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.

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. 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.

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.