Bordered by steep wooded bluffs that rise 100 to 600 feet above the river valley, the Mississippi River corridor and refuge offer scenic beauty and productive fish and wildlife habitat unmatched in the heart of America. Established in 1924 to be a refuge for fish, wildlife and plants and a breeding place for migratory birds, Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge now covers more than 240,000 acres and extends roughly 261 miles of the Mississippi River across four states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.
More than 290 species of birds migrate throughout the refuge every year. About 40% of the waterfowl in the nation use the Mississippi River as a travel corridor in the fall migration and the refuge is particularly known to host large flocks of tundra swans and large rafts of canvasback ducks between mid-October and the winter freeze-up. In addition, Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge hosts more than 300 pairs of bald eagles, in part due to having one of the largest blocks of floodplain forest habitat in the lower 48 states. The refuge is designated as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention and a Globally Important Bird Area.
Just as the refuge provides a great place for wildlife, it also offers phenomenal opportunities for public recreation. More than 3.7 million visits take place each year as people come to hunt, fish, watch wildlife, take pictures, attend public programs, walk, boat, swim and much more.
The Mississippi River is bisected by a series of 29 locks and dams managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which allow for the maintenance of a nine-foot-deep channel for commercial navigation. The lock and dams create inundated bodies of water on the river known as pools. Each pool is named for the lock and dam at its southern end. Due to its length, Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is managed by four districts and a headquarters office located in Winona, Minnesota. Each management district oversees specific pools on the river:
- Winona District, Pools 4 – 6: Wabasha, Minnesota to La Crosse, Wisconsin
- La Crosse District, Pools 7 – 8: La Crosse, Wisconsin to Reno, Minnesota
- McGregor District, Pools 9 – 11: Reno, Minnesota to Dubuque, Iowa
- Savanna District, Pools 12 – 14: Dubuque, Iowa to Cordova, Illinois
The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
Everywas created for a special purpose. Some were created to protect migratory birds, others to protect threatened or endangered species or unique habitats, while others fulfill another special purpose. All activities allowed on refuges must be evaluated to make sure each activity will not conflict with the reason the refuge was founded.
The refuge shall be established and maintained:
- As a refuge and breeding place for migratory birds included in the terms of the convention between the United States and Great Britain for the protection of migratory birds, concluded August 16, 1916
- To such extent as the Secretary of the Interior by regulations, prescribe, as a refuge and breeding place for other wild birds, game animals, fur-bearing animals, and for the conservation of wildflowers and aquatic plants
- To such extent as the Secretary of the Interior may, by regulations, prescribe a refuge and breeding place for fish and other aquatic animal life
June 7, 1924 - Congress passed the Upper Mississippi River Wild Life and Fish Refuge Act, which authorized the acquisition of land for a refuge between Rock Island, Illinois and Wabasha, Minnesota.
February 28, 1983 - The refuge name was changed administratively to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge by adding the word “National” and changing the two-word “Wild Life” to the accepted and widely-used single-word “Wildlife”.
October 30, 1998 - The new name was affirmed legislatively by congress through an amendment to the original act.
Other Facilities in this Complex
Driftless Area National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the McGregor District of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge is supervised by the La Crosse District of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.