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important bird areas (IBA) program

The IBA Program

Glacier National Park IBALong-term conservation of birds and their habitats is a major goal of Montana Audubon. Central to this goal is the Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program. The IBA Program is a global initiative to identify, monitor, and protect a network of sites critical for the conservation of birds. Since 1995, the National Audubon Society has taken the lead in implementing the IBA Program in the US, and we administer the program in Montana.

Madison River IBAIBAs are part of a conservation strategy that focuses attention on habitats and key bird species. The concept is simple: identify and compile an inventory of areas that sustain healthy populations of birds (usually species of conservation concern), and then focus conservation efforts on these sites so that their qualities can be preserved. Habitat conservation is then achievable through acquisitions or easements, establishing voluntary best practices or management agreements, or through other protective measures. IBA designation is not legally binding.

By focusing attention on areas that are especially critical to birds during some or all stages of their annual cycle, the IBA Program is a valuable tool for setting conservation priorities. Additionally, engaged volunteers and Audubon friends can "adopt" individual IBAs and assist with monitoring, education and conservation.

The IBA Program in MontanaIBA habitat map

As of summer 2014, the Montana IBA Committee has approved 42 Important Bird Areas in our state, including the recent addition of two braided sections of the Yellowstone River. (Map coming soon!) We are still working to update all our files, though the GIS shapefile and the detailed map are both up-to-date.

View our map of 40 Montana IBAs (Yellowstone River IBAs coming soon), or our brochure.

  • View our 2-page brochure.
  • View our detailed maps - pdf or jpeg.
  • To download individual maps (pdf) of each IBA, go HERE.
  • To view in Google Earth (free program required), click HERE. Note: to view names or locate individual IBAs, click on + by "IBAs_all" under "places" at right.
  • For the GIS shape files (updated August 2011), download this zip file.

Globally Significant IBAs
In Montana, we now have 11 IBAs given globally significant priority designation from National Audubon. these include the following (including A1 trigger species):

  • Glaciated Prairie Sage-steppe - Greater-Sage Grouse
  • Mussellshell Sage-steppe - Greater-Sage Grouse
  • Bridger Sage-steppe - Greater-Sage Grouse
  • Powder/Carter Sage-steppe - Greater-Sage Grouse
  • Beaverhead Sage-steppe - Greater-Sage Grouse
  • Hebgen Lake – Trumpeter Swan
  • Little Beaver Creek – Mountain Plovers
  • North Valley Grasslands – Chestnut-collared Longspur, Sprague’s Pipit
  • Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge - Greater-Sage Grouse, Mountain Plover, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Sprague’s Pipit
  • Westby Prairie-Wetland Complex – Piping Plover, Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspurs
  • Glacier National Park - Olive-sided Flycatcher

American White PelicanAdditionally, in 2014, we nominated Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area and Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge for global priority designation based on the high numbers of nesting American White Pelicans. We are currently waiting to hear back from National Audubon Society about this nomination.


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Individuals, Audubon Chapters, and other groups may be interested in identifying and proposing new IBAs for Montana.

We know there are many valuable bird habitat sites across the state, yet in order to qualify as an IBA, the site must meet specific criteria and must include recent bird data. Once this information is compiled into a nomination packet, an independent Technical Committee reviews the nomination and either approves, asks for more data or information, or does not approve the proposed site.

At this time, the Committee has asked us to hold off on new nominations until a review of Montana's state IBA criteria is completed. If you have any questions about IBA nominations, please contact Amy Cilimburg or Amy Seaman.

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In January 2002, the Montana IBA Committee voted to identify 26 IBAs from among nearly 60 sites submitted during the first round of nominations. These sites arefairly evenly spread across the state and range in size from 100 acres at Safe Harbor Marsh to more than one million acres at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Collectively, they encompass many of the premier tracts of bird habitat in the state.Lake Helena IBA

Most of the land area within these original 26 IBAs is under public ownership. Indeed, federal and state agencies are the primary land managers for all but two of these IBAs. Other stakeholders include the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, The Nature Conservancy, the Bureau of Reclamation, and a handful of private landowners. On balance, however, this initial suite of IBAs was heavily weighted toward areas that were already receiving protection (e.g., national wildlife refuges andstate wildlife management areas) before they became IBAs.

Building Momentum from a Great Start
With the formal identification of our sites, we’re off to a great start with our IBA Program, but much crucial work remains to be done. Even after we have added a large number of sites to the program, our job is not over, because many IBAs will require monitoring and conservation planning after they have been added to the list. The challenge is to make each IBA as meaningful as possible for conservation.

Here again, we are off to a great start. Montana Audubon recently played a pivotal role in completing a Master Plan for the Owen Sowerwine IBA, the first site in our system to receive a formal conservation plan. Conservation plans are especially important for sites that are not already under some form of protection. As our program expands to include more IBAs that are not publicly owned, the need for detailed conservation plans will grow concomitantly.

New IBAs Identified in 2014
Yellowstone RiverOur newest IBAs, two sections of the highly braided Yellowstone River, were approved in May due to large numbers of breeding Red-headed Woodpeckers, Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Data supporting this nomination was collected during an intensive 2012 field effort with support from Fish Wildlife and Parks. The data was collected along private and public land and will allow the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council to use bird population numbers as a terrestrial metric for ecosystem health.

IBAs Identified in 2008
These include our globally significant sage-steppe IBAs, details of which can be found HERE.

IBAs Identified in 2006
GlacierIBAAs a science-based means of helping set conservation priorities for birds, an IBA cannot beidentified in the absence of sound data on (1) the occurrence of species of high conservation priority and/or (2) the occurrence of exceptionally high numbers of birds, or of a high diversity of bird species, in an area. Thus, acquiring baseline data on the presence and numbers of bird species of conservation priority (e.g., Threatened and Endangered species, Audubon WatchList species) will be a major focus of our efforts. Building on grants received in 2002, we submitted several new grants in 2003 and 2004 geared towardexpanding the IBA Program in creative ways. In keeping with our Citizen Science objective, the proposed projects will make good use of members of our local Audubon chapters in the form of "AIM" Teams (Avian Inventory and Monitoring) that will help survey for target species of conservation priority.

We conducted three major field efforts from 2003 to 2005. In partnership with the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, Luzenac Montana (a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Mining), and Sacajawea Audubon, we inventoried birds on private lands in cottonwood forests along the Madison River near Ennis. And along the Clark Fork River near Missoula, we surveyed riparian forests, Palouse grasslands, and wetlands used by migrating shorebirds in a collaborative project with Five Valleys Land Trust, Smurfit-Stone Container, and Five Valleys Audubon. Working with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, we inventoried birds in cottonwood gallery forest along the Tongue River in southeastern Montana. Each of these efforts resulted in the formal identification of a new Important Bird Area: the Madison Valley IBA, the Clark Fork River-Grass Valley IBA, and the Tongue River IBA, respectively. In addition, the State Technical Committee recently accepted a nomination for the Hebgen Lake IBA, which supports large numbers of wintering Trumpeter Swans. We are very excited about the fact that the Clark Fork River-Grass Valley and Hebgen Lake sites qualify as IBAs of Continental Significance based on numbers of nesting Lewis's Woodpeckers and wintering Trumpeter Swans, respectively.

Find IBA details here:

Madison Valley IBA information can be found HERE>>

Clark Fork River-Grass Valley IBA information can be found HERE>>

For more information contact: Amy Cilimburg, Director of Bird Conservation, at 406-465-1141 or Amy Seaman, Bird Conservation Associate, at 406-443-3949.

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