Mississippi River Bluffs listed in America’s Great Outdoors
On November 7, 2011, the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released the America’s Great Outdoors Report that listed the Mississippi River Bluffs in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin as one of more than 100 projects in the 50 states designed to protect special places and increase access to outdoor spaces.
The report is part of President Obama’s initiative to establish a community-based agenda for conservation, recreation and reconnecting Americans to the outdoors.
The Mississippi River Bluffs was one of 13 multi-state projects to restore and conserve America’s most significant landscapes:
The Mississippi River Bluffs are part of the largest international bird migration corridor in the nation. They contain exceptional ecosystems…from algific talus slopes to hillside bluff prairies and rare forests.
The State of Iowa has partnered with Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and local nongovernmental organizations to promote the Mississippi Bluffs region as an ecotourism destination.
The Bluffs connect people and communities with the outdoors while protecting regional heritage. (http://www.americasgreatoutdoors.gov)
This recognition of the important of the Mississippi bluffs region was the result of a strategic education effort by the six land trusts that are members of the Blufflands Alliance, including the Natural Land Institute, to highlight the unique, rugged landscape along the Upper Mississippi River in the area bypassed by the last continental glaciers.
The region’s diverse topography and soils harbor many rare plant communities ranging from dry “goat” prairies to Ice Age relicts like the Pleistocene snail and Monkshood. Here prairie, oak savanna, wetlands and hardwood forests remain part of the mosaic of farms, towns and cities along the river.
In 1924 Congress created the 240,000 acre Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, which runs for 261 miles along the river valley, and in 1986 declared the Upper Mississippi River a nationally significant ecosystem.
The refuge provides habitat for 40 percent of the nation’s migratory waterfowl, more than 300 species of songbirds, and 260 species of fish.
The river valley provides a recreational resource to more than three million people every year—more than Yellowstone National Park — and supports a $6,600,000,000 annual tourism economy.
This special place is designated as highest priority for conservation in all four state Wildlife Action Plans.
The Natural Land Institute has been working to preserve natural areas in the blufflands for almost fifty years. The McKnight Foundation has generously supported this work for the last 18 years through the Blufflands Alliance, six private conservation groups operating in northwest Illinois, southwest Wisconsin, northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota.
The McKnight Foundation funding is coming to an end in 2013. As part of the final grant, the Alliance has allocated funds to each of the six member groups to help develop plans to continue funding their work in the blufflands region.
The Natural Land Institute is working with Gathering Waters Conservancy to develop a strategic plan for its future work in the blufflands.
We are looking at the possibility of transferring conservation easements and land that we own to other conservation groups in the region as one option for the future. We are also investigating the potential to create a new private land conservation group in the Quad Cities area.
For more information about the Mississippi River Bluffs and the Blufflands Alliance visit http://www.blufflandsalliance.org/home.
Jerry Paulson, member of the Northwest Illinois Green Team, is the Executive Director of the Natural Land Institute and a lifelong environmentalist.