Utah Partners for Fish and Wildlife
Project Profile: Great Salt Lake Focus Area
Contact: Karl Fleming, (435) 734-6434
The Great Salt Lake (GSL) is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere. The lake provides habitat for millions of native and migratory birds, including the largest staging population of Wilson's phalarope in the world. The GSL and the wetland habitat associated with the Great Salt Lake area has been a focus for the Partners for Fish & Wildlife (PFW) program due to its importance to waterfowl and shorebirds. Thousands of privately owned wetland acres adjacent to the GSL provide migratory and breeding habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds. A majority of these wetland areas are retained by private waterfowl clubs and have historically been managed with impoundments and water control structures. The need for water management is integral because the clubs have water rights associated with their property; this is extremely important in an area that receives approximately 12 inches of precipitation per year and has 50 inches of evapotranspiration.
The PFW program in Utah worked with over 12 landowners to enhance wetland habitat on private property around the GSL. Common enhancement practices included invasive species removal, building or repairing dikes, and the replacement or installation of new water control structures. The invasive species work has focused primarily on the control of non-native Phragmites (a common reed). Phragmites invaded the wetland habitat after the lake receded from historic high water levels in the late 1980s. Large stands of Phragmites have replaced native emergent wetland vegetation and choked out thousands of acres of former open-water wetland habitat. The invasion of Phragmites into wetland areas is thought to be one of the contributing factors in the decline of nesting redhead ducks. The building or repair of dikes, water control installation and water control replacement activities are implemented so landowners can manage water levels in individual impoundments and provide wetland habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds.
PFW has a long standing partnership with the Bear River Refuge and through this partnership utilized the maintenance staff and equipment to complete wetland enhancement projects. The importance to the GSL for shorebirds is shown by its designation as a site of importance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. The following is a sample of the waterfowl species that depend on the Great Salt Lake for breeding, migration and habitat: northern pintail, cinnamon teal (GSL has been designated as the most important breeding ground in North America for cinnamon teal), tundra swan, ruddy duck, redhead ducks, Wilson's phalaropes, white-faced ibis, snowy plover, black-necked stilts, American avocets. Peak counts show over 1.4 million shorebirds are now using the GSL wetlands as a breeding and staging area.