Port Louisa was established for the protection of migratory birds. It is located along the Mississippi River Flyway, one of the major routes for migrating waterfowl. Key goals of the refuge are to conserve and enhance the quality and diversity of fish and wildlife and their habitats; and to restore floodplain functions in the river corridor.
Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge is divided into four distinct divisions and is also a part of the Iowa River Corridor Project.
Louisa Division: The 2,609-acre Louisa Division is located just east of Wapello, Iowa in Louisa County. It is protected from moderate flooding by an Army Corps of Engineers levee stretching to Lock and Dam 17, approximately one mile south of the division border. The levee is integral to maintaining the nine-foot navigation channel due to its proximity to the dam. The Port Louisa Refuge headquarters is located on this division in an area that includes 48 acres of forest and a four-acre prairie restoration situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River floodplain. Providing habitat for migrating waterfowl has been the primary objective on Louisa since its conversion from an agricultural levee district to a national wildlife refuge in the 1940’s.
Keithsburg Division: The 1,400-acre Keithsburg Division is located in Mercer County, Illinois. The entire division lies within Pool 18, immediately north of Keithsburg, Illinois. Keithsburg Division averages 0.75 mile in width and has a three mile long levee separating it from the Mississippi River. The Division is a mosaic of wetland and bottomland forest habitat including sloughs surrounded by bottomland timber stands. The forested stands suffered from the Flood of 1993 and 2008, and many snags now exist. Dead and dying trees are used by woodpeckers, wood ducks, hooded mergansers and prothonotary warblers. Bald eagles also use the area for nesting.
Big Timber Division: The 1,758-acre Big Timber Division is located two miles south of Muscatine, Iowa, in Pool 17. The division is comprised of a 1,252-acre backwater area, as well as Turkey Island, Turkey Towhead, Otter Island, and Ramsey Island. The bulk of Big Timber Division is a backwater of the Mississippi river, consisting of sloughs surrounded by bottomland forests.
Horseshoe Bend Division: Horseshoe Bend Division is located in the Iowa River floodplain, Louisa County, Iowa, approximately four miles upstream from its confluence with the Mississippi River. The 2,606-acre tract was purchased fee title by the Service in response to the Flood of 1993. Horseshoe Bend is a unique mosaic of grassland, wet meadow, seasonal and semi-permanently flood emergent wetland habitat. The wetland complex provides flood storage, fish passage, and fish spawning. The unit receives considerable migratory bird usage, including shorebirds, waterfowl, wading birds and grassland bird species.
Iowa River Corridor Project: The Iowa River Corridor Project is an innovative floodplain management focus area that encompasses 50,000 acres of land stretching along 45 miles of river in Tama, Benton and Iowa counties. Within the project area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns about 10,000 acres which are part of Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge. These lands are managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources through a cooperative agreement with the Service. Most of the refuge land has reverted from cropland back to its former habitat of wet meadow, oxbow wetlands, grassland, and bottomland forest with a mixture of scrub/shrub openings.