Although there are several types of invasive species of potential concern including aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, and other pests that could be an issue in the future (such as pine beetle), weeds are the primary issue of concern for Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
The five primary weed species treated on the refuge are: leafy spurge, Russian knapweed, saltcedar, spotted knapweed, and whitetop (hoary cress). Other invasive plant threats found on the refuge include Russian olive, smooth brome,crested wheatgrass, and quack grass. In the uplands, the two common invasive species are Japanese brome and yellow sweetclover.
The Service uses many methods to combat weeds on the refuge. Mechanical methods like hand pulling, mowing and tilling are more effective for controlling annual or biennial pest plants. For perennial plants, the root system has to be destroyed or will continue to resprout and grow. Biological control agents involve the deliberate introduction and management of natural enemies to reduce pest populations. Herbicides are also used to treat weed-infested areas. For longterm prevention and proper maintenance of refuge habitats, restoration including revegetation with native/desirable plants is essential.
In 2004, the National Wildlife Refuge System initiated an Invasive Species Strike Team (ISST) program. The primary strategy used by the ISST is early detection and rapid response (EDRR), which focuses on eradicating new infestations of highly invasive species. In some cases, the Montana ISST assists neighboring landowners to manage invasive species through education and project partnerships.
Many partners are involved in the fight against invasive species. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks monitors for the detection of aquatic nuisance species, such as Eurasion watermilfoil, in Montana. The Rancher’s Stewardship Alliance in Phillips County organized a hunter-vehicle weed wash which has proven to be an excellent education program. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also manages for invasive species on the refuge. Generally, they concentrate their efforts on treating saltcedar below the high water mark on Fort Peck Reservoir while the Service focuses primarily in the river bottoms and upland areas. The Service also cooperated with BLM and Valley County to conduct an extensive invasive plant survey, recording weed infestations along 2,900 miles of road across several jurisdictions.
The Montana Weed Control Association website has information on weed identification and the latest news and research.
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The refuge was named in recognition of this colorful western artist who often portrayed the refuge’s landscape in his paintings and whose conservation ethic was years ahead of his time.