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Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument North of Lewistown. Merv Coleman, BLM.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Merv Coleman, BLM.
Established: 2001
Location: North-central Montana
Size: 377,346 acres

Special Features

The Upper Missouri River Breaks Monument covers 377,346 acres, including bluffs and badlands, wilderness, the premier segment of the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail, and 149 miles of the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River--the last undeveloped stretch of the of the entire 2,341 mile Missouri River.


Roads, off-road vehicle use, development on private inholdings, and legislative efforts to change the Monument's boundaries are all serious threats to the area's wildness and wildlife habitat. (For more details, see "Planning for the Monument's Future," below.) Another threat is the Bush Administration's interest in exploring the lands inside and adjacent to the Monument for oil and gas.

The Landscape Lewis and Clark Explored

Captain Meriwether Lewis of the Corps of Discovery encountered the Breaks as he paddled along the Missouri River in 1805. In his journal he wrote, "the hills and river cliffs which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance... it seemed as if those scenes of visionary enchantment would never end." Little has changed in this historic stretch of the Missouri River and surrounding lands since Lewis and Clark's now-famous westward expedition almost 200 years ago.

Long before Lewis and Clark passed through, numerous Indian tribes made their homes near the river and in the area that is today the National Monument. Teepee rings, artifacts, and notes of early explorers show that Blackfeet, Assiniboin, Gros Ventre (Atsina), Crow, Plains Cree and Plains Ojibwa all inhabited the area at some point.

Pioneers and the Army followed Lewis and Clark in the 1830's, establishing Forts Piegan, McKenzie and Benton. Many American settlers were disappointed, however: farming and ranching required the ability to withstand long hard winters, drought, hailstorms, poor soil, and grasshoppers.

"The bluffs of the river rise to a height from 2 to 300 feet, in most places nearly perpendicular... The water in the course of time...has trickled down the soft sand cliffs worn it into a thousand grotesque figures." -- Captain Meriwether Clark, 1805, describing the striking geological formations in what is today the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

Today, the landscape--a National Monument since 2001-- still contains beautiful rock formations, magnificent cliffs, wide-open prairie scenery, and archaeological and historic sites. Its remote location provides solitude as well as a wealth of areas for the hiker, rafter and hunter to explore.

The Monument offers habitat to the most viable elk herd in Montana and one of the premier big horn sheep herds in the continental United States. Raptors, including hawks, falcons and bald and golden eagles, find perching and nesting areas in the Monument. The river teems with fish, including one of the six remaining paddlefish populations in the U.S. Along its shore live great blue herons, pelicans and a wide variety of other waterfowl. During the harsh winter months mule deer and elk move up to the Bullwhacker area of the Monument, away from the river, as antelope and sage-grouse move down from the benchlands.

Planning for the Monument's Future

Planning for the Monument's future In 2002, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began the multi-year process of creating a management plan for the Upper Missouri River Breaks Monument that will address specific protections and uses of its resources. Americans have urged the BLM to protect the historical, undeveloped character of this National Monument, but the agency has A landscape of living history, a place where a profound appreciation of Montana's past is made possible by a largely undisturbed natural environment.proposed a plan to manage the Breaks in direct contradiction to what the public wants and the Antiquities Act requires. For example, the BLM plans to open six airstrips within the Monument, retain a 1,000 mile network of user created roads, start a timber program, and permit more gas wells than now allowed. The lack of initiative and action on road closures is of particular concern, as a 2003 analysis by The Wilderness Society found that nearly 100 percent of the Monument is within two miles of some kind of route - a road, vehicle track, railroad - and more than 86 percent is within one mile. Species like sage grouse have lower nest initiation rates with human development like roads nearby. (Click here for more information about roads and transportation planning for the Upper Missouri River Breaks).

Another problem is the 120,000 acres of private and state lands inside the Monument; securing funding for the acquisition of some critical parcels is essential to create intact, protected habitat and ecosystems. Threatening to undermine that effort and the Monument are repeated legislation proposals by a Montana Congressman to change the boundaries of the Breaks and thwart future land acquisitions for the Monument. Click here to learn more or read a Montana rancher's testimony in support of the Breaks before the 108th Congress.

What Can You Do?

Contact Marty Ott, BLM's Montana State Director, PO Box 36800. Billings, MT 59107-6800, and ask him to develop a visionary management plan based on sound science, analysis and public input that protects the Breaks for future generations.


BLM Upper Missouri River Breaks Monument
Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument
Montana Wilderness Association
Montana Wildlife Federation
National Parks Conservation Association
The Wilderness Society - Montana Office: 406-586-4689
Map & Guide of the Monument (courtesy of CommEn Space)

Updated: June 2004