Montana Audubon

Montana Audubon works at the local, state and national policy levels to protect our natural heritage.

Streams & Wetlands

Wetlands and riparian areas, where water and land come together, are some of the most productive and valuable of Montana’s natural areas, providing a wide variety of environmental and human benefits. The benefits of these resources for local communities include:

  • Improving water quality by filtering sediments and toxins out of water;
  • Recharging wells and ground water supplies;
  • Providing flood control;
  • Enriching open space;
  • Increasing real property values and marketability because of aesthetic attributes;
  • Enhancing fish and wildlife habitat; and
  • Improving recreational opportunities.

The best inventory completed shows Montana’s wetland, riparian, and water resources occupy 4.3% of the state, which is made up the following (Source: MT Natural Heritage Program, May 15, 2015):

  • Water area in Montana = 956,102 acres = 1.0% of Montana
  • Wetlands = 2,435,123 acres = 2.6% of Montana
  • Riparian = 627,650 acres = 0.7% of Montana

The information below describes the importance of this habitat to fish and wildlife, specific wetland/riparian habitat types found in Montana, and conservation measures that can be used to protect these sensitive areas.

Montana's Wildlife Depends on Wetlands & Riparian Areas:

Wetlands, riparian areas, and water are particularly important habitats for wildlife.

  • Mammals: Important seasonal or year-round habitat for at least 56 of Montana’s mammals, including 36 species of small mammals (rodents, rabbits, and shrews), 8 bats, 7 carnivores (otter, weasels, racoons, and skunks), and 4 ungulates (white-tailed and mule deer, moose, and pronghorn). (Source MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks)
  • Birds (Source: 2012 edition of Mphoto_grebeT Bird Distribution):
    • Breeding Birds: Breeding and nesting areas for at least 52% of Montana’s breeding bird species (102 of Montana’s 260 breeding birds)
    • Migrating Birds: Much-needed food and resting areas for 65% of the birds that routinely migrate through Montana (51 of the 77 bird species that regularly migrate through Montana). Temporary wetlands that only have water in the spring are particularly important.
    • Species of Concern: 30 of Montana’s 66 bird species of concern (46%).
  • Reptiles and Amphibians: Essential breeding, foraging, and over-wintering habitat for Montana’s 16 native amphibians (salamanders, frogs, and toads), 3 turtles, and at least 7 of Montana’s snakes (Source MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks)
  • Fish: 100% of the habitat for Montana’s 85 species of fish that depend on healthy streams, including 51 species of native fish and 32 non-native (introduced) fish.


Cottonwood forests provide habitat for more than half the bird species in Montana, while hundreds of thousands of spring and fall migrating birds seek these riparian corridors for food and shelter. In the western United States, they support a higher diversity of breeding birds than all other western habitats combined.


Wetlands and riparian areas make up less than 3.3 percent of Montana’s land base, yet remain the most important wildlife habitat in our state. However, the same places that attract wildlife are also attractive to people. The protection and enhancement of Montana’s remaining wetlands is a priority issue for Montana Audubon. Because of this, we have initiated a series of projects, described below, that are designed to provide citizens and local government officials with the information they need to protect these important areas.

Land Use Planning and Protection of Streams & Wetlands:

Wetlands and riparian habitat are critical to the health and survival of Montana’s wildlife. Yet these same areas are often the sites for new homes and development pressure. Many conflicts with—and adverse impacts to—wildlife could be avoided by land use planning decisions made at the local level.

Bank Stabilization:

Because of the volume and scale of river projects being constructed many of our states streams and rivers, Montana Audubon completed a fact sheet that describes all of the common bank stabilization structures being used (for example: riprap, bendway weirs, jetties, barbs, etc.).

404 Wetlands Law:

Montana Audubon works on issues impacted by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Click here to learn about the 2015 Environmental Protection Agency rule that updated the definition of “Waters of the United State” OR to learn about our layman’s guide on how wetlands are protected under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Clean Water - Hidden Life of Water video:

Wetlands and riparian areas protect clean water. And our communities depend on clean water. View this short video on the life of water in Missoula – from groundwater, into our homes, into a treatment plant, and then back into our groundwater.  Hidden Life of Water

On-The-Ground Projects:

Owen Sowerwine Natural Area

Montana Audubon has a license on a 442-acre parcel of school trust land located at the confluence of the Flathead and Stillwater Rivers. It is the first—and only—state natural area designated on school trust land.

Picotte Property Wetland

Montana Audubon facilitated the purchase of a 2.5-acre wetland in the Helena Valley near the County Fairgrounds. This was a cooperative project with Last Chance Audubon, Mikal Kellner Foundation, Prickly Pear Land Trust and the City of Helena. The City of Helena now owns the parcel, and Montana Audubon holds a permanent conservation easement on the property.


The Army Corps of Engineers

The Army Corps of Engineers regulates all activities that fill wetlands under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The 404 program also regulates the placement of bank stabilization structures along our rivers and streams. Montana Audubon is the leading conservation organization in the state commenting on 404 permits, including keeping other conservation organizations involved and informed about individual projects. This is an acre-by-acre approach to protecting these resources.

Montana Audubon depends on your financial support


Support Reintroduction of Beaver in a Remote Site Near Dillon

Please respond by June 22 – do it today! Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP)…

Center Activities and Updates- June 2018

Click here to read the Montana Audubon Center’s activities and updates for June 2018!

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