Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge


One of Great River Greening’s newest project sites—Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge—is a 14,000 acre corridor that runs along the Minnesota River in the Twin Cities. As one of the largest urban refuges in the United States, the Refuge offers critical habitat for migrating waterfowl, and is home to native wildlife such as redheaded woodpeckers, bald eagles, coyotes, river otters, and herons. Thousands of families visit the Refuge each year, sharing 30 miles of hiking trails and recreation space.

Despite its ecological significance, areas of Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge have been neglected for decades. Invasive plants, including buckthorn, are out-competing native vegetation and compromising acres of valuable wildlife habitat. Without some type of intervention, the Refuge risks major habitat fragmentation.

With the help of dedicated volunteers, Great River Greening is restoring 15 acres of the Refuge in Bloomington near the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge Trailhead. Despite nearly freezing temps, 160 volunteers joined us in October 2016 to clear buckthorn from 2.5 acres and plant 800 native shrubs.

Their hard work paid off; volunteers created beautiful viewsheds of Long Meadow Lake perfect for birdwatching, hiking, and biking.

What’s the Deal with Buckthorn Anyway?

Buckthorn is a non-native shrub in Minnesota brought over by Europeans in the mid-1800s. Given its rapid growth and density, buckthorn was initially used as hedging along property lines. It didn’t take long for settlers to realize buckthorn’s destructive nature, and today, it is illegal to import, sell, or transport buckthorn in Minnesota.

Why buckthorn is a problem at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge:

• Outcompetes native plants for nutrients, light, and moisture
• Threatens wildlife habitat, as it destroys important sources of food and shelter
• Advances shoreline erosion with its shallow and impermeable root system
• Buckthorn’s berries act as a diuretic in birds, causing them to pass seeds rapidly and over great distances