Mississippi River Corridor Habitat Assessment

March 18, 2016 / By: Karen Lally, SCP Intern

The City of Minneapolis and its early economy was built around St. Anthony’s Falls, which provided an ideal location for the successful flour and sawmilling industries. However, because of the historically industrial nature of the area, the “Above the Falls” stretch of the Mississippi River -  that is, north of St. Anthony’s Falls - has very little in the way of green space and recreational opportunities. Today, the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO), the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership (MRP), and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would like to restore this area to provide habitat connectivity along the river. Before they can begin the restoration process, however, the corridor as a whole must be assessed for wildlife function, including variables like species present and habitat size.

This semester, Dr. Lisa Lamb's Environmental Science Senior Research Seminar is partnering with the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) and the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership (MRP) to assess the corridor habitat along the Mississippi River. Students have several goals for the semester, one of which includes a thorough analysis of land use in the area, taking into account businesses and private ownership as well as the natural landscape. Students will also be conducting several field surveys over the course of the semester to record tracks, scat, photography, wildlife, and other features to assess which species are present in the area and how the land is being used by wildlife. The class will then take this information and conduct an in-depth literature review on the habitat needs of these species. The end report will be a comprehensive assessment of the Mississippi River Corridor based on existing data, research on species, and their own field surveys.   

In February, students took their first trip into the field, spotting some wild turkeys and measuring the animal tracks that they came across. Many are enjoying working in the field and partnering with communities on real, meaningful projects. Kaja Vang '16, says that working on the projects "is very challenging in a good way, and working with partners from Minnesota gives me insight to real world problems and how we can use our knowledge to solve some of those problems." Not only does the project allow for real life applications of their studies but, as Marianne Sciamanda '16 adds, "working with a real organization is important because it gives some accountability to our work. It isn't just for a grade - others are depending on our work, and its validity. It is a motivation to get as much quality work done as possible on this project." Not to mention it can be fun to get out of the classroom and do some hands-on work!‌

When asked about how he thinks this project will advance the common good, Robert Spaulding, project partner from MRP, says that "advancing the common good along the riverfront means balancing a range of objectives in redeveloping the area, in terms of economic development and jobs, new housing, historic preservation, parks, and most certainly habitat and ecology." He hopes that working with students will lead to creative recommendations and strategies that will integrate a more holistic approach to habitat protection, giving stakeholders and policymakers a new way of thinking about habitat decisions as the restoration process begins. 

‌At the end of the semester, students will present their data in teams to the St. Thomas community as well as the MWMO and the MRP board, which includes the Park Board Commissioners and City Council members. Students will also be responsible for creating a report for the public that summarizes their conclusions and includes their recommendations for moving forward with the project.