasted from June to October of 1877."
    (taken from the U.S. Forest Service Nez Perce [Nee-Me-Poo] National Historic Trail website). 


    This trail is centered on U.S. Highway 93, which is a centerline of sorts for the actual paths of the Nez Perce (west of) and U.S. Cavalry (east of). The U.S. Highway 93 trail "corridor" does overlap the Refuge boundary, but there is not a defined trail segment on the Refuge per se. 

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  • Whaley Homestead

    Whaley Homestead on Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge

    The Whaley Homestead is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Homestead was acquired by the Refuge in parcels between the late 1960's and 1974.

    The Whaley Homestead was home to the family of Peter Whaley, an Irish immigrant who came to Montana in the 1860s, lured by gold strikes at Bannack and Alder Gulch. Whaley’s wife, Hannah, and their nine children shared his adventures, including his service as the first agent on the Flathead Reservation. The house was built on land claimed in 1877 under the Desert Land Act. The house, built circa 1885, survives as an outstanding example of vernacular frontier architecture. Weatherboard siding conceals a massive, complicated under-structure of square-hewn logs.

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  • Wildfowl Lane Interpretive Signs

    There are five different interpretive signs along Wildfowl Lane and one additional sign along the Kenai Nature Trail immediate the Refuge Headquarters (map here). Wildlife is integrated within agricultural, cultural, economic, geological, heritage, historical, hydrological, and recreational context. Additional information for each sign can be accessed by scanning the QR code on each sign or by the following hyperlinks for respective signs (by title): Preserving a Glorious Heritage, Changing the Land, Seasons of a Wetland, People of the Bitterroot Valley, Bitterroot River Important Bird Area, and A Valley Shaped over Time