Centered on 200 km of the Missouri River in north-central Montana, the Charles M. Russell NWR is one of the largest refuges in the lower 48 states. Habitats include native prairies, sagebrush shrublands, forested coulees, river bottoms, and badlands. The refuge is named for Charlie Russell, the colorful western artist who lived and painted in Montana for many years.

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Ornithological Summary

More than 250 species of birds have been documented on the refuge, which is a haven for breeders and migrants alike. Fifteen species of breeders are of Global (Greater Sage-Grouse, Mountain Plover, Ferruginous Hawk, Long-billed Curlew, Brewer?s Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Sprague?s Pipit) or Continental (Northern Harrier, Swainson?s Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Upland Sandpiper, Wilson?s Phalarope, Burrowing Owl, Short-eared Owl, Loggerhead Shrike) conservation concern. Numerical data are unavailable for most of these species, but for three of them, Greater Sage-Grouse, Mountain Plover, and Brewer?s Sparrow, multiyear surveys document that numbers far exceed threshold values to classify the refuge as an IBA of Global significance.

Conservation Issues

Much of the habitat on the CMR is in good shape and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Threats that continue to influence habitat quality include illegal off-road vehicle use, spread of non-native invasive plants, and wildfire. A recent concern is the emergence of West Nile virus, which has been detected in Greater Sage-Grouse on the refuge and has resulted in decreased survival of females in some Montana populations. Long-term monitoring of marked individuals, coupled with epidemiological research, will be necessary for a more complete understanding of the influence of West Nile virus on sage-grouse populations.


Most of the land is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Private inholdings total less than 5% of this huge refuge, with the remainder made up of State school trust lands and Fort Peck Reservoir, which technically also is owned by the State of Montana.

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