The Great Salt Lake’s Importance for Birds

Decreasing water levels in the southern arm of the Great Salt Lake expose microbialite communities that are normally underwater. Courtesy USGS, Hannah McIlwain, Photographer
Decreasing water levels in the southern arm of the Great Salt Lake expose microbialite communities that are normally underwater.
Courtesy USGS, Hannah McIlwain, Photographer
I first met the Great Salt Lake in 1964 with two Central Michigan University college buddies on our way to Los Angeles. We heard you could float in its magical waters. Sure enough- it worked and we bobbed in its gentle waves oblivious to the many other virtues of this extraordinary water body. The Great Salt Lake’s Importance

This saltwater marvel is the largest wetland area in the American West. Its 400,000 acres of wetlands provide habitat for over 230 bird species traveling from the tip of South America, north to Canada’s Northwest Territories and as far west as Siberia. These wetlands and surrounding mudflats are vital habitat for 8-10 million individual migratory birds with many species gathering at the Lake in larger populations than anywhere else on the planet.

In 1991 the Great Salt Lake was declared a site of “hemispheric importance,” the highest level of designation given to a site by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. The Reserve conserves shorebird habitat through a network of key sites across the Americas. Salt Lake receives the largest percentage of the world’s population of migrating Eared Grebes, nearly one-third of Wilson’s Phalaropes, more than half of American Avocets, and 37 percent of Black-necked Stilts. The lake’s shoreline, playas and mudflats also support 21 percent of the North American breeding population of Snowy Plovers, a species identified as one of greatest conservation needs by Utah’s Wildlife Action Plan.

These shorebirds are among nature’s most ambitious, long-distance migrants. But their numbers are dropping quickly. Shorebirds are showing the most dramatic declines among all bird groups. Species that undertake hemispheric migrations rely on specific habitats and food sources to survive, but these resources are increasingly under threat from human disturbance including habitat loss and degradation, over-harvesting, increasing predation, and climate change. As humans have continued to alter the landscape, shorebird populations continue to drop, with accelerated declines in recent decades.

Of 52 shorebird species that regularly breed in North America, 90% are predicted to experience an increase in risk of extinction. This includes 28 species already considered at high risk, and 10 imperiled species that face even greater risk.

At the base of Salt Lake’s food chain are microbialites, underwater reef-like rock mounds created by millions of microbes. These structures and their microbial mats form the base of the entire Great Salt Lake ecosystem, serving as a primary food source for brine shrimp and brine flies, which are the main food source for these aquatic birds. Falling water levels exposing the microbialites to air could trigger a collapse in the lake’s food chain according to a July study by the Utah Geological Survey.

So we humans aren’t the only one’s suffering from our disappearing Lake. Thank goodness we have awakened to this extraordinary resource found on our doorstep with many organizations and agencies attempting to save what remains for our health, wealth, and for the millions of threatened feathered friends that grace our skies, and our lives. Last May, Utah Governor Cox declared 2021 the year honoring shorebirds. We can do our part by taking action on conserving water and energy.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society and I’m wild about Utah and its magnificent great lake.

Credits:
The Great Salt Lake’s Importance
Picture:
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgelandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Strand, Holly, Important Bird Areas, Wild About Utah, October 21, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/important-bird-areas/

Strand, Holly, One of the World’s Largest Shrimp Buffets, Wild About Utah, June 3, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/one-of-the-worlds-largest-shrimp-buffets/

Chambless, Ross, When the Great Salt Lake we know is gone, what shall we name it?, Commentary, The Salt Lake Tribune, August 19, 2021, https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2021/08/19/ross-chambless-when-great/ [Accessed September 19, 2021]

Shorebirds are among nature’s most ambitious, long-distance migrants. Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN), https://whsrn.org/about-shorebirds/shorebird-status/

Drought Negatively Impacting Great Salt Lake Microbialites and Ecosystem, Utah Geological Survey (UGS), Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, July 15, 2021, https://geology.utah.gov/drought-negatively-impacting-great-salt-lake-microbialites-and-ecosystem/

Chidsey, T.C., Jr., Eby, D.E., Vanden Berg, M.D., and Sprinkel, D.A., 2021, Microbial carbonate reservoirs and analogs
from Utah: Utah Geological Survey Special Study 168, 112 p., 14 plates, 1 appendix, https://doi.org/10.34191/SS-168

Riding, Robert, Definition: Microbialites, Stromatolites, and Thrombolites, Encyclopedia of Geobiology, SpringerLink, Springer Nature Switzerland AG. Part of Springer Nature., https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-1-4020-9212-1_196

Romero, Simon, Booming Utah’s Weak Link: Surging Air Pollution, The New York Times, Sept. 7, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/07/us/great-salt-lake-utah-air-quality.html

2015–2025 Wildlife Action Plan, Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, July 1 2015, https://wildlife.utah.gov/discover/wildlife-action-plan.html

Governor Cox Declares 2021 as Year of the Shorebird at Great Salt Lake, Declaration celebrates 30th anniversary of Great Salt Lake as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site, Western Water News, National Audubon, May 12, 2021, https://www.audubon.org/news/governor-cox-declares-2021-year-shorebird-great-salt-lake
See also: https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1182-cox-declares-2021-year-of-shorebird-great-salt-lake.html

Gov. Cox Issues Drought Executive Order, Governor.utah.gov, March 17, 2021, https://governor.utah.gov/2021/03/17/gov-cox-issues-drought-executive-order/

Grandaddy

Granddaddy: Oft Have We by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Oft Have We
by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Oft have we, my friends and I,
Left cares of home, and work day woes
To find a haven, there cast a fly;
And where we’ll camp–God only knows.

Oft have we hiked the trail uphill
To see it pass, and again return–
Walked mile on mile, to get the thrill
Of a meadow lake and a creel filled.

Oft round the lake we’ve cast and fussed
And wished it something we might shun;
But something deep inside of us
Just holds us fast till day is done.

Breathtaking Beauty by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Breathtaking Beauty by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Utahn Alfred Ralph Robbins loved exploring the Grandaddy Basin in northeastern Utah’s High Uintas with a group he called The High Country Boys. He compiled his labeled-and-dated sketches of camp and lake adventures among a sprinkling of black-and-white photographs in a scrapbook spanning the 1920s through the 1960s. They were casting at Governor Lake in 1927 and resting at Pine Island Lake in 1952 with 125 trout strung between the trees. I know they fished Pinto Lake, Trial Lake, Betsy Lake, and just about every lake in the area for 40 years. I know they, outfitted by Defa’s Dude Ranch, even stopped “on top of the world” on their way to Hatchery Lake with Alvis Newton Simpson, Robbins’s son-in-law and my grandfather, because he captured and preserved it.

Alfred Ralph Robbins and Grandson Jerry Newton Simpson 1947 Utah Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Alfred Ralph Robbins and Grandson Jerry Newton Simpson 1947 Utah
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
As my father handed down copies of this family fishing scrapbook to his grandchildren, my sons and daughters, after what they called a Fishing-with-Grandpa Simpson Saturday, he included a cover photograph of his Grandaddy Robbins, in his fishing waders, holding five-year-old grandson’s hand. My father added, “I only made one horse pack trip to Grandaddy Basin with Grandpa Robbins, but it was a very eventful week. It stormed one day and we could hear the rocks tumbling down the mountain when the lightning would strike and dislodge them. Another day there was a mayfly hatch as we were fishing one of the lakes. When that happened, the fish would bite on anything that hit the water. The mosquitoes just about ate us alive, and repellant didn’t help much. We saw some fish about three feet long near the rocks on shore, but we couldn’t get them to bite. We caught plenty of other fish and ate fish for supper most days that week.”

Do you have similar memories in the wild with your grandparents recorded somehow? Turning to one of my favorite books, “Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place,” I read again how Terry Tempest Williams described the memories with her grandmother among avocets, ibises, and western grebes during their outings in Utah’s Great Salt Lake wetlands. Grandmother Mimi shared her birding fascination with her granddaughter Terry along the burrowing owl mounds of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Williams wrote, “It was in 1960, the same year she gave me my Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds. I know this because I dated their picture. We have come back every year since to pay our respects.”

I’m not a grandmother yet, but I will one day make a trek over Hades Pass again, gaze at the Grandaddy Basin below, and capture nature’s poetry with pen, camera lens, and little hiker hands in mine. Bloggers have technologies today to share instantly with me and the rest of the world their adventures in this Grandaddy Wilderness region. Documenting autobiographical history has evolved from dusty diaries and scrapbooks with black-and-white photographs to today’s digital image- and video-filled blogs in exciting ways that can include the places in Utah you love with the generations you love. Consider it your contribution to history.

Grandaddy Ohs and Ahs by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Grandaddy Ohs and Ahs
by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

I would not miss the Oh’s! and Ah’s!
I’ve seen in Doug’s and Noel’s eyes,
When first they saw Grandaddy Lake
From the summit, in the skies.

They are thrilled I know, and so am I.
They show it in their face;
While I just swallow hard and try
To thank God for this place.

I am Grandaddy Basin poet Alfred Ralph Robbins’s great granddaughter Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Williams, Terry Tempest. 1992. Refuge: an unnatural history of family and place. New York: Vintage Books. https://www.amazon.com/Refuge-Unnatural-History-Family-Place/dp/0679740244

Andersen, Cordell M. The Grandaddies. 2015. http://cordellmandersen.blogspot.com/2015/06/photoessay-backpack-1-2015-grandaddy.html

Wasatch Will. Fern Lake: Chasing Friends in Grandaddy Basin. 2018. https://www.wasatchwill.com/2018/06/fern-lake.html

Delay, Megan and Ali Spackman. Hanging with Sean’s Elk Party in the Uinta’s Grandaddy Basin. 2015. https://whereintheworldaremeganandali.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/hanging-with-seans-elk-party-in-the-uintas-grandaddy-basin/

Rhodes, Shannon, Wild About Nature Journaling, Wild About Utah June 22, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-about-nature-journaling/

The Eastern Shore of Bear Lake

Eastern Shore of Bear Lake Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, Photographer
Eastern Shore of Bear Lake
Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, Photographer
The Eastern shore of Bear Lake is a quiet place

Far from the hubbub and close to what is good for us

Seldom visited by those who want

And home to all that one needs

As autumn takes its dive towards winter and leaves begin to turn

Be like the Eastern shore of Bear Lake

Be Peaceful

Be Deep

Be…

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah
 
Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright © Patrick Kelly, Photographer
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, Wild About Utah, August 28, 2017, Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, https://wildaboututah.org/bear-lake-sculpin-cottus-extensus/

Bingham, Lyle, Kervin, Linda(voice), Bonneville Cisco, Wild About Utah, February 11, 2009, Bonneville Cisco, https://wildaboututah.org/bonneville-cisco/

Bear Lake Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bear Lake Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, https://bearlake.org/

Are Bear Lake’s Ciscos a Joy or Curse?, Angler Guide, http://www.anglerguide.com/articles/112.html

Fishing: Bear Lake history & facts, http://wildlife.utah.gov/fishing/bearlake.html

Endemic Species of Bear Lake, Pugstones Fishing Guides, http://www.fishingbearlake.com/bearlake.html

Prosopium gemmifer, Bonneville cisco, FishBase, http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?id=2683

Bonneville cisco, Prosopium gemmifer, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=prosgemm

Utah Sensitive Species List, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/ucdc/ViewReports/sslist.htm

Bonneville Cisco (Prosopium bemmiferum) from Bear Lake, Utah-Idaho, All Enthusiast, Inc., http://www.aslo.org/photopost/showphoto.php/photo/553/sort/1/cat/all/page/1

Winter Fishing Comes Naturally at Bear Lake, Utah Outdoors, http://www.utahoutdoors.com/pages/bear_lake_winter.htm

Preserving the Social and Ecological Values of a Utah River

Preserving the Social and Ecological Values of a Utah River: Stewart Park1_Pre-construction Serious Bank Erosion: Serious erosion resulting, in part, from upstream channelization cuts into Stewart Park Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, Photographer
Stewart Park1_Pre-construction Serious Bank Erosion: Serious erosion resulting, in part, from upstream channelization cuts into Stewart Park
Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, Photographer
In 2011, extensive flooding in Cache Valley caused widespread damage to both buildings and land along the Logan River.
Preserving the Social and Ecological Values of a Utah River
This led to the formation of the Logan River Task Force; this group of Utah State University scientists and other experts in riparian and river restoration worked with Logan City and Bio-West, Inc. (a local consulting firm) to develop a long-term restoration plan that prevented flooding while balancing both social and ecological values of the river.

During Construction: Restoration specialists direct construction of the Stewart Park "Residential Demonstration" Restoration Project Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, Photographer
During Construction: Restoration specialists direct construction of the Stewart Park “Residential Demonstration” Restoration Project
Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, Photographer
Frank Howe, chairman of the Task Force said, “We developed the Logan River Conservation Action Plan to help ensure people’s property is protected, BUT we also envisioned the river becoming an amenity for our community – a place where people could enjoying activities [in, on, and around] the river such as canoeing, hiking, and fishing, or just sitting – enjoying the sights and sounds of the river.”
The Task Force’s first objective was to answer the question, “Why do people value the river?”

Volunteer Planting: Community volunteers plant native vegetation in the terraced demonstration area at the Stewart Park site, vegetation helps slow the flow and reduce the river's energy during a flood. Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, Photographer
Volunteer Planting: Community volunteers plant native vegetation in the terraced demonstration area at the Stewart Park site, vegetation helps slow the flow and reduce the river’s energy during a flood.
Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, Photographer
With the help of Logan’s citizens, the Task Force developed 22 Indicators of the river’s values. These indicators were essential for creating the Conservation Action Plan and directing restoration activities. People are anxious to avoid flood damage, but they’re also interested in the fish and wildlife the river supports as well as the recreational opportunities it offers.

Logan City Mayor Holly Daines said, “The Logan River Task Force has been really helpful to the city in working on river restoration! Quality of life is such an important part of our community. By expanding trails, and restoring the river wherever possible, we’re [creating] great places where we can enjoy [a] little slice of nature.”

Restoration after 1 year: The completed restoration features native vegetation, bark trails, and places where people can access the river. Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, Photographer
Restoration after 1 year: The completed restoration features native vegetation, bark trails, and places where people can access the river.
Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, Photographer
The Task Force’s first restoration effort was a demonstration project at Denzil Stewart Nature Park. Its purpose was to show residents who live along the river how they could enhance their property while providing benefits to the river and their neighbors. “A lot of people have built walls so the river doesn’t flood onto their property”, says Howe. “But this leads to channelization which creates a problem for the [whole] river system. It forces the entire flow of the river into a very confined space. That increases the erosive power of the river which then eats away at personal property and public infrastructure.”

The Stewart Park Project demonstrated that, instead of building walls, if the owner allows occasion flooding onto lower “terraced” areas which are planted with native vegetation, it allows the river to grow a little wider and this, along with the friction from the vegetation, slows the flow and dissipates the energy of the flood through the entire [river] system.

A family enjoys the river one year after the Rendezvous Restoration Project. Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, Photographer
A family enjoys the river one year after the Rendezvous Restoration Project.
Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, Photographer
The flagship project of the Task Force was Rendevous Park where the river was rerouted to avoid flood damage to a major highway and railroad. Pools were created in the river to catch sediments that previously plugged the river, causing flooding. Howe explains, “The pools allow sediments to drop out in a very predictable place which can be cleaned out every 5-10 years as sediments build up. These pools also provide excellent fish habitat as well as places for people to float or wade in the river. We removed several acres of non-native vegetation and planted native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers which created habitat for birds and other wildlife. We also added trails that allow people to access the river without disturbing the plantings. In all, we were able to improve 19 of the 22 social and ecological Indicators!”

This approach of balancing social and ecological values in river restoration used by the Logan River Task Force can be applied to rivers throughout Utah.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m wild about Utah.

Preserving the Social and Ecological Values of a Utah River-Credits:
Preserving the Social and Ecological Values of a Utah River
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Frank Howe, USU QCNR/Utah DWR
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Co-Authored by: Frank Howe, chairman of the Logan River Task Force, adjunct associate professor, and university liaison for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Preserving the Social and Ecological Values of a Utah River-Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Logan River’s Evolving Geomorphology, Wild About Utah, March 2, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/logan-rivers-evolving-geomorphology/

Leavitt, Shauna, The Ecology in and around the Logan River, Wild About Utah, December 2, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-ecology-in-and-around-the-logan-river/

Leavitt, Shauna, A Short History of the Logan River, Wild About Utah, November 4, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/short-history-of-logan-river/