Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Centennial Valley, Lakeview, MT, 2017

It snowed the first night of my residency in the Centennial Valley in Montana’s southern end of the Bitterroot Mountains. The cold front had dampened the historic 2017 Montana wildfires. The next morning snow covered the willows and grasses of Centennial Valley. I walked down the South Valley Road and crossed the field and entered the willow thickets that line Odell Creek. After an hour of slogging through wet willows, I headed back to my cabin. As I started back across the field, I looked up and there stood a huge bull moose stripping off willow leaves.

Perusing a topographic map of the Centennial Mountains that flank the wildlife refuge, I quickly planned out a project for my residency: Walking Odell. While at the Taft-Nicolson Center, I would hike and explore the length of Odell Creek, one of the original streams that flow into Red Rock Lakes, the headwaters of the Missouri River.

As a way to protect the dwindling trumpeter swan, the Red Rock Lakes Migratory Waterfowl Refuge was created by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 22, 1935, “as a refuge and breeding ground for wild birds and animals.” In 1961, it became a National Wildlife Refuge. Naively, I thought a refuge protected wildlife. Little did I know that refuges actually don’t do that. The hunting of wildlife within refuges is allowed.