Important Bird Areas

Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA

Minnesota

The Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA can be accessed from the west via Minn. Hyws 11 and 332 and from the west and south via US Highway 53 from International Falls to Orr, Minnesota. St. Louis County roads 122, 129 and 23 begin at Highway 53 and traverse north and east into the IBA. St. Louis County roads 24 and 491 extend to the Crane Lake and Vermilion River Gorge and Falls areas from County 23. Koochiching County roads 3, 24, and 119 lead east and north into the area from Highway 53.

Location and Boundary: The far western boundary of the proposed Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA is located near International Falls, east of Minnesota Highway 332 which traverses 4 miles north from its junction with US Highway 53 to the junction of Minnesota Highways 11 and 332. North of the 11/332 junction, the International Boundary in Rainy River and on Rainy Lake defines the northern border east to the far northwestern boundary of Voyageurs National Park (VNP). The border then continues along the Canadian/USA International Boundary through the northern and eastern border lakes of VNP to the lakes and river on the far western border of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Much of the southern boundary follows US 53 from the 53/ 332 junction southeast of International Falls to the junction of US 53 and the Ash River Trail (St Louis County Highway 129) and along the Ash River Trail. The southern forested border follows the VNP boundary along the Superior National Forest (SNF) and Kabetogama State Forest (KSF) to the International Boundary at Sand Point Lake.

Prominent Features
The Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA includes within its boundaries:
Voyageurs National Park (VNP)
Ash River Trail and part of the Ash River
A portion of the Vermillion River
Rat Root Lake and Rat Root Rivers
East Rat Root River Peatland Scientific and Natural Area
West Rat Root River Peatland Scientific and Natural Area
Gold Portage State Wildlife Management Area
A portion of the Arrowhead State Trail
Tilson Creek State Hiking and Ski Trail
Ash River State Recreational Trail System
Woodenfrog and Ash River State Campgrounds

The Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA includes state and federal public lands, including one US National Park, state forest lands, two state Scientific Natural Areas, and one State Wildlife Management Area. A combination of landscape factors, land management and wildness are unique to the area.

Habitat. The Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA is within the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province of the MDNR?s Ecological Classification System. The ECS delineates unique land areas based on their climate, soils, glaciology, geology, natural vegetation, and other landscape features. The proposed area contains part of the Border Lakes subsection of the Northern Superior Uplands section and part of the Little Fork-Vermilion Uplands of the Northern Minnesota and Ontario Peatlands section of the Province.

The Border Lakes subsection is dominated by rock ridges of glacially-eroded bedrock with 31 lakes, and numerous rivers, streams and ponds throughout. The area is part of an extensive interconnected waterway system. Forest communities are representative of a transitional southern boreal forest ecotone. There are hundreds of beaver flowages throughout the area. Large lakes and bays attract and hold waterbirds.

The Little Fork subsection contains level to gently rolling upland clay based soils that support mainly mixed forests of aspen, balsam and spruce. There are peatlands designated as MDNR Scientific and Natural Areas in lowland areas of the western portion of the IBA, as well as extensive black ash stands in nutrient rich areas. Openings and edge have been created by current and past logging and agricultural activities in some portions of the forests.

Major vegetation types present within the Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA include fire-dependent mixed pine and boreal forests, mesic hardwoods, and floodplain, wet, and forested rich peatland forests. Other major vegetation types include open acid peatlands, marshes, wet meadows, and shrub/carr environments. These systems combined with rock outcrop, lakeshore and river-shore systems provide environments that attract a rich diversity of bird life.

Ornithological Summary

Located in northern Minnesota along the border with Canada, Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA is an important area for; waterbirds, species diversity, rare habitat for avian communities, and a significant number of species of conservation concern. Within this IBA, 238 species have been observed, 68 of which are Species of Greatest Conservation Need or species of conservation concern. This IBA supports significant numbers of breeding Herring Gulls, Ring-billed gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants. Both breeding and migratory Common Loons are here in large numbers as are Great Blue Herons and Red-necked Grebes. Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Merlins have been studied and documented here and all occur in relatively high numbers. Twenty-four of the 29 species of wood warblers found in Minnesota have been documented here in the summer and are presumed breeding, making this area one of the most important in the state for species diversity. A variety of habitats support both high numbers of individual species as well as a diversity of rare avian communities including; patterned peatlands, sedge wetlands, conifer swamps and deciduous upland forests. The National Park Service has supported long-term monitoring and research within Voyageurs National Park which has provided valuable data on population trends, contaminants, and habitats.

The site supports an exceptional diversity of bird species. USFWS Breeding Bird Survey strata of avian diversity shows that Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA lies in a band of physiographic strata with the highest birds species richness of any region in North American north of Mexico (Robbins et al. 1986, Green 1995). This species richness reflects the high diversity of habitats in the ecotone between the northern boreal forest and the eastern deciduous forest.

Wood warblers contribute significantly to this richness. Curson et al. (1994), lists 29 species of Warblers that breed in Minnesota. Twenty four species of warblers are residents in the Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA area and are likely breeders. Additionally, Orange-crowned and Black-poll Warblers are common spring and fall migrants through the proposed area.

Conservation Issues

The Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA is comprised principally of protected areas, most notably Voyageurs National Park and the East and West Rat Root River Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs). As such, these areas are protected from threats to bird conservation such as unsustainable timber harvest or mineral extraction, habitat destruction by OHV, loss of habitat to agriculture or input from agricultural chemicals, overharvest or illegal harvest by hunters, or expansion of human settlement/loss of lakeshore. Some of these threats do persist in the non-protected areas of the proposed IBA but are monitored and/or regulated by their respective agencies.

There are threats that are ubiquitous across the IBA, including negative impacts associated with exotic species/introduced animals. The National Park Service and other agencies spend considerable resources towards monitoring and management of exotic species, most notably exotic plants and aquatic exotics. Birds that utilize the large lake systems in the proposed IBA (e.g., loons, grebes, gulls, marsh-nesting birds, etc) are subjected to artificial water level management from a series of three dams and water control structures in the system. NPS, MNDNR, and other agencies are working cooperatively to reduce the negative ecological impacts associated with artificial water level management. The entire Voyageurs Kabetogama IBA is also subject to atmospherically deposited contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. In particular, the relatively acidic lakes and waterways of the area can result in high concentrations of methyl mercury in piscivorous birds such as loons, eagles, cormorants, and others. NPS and others do monitor routinely for mercury and other contaminants in fish, loons, and eagles.