Tester, Baucus: Benton Lake to remain a wetland
Senators secure continued use for hunters, wildlife watchers
(U.S. SENATE) – Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus today announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not go through with a plan to drain the Benton Lake Wildlife Refuge, saving a critical place for Montanans to hunt and view wildlife.
Benton Lake is a popular hunting and wildlife viewing area north of Great Falls. The wetland attracts hundreds of thousands of birds in yearly migration and also serves as important summer breeding grounds. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge is struggling with invasive species and a build-up of selenium – a mineral that can lead to birth defects in birds.
In a recent draft management plan for the refuge, the Fish and Wildlife Service sought to drain the refuge, but came under pressure from Tester, Baucus and Montana sportsmen’s organizations who said that proper management of the refuge’s water level could address the selenium issue while preserving the bird refuge for future generations.
Tester and Baucus said that Fish and Wildlife Service will now work with local stakeholders on a long-term solution for the refuge.
“This is welcome news for Montana sportsmen and women,” said Tester, Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. “Benton Lake is an important spot for wildlife. Working together to hammer out a long-term solution will protect the refuge for birds and Montana’s sportsmen and women, and I look forward to the new proposal that will come from this work.”
Tester and Baucus told Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe earlier this month that the proposal to drain the lake was not a “balanced solution.”
"Benton Lake is a special place for all of us, and that's why we pushed for a Montana-made solution that will keep it that way,” Senator Baucus said. “This is a win for Montana sportsmen and women."
The Russell Country Sportsmen’s Association, a collection of sportsmen in Great Falls who advocate for maintaining hunting at the refuge, thanked Tester and Baucus for their support.
“I’d like to thank Senators Tester and Baucus for their work on this issue,” said John Borgreen, past president of the Russell Country Sportsman Association. “It was their involvement that got the Fish and Wildlife Service to listen. We’re grateful the agency heard our concerns, and we look forward to working with them to create a plan for Benton Lake that works for all involved.”
Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge is part of a larger refuge complex that spans 12 Montana counties and provides habitat for thousands of migratory birds, including tundra swans, shorebirds, ducks, falcons and eagles.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s response to Tester and Baucus is available online HERE.