How do you turn biting, stinging, pantry raiding, picnic ruining pests into pollinating, irrigating, aerating, fertilizing, ecosystem balancing helpers? … By educating as many people as possible about the role of bugs in the environment.
One of the responsibilities of the U.S. Forest Service is to inform the public about the value of insects in helping to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands.
With many people either afraid of or grossed out by bugs, changing their negative image is a challenge. However, a partnership between the Forest Service Southern Research Station and Kent House, in Alexandria, La., is demonstrating a growing public interest in insects.
The two organizations recently held the Fourth Annual Kent House Bug Day on the Kent Plantation House grounds. About 560 people, including children and teachers, attended the event. That number more than doubled last year’s attendance and far exceeded expectations.
“The event was a huge success by any measure,” said Stacy Blomquist, biological science technician and volunteer with the Southern Research Station. ”This event allowed people of all ages to interact with insects, opening up a whole new world for many of the participants. Rather than viewing insects as pests, we were able to share the benefits insects provide for our ecosystems.
As with many forest service initiatives, the event catered to children, with the hope that they will develop an early and lasting love of the environment. The free event offered an opportunity for kids of all ages to get a close and personal look at a variety of bugs and to have fun while learning about the roles insects play in our environment.
“Helping kids to grow up as conservationists and protectors of our environment is important to the world’s future. Bugs and kids make a great combination,” Blomquist said.
Bug Day featured mosquitoes, fire ants, lubber grasshoppers, cave and hissing cockroaches, bess beetles, honey bees, and a tarantula. Also on display were insect eaters, including a bearded dragon, toad, salamander, and snakes.
Much of the Forest Service’s work with insects is done through the Southern Research Station’s Insects, Diseases, and Invasive Plants division. The unit provides the basic biological and ecological knowledge and innovative management strategies required for management and control of native and non-native insect pests (including bark beetles and termites), pathogens and invasive plants in changing forest ecosystems.
To learn more about the Forest Service’s work with insects, please visit our website.