Montana is blessed with lots of room to roam. After all, we are the fourth largest state in the nation, following Alaska, Texas and California. The state encompasses a total of 147,040 square miles of land, with the actual land area of 145,470 and water area 1,570 square miles. With a population of 1,069,000 and the 2019 visitor numbers at 12,636,000 we still have lots of land to share.
Before we get into the wild part, here are a few facts about land in Montana where many of our wildlife can be found:
- • The state has almost 28 million acres of public lands, which is 30% of the state’s total acreage.
- • Montana is home to seven State Forests, 55 State Parks and two national parks, Yellowstone and Glacier. The majority of Yellowstone is located in Wyoming, but three of the five entrances are located in Montana at Gardiner, Cooke City and West Yellowstone.
- • Montana has 16 designated wilderness areas, comprising roughly 3.5 million acres (about 3.75 percent) of the state’s lands. They include the highest peaks in the Treasure State, Wilson Peak in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area, as well as low-lying marshland suited for wildlife refuges. These wilderness areas are home to thousands of species of flora and fauna – a number of them threatened or endangered.
There is a large variety of wildlife in Montana and every creature has its own special function within the ecosystem. An ecosystem is the way plants and animal species interact with one another, each one doing its own job to keep nature in balance. Animal species in Montana range in size from the tiny shrew to the huge American bison. Additionally, there are numerous bird species, which occupy every kind of habitat. Montana is unique in being one of the last places in the lower forty-eight states to have more animals than people.
Here’s a short list of some of the animals that call Montana home:
- • Grizzly bear (Montana’s State Animal)
- • Black bear
- • Bighorn Sheep
- • Bison (also known as buffalo)
- • White-tailed deer
- • Pronghorn
- • Mule deer
- • Bald Eagles
- • Elk
- • Lynx
- • Moose
- • Mountain Goats
- • Mountain Lions
- • Ravens
- • Gray Wolves
The list of birds and water fowl is quite extensive! Visitors most commonly see the Bald Eagle, Osprey, various duck species, snow geese, hawks, herons, trumpeter swans, pheasants, wild turkeys, grouse, grebes, cranes, meadowlarks (MT State Bird) hummingbirds and sandpipers, just to name a few. Check out this list of Montana birds to learn more about the species you can find in Big Sky Country.
Many of these species can be sited at the national parks, state parks, state and national forests, wilderness areas and at the attractions below:
- • The National Bison Range is located on the Flathead Indian Reservation near Ravalli in northwest Montana. The Range is one of the last intact publicly-owned intermountain native grasslands in the U.S. In addition to herds of 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.
- • The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone houses these two magnificent species with interpretive signage throughout the center.
- • The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary/Beartooth Nature Center in Red Lodge and the Montana Wildlife Center in Helena.
A couple of important wildlife tips: Keep your distance! Do not approach wildlife as you will be a threat to them and carry bear spray when hiking!