Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Grassland Unit Restoration Project - Phase I

The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge (Refuge) is one of the largest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Refuges in the Western United States and is managed specifically for waterfowl and other migratory waterbirds. Located on the vestigal Bear River delta, the Refuge provides habitat for millions of waterfowl and other migratory waterbirds.

The Refuge's Grasslands Unit is a duck
production area.

Waterfowl production rates in and around the Great Salt Lake are predominately determined by the presence, or lack of, suitable nesting and brood rearing habitat. For most dabbling ducks (e.g., mallards, green-winged teal, shovelor, gadwall, etc…) this means a combination of cover and open water. Research by DU has shown that large areas of dense grassland and/or emergent marsh cover are critical for nest success, which is the most important factor influencing overall waterfowl survival. Additionally, similar DU research has shown that brood survival, the second most important factor determining overall waterfowl survival, is directly linked to the presence of high-quality, open-water, emergent wetlands near nesting sites. Because of the lake flood, waterfowl production on the Refuge has suffered and good production habitat is now rare. Although the acquisition of the Grasslands Unit provided a cover component, it lacked suitable wetland conditions for successful brood rearing. To address this issue, Ducks Unlimited and Refuge staff developed and funded a series of projects to provide this missing piece of critical waterfowl production habitat. 

Earth work was required to build the berms

Over the last three years and ending this winter, Ducks Unlimited has restored approximately 700 acres of Grassland Unit wetlands that were designed specifically for brood rearing. These wetlands are shallow, fresh water marshes managed with stop-log water control structures. This type of structure is important as good brood rearing wetlands provide two important things that other wetlands may not have in sufficient amounts: a wide variety of vegetation types and high invertebrate production. Precise water level management is critical for providing both of these conditions.

The Grasslands Unit wetland restoration projects, as with most DU projects, were a partnership effort. Ducks Unlimited provided engineering, biological expertise, and financial assistance through parts of two North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants. The Refuge provided both construction services and project management. Rupp Trucking, the contractor on half of the projects, donated valuable services to help finish the projects.

Although the Grassland Unit projects are now complete, Ducks Unlimited will continue its conservation work on the Refuge. This fall, DU will be managing a topographic survey of over 30,000 acres in the main Units. This project will assist the Refuge staff in managing water levels. In the longer term, DU has plans to address the carp problem in these same areas. DU projects elsewhere have shown that carp elimination and exclusion can dramatically increase the productivity of wetlands and further increase waterfowl production rates.