Beaver Island project is underway

CLINTON — The long awaited Beaver Island Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Project is underway, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials.

The landscape scale project will dramatically improve the habitat and environmental health on this Mississippi River island that has a long history of change, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Visitor Services Manager Pam Steinhaus said in a press release.

The $10 million habitat restoration project is funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Upper Mississippi River Restoration program. This program addresses ecological needs on the Upper Mississippi River System to improve its environmental health. The program began in 1986 and has funded 56 habitat restoration projects benefitting approximately 106,000 acres.

Beaver Island is one of the largest islands on the Upper Mississippi River and is rich in historical significance both as a thriving community of pioneers and as a sportsmen’s paradise. Construction of the locks and dams in the 1930s resulted in higher water levels that flooded out the permanent residents.

The higher water levels also drastically altered habitat on Beaver Island, Steinhaus said. The once deep interior lakes have received decades of sediment and are now shallow wetlands. Higher water levels have significantly impacted forest diversity resulting in most hardwood species dying out in the low-lying areas and being replaced by a dominant stand of silver maple.

The primary goals of the Beaver Island project are the restoration of year-round aquatic habitat within the interior lakes, diversification of the forest community, and improving habitat for fish and mussels. The project includes 1,678 acres within the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge that are federally owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Project completion will take two years and all public access is restricted within 200 yards of workers and equipment. The first stage of construction is underway, with the clearing of trees along the interior shoreline. Tree cutting must be completed by March 31 due to bat conservation guidelines. Excavated material will subsequently be placed in these areas. The higher land topography will allow for the planting of several species of mast-producing hardwood trees.

A critical part of the project is to protect Beaver Island’s interior lakes from future sedimentation. A primary source of silt comes from the Upper Cut inlet in Beaver Slough. A rock structure will close off the Upper Cut entrance to ensure long-term benefits within the island’s interior. Seven trees have to be cut for the rock placement.

Sediment will be excavated from the interior access channel and four interior lakes that include Stewart, Blue Bell, Sand Burr and Hulziger. Each area will be excavated to an average 8 feet depth that will benefit fish and other aquatic species, Steinhaus said.

Albany Island is located adjacent to Beaver Island and its shoreline is being severely eroded. A rock chevron and bank protection will be placed at the head of Albany Island, rock substrate will be added along the northeast bank to enhance an existing mussel bed, and rock protection will be added to the southwest shoreline to reduce erosion.

Future project activities include timber stand improvement on Beaver Island. A mature silver maple forest dominates the island’s landscape and a project goal is to increase tree species diversity.

The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is the most visited refuge in the United States. The refuge extends 261 miles along the Upper Mississippi River from Wabasha, Minnesota to Princeton, Iowa, protecting and preserving habitat for migratory birds, fish and a variety of other wildlife.

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