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History of the Refuge

Early Years 512 x 219

The refuge was established in 1924 and the staff spent time surveying lands to acquire for the refuge. 

  • The Legacy of Will Dilg

    In 1922, Will Dilg organized a group of wealthy, influential anglers and hunters into the Izaak Walton League of America, which fought the draining of a great mid-western marsh for farmland. At the League's urging, Congress established the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge on June 7, 1924 

  • Land Acquisition

     When Congress authorized the refuge, acquisition of lands was generally targeted for the floodplain of the Mississippi River from the mouth of the Chippewa River near Wabasha, Minnesota, to Rock Island, Illinois. Acquisition of land proceeded until overshadowed by another Congressional action authorizing the maintenance of a navigation channel on the river.

  • Navigation Channel Influences on Refuge

     Completion of the current 9-foot navigation project (1938-1942) using a series of low-head dams had a tremendous ecological impact on the Upper Mississippi River, and the refuge. This system of 26 locks and dams (11 on the refuge) changed the previously free-flowing river to a series of shallow reservoirs from St. Louis, Missouri, to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

    For several decades, the newly created pools supported a wealth of fish, wildlife, and aquatic habitats. However, typical of dammed river systems, the initial productivity of the pools diminished significantly over time. Although water level management of the pools changed some over the years, the defining purpose for water level management was, and is, to ensure navigation pool water depths for a commercial navigation channel. The result is a deeper, relatively stabilized water system, especially during the summer.

    Changing the free-flowing river to a series of reservoirs, and stabilization of water levels, over time, adversely affected the biological resources of the river, and thus the refuge. Among the principal results have been a reduction in seasonal mudflat/sandbar areas and a significant decline in aquatic plant community abundance, diversity, and distribution. Fish and wildlife dependent on these plant communities have also declined, and/or moved elsewhere.

  • Restoring River Habitat

     Restoring riverine habitat is the main focus of management activities. Projects include a mix of wetland management, grassland/forest management, and fish management. Types of projects include active water level management, island building, bank stabilization, oxygenation of backwaters, and dredging areas for over-wintering fish.

    Other refuge programs include restoration of native grass prairie, forestry management work, waterfowl banding, invertebrate sampling, vegetative monitoring, heron and egret nest counts, and surveys for waterfowl, neotropical migrants, eagles, and marsh and water birds.

Last Updated: Apr 01, 2013
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