What We Do

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is a conservation leader in the Centennial Valley working to maintain, mimic, and where appropriate, restore natural processes to create and sustain native habitat for migratory fish and wildlife.

Management and Conservation

The ongoing conservation efforts at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge aim to provide habitat for breeding and staging migratory birds, native fishes, and both resident and migratory wildlife that maintains the biological diversity and integrity of this montane wetland system.

Management Plan

The Comprehensive Conservation Plan sets the direction for management and use of the Refuge, and includes the following major actions: 

  • Maintain high productivity in wetlands to benefit nesting and migrating trumpeter swans and other waterfowl.
  • Restore two modified wetlands (32 acres) back to a free-flowing, historical spawning stream for the lower 48 states’ last known population of adfluvial Arctic grayling fish. (Adfluvial: lake inhabitant that breeds in a river.)
  • Increase opportunities for environmental education and interpretation to better orient visitors to the values of the Refuge and the Centennial Valley.
  • Provide and expand opportunities for quality hunting and fishing experiences while ensuring that trumpeter swans and other priority migratory birds have protected resting areas. 

Comprehensive Conservation Planning

The purpose of a CCP is to specify a management direction for the Refuge for the next 15 years. The goals, objectives, and strategies for improving Refuge conditions, including the types of habitat we will provide, partnership opportunities, and management actions needed to achieve desired conditions, are described in the CCP. The Service’s preferred alternative for managing the Refuge and its effects on the human environment, are described in the CCP as well.

The Refuge System is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Service is the primary Federal entity responsible for conserving and enhancing the Nation’s fish and wildlife populations and their habitats. Although the Service shares this responsibility with other Federal, State, tribal, local, and private entities, the Service has specific trust resource responsibilities for migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, certain anadromous fish, certain marine mammals, coral reef ecosystems, wetlands, and other special aquatic habitats. The Service also has similar trust responsibilities for the lands and waters it administers to support the conservation and enhancement of all fish and wildlife and their associated habitats.

Red Rock Lakes NWR Comprehensive Conservation Plan

Comprehensive Conservation Plan for Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Our Services

To maintain the wilderness and the sense of solitude of the Refuge, facilities are minimized and limited to a Visitor Center with some exhibits on display, and two primitive campgrounds - one each at Upper and Lower Red Rock Lakes. 

Our Projects and Research

Seasonal biological science technician Kelsey Loverink is the project lead for the Refuge's invasive plant species program. In this photo, Kelsey stands next to a mature invasive musk thistle while she sprays the plant's rosettes, which would become next year's mature plants. Mature musk thistle plants, as seen in this picture, simply have their flower heads removed to prevent seeding. This strategy effectively controls their spread without herbicide use since these plants are biennial and are at the end of their life cycle when in flowering stage.​​​​

Some of the recent and ongoing Refuge research projects include:

  • Integrated restoration strategy for cheatgrass in sagebrush sagebrush
    The western United States’ sagebrush country encompasses over 175 million acres of public and private lands. The sagebrush landscape provides many benefits to our rural economies and communities, and it serves as crucial habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including the iconic greater sage-grouse and over 350 other species.

    Learn more about sagebrush
  • Impacts of cheatgrass on sagebrush songbirds and their habitat
  • Nesting ecology of trumpeter swans
  • Breeding ecology of sage-grouse in southwestern Montana
  • Restoration of sagebrush meadow habitats
  • Linking beaver dam affected flow dynamics to upstream passage of Arctic grayling winter survival, resource use, and hypoxia impacts to Arctic grayling in Upper Red Rock Lake
  • Mountain camera trap surveys for carnivore inventory
  • Mountain bluebird nest box trail
  • Invasive plant removal for enhanced wildlife habitat
  • Aspen reforestation 
  • Duck banding
  • Effects of grazing on grassland and shrubland vegetation and bird communities
  • Grassland restoration
Five acres were restored in a field formerly inundated with invasive grasses at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Eight species of native grasses and twelve species of native flowering forbs combining with some already present native forbs are expected to provide improved habitat for pollinators, birds, and mammals. In addition to returning this field to its fully functioning ecosystem state, it may also serve as an environmental education and interpretive site. Photo and restoration fieldwork by Cortez Rohr/USFWS.
USFWS Zone Wildlife Biologist and proud father, Jeff Warren, poses with his daughters while holding lesser scaup ducks captured during banding operations on Lower Red Rock Lake at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Waterfowl banding provides critical information when hunters harvest and report banded birds. Biologists use this information to make informed decisions governing conservation efforts of these species. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
Deputy Refuge Manager Cortez Rohr delivers bags of whitebark pine cones to a member of the Montana DNRC Tree Seedling Nursery in Missoula, MT that he and technicians collected. The DNRC nursery in Missoula is standing up a whitebark pine seedling propagation program that currently only exists in Coeur d'Alene, ID. This program will be only the second of its kind and these are the first and currently only whitebark pine seeds the nursery is working with. In two years, the Refuge will have whitebark pine seedlings to plant on its high elevation mountain boundary. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
2022 Seasonal biological science technicians Bendigo Artley and Kelsey Loverink show a couple of the whitebark pine cones they collected in an effort to collect seed for future seedling propagation to plant on the Refuge's high elevation boundaries. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
While checking remote camera traps in the mountains for a Refuge carnivore inventory, USFWS Volunteer Sam Waller found a displaced camera trap that was buried in mangled and downed timber caused from a massive winter avalanche. The camera was carried 86 yards away from its original placement. Thanks for finding that camera for us, Sam! Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
Former Refuge biologist, Kyle Cutting, shows a greater sage-grouse hen affixed with radio transmitter collar ready for release.  Collared grouse are tracked using radiotelemetry providing a greater understanding of the breeding ecology of these magnificent birds. Photo by Cortez Rohr/USFWS
Deputy Refuge Manager Cortez Rohr holds a flat containing whitebark pine seedlings propagated from cones he and technicians collected the previous year. The Missoula, MT DNRC tree seedling nursery is standing up a new whitebark pine conservation program in efforts to help save this keystone species. 50 whitebark pine seedlings will be planted on the Refuge's high elevation mountain boundaries while hundreds of other seedlings will be studied for blight resistance and planted in test plots throughout Montana. Pardon the blurry spot on the photo - it was humid in the nursery. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
2022 USFWS biological science technician Nate Cornille checks a mountain bluebird box. The Refuge bluebird trail is at over 90 nest boxes and 18+miles long. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
Volunteers, technicians, and Refuge staff pose for a picture after planting over 1700 aspen tree seedlings in two exclosures totaling five acres in size at a Refuge timber improvement project site to facilitate Wildland Urban Interface. The timber improvement project will help mitigate wildfire dangers near the Refuge headquarters. Aspen seeds were hand collected from six different mother trees around the Refuge and propagated into 12"-18" seedlings by the Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation tree seedling nursery. Many thanks to the volunteers and all who volunteered their time and efforts on a chilly snowy mid-May to plant tree seedlings. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
2022 USFWS biological science technician Jennifer Baxter measures willow browse in the Refuge's willow fen along a survey transect. Data collected will help assess browse pressure exhibited by moose. Given that willows provide important habitat for songbirds and are food resources for several animal species including moose, understanding browse impact is important in determining willow community health. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
2021 USFWS seasonal technicians Taelyn Cathcart, AJ Temple, and Aidan Sullivan identify different species of willows and perform browse surveys to assess the level of moose herbivory, its effect on overall willow community health, and subsequent trickle down ecosystem effects. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
Deputy Refuge Manager Cortez Rohr plants aspen seedlings on the Refuge as part of an effort to accomplish the Refuge's aspen reforestation goal in its Comprehensive Conservation Plan. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
2021 USFWS seasonal technicians AJ Temple and Aidan Sullivan arm camera traps as part of a Refuge carnivore inventory study. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
Former Refuge biologist Kyle Cutting hand augers a hole in 35" thick ice on Upper Red Rock Lake to measure late winter oxygen levels. This effort is to learn more about the Refuge's threatened adfluvial Arctic grayling population and how winter habitat conditions limit the fish's ability to overwinter. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
Deputy Refuge Manager Cortez Rohr holds a whitebark pine cone he collected from a tree at 8,600 feet. Seeds from collected cones will be propagated into seedlings and planted on the Refuge's high-elevation mountain boundaries. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.
Deputy Refuge Manager Cortez Rohr prepares to release an adult trumpeter swan after it has been leg banded in efforts to assist biologists in understanding more about this majestic bird's migration patterns. Photo by Cortez/USFWS.

Law Enforcement

Refuge staff includes Federal Law Enforcement as well as working closely with surrounding Federal, State, and Local Law enforcement agencies to help facilitate all visitors' quality experience while on the Refuge.