New Grant Enables Partners to Advance Shorebird Planning at Nevada Wetlands

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation supports collaborative efforts to enhance habitat and monitor shorebirds
Marbled Godwits. Peter Brannon/Audubon Photography Awards

This spring, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded more than $1 million in funding for Desert Terminal Lakes. National Audubon Society (Audubon) received a portion of that funding to work in partnership with Manomet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), and Lahontan Audubon Society (LAS) to identify management opportunities for shorebird habitat and to increase shorebird and habitat monitoring capacity at Nevada’s Lahontan Valley Wetlands Site, located approximately 70 miles east of Reno.

Comprehensive surveys indicate that more than 72,000 shorebirds use the Lahontan Valley during fall and more than 112,000 during spring.

Over the coming eighteen months, Audubon, Manomet, USFWS, NDOW and LAS will collaborate to define habitat for focal shorebirds, map historic and current habitat, and identify opportunities to enhance habitat through on-the-ground management. The capacity to monitor outcomes for shorebirds and their habitat will be increased through engaging, training, and deploying volunteer observers. The outcomes from this work will be shared with the public and managers to elevate the Lahontan Valley Wetlands’ profile and to inform management at other Great Basin sites.

The Lahontan Valley Wetlands were designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site in 1988. WHSRN is a hemispheric network of sites that, through effective partner-based conservation, strives to secure healthy shorebird populations and habitats now and into the future. Audubon’s Saline Lakes program also recognizes the Lahontan Valley as critical to a network of lakes and associated wetlands that provide habitats for shorebirds, waterfowl, and other waterbirds in the dry Great Basin landscape.

The Lahontan Valley Wetlands WHSRN site comprises Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, Carson Lake and Pasture, and tribal wetlands with management partners including NDOW, USFWS, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Truckee-Carson Irrigation District, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe.

As the West continues to dry, partners and land managers in this valley work to balance the many needs and uses for water including human municipal and agricultural uses as well as the need to protect shorebird and other wildlife habitats. This creates the need for vigilant water management as it relates to the timing, quality, and quantity of water available to both people and birds.

There are important opportunities to inform management planning. Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge creates and implements plans on an annual basis to benefit birds, including shorebirds, and their habitats. In April of 2021, Carson Lake and Pasture, a key part of the Lahontan Valley Wetlands site, was transferred from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to the State of Nevada. NDOW will manage Carson Lake and Pasture as a Wildlife Management Area and as provided in the 1990 Truckee-Carson-Pyramid Lake Water Rights Settlement Act, this includes management consistent with the location’s designation as a WHSRN site. NDOW has plans to develop a management plan for the site.

As reported in October 2020, Audubon’s Saline Lakes Program, Manomet, USFWS, and NDOW collaborated to analyze a unique, long-term dataset documenting shorebirds at the Lahontan Valley Wetlands WHSRN site since 1986. These data are the result of efforts by NDOW staff and other professional biologists and volunteers and likely represent one of longest datasets available for a wetland site across the western United States.

The analyses identified 11 potential focal shorebird species, all of which depend heavily on the Intermountain West to support their populations, for management planning. These species include Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Snowy Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Willet, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Red-necked Phalarope. The science-based identification of focal shorebird species provides a foundation to inform future management planning for Carson Lake and Pasture and Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge.  

The newly funded project, “Conserving Carson River Basin wetland habitats and shorebirds in the Lahontan Valley,” will help build a foundation for shorebird management planning in the region and demonstrates the power and potential of collaborative partnerships to effect meaningful change for birds and their habitats. Audubon and Manomet look forward to ongoing engagement with our local partners to solidify a foundation for planning that will secure the Lahontan Valley as a place for shorebirds to rest, refuel, and thrive as they traverse the continent. 

Disclaimer: The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and its funding sources. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government, or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation or its funding sources.