SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – June 28, 2022 – A Ducks Unlimited-led coalition is launching a $3 million investment to improve water quality and quantity in the Great Salt Lake and Lower Bear River watershed.
The effort will conserve habitat to enhance or protect 7,800 acres of wetlands and grasslands in Box Elder, Davis and Weber counties on five project sites. These projects will improve the flow of water while filtering pollutants.
“The Great Salt Lake - Lower Bear River ecosystem is one of the most unique and important wetland areas in the Western Hemisphere,” said Chris Bonsignore, DU manager of conservation programs. “Water quality concerns are increasing with declining water availability and a warming climate. This program addresses these threats and offers solutions that may be transferrable to other drought-stricken areas of the West.”
Utah has one of the nation’s fastest-growing populations, most of it centered along the eastern shoreline of the Great Salt Lake. Increased land-use conversion and water allocations linked to expanding urban development adjacent to the lake pose a significant threat to a fragile ecosystem.
Add extreme drought conditions, and the Great Salt Lake is projected to reach its lowest level in 170 years. Measures put in place now can mitigate the nearly inevitable loss of freshwater wetland habitat and declines in productivity in the lake due to surface water loss and increasing salinity.
“More than 5 million shorebirds and up to 4 million waterfowl use this region annually, making it one of the most important wetland complexes in North America,” Bonsignore said.
Declining food sources, increased predator access and higher salinity levels in the Great Salt Lake are a triple threat to the region's winged wildlife and the state’s $62-million-per-year waterfowling industry.
A lack of water also raises alarms for people. As more of the lakebed is exposed due to water diversion, more severe dust storms are expected, decreasing air quality and contributing to respiratory issues. Economically, more than $1.32 billion in revenue and more than 7,700 jobs can be directly tied to the lake.
The new program is funded through a $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant and matching funds from Ducks Unlimited, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, Marathon Petroleum Foundation, Bear River Club Company and Little Mountain Holdings.
Project work will center on improving two key areas of the Great Lakes ecosystem, Bear River Bay and Ogden Bay. Together, these areas contain a significant portion of the freshwater wetlands in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem. The program will enhance 4,835 acres of wetlands and permanently protect 2,943 acres of wetland-associated uplands.
In addition to wildlife benefits, the projects improve quality of life for communities. Three of the five project sites, totaling 6,613 acres, are publicly accessible throughout the year for wildlife viewing, photography, hiking, boating, biking and other outdoor activities.
These projects are the latest Ducks Unlimited conservation efforts in Utah. Since the 1980s, Ducks Unlimited has invested nearly $10 million to protect, enhance or restore 40,000 acres across the state. Recently, Procter & Gamble also committed to the region through a grant award to DU via the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Business for Water Stewardship program. Learn more at www.ducks.org/Utah.
- Will enhance 450 acres of Bear River wetlands in Box Elder County through newly designed infrastructure which will control water levels and improve wetland habitat diversity and productivity. Project will send more water to the wetland complex thanks to conversion of 2,600 feet of existing earthen ditch to pipe.
- Private hunt clubs around the Great Salt Lake play an important role in conservation of wetlands and waterfowl in this unique ecosystem, dating back to the late 1800s. The Bear River Club Company in Box Elder County is partnering to enhance a minimum 715 acres on club property by constructing a settling basin system to filter sediment and nutrient runoff. This system will reduce sediment and nutrients entering the lake and polluting highly productive aquatic bed and emergent wetlands.
- Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area in Weber County is one of the most important managed freshwater marshes in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, providing over 19,000 acres of well-managed emergent and submerged aquatic bed wetlands. The Weber River supplies most of the water for Ogden Bay. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Ducks Unlimited will enhance 1,070 acres of wetlands by improving 4,000 feet of levees along the Weber River.
- “Bear River Club Company is carrying on a conservation mission that started generations ago by fellow outdoors enthusiasts. Waterfowlers see the tremendous benefits that conservation provides for wildlife, and we are proud to support this incredible program to improve the Great Salt Lake.” – Terry Graunke, Bear River Club Company President.
- “Great Salt Lake and the surrounding wetlands are a vital resource to the state of Utah. It is great to have a partner that is passionate about the lake and its surrounding wetlands. The wetlands play an integral part in the health of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem and provide necessary habitat for thousands of migratory birds each year. Preserving this resource, not only benefits Utahns today but also in the future.” – Jamie Barnes, Director/State Forester, Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, Utah Department of Natural Resources
- “We are grateful for partners who are so passionate about wildlife conservation and who realize the importance of the Great Salt Lake and its surrounding ecosystems. This project will help enhance and improve the Ogden Bay WMA, which will be a great benefit for birds and other wildlife that rely on these wetlands.” – J Shirley, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Director.
- “Marathon Petroleum Company is committed to being responsible stewards of the environment we all share. Part of our giving strategy is to partner with organizations that amplify our sustainability strategy and enable us to make a positive, measurable impact. DU more than meets that bill and we are proud to be part of this project.” – VJ Smith, Stakeholder Engagement Representative, Marathon Petroleum.
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.