U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service logo A Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System
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Upper Mississippi River National
Wildlife & Fish Refuge

couple in canoe on water with wooded bank behind
51 East 4th Street
Winona, MN   55987
E-mail: uppermississippiriver@fws.gov
Phone Number: 507-452-4232
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Exploring the backwaters by canoe is just one way to enjoy "Upper Miss" Refuge.
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Continued . . .

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

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.

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.

Lowering water levels in the navigation pools during the growing season can dramatically increase aquatic plant recolonization and growth. A drawdown of Pool 5 in 2005 and 2006 resulted in hundreds of acres of new emergent vegetation beds, and a corresponding increase in waterfowl and other wildlife use.

From the beginning, the refuge has been a place for visitors to renew themselves. A quiet trip to the backwaters, camping on an island, fishing a favorite spot and waterfowl hunting are traditional uses and have continued for over eighty years.

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