Making our communities healthy for birds... and people

City of River Falls

City of River Falls

HIGH FLYER

Habitat Creation, Protection, and Monitoring

A. Comply with Wisconsin's "Smart Growth" law for land use planning and resource management. This criterion is an option only for applications submitted before July 1, 2017.

The City of River Falls’ 2005 Comprehensive Plan is in full compliance with the “Smart Growth” law for land use planning and specifically includes a Natural Resources chapter that addresses resource protection to minimize habitat loss related land development. While this plan has been amended to stay current, the City is drafting an all new plan over 2021-2022 since so much has changed since 2005 including two recessions, and now some of the most rapid growth it has seen so far. 

B. Describe organized bird monitoring or data obtained from researchers or volunteers in the local park system. (Exclusions: Programs that receive credit under 4C: Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, Swift Night Out)

This section reflects ongoing monitoring and upkeep of nest boxes in the community conducted by Saint Croix Valley Bird Club (SCVBC) members. Survey data is below:

Fledglings from Mary Roen’s Eastern Bluebird nest boxes within the City of River Falls (Rocky Branch School, DeSanctis Park and Sterling Ponds): 32 Eastern Bluebirds, 11 Tree Swallows, and 6 Black-capped Chickadees.

Jim Higgins’s bluebird nest box report: Drewiske Preserve - 6 hours, 10 nest boxes, 5 Bluebirds, 12 Tree Swallows, 54 Wrens. Highview Meadows - 7 hours 20 minutes, 10 nest boxes, 26 Bluebirds, and 29 Tree Swallows. Kelly Creek Preserve - 9 hours, 15 nest boxes, 36 Bluebirds, 34 Tree Swallows, 32 Wrens. The Farm - 6 hours, 10 nest boxes, 20 Bluebirds, 21 Tree Swallows, and 11 Wrens.

Jim Beix’s bluebird nest box report: 43 nest boxes are in Pierce Co. outside the City's limits. St. Croix Co. nest boxes inside River Falls city limits are at the two golf courses, the industrial park north of town, and along Paulson Road going north. 40 nest boxes at River Falls Golf Course: 55 Bluebirds,74 House Wrens, 3 Tree Swallows, and 4 Chickadees. 17 nest boxes at the Industrial Park, Paulson Road North and Kilkarney Golf Course: 30 Bluebirds, 10 House Wrens, 5 Tree Swallows, 6 Chickadees.

Mike Elling surveyed Foster Cemetery for birds eight times in 2020: 1. February 2: In the cemetery:  2 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 2 White-breasted Nuthatch, 1 Cooper’s Hawk, 1 American Crow. Flyovers: 4 Trumpeter Swan, 75 Canada Goose. On Lake Louise:  130 Mallard, 15 Common Merganser. 2. March 15 – In the cemetery: 1 White-breasted Nuthatch.  Flyover: 5 Bald Eagle. On Lake Louise: 150 Canada Goose, 50 Common Merganser, 30 Mallard, 1 Bufflehead. 3. April 5 – In the cemetery: 1 Dark-eyed Junco, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch, 1 Northern Cardinal, 1 Eastern Phoebe. On Lake Louise: 18 Common Merganser, 2 Hooded Merganser, 14 Mallard, 20 Canada Goose. 4. May 6 – On the lake or flying above the lake: 2 Blue-winged Teal, 20 Canada Goose, 12 Mallard (6 adults, 6 youngsters), 1 Great Blue Heron, 10 Tree Swallow, 8 Rough-winged Swallows. Along the trail below the cemetery: 2 Palm Warbler, 2 Blue Jay, 1 Broad-winged Hawk, 2 White-breasted Nuthatch, 2 Eastern Phoebe. Up top in the cemetery itself: Nothing. 5. September 9 – 4 American Robin, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch. 6. October 25 – No birds other than 3 Mallards and 1 American Robin flyovers. 7. November 18 – 2 White-breasted Nuthatch, 2 Black-capped Chickadee, 1 Dark-eyed Junco, 2 Pileated Woodpecker, 1 American Goldfinch, plus 1 Kinglet of unknown species. 8. December 1 – One White-breasted Nuthatch.

E. Describe your community’s ordinance demonstrating that your community does not restrict natural/native landscaping that emphasizes native plants and non-turf lawns.

The City of River Falls has an ordinance to allow for Managed Natural Landscaping (Section 8.40.60 of the municipal code). The City encourages the use of native plants and has demonstrated this support at City Hall through the use of infiltration basins and native prairie plants. In 2010, the building received certification as a LEED Silver building by the “US Green Building Council.” In addition, the City maintains a 12 acre prairie restoration at DeSanctis Park (Regional City Park) and has incorporated native plantings along the White Pathway and several neighborhood parks. 

H. Show that the local Chamber of Commerce or a similar group (e.g., an Audubon chapter, Wild Ones, etc.) takes an active role in the planning process for protecting and enlarging favorable bird habitat.

The St. Croix Valley Prairie Enthusiasts actively manage and enhance extensive prairie and oak savanna habitat on City property, particularly at the Foster Cemetery near the City's wastewater treatment plant, where much of the bird monitoring takes place.

The City works closely with the St. Croix Valley Bird Club (SCVBC) in promoting activities and enlarging habitat. In May 2019, following a recommendation by the Bird Club, the River Falls Municipal Utility installed an osprey platform at the City's Wastewater Treatment Plant. 

On November 5, 2019, the Green Team from the City of River Falls researched where and how to place the Barred Owl box that SCVBC member Jim Higgins donated to them. They installed it at Foster Cemetery.

In 2020, Jack Hauser, a member of the Bluebird Recovery Program of Minnesota donated four American Kestrel/Screech Owl nest boxes (the boxes are suitable for either) along with the poles for installing them. Mary Roen and Mike Elling made appropriate contacts, and installations will begin when permissions are granted. The following is the installation timeline for the boxes. 6-3-20: Jim Beix and Mike put up the Kestrel nest box pole in DeSanctis park. 9-9-20: Jim Beix and Mike put up the second Kestrel nest box pole. This one is located at the UWRF lab farm just NW of River Falls. 9-19-20: Jack delivered the 4 nest boxes at Mike Elling’s house. 11-19-20: Mike got the Kestrel nest box up on the waiting pole in DeSanctis park. 11-20-20: Jim Beix and Mike put up the Kestrel nest box on the waiting pole at the UWRF lab farm just NW of RF. 11-25-20: Mike and Jim Beix put up the 3rd Kestrel pole and nest box on land owned by Clifford Jennings west of RF on Carlson Lane between county roads M and MM. This is where Mike had seen a pair of Kestrels last year with what he presumes were young last fall. Future: Mike will scout out the “Mound” in River Falls for possible placement of the fourth box.

N. Show that your community works on public lands to control invasive species that have significant negative impacts on bird habitat.

On 11/6/2019, City employees participated in an annual volunteering effort to remove buckthorn along the Riverwalk Pathway on the Kinnickinnic River. While COVID-19 prevented this annual event in 2020, the City instead purchased 2 buckthorn removal wrenches for anyone in the City to borrow to do buckthorn removal on their own property.

City Public Works staff removes wild parsnip and buckthorn when encountered. Ash trees in the City are slowly being replaced to stop the spread of Emerald Ash Borer disease.

In November, 2019, the City passed an updated Dutch Elm Disease ordinance and has an Urban Forestry program and maintains trees planted on public lands and street right-of-way.

P. Demonstrate the implementation of a program to preserve Chimney Swift nesting and roosting sites (preferred) and/or to construct Chimney Swift towers.

What began as an Eagle Scout project transitioned to a priority for the St. Croix Valley Bird Club to look after and preserve the Chimney Swift population by offering them a reinforced tower at Highview Meadows Park. Due to lack of topographic barriers and landscaping, this site will require the club to monitor the tower from time to time to ensure it stands.

S. Demonstrate how a public golf course is managed to benefit birds.

In spring of 2014, Jim Beix, President of the St. Croix Valley Bird Club, communicated with Mr. Hanson, owner of the River Falls Golf Course regarding the implementation of Bluebird boxes within the course. Mr. Hanson was eager to have the St. Croix Valley Bird Club take over the monitoring of numerous nest boxes on his golf course. Jim reported that there were many wood nest boxes throughout the course, some needing extensive repair or replacement. Many of the boxes were poorly situated, located in an environment of thick vegetation more favorable to wrens and chickadees. It was identified that some of the boxes needed to be relocated to open areas more ideal for bluebird habitat. Jim spent several months repairing boxes and building new boxes to replace those in too rough of shape to repair. He also identified areas throughout the golf course that would be favorable for bluebirds, and collaborated with the Lead Groundskeeper of the golf course in the new placement of the nest boxes. Jim continues to actively monitors 35 nest boxes at this site as documented in criterion 1 B.                                                                        

U. Show that your community maximizes the value of right-of-way space (e.g., power lines, pipelines, etc.) by planting them with native grasses, shrubs, herbs, and other prairie/grassland plants.

In 2013, the City received grant assistance from the FHWA Highway Safety Improvement Program to implement a pedestrian crosswalk enhancement project to improve Cascade Avenue near UW-River Falls. The project included roundabouts and a center boulevard featuring native grasses and other shrubs. The project received the 2013 Minnesota Chapter APWA Project of the Year Award as it transformed an outdated, unattractive, and dangerous roadway into an aesthetically stunning gateway to the City. Phase II of this street in anticipated to be constructed in the next decade with a similar configuration. 

Community Forest Management

A. Demonstrate that your community has been awarded Tree City USA status by the National Arbor Day Foundation.

The City of River Falls continues to be recognized as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation following its initial award in 1993. 2020 marks 27 years of continual affiliation with “Tree City USA”, which it looks forward to continuing in the future. https://www.rfmu.org/243/Urban-Forestry 

C. Document an ongoing community program to incorporate a significant number of native trees, native shrubs, native herbaceous plants, and/or cultivars of native species in public or large-scale private landscaping.

The City's Urban Forestry program has a list of approved boulevard trees which are also used to guide private development landscaping plans. 

F. OTHER: Demonstrate in a narrative.

The City of River Falls is a member of the International Society of Arborculture.

In 2020, the City's Forestry Department began a community orchard in the Highview Meadows subdivision, beginning with 14 trees producing apples and pears, with approximately 2 new trees to be added per year.

Limiting or Removing Threats to Birds

A. Describe your community’s educational program to control free-roaming cats and/or the manner in which you actively publicize the Cats Indoors! initiative.

The City of River Falls Police Department employs an animal control officer who enforces the Domestic Animal Ordinance, Section 6.04 (Dogs and Other Domestic Animals) of the City’s municipal code. Outdoor cats that are not under control of their owner are subject to being picked up and transported to the Pierce County Humane Society. Owners are subject to a fine up to $72.00 per offense. Feral cats are live trapped and taken to the Humane Society for evaluation. 

City ordinance prohibits all pets from "running at large" in Section 6.04.060 of the City's municipal code, which is defined as not being leashed or under control by its owner when not on the owner's property. The City's communications department included the following information in the Spring 2018 Newsletter, which is distributed to every household in the City: City ordinance does not allow household pets, including cats, to “run at large.” In addition to ensuring the safety of your cat, keeping it indoors protects our City’s bird population and our designation as a Bird City. Since we are located near the Mississippi River, one of North America’s primary migratory flyways, it is important that we are kind to our bird population. Did you know that cats kill over 2.4 billion birds per year in the United States, second only to habitat loss? (Source: American Bird Conservancy).

Public Education

A. Demonstrate that schools in your community participate in a nationally-recognized environmental education program (e.g., Flying WILD, Audubon Adventures) or that your community organizes its own substantial education and outreach program for young people. 

COVID-19 made learning virtual for much of 2020 for the River Falls School District, putting most volunteer-organized educational programs on hold. 

SCVBC member Jim Higgins made 75 wooden bird cutouts ready for painting whenever educational activities resume.

SCVBC set aside $100 for a donation to the Mann Valley 4-H Club to support their project of placing containers in the RFSD Schools to encourage recycling of felt markers that are usually thrown out, ending up in landfills. The donation will be given upon completion of their project.

C. Demonstrate that your community is represented in at least one citizen science bird monitoring program (e.g., the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, Swift Night Out).

SCVBC participated in the Hudson/Afton Christmas Bird Count by recording species observed at Lake George and Lake Louise, Downtown River Falls.

D. Describe your community-sponsored annual bird festival. This must be a multi-day event or a truly exceptional one-day event.

The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled large gatherings such as the annual Wings of Spring Bird Festival, the event held every year that meets this requirement. Although no formal schedule of events was created, it would have roughly followed the same format as 2019's. Betty Most of River Falls Edina Realty purchased and donated 100 owl pellets to Wings of Spring bird festival just before it was cancelled due to the pandemic. SCVBC will decide how to use them in educational programs once they’re resumed post-pandemic. For reference, in 2019, the 9th Annual Wings of Spring Bird Festival was held at River Falls City Hall and along the White Pathway. Approximately 200 people attended. 60 children were ‘banded’, the highest number to date. 75 reusable shopping bags with SCVBC’s logo on them were given away. 47 species of birds were observed over the course of the event. The Carpenter Nature Center crew banded 17 individual birds (7 species). Event schedule and page found at http://www.scvbirdclub.com/imbd

F. Demonstrate that your community understands the critical ecological role of pollinators by documenting your Bee City USA status or by describing another substantial effort to promote pollinator health (for ideas visit the Xerxes Society and the Pollinator Partnership).

Since 2016, River Falls has been a member of Monarch City USA as one of 5 communities in Wisconsin: https://www.riverfallsjournal.com/news/4009003-got-milkweed-river-falls-joins-effort-boost-monarchs

In 2018, following several inquiries about beekeeping within City limits, the City of River Falls created a fact sheet and registration form that assists City residents in applying urban beekeeping best practices. This fact sheet was produced in collaboration with the St. Croix Valley Beekeepers Association (SCVBA) and is found at: http://www.rfcity.org/DocumentCenter/View/3270/Beekeeping-Info-Sheet?bidId=

I. Show that your municipality promotes and supports a bird club or other environmentally/ecologically-minded club. (Exclusions: Garden clubs, unless you demonstrate a strong focus on native plants)

Since 2007, the City's Municipal Utility has lead the POWERful Choices! Initiative, a community-lead project to promote a sustainability and conservation-minded ethic in the City. Since 2007 the program has saved: 33.8 million kilowatt hours, $2.7 million on customer electric bills, and $2.3 million reduction of wholesale purchased power costs, and over $1.3 million in incentives from Focus on Energy has been returned to River Falls customers. The project site is found at http://www.rfmu.org/657/POWERful-Choices-Initiative In 2020, the EPA ranked the City of River Falls as having one of the highest green energy participation rates in the country (12.5% participation). https://www.epa.gov/greenpower/green-power-communities

K. Demonstrate that your community actively raises awareness of its bird assets. Examples include placing a remote web camera on a nest platform, offering bird watching field trips, or creating a significant educational resource on your community's bird life.

In 2020, Jean Marie and Cathy Olyphant crafted up a Bird Friendly Coffee handout to be discussed and given out at programs as part of our efforts to educate our membership about how they can help birds through the choices they make.

Feb 15, 2020 – Prior to the pandemic reaching Wisconsin, Jeff Fischer, dragonfly expert, gave a fascinating program about dragonflies to 55 people at the River Falls Public Library.

In 2019: SCVBC members provided information to the River Falls Public Library about bird strike prevention decals, ultimately leading to the purchase of enough decals to prevent strikes on many of their windows. In 2020, SCVBC donated $50 to the River Falls Public Library for additional window decals to help avoid bird strikes on windows in the conference room—the room where SCVBC guest speakers present. While the application of these decals has been delayed due to the pandemic, SBVBC will apply them to the windows as soon as the Library is open again.

The River Falls Public Library owns 5 "birding backpacks" that we helped them acquire in 2014. COIVD-19 limited the Library's ability to open to the public, curbside pickup was available. While 2020 numbers are unavailable at this time, in 2019 the backpacks were checked out 43 times from the Library, of which many were renewed several times. These contain a pair of binoculars, a field guide appropriate to children, and a checklist.

Energy & Sustainability

B. Show that your community goes above and beyond in its support for, and implementation of, green transportation (e.g., bike trails, rideshare programs, bike trails/lanes, etc.). Be sure to utilize the narrative to illustrate why your community is exceptional because standard practice will not receive credit.

In early 2020, approval of an affordable housing project includes the addition of River Falls' first bus stop shelter. While our City of 15,000 has no existing bus system, it may be utilized in the future by various ride share or taxi services. The City also obtained a grant for a new taxi minivan as part of its own taxi service. While transit is not exceptional in many Wisconsin Cities, it is uncommon in smaller, rural communities, and River Falls is too far from the Twin Cities to be part of a greater transit network as this time. The City completed its first bicycle and pedestrian plan in 1995. In 2018, the City applied for and received a Transportation Alternatives Program grant from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in the amount of $48,000 to write a new bicycle and pedestrian plan in the next few years. Many of the recommendations in the 1995 plan have been implemented. Most recently, the City completed two trail projects in 2017. One was a reconstruction project for a 700-foot section of Lake George Trail that connects Family Fresh (a grocery store) to Walnut Street. The other was a 1,500-foot trail extension that connects Heritage Park at Maple Street north to Division Street. In the fall of 2016, River Falls was designated a Bronze level Bike Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. In 2019, the City wrapped up its Kinni Corridor Plan, which calls for additional bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Downtown River Falls and along the Kinnickinnic River, which runs through the heart of the community. Finally, the City is rewriting its Comprehensive Plan in 2021-2022 that will likely recommend additional improvements in walkability, traffic calming, bike-ped infrastructure, and green infrastructure. Additional recreational trails are also planned for mountain bikes, neighborhood walks, and disc golf.  

C. Document that a municipal building is LEED certified (silver or higher).

The River Falls City Hall is the first in Wisconsin to be LEED Silver Certified. Sustainable features integrated in the design include: 70% of construction waste, a total of 55 tons, was diverted from the landfill by recycling; 4,003 tons (91%) of an existing building on the site and street demolition waste was recycled or re-used; high-efficiency boilers and chillers, a building automation system, and increased insulation should result in the building using 34% less energy than code requires; low-flow faucets and toilets use 20% less water than code and will save approximately 107,000 gallons of water annually; water-efficient landscaping, including native plants and prairie grasses, will reduce water needed for irrigation and protect the Kinnickinnic River, the Class 1 Trout Stream that runs through the city and is adjacent to city hall; the city will purchase 50,300 kWh, or 35% of its annual energy consumption from renewable sources; 22.8% of construction materials (by cost) contain pre-consumer and/or post-consumer recycled content; 26% of construction materials (by cost) were manufactured within 500 miles of the construction site, reducing energy consumption required to deliver the products; 75% of the wood used in the building came from sustainably grown forests; and building finishes, such as carpet and paint, are no-VOC or low-VOC (volatile organic compound) materials.

F. Demonstrate that your community participates in a community solar program or that a municipal building receives a significant percentage of its electricity from renewable energy.

River Falls is a national renewable energy leader. In late 2019, the City announced to power all municipal facilities with renewable energy. In 2019, according to the National Renewable Energy Lab, River Falls Municipal Utilities (RFMU) was ranked in the top 10 for the past three years for green energy participation rate (https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/assets/pdfs/2019-archive-top10.20200925.pdf). In addition, River Falls is one of two communities chosen to pilot a strategic community solar garden initiative by WPPI Energy. Customers can subscribe for a share of the solar production and in turn receive a credit on their monthly electric bill. The community solar array is utilized by subscribing local residents, businesses, and non-profit organizations. Finally, RFMU is installing Advanced Metering Infrastructure citywide so customers can gather data on their consumption and reduce their impact accordingly, while RFMU employees are able to respond to outages and problems more quickly, improving the resilience of the City's infrastructure. 

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD)

A. This community's municipal body passed the required International Migratory Bird Day resolution.

B. Document and describe your event that incorporates the annual IMBD theme in some fashion. If the event has not yet occurred, please share your detailed plans. For information on the current year’s theme and event materials, please visit the International Migratory Bird Day website. To see what other Bird City communities have done in the past, please view some other profiles on our website.

Currently, Pierce and St. Croix Counties are not in a position where large gatherings are possible due to COVID-19, but the "Wings of Spring" event that was held every year from 2011-2019 would be the expected event in May 2021 that meets this requirement. Due to the pandemic's impact on the local economy, medical system, and the City's budget, detailed plans will not be available until May approaches as there's no telling what format we expect it to be. Other City events and meetings are now virtual, so this option or a hybrid version of it could be explored. The event also could be held later in the year if case counts fall and vaccines are distributed. Usually, the event features educational exhibits, activities, presentations, and bird counts in the heart of Downtown River Falls, and similar programming would be expected whether virtual or in-person. In 2019, the 9th Annual Wings of Spring Bird Festival was held at River Falls City Hall and along the White Pathway. Approximately 200 people attended. 60 children were ‘banded’, the highest number to date. 75 reusable shopping bags with SCVBC’s logo on them were given away. 47 species of birds were observed over the course of the event. The nearby Carpenter Nature Center's employees banded 17 individual birds (7 species). Here's the event's schedule from 2019:http://www.scvbirdclub.com/imbd