The Bear River Bay IBA includes 142,268 acres and is approximately 4,200 feet in elevation. Establishment criteria are based on results from 12 survey areas that were part of the Great Salt Lake Waterbird Survey from 1997 through 2001. Although recent survey records are impressive, bird numbers were undoubtedly higher before large numbers of humans settled the area. In 1843 when Captain John C. Fremont visited the area he commented on the large numbers of waterfowl seen and heard. His party shot ducks, geese, pelicans, and plovers for food. He commented that the large number of birds rising at a distance of up to a mile when a shot was fired sounded like distant thunder.
Bear River Bay is the freshest region considered for IBA status on the Great Salt Lake and receives the largest volume of freshwater inflow via the Bear River. The Bear River provides the Great Salt Lake with 40% of its water supply. The description of Bear River Bay is adapted from ?Avian Ecology of Great Salt Lake? by Tom Aldrich and Don Paul. Bear River Bay is bounded on the north and east by state, federal, and private wetlands, on the south by industry, and to the west by the Promontory Mountains. This bay is fresh enough to support a community of sego pondweed and widgeon grass with significant islands of emergent wetlands of vital importance to the fish that persists when the lake elevation is higher than 4,200 feet (1,280.2 m) above sea level. These marsh habitats support a complex of fish eating birds. With its species richness, diversity and overall bird abundance, this area continually provides one of the most magnificent displays of bird life on the lake.
Bear River Bay is recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area.
The following provides summary information for the 15 species that were recognized based upon having over 1% of the North American population at Great Salt Lake at one time or 5% over a season. The numbers provided below are high counts at Bear River Bay during a particular Great Salt Lake Waterbird survey period. The Long-billed Curlew is a Global Species of Conservation Concern species. The global criteria has been set at 30 breeding individuals and counts at Bear River show counts of over 130 breeding individuals.
American Avocet (89,395 in 2000 [4,500 = 1%])
American White Pelican (35,924 in 1999 [1,800 = 1%])
Black-necked Stilt (36,327 in 1998 [1,500 = 1%])
California Gull (26,042 in 2000 [6,200 = 1%])
Cinnamon Teal (16,632 in 1998 [2,600 = 1%])
Forster's Tern (1,412 in 1999 [740 = 1%])
Franklin's Gull (29,073 in 2000 [9,800 = 1%])
Green-winged Teal (200,818 in 1998 [195,000 = 5%])
Long-billed Dowitcher (26,203 in 1999 [25,000 = 5%])
Marbled Godwit (43,860 in 2000 [8,500 = 5%])
Tundra Swan (41,868 in 1998 [9,000 = 5%])
Western Grebe (4,412 in 1998 [1,650 = 1%])
Western Sandpiper (190,000 in 2000 [175,000 = 5%])
White-faced Ibis (57,615 in 1998 [1,500 = 1%])
Wilson's Phalarope (136,305 in 1999 [75,000 = 5%])
Bear River Bay also qualified as an IBA in Utah based on use of these areas by American White Pelicans and Long-billed Curlews, bird species on the Division of Wildlife Resources sensitive species list and Partners in Flight Priority Species. The area also qualified due to use by Partners in Flight priority species (American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts) that use Bear River Bay with some numbers listed above.
Other contributing qualifying criteria based on surveys indicated that avian congregations often far exceeded numerical criteria. Specifically, this IBA qualified based on significant numbers for the following species, many of these species are also under the global listing. A summary of peak survey numbers are as follows. For waterfowl (with some numbers listed above): Green-winged Teal, more than 63,000 American Coot, more than 20,000 American Wigeon, more than 20,000 Canada Goose, Cinnamon Teal, more than 1,300 Common Goldeneye, more than 27,000 Eared Grebe, more than 134,000 Gadwall, more than 4,200 Lesser Scaup, more than 151,000 Mallard, more than 104,000 Northern Pintail, more than 76,000 Northern Shoveler, more than 10,000 Redhead, more than 6,400 Ruddy Duck, Western Grebe and Tundra Swan. For wading birds: American White Pelican, more than 2,000 Snowy Egret and White-faced Ibis. For gulls and terns: Ring-billed Gull (3,600+), California Gull, Franklin Gull, and Forster?s Tern. For shorebirds: American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Long-billed Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit, Red-necked Phalarope (8,000), Western Sandpiper and Wilson?s Phalarope.
Threats include water diversions, water quality (pollution, toxins, and botulism), expansion of mineral extraction ponds and invasive species. In 1997, over 500,000 ducks died from botulism; this is five times more than fledged from local marshes.