About the Refuge

An aerial view of Ninepipe NWR showing large blue reservoir and surrounding fields and small potholes.  Photo by NBRC staff.

Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge is in the center of a glacial terminal moraine with a high density of small wetlands and upland grasses. Its own history and management is as complex as the lands and waters that surround it.

Lands within the Refuge boundary were first withdrawn in 1910 for an irrigation reservoir as part of the Flathead Irrigation Project. Executive Order 3503 established the Refuge on this withdrawal in 1921, subject to reservoir uses. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) requested the establishment of Ninepipe NWR and the refuge is located on Trust lands of the CSKT. A 1948 Act of Congress reimbursed the CSKT $400,000 for all past and future uses of certain reservation lands for physical works and facilities of the Flathead Project irrigation and power systems, and for the Ninepipe and Pablo NWRs. The payment included $50,644 for the permanent easement at Ninepipe NWR. 

The 1948 Act also stated that the Tribes "shall have the right to use such Tribal lands, and to grant leases or concessions thereon, for any and all uses not inconsistent with such permanent easement.” The Tribes manage the fishery resources in the Ninepipe Reservoir.

The reservoir contains about 1,672 surface acres at full pool level. The only Service influence of water levels comes through cooperation with the Flathead Irrigation Project. In the case of conflicts, wildlife becomes secondary to irrigation needs due to wording in the 1921 Executive Order. However, the water regime for irrigation has generally benefited wildlife at Ninepipe NWR. In particular, the refuge has become an important breeding and staging area for a large portion of the Flathead Valley Canada goose population, a western grebe nesting colony, a large great blue heron colony, a double-crested cormorant colony, a variety of ducks, and numerous species of other marsh and water birds.

With Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge at its center, a circle of protected habitat for wildlife spreads into the Mission Valley. The Refuge’s 2,062 acres is surrounded by 3,420 acres of Montana State Wildlife Management Areas, approximately 3,000 acres of Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal lands, 3,160 acres of Federal Waterfowl Production Areas and 6,400 acres of Fish and Wildlife Service conservation easements that prevent housing development and wetland drainage.  Follow the link to the Ninepipe Recreation Guide for a map of the lands (note: this is a 3.5 MB .pdf file and will take a few minutes to load).

For a list of contact information for staff of the National Bison Range Complex, follow the link to the Contact Page at the National Bison Range website