Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced approval of portions of the Upper Mississippi River, including the Midwest's largest national wildlife refuge, as a Wetland of International Importance.
In making the announcement, Secretary Salazar said, "The ecological, social, and economic values of the Upper Mississippi River make it one of the crown jewels of this nation's wetlands. This marks the 27th U.S. wetland designated under the Convention on Wetlands. The U.S. became a party to the convention in 1987, which now includes 150 countries. It's certainly fitting that this area has now officially received international recognition."
The designation includes just over 300,000 acres of federal and state lands and waters of the Upper Mississippi River floodplain from near Wabasha, Minn. to north of Rock Island, Ill. The designation includes all of the 240,000-acre Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge headquartered in Winona, Minn. and the adjacent 6,226-acre Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.
Other designated sites in the U.S. include such wetland icons as Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia and Florida, Everglades National Park in Florida, and Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin.
Don Hultman, refuge manager of the Upper Mississippi River refuge, said designation is aimed at strengthening public awareness and appreciation of the role wetlands play in sustaining environmental health, economic enterprise, and recreational well-being.
"The upper reach of the Mississippi River is an ecological treasure," Hultman said.
Hultman said the refuge and surrounding public lands in the site support more than 200 nesting pairs of bald eagles, 120 species of fish, 42 species of mussels, and provide migration habitat for up to 50 percent of the world's population of canvasback ducks.
He said the site also serves as a major navigation highway for commerce and provides millions of citizens abundant hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities.
Hultman said a Wetland of International Importance designation has no effect on current jurisdiction, authorities, or management responsibility of federal, state, or local governments that partner on management of the river. He stressed that designation does not affect current river uses.
"All commercial and recreational uses currently allowed or allowed in the future are not affected. Designation does not dictate land and water use of any kind," Hultman said.
The designation proposal was endorsed by the Department of Natural Resources of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and seven members of Congress from the respective states.
With Fish and Wildlife Service approval, the designation package now goes to the Ramsar Secretariat located in Gland, Switzerland, for technical review and formal addition to the international list of wetlands which now numbers more than 1,600 sites. Formal designation is expected early in 2010.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.