The Centennial Valley is very big country. It’s a place of sweeping grasslands and wetlands, embraced by the forest ragged peaks of the Centennial and Gravelly Mountains. The Centennial looks very much as it did more than a century ago. In parts of the valley, not so much as a power line mars the view. In the winter, just a handful of people inhabit the valley. Summer, the human population is usually fewer than 100—and they are far outnumbered by cattle.
The Centennial stretches out just beyond the western border of Yellowstone National Park, protecting the headwaters of the Missouri river as well as critical migration routes for wildlife throughout the Northern Rockies. This area, in combination with the High Divide Headwaters and Big Hole, maintains the links between the protected wildlands of Yellowstone, Central Idaho, the Crown of the Continent, and Canada. The Centennial’s expansive wetlands are home to hundreds of bird species, and Red Rock River system is one of the last places where rare Arctic grayling survive. It supports grizzlies, wolves, elk, deer, and the other magnificent wildlife that draws millions of visitors to Yellowstone.
Destruction and fragmentation of habitat due to poorly planned development is one of the biggest threats in the Centennial. As elsewhere in the state, traditional ranching is under pressure to convert land for resorts, recreational and second home development.
The spread of non-native plant species poses another serious threat to the health of natural plant and animal communities. The suppression of natural fire cycles has also damaged the ecological balance in some areas, particularly among aspen stands and in the rare sandhills.
The absence of natural fire has also left many forests out of balance, putting them at risk for unnaturally large and catastrophic burns when they do happen.
Goals and Strategies
Most of the 100,000 acres of private land in the valley is large ranches, owned by about 15 multi-generational ranch families. The Conservancy and these families share the common goals: Preserve the integrity of the land in a way that benefits both ranching and wildlife.
Partnership and stewardship are the foundation of our success in the Centennial. Most of the Centennial landowners are committed to working with the Conservancy and the federal agencies in the region to keep the valley whole and healthy for both livestock and wildlife. This collaboration has also resulted in miles of stream restoration, an all-out assault on invasive weeds, the use of prescribed fire and sustainable grazing plans to restore and maintain the integrity of this spectacular place.
Through a combination conservation easements and purchase by conservation buyers, we are well on our way to that mutual goal.
A Special Neighbor
The lakes and wetlands of the 45,000-acre Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge give life to 241 species of birds. The valley contains the highest nest density in the West for trumpeter swans, and lies along one of only two primary swan migration corridors. The Centennial also hosts the densest population of peregrine falcons and ferruginous hawks in Montana, and a healthy population of bald eagles and osprey.
The Conservancy's Centennial Sandhills Preserve protects some extremely rare plant communities.