Important Bird Areas

Blufflands-Root River IBA


The Blufflands-Root River Important Bird Area, located in the very SE corner of Minnesota, is situated in the ?driftless area,? one of the most interesting geologic regions of Minnesota. The driftless area was untouched by the most recent glacial advances, but as the glaciers receded, torrents of melt water poured into streams and rivers, carving the deep, rugged valleys that currently define the area. The IBA is located primarily in Houston and Fillmore Counties but extends into Winona and Olmstead counties as well. Adjacent to the Upper Mississippi River NWR IBA, the Blufflands-Root River IBA is otherwise located in a primarily agricultural landscape and provides the only bird-friendly habitat in the region. Blufflands-Root River IBA is easily accessed from I-90 on the north, US Hwy 52 from the west, and State Highways 43, 30, 76, and 44.

Extending from the Mississippi River on the east through much of Houston and Fillmore Counties, it encompasses the Root River Valley and its primary tributaries. Much of this IBA consists of steep wooded valleys, or coulees, connecting the flat agricultural areas with the river valley below. This topography results in a mix of upland deciduous and floodplain forests, and open grasslands intersected by streams. This habitat mix supports not only a significant number of breeding species but provides important migratory stopover habitat in a landscape otherwise devoid of wildlife habitat. In addition, the area is important to the 111 species of state-listed plants and animals residing in the Root River watershed. The streams provide an exceptional trout fishery and are important to a variety of mussels, insects and other aquatic life.

The IBA has a mix of private and State ownership. The state ownership is comprised of four (4) separate sections as follows:

Richard J. Dorer State Forest - Much of the Blufflands-Root River IBA is located in the Richard J. Dorer State Forest. There are 12 disconnected units making up the State Forest within the IBA and, like the rest of this State Forest, are interspersed with private lands.

State Parks (2 parks; 4,337 acres) - Beaver Creek Valley State Park is a 1,187 acre park located about 4 miles west of the town of Caledonia. Forestville/ Mystery Cave State Park is about 8 miles southeast Spring Valley and is approximately 3,150 acres in size.

Scientific and Natural Areas (4 units; 825 acres) - Mound Prairie SNA is 261 acres in size and located in the northeastern part of Houston County on the South side of the Root River. The Rushford Sand Barrens SNA is 230 acres and located 2.5 miles west of Rushford and is comprised mixed oak forest, dry-oak savannah and jack pine savanna ecosystems. The Pin Oak Prairie SNA is 183 acres located approximately 4.5 miles southwest of Chatfield, nestled along the middle fork of the Root River at the intersection of three distinct natural communities: wet meadows, barrens prairie and Pin Oak forest. Wykoff Balsam Fir SNA is located about 5 miles northeast of Spring Valley. The 151 acre unit contains several steep, moist, north facing slopes with cold air drainage creating a micro habitat that supports plant communities more commonly found much farther north.

Wildlife Management Areas (7units; 2149 acres) - The Mound Prairie WMA consists of 2 units, totaling 378 acres. It is located on the north bank of the Root River about 1 mile west of the town of Mound Prairie and can be accessed from Houston Co. 21. The Root River WMA is a 487 acre unit, located approximately 2 miles west of the Mound Prairie WMA and is made up of similar habitatsWinnebago Creek WMA is located one mile west of New Albin, Iowa in the far southeastern corner of Minnesota. This 175 acre WMA is characterized by mixed hardwood forests, bluffland prairies and a quality trout stream. Chisholm Valley WMA is 80 acres and located six miles east of Rushford on U.S. Highway 61. Ferndale Ridge WMA is a 670 acre area just southeast of Rushford MN with native grasslands on top of the bluff and oaks and central hardwood forests on the slopes. The unit is primarily managed for turkey, deer and pheasant. Dr. John C. Hvoslef WMA is a 295 acre area located less than a mile east of Amherst, MN and is characterized by mixed hardwood forests and conifer plantations. It is bordered by the south fork of the Root River. Archery, hunting, and bird watching are available. William Pease WMA is a 64 acre area comprised of rolling hills with mixed hardwood forests and upland native grassland fields located three miles southwest of Chatfield, MN.

Ornithological Summary

The Blufflands-Root River IBA is marked by deep river valleys, steep river banks, floodplain forests and upland deciduous forests. This mix of habitats is important to both breeding and migrating species and is located in an area otherwise dominated by agriculture. The river valleys and upland deciduous forests are home to several species of special concern in MN, the Louisiana Waterthrush, Cerulean Warbler, and Acadian Flycatcher, which all nest within the boundaries of this IBA. The deciduous forests and floodplain areas provide prime habitat for Red-shouldered Hawk, Barred Owl, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Tufted Titmouse, Wood Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager. The open grassland areas provide prime habitat for several sparrow species as well as Bobolink, and Eastern Meadowlark.

Conservation Issues

Water quality is threatened by non-point source pollution. According to the MN DNR, from 1994-2008, eleven stream reaches in the Root River watershed have been placed on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency?s impaired waters list for turbidity. These include the Root River?s main stem from Thompson Creek in Hokah downstream to the Mississippi River, as well as substantial portions of the North Branch above Whalan and the South Branch west of Preston.
Frac sand mining is also a future concern for this area.


The IBA has a mix of private and State ownership. The state ownership is comprised of State Forest, Scientifc and Natural Areas, State Parks, and Wildlife Management Areas. Much of the Blufflands-Root River IBA is located in the Richard J. Dorer State Forest. There are 2 State Parks; Beaver Creek Valley State Park and Forestville/ Mystery Cave State Park. Four Scientific and Natural Areas comprise 825 acres; Mound Prairie SNA, Rushford Sand Barrens SNA, Pin Oak Prairie SNA, and Wykoff Balsam Fir SNA. There are 7 WMAs in the IBA; Mound Prairie WMA, Root River WMA Winnebago Creek WMA, Chisholm Valley WMA, Ferndale Ridge WMA Dr. John C. Hvoslef WMA and William Pease WMA.