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Located in the Mission Valley near St. Ignatius, the National Bison Range offers a rare opportunity to see and photograph a whole host of wildlife all year.

The nearly 19,000-acre bison range comes with a fascinating history rooted in conservation. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt established the national bison range with the goal of preserving the species decimated by commercial hunting.

In the late 1800s small privately owned bison herds dotted the Flathead and Mission valleys, including the famous herd owned by Michel Pablo and Charles Allard. While Pablo would eventually sell the herd to Canada, the U.S. government successfully purchased 34 bison from the Conrad herd located near Kalispell — descendants of the famous Pablo-Allard herd and what would become the first bison on the range.

Today, 250-300 bison call the National Bison Range home. But they are far from the only wildlife as pronghorn, elk, whitetail and mule deer occupy the grassy foothills and timbered draws as well.

Visiting the bison range is typically done by vehicle as several unpaved roads take visitors to different areas. Much of the range is easily seen from the roadways; however, some of the best vantage points require short walks onto ridges. Often only trudging a couple hundred yards opens up whole new areas where wildlife tucks away.

The National Bison Range, including the day use areas and small visitor center, are open year round, typically from dawn to dusk, although some of the roads may close due to extreme weather. The range closes to the public at night and the gates close automatically. Check hours posted on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website, at the front gate or the visitor center.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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