A portion of the upper Mississippi River has been approved as the newest Wetland of International Importance in the United States.

“The ecological, social, and economic values of the Upper Mississippi River make it one of the crown jewels of this nation’s wetlands,” said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Department of Interior. “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, IL, including all of the 240,000-acre Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge headquartered in Winona, MN, and the adjacent 6,226-acre Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

“Designation is aimed at strengthening public awareness and appreciation of the role wetlands play in sustaining environmental health, economic enterprise, and recreational well-being,” said Don Hultman, refuge manager of the Upper Mississippi River refuge. “The upper reach of the Mississippi River is an ecological treasure.”

“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,” Hultman said. “The site also serves as a major navigation highway for commerce and provides millions of citizens abundant hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities.”

The 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,” Hultman said. “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.”

This designation is the “27th U.S. wetland designated under the Convention on Wetlands,” according to federal officials.

“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,” according to officials. Formal designation is expected early in 2010.

There are at least 24 Ramsar Wetlands in the United States, which comprise a total area of 1,312,319 hectares (or 3,242,810 acres). Other designated sites include the Okefenokee NWR in Georgia and Florida, Everglades National Park in Florida, Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin, and the Cheyenne Bottoms complex in Kansas.

The U.S. became a party to the Ramsar Convention in 1987.

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