Established in 1936 by President Roosevelt, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge system. Encompassing more than one million acres in eastern Montana, the CMR refuge includes native prairies, forested coulees, river bottoms, and badlands, which were often portrayed in the paintings of Charlie Russell, the colorful western artist for whom the refuge is named.
The refuge is home to populations of mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, sharp-tailed grouse, sage-grouse, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets. The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with the fundamental mission of wildlife conservation.
Consistent with its conservation objective, there are abundant opportunities within the refuge for recreational activities, including wildlife observation, hunting, fishing, photography, canoeing, and hiking. The CMR is visited by nearly 250,000 people annually, according to a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service survey. During the fall months, hunters spend a combined 100,000 days pursuing game on the CMR.
Decades of settlement, overexploitation, and chronic conflict with livestock decimated nearly all the megafauna and forage of the Great Plains. But recovery efforts are at work. Rocky Mountain elk have flourished since being reintroduced in 1951. Future reintroductions considered for the CMR include bison, swift fox, pallid sturgeon, and bighorn sheep. The refuge conducts extensive research to monitor population dynamics to support a diversity of wildlife and habitats.
The CMR plains were once host to the largest wild bison herd in North America. At 1.1 million acres, there's a unique opportunity for restoring an American legacy. The National Wildlife Federation is working to recover a free-roaming population of bison to the vast plains of eastern Montana.
Every 15 years, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is required to undergo a Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement that defines the long-term management for the refuge. The National Wildlife Federation's Northern Rockies and Prairies Regional Center strongly believes the preferred plan, "managing for ecological processes," is the best option for improving wildlife habitat while maintaining quality outdoor recreational opportunities. This plan, working with the State of Montana bison management plan, should lay the groundwork for a landscape-scale bison restoration effort. (For more information on the CMR management plan, read the National Wildlife Federation's summary.)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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