About Us

Together, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge encompass an area of 1.1 million acres that span about 125 air miles along the Missouri River, from the Fort Peck Dam west to the boundary with the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Located within the boundary of Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, UL Bend is, in essence, a refuge within a refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages these refuges as one. 

Given the size and remoteness of Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, the area has changed very little from the historic voyage of the Lewis and Clark expedition, through the era of outlaws and homesteaders, to the present time. Elk, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, sage and sharp-tailed grouse, and bald eagles make the refuge home. Over 175,00 acres of designated and proposed wilderness ensure wildlife and people have a chance to experience nature untrammeled and unconfined. Across the Refuge, visitors will find spectacular examples of native prairie, forested coulees, river bottoms, and "breaks" badlands so often portrayed in the paintings of the colorful artist for whom this refuge is named.

Hunting and fishing opportunities abound on Charles M. Russell Refuge. Boating is popular on the Missouri River and Fort Peck Reservoir. Several state parks and recreational areas have been developed within the Refuge and excellent wildlife viewing and photography opportunities are found throughout the refuge. Each fall, hundreds of elk congregate in the Slippery Ann Wildlife Viewing Area, creating a spectacle not to be missed. Camping, hiking and horseback riding are permitted. 

On the east side of the Refuge, in the shadow of the Fort Peck Dam, lies the Fort Peck Interpretive Center, a cooperative effort between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Here, you can explore the wildlife of northeast Montana and the rich history of the Fort Peck area from dinosaurs to dam building.

Charles M. Russell Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge is one of over 560 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System - a system of lands set aside to conserve wildlife and habitat for people today and generations to come. It is the second largest national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

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in the lower 48 states.

Our Mission

Each unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose.

In 1936 President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Fort Peck Game Range (later renamed Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge) for the following purposes:

 “That the natural forage resources therein shall be first utilized for the purpose of sustaining in a healthy condition a maximum of four hundred thousand (400,000) sharp-tailed grouse, and one thousand five hundred (1,500) antelope, the primary species, and such non­predatory secondary species in such numbers as may be necessary to maintain a balanced wildlife population, but in no case shall the consumption of the forage by the combined population of the wildlife species be allowed to increase the burden of the range dedicated to the primary species: Provided further, That all the forage resources within this range or preserve shall be available, except as herein otherwise provided with respect to wildlife, for domestic livestock ... And provided further, That land within the exterior limits of the area herein described ... may be utilized for public grazing purposes only to the extent as may be determined by the said Secretary (Agriculture) to be compatible with the utilization of said lands for the purposes for which they were acquired.” - Executive Order 7509

Our History

Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge has a rich history that spans dinosaurs, Native Americans, explorers, outlaws and naturalists. 

Millions of years ago dinosaurs roamed the area that is now Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Long before the Missouri River existed, Tyranosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Mosasaurus and other creatures lived and died here. Their fossilized remains are occasionally uncovered by wind and water and give a glimpse into the far distant past.

In more recent times (200 to 500 years ago), native tribes such as the Crow, Sioux, Blackfeet and Assiniboine lived and hunted here. The abundant wildlife that native tribes found here was first recorded by Lewis and Clark in May of 1805 as they made their way along the section of the Missouri River that now lies within Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The elk, deer, bison, grizzly bears and especially beaver, that Lewis and Clark wrote about soon attracted fur trappers and traders. The Missouri was the main route of travel into Montana and small settlements, trading posts and military forts were established along the river. Along with settlement came notorious gangs of outlaws, including the infamous Kid Curry, who used the rough country of the Missouri breaks as hide-outs.  

By the 1880’s the Union Pacific Railroad was completed which made travel and settlement of the country easier.  Homesteaders were lured by offers of free land and reports of lush grasslands ready to be farmed. The homestead boom lasted until 1918 when drought forced many people to leave their land. Those who remained began to understand the lack of predict­able moisture in the eastern part of the State lim­ited dry land farming. This, in combination with the Great Depression, caused a mass exodus from Mon­tana in which half of Montana farmers lost their farms between 1921 and 1925.

In 1935, Olaus Murie, a biologist for the Bureau of Biological Survey (now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)—traveled to the Fort Peck area to determine if the area should be set aside as a refuge. On Murie’s recommendation, in 1936 President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Fort Peck Game Range for the following purposes:

“That the natural forage resources therein shall be first utilized for the purpose of sus­taining in a healthy condition a maximum of four hundred thousand (400,000) sharp-tailed grouse, and one thousand five hundred (1,500) antelope, the primary species, and such non­predatory secondary species in such numbers as may be necessary to maintain a balanced wildlife population, but in no case shall the consumption of the forage by the combined population of the wildlife species be allowed to increase the burden of the range dedicated to the primary species: Provided further, That all the forage resources within this range or preserve shall be available, except as herein otherwise provided with respect to wildlife, for domestic livestock ... And provided fur­ther, That land within the exterior limits of the area herein described ... may be utilized for public grazing purposes only to the extent as may be determined by the said Secretary (Agriculture) to be compatible with the utili­zation of said lands for the purposes for which they were acquired.”  - Executive Order 7509

For forty years the Fort Peck Game Range was managed jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1963 the Game Range was renamed the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Range (Public Land Order 2951) in recognition of Charlie Russell, the colorful western artist who often por­trayed the refuge’s landscape in his paintings and whose conservation ethic was years ahead of his time.

Other Facilities in this Complex

This refuge is managed as part of the Charles M. Russell Complex. A National Wildlife Refuge Complex is an administrative grouping of two or more refuges, wildlife management areas or other refuge conservation areas that are primarily managed from a central office location.  Refuges are grouped into a complex structure structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish…

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because they occur in a similar ecological region, such as a watershed or specific habitat type, and have a related purpose and management needs.  Typically, a project leader or complex manager oversees the general management of all refuges within the complex and refuge managers are responsible for operations at specific refuges. Supporting staff, composed of administrative, law enforcement, refuge manager, biological, fire, visitor services, and maintenance professionals, are centrally located and support all refuges within the complex.

Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is the only staffed refuge in the Complex. Other refuges in the Charles M. Russell Complex include: