The landscape that is the Trail of Tears / Apple Creek IBA runs from the uplands down to the alluvial plain along the Mississippi River. This area historically contained mixed woodland and forest in the uplands, to riverfront cottonwood and willow forests and wet prairie and marshes at the riverfront, to sandbars (Nigh and Schroeder 2002). Included are rare tracts of mesophytic forest similar to Appalachian forests. Tracts of upland and riverfront forest still persist there today amidst upland cropland and pasture.
Seven percent of the Cape Hills IBA is publicly owned conservation land. Of this, 3,415 acres (1,383 ha) is occupied by Trail of Tears State Park (SP) (Missouri Department of Natural Reources[MDNR]), 2,119 acres (858 ha) is occupied by Apple Creek Conservation Area (CA) (Misssouri Department of Conswervation [MDC]), and 27 acres (11 ha) by MDC?s Tower Rock Natiral Area (NA).
The area provides important stopover riparian and upland stopover habitat for migrant birds along the Mississippi Flyway, a major migration corridor in the mid-continent. Remnant forests provide important breeding habitat for forest birds. Additionally, Bald Eagles and Interior Least Terns have been observed to nest adjacent to the Trail of Tears / Apple Creek IBA, and thus have potential to occur within similar habitats on this IBA in the future. Mississippi Kites are also known to breed in the IBA.
Despite protection within existing conservation lands of the Trail of Tears / Apple Creek IBA, further forest fragmentation outside these lands remains a threat (MDC 2005) as much of the IBA is in private ownership and close to the developing urban center of Cape Girardeau. MDC (2005) strategies for the Cape Hills Conservation Opportunity Area (encompasses the Trail of Tears / Apple Creek IBA) include promoting reforestation to provide possible source habitat for forest interior birds (Donovan 1995a, b).