The National Audubon Society has based a new Saline Lakes program out of Salt Lake City in order to prioritize protection of Great Salt Lake—the single most important inland shorebird site in North America.
Salty lakes in the Great Basin are remnants of ancient fresh-water lakes and are recharged when water collects between mountain ranges and evaporates instead of flowing to the sea. An Audubon Society report, Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline, notes that these landlocked salt lakes are “the unsung heroes that birds like the American avocet and eared grebe depend on for survival,” but due to human water use, they are drying up.
The Saline Lakes Program is part of a larger Western Water Initiative that includes the Colorado River Basin where cottonwood-willow forests are a particularly important habitat for birds, also threatened by human water use. Dams prevent the flooding that regenerates these plant communities, and groundwater pumping can kill them in a matter of days.
“There’s no doubt, the challenges we face on the Colorado River and across saline lakes are significant,” the Audubon report concludes. “However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t enough water to go around. There is.”
But not if Western water policy stays stuck in the past. “We need a new phase of collaboration, innovation and flexibility when it comes to how we use and manage our water. Solving these water challenges will require reshaping water management so that the people, birds, and wildlife of the arid West can thrive together,“ the report concludes.
Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline. audubon.org/conservation/western-water