Established among the prairie potholes of the Mission Valley to be “….a refuge and breeding grounds for native birds”, Pablo National Wildlife Refuge provides excellent breeding and staging habitat for abundant waterfowl and other water birds. Service staff conduct surveys of waterfowl with spring pair counts (to get an idea of how many nests there may be) and summer brood counts (to determine number of surviving young per nest). Other water birds, such as great blue herons, terns, shorebirds, and migratory birds of all kinds find the Refuge to be a good home. Follow the link to the Bird Checklist for Pablo NWR
The reservoir at the core of Pablo National Wildlife Refuge contains about 1,850 surface acres at full pool level. The only Service influence of water levels comes through cooperation with the Flathead Irrigation Project. In the case of conflicts, wildlife becomes secondary to irrigation needs due to wording in the 1921 Executive Order. However, the water regime for irrigation has generally benefited wildlife at Pablo NWR. In particular, the refuge has become an important area for the reintroduction of Trumpeter swans as well as a breeding and staging area for a large portion of the Flathead Valley Canada goose population. The Refuge also supports a variety of ducks and numerous species of other marsh and water birds.
Intrusions of non-native plants bring about varying degrees of threat to this wetland habitat. In addition to the desirability for control of exotics, it is also required by Montana Law. Refuge staff are diligent in the monitoring of noxious weeds, using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control such non-native plants as yellow flag iris, purple loosestrife, whitetop and spotted knapweed. Russian Olive (pictured above), a non-native tree, can damage dikes and dams with its strong root system.
IPM includes of a variety of control methods fitted to the plant, the season and the surrounding habitat and consists of herbicides, mowing, hand pulling, and biological control. Biological control using insects have been part of this IPM since 1948. Control insects are chosen to reduce vigor of selected weed species and are extensively tested to assure they will not harm any other plants. Often more than one method is used, such as mowing a plant while it is in bloom (to control seed production), then spraying in the fall when it may be more vulnerable to the herbicide.
The unique geological history of this area has created areas of sharp relief and contrast resulting in 10,000 foot mountain peaks which rise up from the valley floor in a 7,500 foot abrupt wall. These mountains, with their snowy peaks, create a backdrop of extraordinary beauty for the wetlands of Pablo National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge offers a magnificent visual diversity as well as a diversity of habitats and wildlife.
Pablo National Wildlife Refuge continues its mission as a “…refuge and breeding ground for native birds” by being the initial release site for the successful restoration of Trumpeter Swans to the Mission Valley. These large white birds can be seen with some regularity throughout the potholes and waterways of the Valley.