Resource Management

Elk with two calves in Bison Range meadow with native flowers as well as nonnative toadflax.  NBR Biology Program photo.

To help plants and wildlife, refuge staff uses a variety of habitat management techniques to maintain, recover or enhance plant and wildlife values. Refuge staff carefully considers any management techniques and employ them in varying degrees according to the situation. Public involvement and input are important to us and to the planning process, and we hope you will take an active interest in the process, individually and as a community.

Bison Mangement

With 18,766 acres within its fenced boundaries, the National Bison Range provides a good home for bison and a host of other wildlife. However, the Refuge would soon run out of habitat if it did not manage its animal populations and native plant resources. The Refuge can support about 250-300 bison on the land. With numerous calves born each year, extra bison are removed as needed during bison capture operations. The surplus are distributed to other public bison herds and donated to Native American tribes. If there are no requests for bison, managers may choose to sell to individuals through a sealed bidding process.

To allow staff to track individual bison, each bison in the Bison Range herd is implanted with a microchip. This provides an opportunity to study genetics and to monitor for health concerns with considerably less handling. The study of bison genetics is an important means to ensure that bison in our public herds continue to sustain themselves as a viable species. Based on results of a federal bison genetics project, the Bison Range herd is found to have a very high level of genetic diversity. The Range has distributed bison to other Refuges to start and enhance herds and to protect and spread genetic diversity. These herds ensure the continued well-being of the American bison and their existence for generations to come.

Invasive Nonative Plants

The National Bison Range has a large track of native inter-mountain grasslands and management efforts strive to keep it in good health. Intrusions of non-native plants bring about varying degrees of threat to this remnant native prairie. In addition to the desirability for control of exotics, it is also required by Montana Law. An extensive invasive plant control program is in place, using integrated pest management (IPM). Biological control using insects have been part of this IPM since 1948 with the number of released IPM insects now at 24. Control insects are chosen to reduce vigor of selected weed species and are extensively tested to assure they will not harm any other plants. 

Control of noxious weeds is rendered even more critical because these intermountain grasslands, which originated in the plains of central Oregon and Washington, are becoming increasingly endangered. An additional imperative is that, once lost, restoration is often very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. The predominant native grasses of the Bison Range are rough fescue, Idaho fescue, and bluebunch wheatgrass.

Fire Program

Smoke from prescribed burn coming from forested area at National Bison Range.  Biological program photo

The National Bison Range uses prescribed fire to help maintain the grasslands by reducing encroaching forests and as a control tool against non-native noxious weeds. Approximately 75% of the land at the National Bison Range is in native grasslands with the balance in montane conifer forest, brush and talus slopes, riparian areas, and wetlands, plus roads and administrative sites. Montane forest species present are Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Once established, trees tend to shade and modify their environment into one more favorable to their seedlings and trees have gradually encroached into the grasslands. Prescribed fire can slow or reverse this trend as well as reducing understory ladder fuels to keep naturally caused lightening fires at a more natural intensity. 

Refuge staff has also used prescribed fire as a way to control non-native noxious weeds, with reseeding of native species after a fire in an attempt to give desirable plants an edge.

Visual Resources

The unique geological history of this area has created areas of sharp relief and contrast resulting in 10,000 foot mountain peaks which rise up from the valley floor in a 7,500 foot abrupt wall. These mountains, with their snowy peaks, create a backdrop of extraordinary beauty for the rolling hills of the Bison Range. In addition to unusually good wildlife viewing, the Refuge affords views of mountains, grasslands, forests, wooded river valleys, bubbling streams and a wide array of wildflowers. The Refuge offers a magnificent visual diversity as well as a diversity of habitats and wildlife. 

 Panoramic view of Mission Mountains with snow capped peaks against clear blue sky.  Photo by Pat Jamieson, NBR/USFWS