Meadow of blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis) and Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) at a prairie pothole
Comertown Pothole Prairie Meadow of blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis) and Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) at a prairie pothole © Harold E. Malde

Places We Protect

Comertown Pothole Prairie Preserve

Montana

A vestige of the days when glaciers covered  the land is now a rare landscape.

Overview

The Preserve

In the far northeastern corner of Montana, there is a rolling landscape of native grasses and shallow “pothole” lakes that was formed over 10,000 years ago by the great continental glaciers. Sometimes referred to as the Missouri Coteau, a name for the low glacial moraine that formed at the southern edge of the glacial front, this land represents the largest unplowed stretch of pothole prairie ecosystem left in the state of Montana. While the native prairie extends into North Dakota and Canada, agricultural plowing destroys many acres each year. The Nature Conservancy currently owns 1,130 acres of this rapidly disappearing ecosystem, protecting the prairie and the incredible array of waterfowl and other birds that flock to this undulating mosaic of lakes, ponds, and native grasses.

When you visit the prairie, avoid walking too close to the pothole shorelines--this will startle the federally listed piping plovers which nest here. Watch for the endangered whooping cranes which have been known to stop for a rest during migration, as well as for Baird’s sparrow and the smooth green snake. Take time to enjoy the variety of vegetation which includes western wheatgrass, green needlegrass and blue grama, and be sure to look for the snowberry and rose that surround many of the potholes. While sedges and saltgrass dominate the moist potholes, cattail and rushes grow in the lakes that retain water throughout the year.