As a major federal land management agency, the National Wildlife Refuge System can play an important role in the conservation of insects and pollinators. National Wildlife Refuges are unique in their “wildlife first” mission, so it is appropriate that the Refuge System take a lead in conserving pollinating species large and small.
Insects are an important but often overlooked animal on refuge landscapes. They are an integral and very important part of terrestrial plant communities. Insects initiate decay in dead and weakened trees which helps return nutrients to the soil. Both young and adult insects provide food for fish in refuge wetlands, creeks and rivers. Insects provide food directly to an assortment of mammals and birds. On CMR both Big Sage-grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse hens depend on protein rich insects for food during nesting. Young grouse almost exclusively feed on insects during and up to their first 10 weeks of life. Many small mammals rely on insects as well as plants for food. These small mammals in turn become food for larger mammals and birds.
Insects also provide food indirectly by pollinating flowering plants. Insect pollinated plants not only provide food for wildlife but also for humans. Pollinating insects are indicator species which means that the health of their populations provides a key to the health of the ecosystem. When pollinators decline or are lost completely, plants may continue to look normal and flower. Meanwhile these plants are not reproducing and producing important food for seed and plant eating animals. The entire ecosystem is in decline.
A recent study of wild pollinators found that worldwide insect pollinator populations are declining. Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, disease and misuse of pesticides are probable causes of these declines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Charles M. Russell NWR take insect pollinator conservation seriously.
Currently, very little is known about insect life on Charles M. Russell NWR. As of yet, insect inventories have not been initiated. The Montana Natural Heritage Program Insect Field Guide is a great place to start to find out more about insects in Montana.
Other insect and pollinator resources:
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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.