Sunrise Over Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge photo by Megan O’Reilly /USFWS
The comprehensive conservation plan sets out the management and use of Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge Complex for 15 years. The refuge complex spans 12 counties and both sides of the Continental Divide in Montana. The main purpose for the refuge complex is to provide habitat for migratory birds, as set out in the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
The following units of the refuge complex are part of this planning effort:
- Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge
- Benton Lake Wetland Management District
- Blackfoot Valley Conservation Area
- Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area
- Swan River National Wildlife Refuge
- Swan Valley Conservation Area
Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1929 and comprises 12,383 acres (13 square miles). It is located 12 miles north of Great Falls, Montana, in Cascade County. The refuge is an oasis of native grasslands and wetlands lying within a sea of agriculture, and is home to the largest breeding colonies of Franklin’s gulls and white-faced ibis in Montana. The National Audubon Society has designated the refuge as a Globally Important Bird Area.
Benton Lake Wetland Management District is the largest in the country. Twenty-two waterfowl production areas in the district, important for waterfowl nesting and feeding, occur throughout a setting of open space, wetlands, and scattered mountain ranges. In addition to protection of habitat for migratory birds, the purpose of the district is for conservation (Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act). Conservation easements protect more than 86,000 acres across the district.
Blackfoot Valley Conservation Area was established in 1994 and expanded in 2010 with the potential protection of 103,500 acres with conservation easements. It is located in the Blackfoot Valley of west-central Montana. This 1.5-million-acre watershed extends from the top of the Continental Divide westward for about 132 miles. The geologic, hydrologic, and topographic features of the watershed have produced a mosaic of habitat types. Wetland complexes provide important breeding habitat for 21 species of waterfowl and other waterbirds. In addition, area habitats support bull trout, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and grizzly bears. The general purpose of this wildlife management area is to conserve wetland, fish, and wildlife resources (Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986, Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956).
Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area was established in 2005 and expanded in 2010 with the potential protection of 295,000 acres with conservation easements. It is located in north-central Montana, along the Front Range (eastern side) of the Rocky Mountains. The Service established this easement program to conserve fish and wildlife habitat (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956). The purpose of the project is to create and maintain intact blocks of important wildlife habitat between existing protected areas. Important parts of this program are the large, working ranches in the area, which play a major role in supporting and protecting biological values of the Rocky Mountain Front.
Swan River National Wildlife Refuge was authorized in 1973 and comprises 1,568 acres. It is located 32 miles southeast of Creston, Montana, in Lake County. The refuge is nestled in the serene Swan Valley Mountain Range in northwestern Montana. Historically, the meandering Swan River left a series of oxbow sloughs within its floodplain, where the refuge now lies. Refuge habitat supports a variety of wildlife species including yellow perch, Canada geese, marsh wrens, white-tailed deer, and an occasional grizzly bear.
Swan Valley Conservation Area was proposed in 2010 with the potential protection of 10,000 acres with conservation easements and up to 1,000 acres in fee title adjacent to Swan River National Wildlife Refuge. It is located in Flathead and Lake Counties, Montana. The purpose of the project is to protect one of the last low-elevation, coniferous forest ecosystems in western Montana that remains undeveloped. The Swan Valley is one of the only watersheds in the western continental United States that supports breeding common loons. Federal trust species in the valley include grizzly bear, gray wolf, wolverine, American marten, and Canada lynx.
The complete Comprehensive Conservation Plan can be downloaded here (11MB).
References: USFWS Division of Refuge Planning