More than 30 years have passed since Congress enacted the Truckee-Carson-Pyramid Lake Water Rights Settlement Act in 1990 (Public Law 101-618), which provided for the transfer of Carson Lake and Pasture from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to the State of Nevada for use as a “state wildlife refuge.” This week, the Nevada Division of State Lands and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) announced that the long wait is over and the transfer of more than 23,000 acres of wetlands and pasture is complete.
Along with lands from Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribal Wetlands, Carson Lake and Pasture is part of the Lahontan Valley Wetlands complex, a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site of hemispheric importance. The 220,000-acre site, located near Fallon, and less than two hours east of Reno, provides critical habitat for migrating and breeding shorebirds, in some years supporting up to 250,000 individuals including up to 150,000 Long-billed Dowitchers. NDOW will manage the property as a State Wildlife Management Area consistent with its designation as a WHSRN site.
The Lahontan Valley Wetlands are part of a larger network of saline or terminal lake wetland ecosystems located throughout the Great Basin of the Western United States that provide important habitat to migratory shorebirds, waterfowl and other waterbirds. In 2017, Audubon’s report “Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline” highlighted the importance of the Lahontan Valley Wetlands and identified it as one of Audubon’s priority saline lake systems in the West. The report also identified threats that saline lake ecosystems are facing, such as drought, diversions and climate change. Regional shorebird populations have declined by 70% since 1973, and saline lake ecosystems have diminished substantially. It is estimated that 84% of the wetlands have been lost in Lahontan Valley alone over the last 150 years.
Over the past few years, Audubon has partnered with Manomet, NDOW, Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and Lahontan Audubon Society to raise awareness of the importance of the Lahontan Valley Wetlands, better understand bird populations and look into management actions to benefit shorebirds. A project among the partners is just starting and supported by a generous grant awarded to National Audubon Society from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Carson Lake and Pasture consists of a number of diked impoundments and a terminal “sink” where water is managed for shorebirds, waterfowl and other waterbirds. The freshwater marshes and shallowly flooded mudflats provide excellent habitat for breeding shorebirds like American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, and Wilson’s Phalaropes, and other species like Canvasbacks, White-faced Ibis and Pied-billed Grebes.
With the land transfer finalized, the future is bright for the birds at Carson Lake and Pasture and the Lahontan Valley Wetlands. Audubon is keen to build our partnerships and work in Nevada, and keep the Lahontan Valley, including Carson Lake and Pasture, an exceptional place for birds.