Partners Across Great Basin Essential to Passage of Saline Lake Ecosystems Legislation

Continued partnerships are key to much-needed scientific attention on these unique lakes.

In the waning weeks of this 117th Congress, both the House and Senate moved to pass the bipartisan Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act, thanks to the sponsors as well as continued attention by Audubon and partners across the region. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) introduced the bill in the Senate—Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) led companion legislation in the House.

This Audubon-backed legislation is informed by our scientists’ understanding of what birds need at these unique lakes, many of which are drying to record low levels. Particularly with the ongoing drought, ecosystems and species across the West are stressed and migratory birds are even more dependent on the remaining saline lake and wetland habitats for breeding, resting, and feeding. Multiple partners across the Great Basin region were vital in showing widespread support for this legislation to pass and establish the new program within the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

This important legislation and funding for USGS—in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and tribal, state, academic, and nonprofit organizations—provides the basis for a coordinated scientific effort to inform effective management and conservation of saline lake habitats in the arid West for the birds that rely on them. Integrating the ecological needs of birds and wildlife with the hydrologic aspects of these lakes and wetlands systems is an indispensable component of the effort. This is the first time the federal government has funded and created a program to focus investments at this group of lakes functioning as an interconnected network of water and wildlife habitats.

Saline lake ecosystems, such as Great Salt Lake in Utah, Lake Abert in Oregon, Mono Lake in California, Lahontan Valley Wetlands in Nevada, and others throughout the Great Basin provide an essential network of habitats for millions of migrating shorebirds, waterfowl and other waterbirds. Saline lakes generally have higher levels of salts and dissolved minerals than freshwater lakes, allowing them to provide essential habitats, create and drive recreational opportunities, provide public health benefits, and more. However, lack of water due to demand, drought, and environmental changes at these important lakes within the Great Basin, threaten habitats, public health, and recreation.

Co-sponsors in the Senate included: Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Co-sponsors in the House included: Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT), John Curtis (R-UT), Burgess Owens (R-UT), Susie Lee (D-NV), Mark Amodei (R-NV), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jay Obernolte (R-CA), and Jim Costa (D-CA).

Knowing partners are essential to the future success of this effort, some of the many partners we’d like to recognize include U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife and water agencies across the Great Basin, and others including Manomet/Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, and:

Great Salt Lake, Utah

  • The Nature Conservancy in Utah
  • Friends of Great Salt Lake
  • Rio Tinto Kennecott
  • Compass Minerals
  • Weber Basin Water Conservancy District
  • Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp Cooperative
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Utah Waterfowl Association
  • Utah Airboat Association
  • Utah Wetlands Foundation
  • Utah Audubon Council – a coalition of local Audubon Chapters including:
    • Great Salt Lake Audubon, Salt Lake City
    • Wasatch Audubon Society, Ogden
    • Bridgerland Audubon Society, Logan
    • Red Cliffs Audubon Society, St. George

Lake Abert, Oregon

  • Cape Arago Audubon Society
  • Audubon Society of Corvallis
  • East Cascades Audubon Society
  • Kalmiopsis Audubon Society
  • Lane County Audubon Society
  • Klamath Basin Audubon Society
  • Portland Audubon
  • Audubon Society of Lincoln City
  • Rogue Valley Audubon Society
  • Salem Audubon Society
  • Siskiyou Audubon Society
  • Umpqua Valley Audubon Society
  • Oregon Lakes Association
  • Oregon Natural Desert Association
  • Oregon WaterWatch

Lahontan Valley, Nevada

  • Lahontan Audubon Society
  • Red Rock Audubon Society
  • Bristlecone Audubon Society
  • Great Basin Bird Observatory

Mono Lake, Owens Lake and others, California

  • Mono Lake Committee
  • Point Blue Conservation
  • Oikonos
  • Eastern Sierra Audubon Society

There are many ways to support legislation such as this—we’re grateful to all groups and supporters who sent letters of support, contacted their representatives, and lent their voice to this cause. Many apologies to if we missed any group on this list—we are thankful to all.