Final Closed Area Evaluations on Upper Miss Refuge

Approval of the Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) in 2006 resulted in the refuge’s current closed area system consisting of twenty closed areas on the river and three sanctuaries. All refuge closed areas and sanctuaries are characterized by a closure to all migratory bird hunting. In addition to being closed to all migratory bird hunting, closed areas are closed to all hunting, trapping and camping during the period coinciding with duck hunting seasons within their respective states. Sanctuaries are closed to all public entry during the period of October 1st to the end of the duck hunting season. 

Most of the refuge’s closed areas have an associated voluntary waterfowl avoidance area; boaters are asked to avoid these voluntary avoidance areas during the fall migration in order to reduce the disturbance to resting and feeding waterfowl. When boats pass too close to waterfowl and cause them to take flight off the water, it can be really draining on their energy reserves at a time when they have little energy to spare. Monitoring was conducted before and after implementation of these closed areas and data showed an increase overall in waterfowl numbers across the entire refuge. 

The CCP also directed refuge management to monitor the voluntary waterfowl avoidance areas to determine if the strategy was sufficient in preventing disturbance to waterfowl. If disturbances were occurring over the threshold limit outlined in the CCP within an avoidance area, additional strategies would be considered to ensure reduced disturbance to waterfowl.

Systematic disturbance monitoring has been conducted at three closed areas and their associated voluntary waterfowl avoidance areas. Disturbance monitoring has indicated that the disturbance threshold has been exceeded in multiple years at one of these locations, the Lake Onalaska Voluntary Waterfowl Avoidance Area. Public outreach and coordination among partner agencies will be conducted in an effort to reduce the number of disturbances in Lake Onalaska in order to avoid the need for additional restrictions in that area. 

A Closed Area Evaluation Report (Report) has been completed and outlines the review that was directed in the CCP. The Report identifies changes to the management of the Closed Areas within the Refuge. The following administrative and regulatory changes will begin with the 2021 waterfowl season and are discussed in more detail in the Report.

  • In the Winona District, a change in status of the Peterson Lake Closed Area to an Administrative No Hunting Zone which would lift the no motors restriction and remove the travel corridor, and an alteration of some exterior boundaries of the area.
  • In the La Crosse District, administration of the Lake Onalaska Closed Area and the Lake Onalaska Voluntary Waterfowl Avoidance Area will remain unchanged at this time; however, monitoring by USGS researchers will continue along with implementation of additional coordination and outreach through a partnership with Wisconsin DNR.
  • In the McGregor District, administration of the Harpers Slough Closed Area as a No Motor Area during the period coinciding with the voluntary avoidance period (October 15 to the end of the Iowa duck hunting season).
  • In the McGregor District, elimination of the 340-acre Sturgeon Slough Closed Area and the 66-acre Sturgeon Slough Administrative No Hunting/Trapping Zone.
  • In the McGregor District, elimination of the 32-acre Goetz Island Administrative No Hunting/Trapping Zone.
  • In the McGregor District, a change in status of the Bertom Island Sanctuary to a Closed Area, making it part of the already-existing Bertom-McCartney Closed Area.
  • In the McGregor District, a decrease in the size of the 439-acre John Deere Marsh Closed Area through the elimination of the 157-acre north unit of the closed area, retaining the 282-acre south unit as a small closed area.
  • In the Savanna District, elimination of the 343-acre Kehough Slough Closed Area.
  • In the Savanna District, a change in status of the Elk River Closed Area to a Sanctuary.

These changes will result in the addition of 938 acres to the total area where hunting would be allowed on the Refuge. For more information about these changes and the full report please visit the refuge website: www.fws.gov/refuge/upper_mississippi_river/.

In addition to being the most visited refuge in the country, the “Upper Miss” Refuge has the added complexity of a major navigation system, including 11 locks and dams, within its boundary.  It is also a world-class fish and wildlife area which harbors 306 species of birds; 119 species of fish; more than 200 active bald eagle nests; thousands of heron and egret nests; spectacular concentrations of canvasback ducks, tundra swans, and white pelicans; and several threatened or endangered species.

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.  We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service.  For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

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