Mississippi River shoreline

Dredged material is placed on the Mississippi River’s shoreline to raise the elevation for tree planting.

The $10 million Beaver Island Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Project is progressing.

The Corps of Engineers contractor, Dubuque Barge and Fleeting Service Company, has completed about 50% of the dredging. A total of 200,000 cubic yards of material has been dredged from the river bottom in the Lower Cut, Blue Bell Lake and Stuart Lake channels. This material is being placed on the shoreline to raise the elevation several feet and to support the growth of a variety of trees.

Dredging will continue to the north and extend into Sand Burr Lake, Hulziger Lake and Lower Lake. Additional riprap protection will be added along the east shoreline of Albany Island to protect it from wind and wave erosion. Project completion is anticipated in early 2023.

The Steamboat Island Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Project is also progressing. A public comment period is open until June 15 on the draft feasibility report. This report includes the project’s tentatively selected plan for habitat restoration. You can read the report, view a virtual presentation on the project, and make comments at the Corps website https://go.usa.gov/xnukM

Those silent invaders, Asian carp, have taken advantage of the extended flood conditions on the Mississippi River. Biologists have been tracking their trek north. Locally, they began showing up about 15 years ago but were not caught frequently. Recently, there have been increased captures by commercial fishers.

Fifty-one Asian carp were recently caught by commercial fishers in Mississippi River Pool 8 near La Crosse. This was the largest group of invaders caught this far north that included several age classes, speculating that they are reproducing in the area. Species included the flying silver carp, silver/bighead hybrids and grass carp. Large groups of silvers will vault several feet out of the water when they are disturbed by a passing motor boat.

These non-native invaders compete with native fish on a diet of phytoplankton and zooplankton, which are tiny free-floating plants and animals. Electric dispersal barriers have been in operation for many years near Chicago to keep these silent invaders from entering the Great Lakes through passage on the Illinois River. Concern is that they will impact the commercial fishing market.

Bats have been in the news a lot lately related to their relationship with the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Bats didn’t have a lot of public followers prior to the pandemic but many species are critically declining due to white-nose syndrome (a fungus, not a virus) and loss of habitat. Bat research has been temporarily halted in many areas of the United States to protect bat populations from people potentially spreading the virus to them.

Our Mississippi River provides an abundance of habitat and is a sanctuary for many bat species. The floodplain forests on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge extend for 261 miles. Habitat conservation measures protect many species of threatened and endangered bats in the Midwest and restrict forest cutting on certain lands during the period extending from April 1 to Sept. 30 annually.

The Mighty Mississippi is welcoming boaters and river enthusiasts to once again enjoy the river. Flooding and high water are hopefully on hold for the summer. Beach-goers in many areas will notice a lot more sand to frolic in thanks to the Corps of Engineers’ dredging operations that are required to keep the commercial navigation channel open to barge traffic.

Ed Britton is a Wildlife Refuge Manager on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge and is a volunteer at the Bickelhaupt Arboretum.

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