About the Refuge

A male yellow-headed blackbird sits among cattails and other tall wetland plants which frame the Mission Mountains, a high, snow-capped range seen from Pablo NWR.  Photo by Jesse Achtenberg, USFWS

Pablo 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 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Lands within the Refuge boundary were first withdrawn in 1910 for an irrigation reservoir as part of the Flathead Irrigation Project.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 Pablo 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 Pablo and Ninepipe NWRs.  The payment included $68,712 for the permanent easement at Pablo 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 Service has had positive influence on management of the refuge for wildlife purposes.  The Tribes manage the fishery resources in the Pablo Reservoir.
The reservoir contains about 1,850 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 benefitted wildlife at Pablo NWR.  In particular, the refuge has become an important area for the reintroduction of trumpeter swans to the Mission Valley.
For a list of contact information for staff of the National Bison Range Complex, follow the link to the Contact Page.