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Discover Montana's Ecosystems

Plains Grassland

 
  • Western Hog-nosed Snake

    Photograph by Bernie Smith

  • Marbled Godwit

    Photograph by Chuck Carlson

  • Eastern Kingbird

    Photograph by Chuck Carlson

  • Chestnut Collared Longspur

    Photograph by Caleb Putman

  • Grasshopper Sparrow

    Photograph by Kristi DuBois

  • Baird's Sparrow

    Photograph by Caleb Putman

  • Badger

    Photograph by Bernie Smith

  • Richardson's Ground Squirrel

    Photograph by Kristi DuBois

  • Deer Mouse

    Photograph by Bernie Smith

  • Great Plains Toad

    Photograph by Adam Messer

  • Plains Garter Snake

    Photograph by Bernie Smith

 

Description

Montana’s eastern high plains are a part of America’s Great Plains region. This ecosystem type is generally found on high, rolling land and on some scattered hills and in wide river valleys.

Some of the rivers and streams in this region, particularly the warm water sections of the Yellowstone and Missouri in eastern Montana, harbor the most diverse communities of fish in the state. The landscape experiences short, hot summers and long, cold winters that bring fewer than 15" of precipitation a year. In this environment, the protection offered by woody draws and the unique badlands or “breaks” provide important pockets of habitat and protection for wildlife.

In addition, Montana’s unique prairie forests provide a higher elevation relief where precipitation is sufficient to create closed-canopy forests of Great Plains ponderosa pine and various deciduous trees. These forests are a unique part of the plains landscape.

Discover Montane Forest

Fish & Wildlife

Historically the high plains were home to nomadic herds of bison, elk and pronghorns. Predators such as wolves and grizzlies depended on these grazers for food. The plains were dotted with large prairie dogs towns, which supported populations of mountain plovers, burrowing owls, black-footed ferrets, prairie rattlesnakes, and swift foxes. Today, most of these same species can be found living on Montana’s plains grasslands.

Go See Plains Grassland Fish & Wildlife

Vegetation

The plains grassland are found in the eastern third of Montana, and yes, you guessed it, the primary plants found here are grasses.

Go See Plains Grassland Vegetation
Plains Grasslands areas of Montana

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Plains Grassland Statistics

Plains Forest:

43.2% of the state

Precipitation:

- Prairies average 12" to 14"

- Areas that support forest average 14.5"

Soils:

Many different types - Thin topsoils, some salty and alkaline, some with clay to very dark fertile topsoils.

Topography:

- Mostly flat or rolling but steeper breaks are found along the Missouri & Yellowstone river drainages

- Forests grow in areas where the elevation averages 200' to 2,000' higher than the prairie

For more details see the CFWCS