On my recent trip to Montana to attend the opening of the Icons of the West exhibition at the Dana Gallery in Missoula, I included a visit to the National Bison Range. I wanted to spend time observing and photographing the primary subject matter of my three bison paintings in the show. It was a wonderful experience.
From a population of 30 to 60 million animals roaming throughout North America, bison reached a low of 100 in the wild in the late 1800’s. Since 1908, the National Bison Range has played an important role in the successful recovery of these magnificent animals. The fact that we can still see bison on the landscape is one of the finest accomplishments in the history of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
President Theodore Roosevelt established the National Bison Range on May 23, 1908 when he signed legislation authorizing funds to purchase suitable land for the conservation of bison. The overall mission of the National Bison Range is to maintain a representative herd of bison, under reasonably natural conditions, to ensure the preservation of the species for continued public enjoyment.
The Refuge is essentially a small, low-rolling mountain connected to the Mission Mountain Range by a gradually descending spur. Range elevation varies from 2,585 feet at headquarters to 4,885 feet at High Point on Red Sleep Mountain, the highest point on the Range. Much of the National Bison Range was once under prehistoric Glacial Lake Missoula, which was formed by a glacial ice dam on the Clark Fork River about 13,000 to 18,000 years ago.
Today, the National Bison Range is a diverse ecosystem of grasslands, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forests, riparian areas and ponds. The Range is one of the last intact publicly-owned intermountain native grasslands in the U.S. In addition to herds of 300 to 400 bison, it supports populations of Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep as well as coyotes, mountain lions, bears, bobcat and over 200 species of birds.