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
We’re addressing the environmental issues that threaten healthy wildlife populations and put species at risk. »
Saving America’s wildlife strengthens our democracy and prosperity for future generations. Join our conservation army. »
Our nation's diverse and wondrous lands provide invaluable resources that require bold, future-focused management strategies. »
Americans are about to experience a rare phenomenon for the first time in 17 years: the return of Brood X periodical cicadas!Get the Facts
Hear from champions for greater and safer access to the outdoors as they discuss the potential solutions to address the intersectional issues faced by Black communities.Listen Now
By taking the Mayors' Monarch Pledge, your local leaders can commit to uniting your community around saving the imperiled monarch. Send a message today urging your mayor or head of local or Tribal government to pledge before April 30!Act Now
Get quotes now or call (855) 786-0941Get Quotes Now
More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.