Much of the CMR Refuge is critical for sage grouse
The National Wildlife Federation has a long history of working to resolve livestock / wildlife conflicts on the 1.1 million acre Charles M. Russell (CMR) National Wildlife Refuge in northcentral Montana. The refuge is home to abundant populations of grassland birds, pronghorn, elk and mule deer. Grazing has a long history on the refuge and we've been working cooperatively with ranchers to make more room for wildlife. The refuge is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System and managing for healthy and abundant wildlife populations is the first priority on the refuge, however, working cooperatively with neighboring ranchers means high quality wildlife habitat doesn't end at the refuge boundary. NWF has two priority programs on the CMR refuge. The first is actively working to reduce livestock fence collisions with sage grouse by strategically placing visual markers so fence strike mortality is minimized. The second is working to retire cattle grazing allotments on the refuge to minimize conflict with wildlife.
In October we negotiated an important cattle grazing agreement on the east end of the refuge on the 2,200 acre Bay Pasture on Bobcat Cr. Our goal is to provide the US Fish and Wildlife Service with increased flexibility in their grazing program by reducing the overall number of livestock on the refuge. This is only done by working with willing ranchers and developing agreements for them to waive their grazing permit. We have fundraised much of the cost of this effort, but still have $5,000 yet to raise to pay for this grazing retirement.
NWF does not believe all livestock grazing is a negative, but in the face of climate change, increased drought and vulnerable species, reducing grazing pressure allows native plants and wildlife to gain a foothold. In fact, the northern Great Plains evolved with significant grazing, in the form of millions of bison grazing the prairie. Bison, however, graze much differently than livestock, creating a patchwork of high and low intensity areas that are a necessity for a variety of grassland bird species, including sage grouse, spragues pipits and McCown's longspur . NWF's long term goal on the CMR is to restore an ecologically significant bison population (<1000 animals) to the refuge to fulfill this critical ecological niche, however, in the meantime we are working cooperatively to change the current cattle grazing regime to allow for greater species diversity.
Working with MT Conservation Corps flagging fences
Camping on the CMR Refuge for field work
Elk are abundant on the CMR Refuge