U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: USFWS and conservation partners celebrate permanent protection of Clough Island in St. Louis River Estuary


Ashley Spratt, USFWS, 612-713-5314

Chris Anderson, TNC, 612-331-0747

Ed Culhane, WDNR, 715-781-1683

Chris Niskanen, MNDNR, 651-259-5023

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and the state natural resources agencies of Wisconsin and Minnesota today celebrate the restoration and permanent protection of the largest island in the St. Louis River Estuary.

Clough Island (pronounced CLUFF) is situated where the St. Louis River meets Lake Superior, between Duluth, Minn. and Superior, Wis. This 358-acre haven for wildlife, including native fish and migratory and breeding birds, was recently transferred to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for public outdoor recreation and conservation efforts.

“Clough Island is a natural resources jewel in the St. Louis River Estuary,” said USFWS Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. “The estuary boasts a natural beauty unlike any other in the upper Midwest. The unparalleled cooperation between Minnesota and Wisconsin natural resource agencies, The Nature Conservancy, and federal partners, exemplifies exceptional strategic conservation. Together we are enhancing and restoring wildlife and wildlife habitat, and promoting the hunting, fishing, bird watching and wildlife-dependent activities of the area for future generations.”

The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the Wisconsin DNR, acquired the landmark island in November 2010 with the assistance of a $1 million grant from the USFWS National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program.

“I want to thank The Nature Conservancy for offering this beautiful island to the people of Wisconsin and Minnesota,” said Wisconsin DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “Speaking for my colleagues in the Wisconsin DNR, we pledge to work with our federal and state partners to preserve Clough Island, and the critical wetlands that surround it, for the benefit of all. “

Largely undeveloped with a mix of grassy, brushy and forested habitats, Clough Island is an important haven for more than 200 species of birds during migration and breeding season.

“Clough Island is the centerpiece of the St. Louis River Estuary and provides excellent habitat for migratory birds and native fish,” said Mary Jean Huston, director of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin. “Thanks to grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wisconsin’s Stewardship Fund, we were able to conserve Clough Island for future generations. We’re thrilled that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will now own and manage the property.”

Professional staffs from both state agencies, the USFWS and The Nature Conservancy have long worked together to protect critical shoreline and aquatic habitats in the St. Louis Estuary.

“The success of this project reflects an extraordinary partnership that persisted over many years. No one agency could have done this alone,” said Minnesota DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

The Wisconsin DNR provided $750,000 in matching funds for the acquisition through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund. Additional matching funds were pledged by the McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, Duluth Chapter of the Audubon Society, Western Skyline Preservation Alliance, Save Lake Superior Association, Twin Ports Bass Masters, Lake Superior Chapter of Muskie’s Inc., and Friends of Superior Municipal Forest.

“Placing Clough Island into public ownership protects a large amount of critical habitat for fish and wildlife on the St Louis River, which is one of the key issues that concerned citizens and government agencies from both states have been working together to address, “said Julene Boe, Executive Director of the St. Louis River Alliance. “This is huge step toward that achieving the goal of delisting the river as an Area of Concern on the Great Lakes.”

Shallow water wetlands including emergent and submergent vegetation surround the island and provide food sources and breeding habitat for native and game fish species. The pre-historic and recently recovered lake sturgeon, the largest sturgeon in the Great Lakes, uses the area as a nursery.

Due to its ecological significance, natural resource partners have tirelessly worked to protect, conserve and restore the St. Louis River estuary. Natural resource agencies in Wisconsin and Minnesota have worked together, in partnership with federal environmental and wildlife agencies to protect this important property from commercial development and contamination.

About Clough Island

Preserving Clough Island and other key natural areas in the Lake Superior Basin helps keep its water clean. In Minnesota, Duluth, Beaver Bay, Grand Portage, Silver Bay and Two Harbors all draw their drinking water directly from Lake Superior. Cloquet, Minnesota relies upon Lake Superior as its backup water supply. The city of Superior in Wisconsin also gets its drinking water directly from Lake Superior.

Clough Island and the St. Louis River Estuary provide critical habitat for migratory birds and fish. As many as 230 species of birds have been documented using the estuary, and 115 are known to breed there. The estuary is also home to 45 species of native fish and beaver, mink, river otter, muskrat, wolf, bear, bobcat and white-tail deer.

Migrating birds fly along the St. Louis River and Lake Superior in both fall and spring, making the estuary one of the upper Midwest’s best places for birdwatchers. About 200 pairs of common terns nest in the estuary, which are nearly two-thirds of the entire Lake Superior basin population. Common terns are listed as endangered in Wisconsin and threatened in Minnesota. The sandy, open-water flats near Clough Island are an important fishing area for common terns feeding on emerald and spottail shiners, two species of minnows that are their primary source of food.

Clough Island’s location adjacent to the river channel makes it critically important for fish from Lake Superior, including lake sturgeon, that enter the estuary to spawn. Lake sturgeon are a large and ancient fish that are starting to return to the estuary thanks to reintroduction efforts by the Minnesota DNR and the Wisconsin DNR. The Nature Conservancy also helped improve spawning habitat upriver of Clough Island below Thompson Dam for lake sturgeon and game fish.

Clough Island is surrounded by sheltered bays, emergent wetlands and open-water flats – all habitats essential for fish, including species that are popular with anglers such as walleye, northern pike, muskellunge and smallmouth bass.

The Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program was established by the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (Act) of 1990. Under the program, the Service provides matching grants for acquisition, restoration, management or enhancement of coastal wetlands. The program to date has granted about $183 million to 25 coastal states and one U.S. Territory to acquire, protect or restore over 250,000 acres of coastal wetland ecosystems. Typically, between $15 million and $21 million in grants are awarded annually through a nationwide competitive process. Funding for the program comes from excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat and small engine fuels. For more information about the grant program, go to http://www.fws.gov/coastal/coastalgrants.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at http://www.nature.org.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is dedicated to the preservation, protection, effective management, and maintenance of Wisconsin’s natural resources. It coordinates the many disciplines and programs necessary to provide a clean environment and a full range of outdoor recreational opportunities for Wisconsin citizens and visitors.

The mission of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is to work with citizens to conserve and manage the state’s natural resources, to provide outdoor recreation opportunities, and to provide for commercial uses of natural resources in a way that creates a sustainable quality of life. Visit the agency’s website at mndnr.gov.