Located in the heavily glaciated plains of northeastern Montana, Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 to protect migratory waterfowl. The refuge consists of two units: the north tract, which includes Medicine Lake proper, five smaller lakes, and numerous potholes; and the smaller south tract, which includes Homestead Lake. The Medicine Lake Wilderness was established in 1976 to provide a higher level of protection to the most remote sections of the refuge. The refuge's wetlands and native prairies support a high diversity of birds, several of which are of Global conservation concern. In addition to the normal complement of large mammals that inhabit the Montana prairies, the refuge mammal list includes such unlikely species as moose, caribou, and wolverine.

{link:For IBA map, click here.|http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/usibac/2008_P7/MT2933m_MedicineLake08.pdf}

Ornithological Summary

More than 270 species of birds have been recorded in the wetlands and native prairies of Medicine Lake refuge. The list of breeders includes an incredible 22 species of Global (Ferruginous Hawk, Piping Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Sprague's Pipit, Brewer's Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur) and Continental (Northern Harrier, Swainson's Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Yellow Rail, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Phalarope, Common Tern, Burrowing Owl, Short-eared Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Sedge Wren, Baird's Sparrow, LeConte's Sparrow, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, McCown's Longspur) conservation concern. In addition, Globally endangered Whooping Cranes occasionally stop here during spring and fall migration, and an island in the main lake supports one of only four breeding colonies of American White Pelicans in Montana.

Conservation Issues

On balance the refuge is in very good shape. The biggest threat is from exotic plants, especially crested wheatgrass and leafy spurge. Periodic drought can affect water levels to the detriment of some species of wetland obligates but also may improve nesting conditions for the threatened Piping Plover.


The entire refuge is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


The refuge encompasses 31,660 acres in Sheridan and Roosevelt counties and includes about 14,000 acres of open water and marsh, 14,000 acres of native prairie and 3,600 acres of previously cultivated lands now maintained mostly in perennial grass plantings.

The natural prairie vegetation is dominated primarily by western wheatgrass, needle and thread, and blue grama, but plant associations fluctuate greatly in time and space with annual moisture, slope, aspect, and soil type. Grasses are interspersed with a diversity of forbs and patches of low shrubs, especially in the sandhills where chokecherry and snowberry patches are common on slopes and flats between dunes. Subirrigated, wet meadow areas are dominated by prairie cordgrass, switchgrass, western wheatgrass, rushes and sedges, and abundant tall forbs.

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