Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 450, Black Eagle, MT 59414
Portions of northern Montana have high densities of prairie wetlands and large tracts of unbroken native prairie. These wetland complexes are comprised of numerous seasonal and temporary basins. However, there are few semipermanent wetlands available for wildlife.
One way to increase availability of semipermanent water bodies to wildlife is to construct small reservoirs and stockponds. Reservoir sites can be strategically located to maximize use of snowmelt and runoff in semi-arid areas, and they generally have small surface areas that minimize evaporation rates. As a result, they often persist through hot summers and reoccurring droughts. Ranchers recognized the importance of small reservoirs and stockponds to livestock and began constructing reservoirs in the early 1900's. Wildlife researchers also have discovered that small reservoirs and stockponds provide excellent habitat for a breeding waterfowl and other wetland wildlife. High pair-densities and productivity-rates suggest that constructing reservoirs on large blocks of native grassland will increase waterfowl production.
Small reservoirs and stockponds closely resemble natural wetlands; water depths, aquatic vegetation, invertebrate populations, and wildlife use are similar to those of semipermanent wetlands. Maximum water depth seldom exceeds 2.2 m and they generally have a shallow water fringe that gradually leads into a deep-water zone.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Wildlife Program has been working with landowners in Montana to improve wildlife habitat on private lands since 1988. The majority of these wildlife cooperators make their living farming and ranching. Landowners recognize the value of small reservoirs and stockponds to wildlife populations and have been eager to establish or restore these basins. This tool has been important component of the Montana private lands program. Over the past five years, Partners for Wildlife has restored or created 1,600 ha of small reservoirs and stockponds in Montana that provide critical habitat for a vaiety of wildlife.