Great Salt Lake celebrates 30 years as a WHSRN site
In April 1991, Great Salt Lake was designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) Site of Hemispheric Importance. At over a million acres, Great Salt Lake is the largest terminal lake in North America and annually supports approximately 1.4 million migrating and breeding shorebirds, including Snowy Plover, Marbled Godwit, Western Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Red-necked Phalarope. The site is particularly important for Wilson’s Phalarope (500,000 birds), American Avocet (250,000 birds), and Black-necked Stilt (65,000 birds) whose peak counts have exceeded 30% of the global populations for these species.
Great Salt Lake and its wetlands, are an integral part of the WHSRN Network, of saline lakes situated across the flyway that support various life stages of shorebirds. Due to their great importance for shorebird communities, other saline lakes such as Chaplin Lake (Saskatchewan, Canada), Mono Lake (California, United States) and Laguna Mar Chiquita (Argentina) have also been designated as WHSRN sites. These lakes efficiently accumulate and recycle nutrients that can sustain plant and animal life and provide forage for migrating shorebirds. However, living in a hypersaline environment also creates a physiological challenge that many animals are not adapted to survive, like fish. In the absence of these predators, invertebrates reach high levels of abundance and are exclusively available as prey to birds, making saline lakes ideal stopover sites for large flocks of shorebirds.
Partners at Great Salt Lake have long embodied the spirit of WHSRN, connecting with other sites for better conservation. Together, with Chaplin – Old Wives – Reed Lakes site, and the Marismas Nacionales site (Mexico) these sites created the “Linking Communities” initiative in 1997, which has promoted collaboration and site exchange on shorebird research, education, and ecotourism.
A diverse set of stakeholders including the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; nine state-owned Wildlife/Waterfowl Management Areas; three state parks; private conservation properties owned by The Nature Conservancy of Utah, National Audubon, and several privately owned duck clubs all play an important role in protecting valuable habitat for wildlife that rely on the Lake for resting, staging and nesting during their migratory journey. Additionally, the state of Utah has a legal stewardship responsibility to manage the sovereign lands of Great Salt Lake as a Public Trust resource under the Utah Constitution and the Utah Department of Natural Resources helps to oversee management of this ecologically unique and economically significant saline system.
Authored by GSL WHSRN site partners.
With over 100 designated sites, WHSRN’s mission is to conserve shorebirds and their habitats across the Americas through action at a network of key sites.
Did you know?
The Great Salt Lake is a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) Hemispheric site. What is a WHSRN site? A WHSRN site is a site that has been labeled as an area of conservation importance for shorebirds. To become a hemispheric site within WHSRN there are four categories the site must have:
There are currently over 100 sites, in 13 countries, with more than 31 million acres of habitat being conserved.
- Site/Landscapes of hemispheric importance with at least 500,000 shorebirds annually or 30% of a species’ biogeographic population: We have this number in one species alone, Wilson Phalarope
- Make Shorebird conservation a priority
- Protect and manage Shorebird habitat
- Keep WHSRN informed of any changes at the site
Most of the GSL Bird Festival field trips visit Important Bird Area ( IBA) sites along the Great Salt Lake. What is an IBA and how do you become an IBA? The IBA program is a world-wide bird conservation program. The National Audubon Society is the responsible organization for IBAs in the United States. Important Bird Areas provide important habitat for one or more species or populations of birds. To be an IBA you have to have one of the following:
- Species of conservation concern (e.g. threatened and endangered species).
- Restricted-ranges species (species vulnerable because they are not widely distributed).
- Species that are vulnerable because their populations are concentrated in one general habitat type or biome.
- Species, or groups of similar species (such as waterfowl or shorebirds), that are vulnerable because they occur at high densities due to their congregatory behavior.
- Places that are IBA’s on or near the GSL: Bear River Bay, Cutler Reservoir, Deseret Land and Livestock, Farmington Bay, Gilbert Bay, Goshen Bay, Gunnison Bay, Ogden Bay, and Provo Bay.