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National Bison Range Compact

85-20-1601 MCA

A compact between the State and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge was reached in 2009. This compact provides water for wildlife consumption and habitat as well as administrative uses, such as wildfire suppression. The compact was ratified by the 2009 Montana Legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The Montana Water Court issued the Bison Range preliminary decree in September 2011 (Case # WC-2011-01) and approved the compact in July 2014.

Compact Summary



  • The Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have entered into a Compact quantifying the federal reserved water rights of the FWS for the National Bison Range, located in Water Court Basin 76L on the Flathead Indian Reservation near Charlo, Montana.

  • The RWRCC was created by the Montana Legislature in 1979 to act on behalf of the State to negotiate settlements of federal reserved water right claims as part of the state-wide water adjudication. A federal reserved water right is created when an Act of Congress or a Presidential Executive Order or Proclamation sets aside federal land from the public domain for a specified purpose. This includes Indian Reservations, some Fish and Wildlife Refuges, some BLM lands, National Forests, National Parks, and others. The water right has the priority date of the reservation of the land, even though the water right might not have been used at that time or even at present. The water right includes the amount of water necessary to accomplish the specified purpose(s) for which the land was reserved.

  • By state law a negotiated settlement must be enacted by the Montana Legislature, be approved by federal officials, and go through an objection process in the Montana Water Court. After objections to all claims (including objections to the Compact) are resolved, the Water Court issues a final decree for all water rights in each basin, including the reserved rights in the negotiated settlement.

  • This Compact quantifies federal reserved water rights for the FWS’ National Bison Range from springs, seeps, naturally-occurring flood flows and groundwater sources arising inside the boundaries of the National Bison Range for:
    • Consumptive wildlife use rights for up to 755 animal units (one male bison equals 1.5 animal units; one female bison equals 0.9 animal units);
    • Non-consumptive wildlife uses from springs, seeps and naturally-occurring surface flows for bird habitat;
    • Consumptive uses from springs and seeps for the production of forage for bison;
    • Consumptive and non-consumptive administrative uses, including but not limited to domestic, lawn and garden, storage and dust abatement purposes.

  • The water rights recognized in this Compact will have no probable effect on any water uses outside the Bison Range.

  • The priority date for these uses shall be May 23, 1908, except for the bird habitat uses, which shall have a priority date of December 22, 1921.

  • These water rights will be administered in the same way as water rights established under state law.

  • Nothing in this Compact concerns the management of the National Bison Range, only on the federal reserved water rights that Bison Range managers will have at their disposal.


Compact Appendices

Appendix 1 - National Bison Range Consumptive Use Map

Appendix 2 - Consumptive Use for Wildlife

Appendix 3 - General Abstract of Water Right Claims

Appendix 4 -  General Abstract of Water Right Claims - 76L 30043513 through 3518, 30043594-3595 and 30043598

Appendix 5 - General Abstract of Water Right Claims - 76L 30043501, 30043543, 30043546 and 30043596

Appendix 6 - Water Right Claims to be Withdrawn