GREAT SALT LAKE COLLABORATIVE

Wildlife are losing habitat at the Great Salt Lake. A nonprofit is working to build some back.

Jul 6, 2024, 11:15 AM | Updated: 11:28 am

Marshland...

This year's runoff is creating thousands of acres of marshland at the Great Salt Lake (KSL TV, 2023)

(KSL TV, 2023)

SYRACUSE — A mother duck and her slew of ducklings paddle along in a stream. Dragonflies dance around cattails. Two sandhill cranes approach the water and get warded off by a pair of nesting birds.

None of them care that the marshy area they are temporarily calling home is only there because of a levee that transformed a flat field with a little bit of water into a thriving wetland habitat.

A year after it opened, the managed wetland in the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve is helping improve water quality and offset other habitat losses, as the lake has yet to reach a water level that Utah officials consider healthy.

“The lake’s been drying and going through big swings,” said Chris Brown, the stewardship director for The Nature Conservancy in Utah. “We’ve been losing a lot of the wetland habitat.”

That’s a major issue because the Great Salt Lake provides some of the most important habitat for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl in the western hemisphere. The wetlands are a critical part of the ecosystem that supports around 10 million birds each year and a global brine shrimp industry, Brown said.

Without the wetlands, he said, some species could go extinct. Wetlands disappearing also would affect hunting, mineral extraction, cattle grazing and other industries that help support Utah families, he said.

The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit, manages a 4,400-acre preserve on the eastern shores of the Great Salt Lake — one of the last remaining shorelines with little to no development — and has built 170 acres of new wetlands with plans to build more.

The 40-acre project that opened a year ago stops up water from the Freeport Drain that used to shoot directly into the Great Salt Lake.

Now, the water that drains from the Freeport Center in Clearfield and nearby areas meanders through wetlands, a habitat that naturally helps remove metals, debris and garbage.

Brown pointed out multiple plastic bottles and other pieces of trash caught in the levee, and said there are plans to install trash booms that will help collect more debris.

The levee also allows The Nature Conservancy to flood a nearby meadow, where the white-face ibis can breed, Brown said.

The built wetland is “minuscule” in the grand scheme of things, Brown said, but is one that The Nature Conservancy can manage and keep stable for shorebirds and other species that depend on the lake’s wetlands.

If the lake comes back up and other wetlands return, the built habitats will be a bonus, Brown said.

In addition to the Freeport Drain project, the conservancy has built more than 100 acres of new wetlands in the last few years and has plans for other projects, including a 200-acre project near Syracuse called Miller Pond.

The Freeport Drain project took about nine months, Brown said, and the Miller Pond project will take a bit longer.


This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake—and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.

KSL 5 TV Live

Great Salt Lake Collaborative

Chris Brown, director of stewardship for The Nature of Conservancy, said  cows are helping get rid ...

Karah Brackin

How cows are helping the Great Salt Lake

At the Great Salt Lake, cows are eating away at an invasive species called phragmites, helping native grasses to come back.

8 days ago

Great Salt Lake bed...

Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

Study shows Great Salt Lake dust impacts some communities disproportionately

The 800 square miles of exposed bed of the Great Salt Lake is disproportionately impacts people of color, according to new research by the University of Utah.

17 days ago

rainbow above shallow water and brown plants with mountains and clouds behind...

Ben Winslow, Fox13

Great Salt Lake has likely hit its high mark for the year and will start dropping

The Great Salt Lake has likely peaked, reaching its highest water levels of the year and will start dropping again.

2 months ago

A webcam shows a time-lapse of a dust storm passing through the Salt Lake Valley Wednesday, May 17,...

Megan Banta, The Salt Lake Tribune

Great Salt Lake’s drying lakebed isn’t ‘toxic’ or the biggest source of dust, experts say

Experts say The Great Salt Lake isn't the leading cause of dust in Utah. Desert playas where other lakes have already dried up — including the Great Salt Lake Desert to the west of the lake itself — along with gravel operations, construction and drought also cause dust storms.

2 months ago

An undated photo of the cross that Christopher "Kit" Carson left on a rock on Fremont Island in 184...

Carter Williams, KSL.com

Why this explorer’s carving on a Great Salt Lake island rock is now on a historic register

A cross that an explorer etched in stone during a tour of the island nearly 181 years ago is now one of the newest additions to the National Register of Historic Places.

2 months ago

water mirroring sky from boat on Great Salt Lake...

Megan Banta, The Salt Lake Tribune

Here’s how much water is flowing to the Great Salt Lake as the snow melts

About 37% more water is flowing into the Great Salt Lake from its tributaries than in a typical year, according to federal data.

2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

young male technician is repairing a printer at office...

Les Olson

Unraveling the dilemma between leasing and buying office technology

Carefully weigh these pros and cons to make an informed decision that best suits your business growth and day-to-day operation. 

A kitchen in a modern farmhouse....

Lighting Design

A room-by-room lighting guide for your home

Bookmark this room-by-room lighting guide whenever you decide to upgrade your lighting or style a new home.

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Wildlife are losing habitat at the Great Salt Lake. A nonprofit is working to build some back.