Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge

Projects and Research

Bitterroot River Important Bird Area

"Riparian areas and wetlands occupy less than 4% of Montana’s land surface, and less than 1% throughout the West, yet they support more than 80% of the bird species found in Montana" (text from Bitterroot River IBA brochure-Bitterroot Audubon).

Important Bird Areas (IBA) are a program of BirdLife International. This organization is a partnership consortium of many global conservation organizations. IBA's do one or more of the following:

  • Have one or more globally threatened species
  • Are a site that holds a series of restricted-range species or biome-restricted species
  • Have exceptional large numbers of migratory or congregatory species

Birds are also biodiversity indicators for other animal groups and plants. Though IBA networks are defined by bird fauna, the conservation of IBA sites also ensures the survival of a number of other associated animals and plants.

The National Audubon Society has implemented the IBA program in the U.S. Drilling down from the national level, the Montana Audubon (state Audubon chapter) along with the the local Audubon chapters of the Bitterroot and Five Valley's have played large roles in the application and designation of the Bitterroot River IBA.  

The boundary for this IBA is the 500 year floodplain for the Bitterroot River from the north end of Hamilton to the south side of Lolo. The 30 mile stretch of river designated is dominated by private lands; State land holdings, conservation easements and the Refuge make up the balance of properties contained therein. The key species (out of 240 + species of birds) of the Bitterroot River IBA are also identified and in many cases are priority species, targeted management goals as identified in the Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan. Though, the overwhelming highlight of both is the recognition of the value of riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

Learn more about riparian
and wetland habitat. A Bitterroot River IBA brochure has been developed by Bitterroot Audubon that includes a map and descriptive text. 

Whaley Homestead

"The house and outbuildings retain an excellent level of historic integrity. The historic fabric is largely undisturbed, and much of the original detailing remains. The log understructure, with the weatherboard cladding, pedimented fenestration, and hand carved verge boards reflect accurately the original design and character of this transitional vernacular building….the complex strongly conveys its historic agricultural homestead associations." The nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places designation.

The Whaley Homestead is on the National Register of Historic Places because it exhibits unique qualities of vernacular frontier architecture associated with the beginnings and evolution of agricultural development.   


"The Whaley Homestead was settled in 1877 by Peter Whaley, an Irish immigrant whose family came to the United States in 1841. In 1849, the California gold rush brought him westward. In 1859, Peter Whaley married Hannah E. Whitehead. During the years that followed, Peter Whaley alternated between mercantile activities in the Midwest, and mining in the West. His wife accompanied him on these ventures, and the Whaley's had a total of eight children across the West during the years that ensued. Gold strikes in Montana eventually brought the Whaley's to Bannack in 1863 and Alder Gulch in 1864, where Peter Whaley fared successfully. From there, the family moved to Diamond City in 1866; Peter Whaley dealt supplies to the miners for eight years until the camp played out. From there, Whaley went to the old Jocko Indian agency, where he served as the Agent on the Flathead Indian Agency in Montana from April 1874 to April 1875. In 1875, the Peter Whaley family moved to Hell Gate, and then to the Bitterroot Valley near Florence.

In 1877, Peter Whaley moved his family once more, upon filing a Desert Land claim for this property where he built a small log cabin. The railroad challenged the claim, and for two years Whaley lived on a nearby tract of land, while continuing to cultivate this property. In 1879, Whaley prevailed in his claim, and he "removed [his] House on it?. By 1885, Whaley's homestead proof record cites a major improvement on the property--the substantial house which stands yet today: an eight-room log house, 32' x 48' in dimension. Exterior embellishment appears to have been added by this time. The property was also fenced, and contained a granary, a roothouse and a water ditch. 

David and Julia Whaley, Peter's children, filed homestead claims on adjoining acreage. David claimed an adjoining 160 acres in 1879, Julia filed claim to 80 more acres in 1883. Between the three of them, the Whaley's owned over 400 contiguous acres in section 11. Each made the required improvements - a dwelling and cultivation of the land - although only the Peter Whaley house remains today.

The Whaley's were reportedly not exceptional farmers, in fact, most farms in the Bitterroot turned out to be marginal. Supplementing the farming income, the Whaley's raised livestock and operated a meat market in Stevensville. And much of their livelihood was derived from a sawmill operation in Florence, and the Stevensville Hotel. In 1905, the Whaley's sold their land; Peter Whaley died in 1912.

The homestead changed hands two times before Fred and Anna Hagen bought it in 1921. The Hagens returned the property to a self-sufficient small farm, ripping out the orchard plantings and restoring the production to crops and dairy farming, similar to the original homestead activities. During the 1920's, a cannery was established in Stevensville, and the Hagen's were among the first to raise corn in the valley. For a period they raised hogs. They also ran a small dairy, producing 200 gallons of milk per day in 1926. In 1933-34, the Hagen's built a new milk house; in later years, they grew potatoes and converted the building for cutting french fries. In 1940, Harold Hagen took over the operation of the homestead from his father. All told, Hagen's remained on the land for over 60 years. During the late 1960's and early 1970's, they sold off parcels to the Refuge. Harold Hagen retained life use; he lived there until 1988" (copied from National Register of Historic Places Registration Form - Whaley Homestead [documentation and references included], authors Chere Jiusto and Nathan Latta [State Historic Preservation Office], November 1990).

Management and Future Use

In February 2008, the Montana Preservation Alliance (MPA) received a Preserve America grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation to conduct Interpretive Planning and Stewardship for the Peter Whaley House, an important historical homestead located on the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. MPA provided an interpretive framework that recognizes the significant cultural and interpretive values of the Whaley House and the clear potential the homestead offers, to support the mission and federal responsibilities of the Refuge.

2016 Structural Restoration

A competitive bid was won by Betance Inc. to correct several significant issues with the building. Key features addressed included: the foundation, masonry, windows and roofing. Work commenced in April and by July structural concerns were addressed and repaired.