A Shrinking Great Salt Lake Could Hurt the Birds that Depend on it

A Shrinking Great Salt Lake Could Hurt the Birds that Depend on it

Michele Berger
Published: 07/07/2010

Image: USGS Utah Water Science Center
More than 250 bird species breed at or use Utah’s Great Salt Lake as a stopover point. Its five largest bays are Important Bird Areas, and at its peak, the body of water spans 1.5 million acres across.

Natural evaporation processes render minerals directly from the lake, which the Great Salt Lake Minerals Corporation (GSLM) uses to create an organic-food fertilizer.Now GSLM has proposed to convert 91,000 acres of the lake to evaporation ponds, and has applied to evaporate out an additional 353,000 acre-feet of lake water annually—more than the rain and snow melt replenish for the lake in a year.

So what will happen?

“When wildlife loses habitat, it doesn’t just move; it dies because other habitat is already occupied,” Ted Williams writes in his most recent Audubon article, “Salt on New Wounds.” “The expansion will destroy another 8,000 acres of Bear River Bay and make what’s left more riverine and therefore less hospitable to water birds.”
In the Jul-Aug issue, Williams goes on to discuss the potential problems of the proposed expansion, including the possible elimination of the white pelican population west of the continental divide.

On a side note, don’t forget to continue voting for National Audubon Society to give the organization a chance to win a $200,000 grant from American Express and TakePart. For more information, see our previous posts on the topic, as well as the FAQ page for the contest.

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