Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge

What We Do

A pump station, pipeline, and water control structures were constructed from 1958–62 to bring irrigation return water from Muddy Creek, about 15 miles to the west, to the Benton Lake Refuge to augment natural run-off. Water management at Benton Lake Refuge, since the Muddy Creek pumping system was developed, has sought to consistently flood wetland pools each year to provide breeding and migration habitat for waterfowl. Recently, however, a new management plan has been completed for the refuge that will introduce more drying to the wetland units to reduce contaminants and invasive wetland plants as well as stimulate wetland productivity.

Managing water at the refuge is complex because of the unpredictability of the timing and volume of inflows from natural runoff and the inability to drain most units. Over the last 40 years, natural run-off has varied between 0 and 19,000 acre-feet. The amount of water pumped is decided annually and is governed, in part, by natural runoff received that year, refuge habitat and wildlife objectives, the timing and amount of flows in Muddy Creek due to management by Greenfields Irrigation District and availability of money in the refuge budget for electricity to run the pumps.

In addition to water management, refuge staff may utilize other management techniques such as prescribed fire, haying, grazing, discing and herbicides to manage upland and wetland habitat. Prescribed fire has been used regularly on the refuge. A total of 2888 acres were burned on the refuge in 2021. Funding availability of fire staff and weather conditions dictate if we can burn during a narrow window in the spring. In the recent past, haying has also been used to a limited extent on tame grass fields. Cooperative farming and grazing have not been used on the refuge recently, but may be used in the future.

Standardized wildlife surveys and vegetation surveys are conducted throughout the year to inventory populations and document habitat use. Refuge units are evaluated by how well they met habitat and wildlife use objectives. 

What You Can Do 
  • Drive only on established roads and trails away from weed infested areas.
  • When using pack animals, carry only feed that is certified weed free.
  • Within 96 hours before entering backcountry areas, feed pack animals only food that is certified weed free.
  • Remove weed seeds from pack animals by brushing them thoroughly and cleaning their hooves before transporting.
  • If you find a few weeds without flowers or seeds, pull them and leave them where found.  If flowers or seeds are present, place the weeds in a plastic bag or similar container and burn them in a safe place.
  • If you find a weed infested area, let the landowner or managing agency know so that they can take steps to control the weeds.

Management and Conservation

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service manages fire to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats, while first ensuring human safety and then protection of our facilities and neighboring communities. Prescribed fire and other means maintain and restore vegetation in natural areas while reducing the risk of damaging wildlife to land and property.

Fire Management 

Like wildlife, wildfire has always been part of natural areas. Without this unique ecological process periodically cleansing dead and overgrown vegetation and recycling nutrients back into the soil, there could be no native prairie. 

Some prairie plants simply cannot germinate unless exposed to the heat of fire. Fires can stimulate growth of native grasses and wildflowers, while destroying many woody and non-native plants, and creates a mosaic of vegetation for mating and nesting. Fire also benefits some endangered species and rare and natural areas. For the most part, wildlife populations remain safe during a fire and enjoy better living conditions afterward.Prescribed or controlled burning is used at the Refuge to manipulate wildlife habitat. The goal of our burning program is to improve wildlife habitat, specifically, nesting and migration habitat for migratory birds.

As you tour the Refuge today you may see evidence of recent prescribed burns. Native grasses in the Northern Great Plains evolved under the influence of periodic fires and prescribed burning is used today to mimic these natural events. Fire removes old vegetative growth, releases nutrients back to the soil, decreases woody species, promotes the growth of native plant species, and reduces the amount of organic matter on the soil surface. If soil moisture is adequate, grass yields increase because baring and darkening the soil surface allows it to warm more quickly and stimulate earlier growth, and because competing weeds are suppressed. With less vegetation in the wetland itself, it requires less runoff to produce open water for migratory birds.

Invasive Species on the Refuge 

An invasive species invasive species
An invasive species is any plant or animal that has spread or been introduced into a new area where they are, or could, cause harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health. Their unwelcome presence can destroy ecosystems and cost millions of dollars.

Learn more about invasive species
is defined as a non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic, environmental harm, or harm to human health. Invasive species can be plants, animals, or other organisms. Human actions are the primary means of invasive species introductions.

Why We Care

Over 2.5 million acres of the National Wildlife Refuge System are infested with invasive plants.  Invasive species directly affect native plant communities and wildlife habitat by changing biological diversity and altering ecosystem function.  Control and management of invasive species continue to be a priority for refuge management.

Management of invasive plants, nonnative plants, and noxious weeds has been an issue throughout the refuge complex for many years. Nonnative grasses, forbs, and woody species are of concern because they can diminish the quality and suitability of habitat and reduce its potential to support many native wildlife species.  Nonnative grasses often develop into a monoculture.  Invasive species spread easily, replace native habitat, reduce diversity, and cause great expenditure of financial and human resources.

Invasive species that present management challenges on Benton Lake NWR include: crested wheatgrass, Garrison creeping foxtail, Kentucky bluegrass, Japanese brome, and cheatgrass. Noxious weeds are present in very limited areas and are treated with herbicide whenever located. Efforts are currently underway to map species that cover large areas of the refuge (crested wheatgrass, Garrison creeping foxtail, and Japanese brome). Management plans will be developed to reduce the prevalence of these species and increase the vigor and productivity of the Refuge's native grassland.

Our Services


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits under various wildlife law and treaties at a number of offices throughout the country.  Permits enable the public to engage in legitimate wildlife-related activities that would otherwise be prohibited by law.  Service permit programs ensure that such activities are carried out in a manner that safeguards wildlife.  Additionally, some permits promote conservation efforts by authorizing scientific research, generating data, or allowing wildlife management and rehabilitation activates to go forward.

If you are interested in a special use permit for Benton Lake NWR, please contact the Refuge Manager at (406)727-7400.


A pass is not required to visit Benton Lake NWR.

Law Enforcement

Law Enforcement officers at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge help visitors understand and obey the laws that protect our natural resources and provide for public safety. Our officers work closely with state and local government offices to enforce federal and state hunting regulations that protect wildlife from illegal take and preserve legitimate hunting opportunities. 

Laws and Regulations

Activities not specifically covered are prohibited unless special permission is obtained from the Refuge Manager.  If you are in doubt about a specific activity, contact Refuge staff at the headquarters for further information.