A Sampling of River News
Globally Important Forests
McGregor, Iowa — Cerulean warblers are tiny, blue and rare. Their numbers have dropped 70 percent in the last 40 years. In summer they live high in the canopies of 60-to-80-foot trees in the dense forests of the Upper Mississippi River valley. That’s why no one really knew how many ceruleans there were in northeast Iowa’s Effigy Mounds-Yellow River Forest Bird Conservation Area (BCA) — at least, not before ornithologist Jon Stravers spent seven years studying them.
His efforts led to the area being designated a Globally Important Bird Area (IBA) by Bird Conservation International. The designation leads to focused conservation efforts that benefit many plant and animal species. Northeast Iowa’s new IBA is the only one in the state.
The protected area consists of 135,000 acres of the Yellow River State Forest, Effigy Mounds National Monument, Pikes Peak State Park, two adjacent wildlife management areas and thousands of acres of private land. It was first identified in 2003 as the largest unfragmented forest remaining in Iowa and home to many threatened birds, including the peregrine falcon and red-shouldered hawk.
To find the ceruleans Stravers developed keen ears to catch their calls, often described as a buzzy trill that accelerates and rises in pitch. He’s also uncommonly perseverant, monitoring forested sites every morning and every evening from early May through the end of June. (The Gazette, 9-30-13; Globe Gazette, 10-4-13)
Many property owners who have been benefitting from subsidized flood insurance face steep rate increases — some more than 15 times what they have been paying — since a new law took effect October 1. The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act begins phasing out subsidies that had grandfathered in rates for about 20 percent of property owners with federal flood insurance.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the program is $25 billion in debt and facing more big losses as sea levels continue to rise and the climate changes.
About 600,000 homeowners face paying more for the insurance at unsubsidized market rates if they have to buy new policies. Even if they keep their old policies these homeowners will probably see their property values decline, because if they sell their homes the new buyers will have to buy flood insurance at the higher market rates.
Florida has the largest number of subsidized policies. A bipartisan group of senators and House members from Gulf Coast states plans to explore remedies to the problem after Congress deals with its budget emergencies. (New York Times, 10-13-13)
Mine Applications Denied
Whitehall, Wis. — The Trempealeau County Environment and Land Use Committee denied a permit to AllEnergy Silica that would have allowed a 725-acre frac-sand mine in Arcadia Township. The mine’s application was submitted just before a one-year moratorium took effect August 30.
Officials were concerned about the mine’s location near the Trempealeau River and Trout Run Creek, as well as the company’s reclamation plan. (La Crosse Tribune, 10-9-13)
Bridgeport, Wis. — The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board denied the Pattison Sand Co. permission to operate a frac-sand sand mine on 41 acres that are within the riverway’s boundary in Crawford County, near Bridgeport.
The company said it plans to continue operations on about 250 acres of the site outside the riverway. However the Crawford Stewardship Project and four Bridgeport residents have filed a lawsuit claiming that town officials ignored conflicts of interest when they approved the permit for the mine. (Madison Capital Times, 7-23-13)
Grand Eco Opening
Camanche, Iowa — Contractors worked until the last minute, but the linoleum floor was successfully laid and the Mississippi River Eco Tourism Center at Rock Creek Marina and Campground held its grand opening on September 29. Visitors explored the new exhibits, one of which has live river turtles in a 1,000-gallon tank, with a glass tube running below it big enough for kids to climb through. Another features a large scale replica of a lowland forest, with live animal tanks throughout.
The campground offers boating, fishing, camping and cabins on the backwaters of the Mississippi near the confluence with the Wapsipinicon River. (Clinton Herald, 9-12-13)
Delta Queen, Maybe
Washington, D.C. — On Sept. 25, the House of Representatives approved a bill to allow the Delta Queen paddleboat to sail the country’s rivers once again. The 280-to-89 vote granted the boat a 15-year extension of its exemption from the 1966 Safety of Life at Seas Act, which bans wooden vessels like the 88-room Delta Queen from carrying 50 or more passengers on overnight trips. The boat would have to be certified safe by the Coast Guard before it could move. If the Senate approves the bill and President Obama signs it, it will be a triumph for fans who have fought to get the big boat back on the water since it lost its exemption in 2008.
The current owner, Xanterra Parks and Resorts, may sell the DQ to unnamed investors who plan to restore it. Several cities have voiced interest in being its home port — Cincinnati, for one. The DQ was moored there for 40 years, and the city regards it as an icon of its riverfront, not to mention an economic boon. Louisville, Ky., is also interested. Chattanooga, Tenn., not so much. The boat has moored on the Tennessee River there since 2009, operating as a floating hotel and restaurant. But Mayor Andy Berke pushed for months to evict the boat because of a long dispute over rent payments and had set a September 30 deadline, before he granted a six-month extension.
On September 21, the Delta Queen was honored as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Cincinnati.com, 9-25-13; Tennessean, 9-18-13; Times Free Press, 9-17-13, 9-14-13)
Red Wing, Minn. — The limestone bluffs and promontories of the Driftless Area offer challenging foot trails, exalted views and danger. Even experienced hikers can get in trouble.
In late August, a hiker fell from the north trail of Barn Bluff in Red Wing and had to be rescued by the Red Wing Fire Department and the Minnesota State Patrol. The north trail is a steep, narrow track that skirts the edge of the bluff above a 200-foot-plus drop on the river side of the bluff. Signs have been posted and boulders placed in the trail to warn people about the dangers.
The hiker, a 25-year-old woman, apparently tripped and lost her balance. She fell about 50 feet, luckily stopping short of a much steeper drop-off. The fire fighters responded to a call for help within a few minutes. Two paramedics descended the slope using ropes, bringing spinal immobilization equipment. A Minnesota State Patrol helicopter arrived shortly after to lift the woman to safety. She was taken to a Rochester hospital where she was in stable condition.
A 45-year-old rock climber fell about 30 feet onto rock and gravel from the same trail in late June and was rescued and removed on a stretcher. He was reported to have back injuries.
Noting the difficult trail, Red Wing’s fire chief advised people who walk there not to look at the scenery as they walk. (Red Wing Republican Eagle, 8-20-13; 6-28-13)
In La Crosse, Wis., on Aug. 28, a 22-year-old woman fell about 50 feet from a trail on Grandad Bluff, then rolled another 50 feet. She called 911 herself. Firefighters and a paramedic accomplished the rescue, which was difficult because of the treacherous terrain. (La Crosse Tribune, 8-28-13)