Report: Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline — National Audobon Society

Here’s the executive summary. From the website:

Water is the most precious resource in the West—for people, birds, and other wildlife. Riparian habitats like the forests and wetlands that line the Colorado River support some of the most abundant and diverse bird communities in the arid West, serving as home to some 400 species. The Colorado River also provides drinking water for more than 36 million people, irrigates 5.5 million acres of farms and ranches, and supports 16 million jobs throughout seven states, with a combined annual economic impact of $1.4 trillion.

But dams, diversions, drought, and water demand along the Colorado River have devastated cottonwood-willow forests and other native riparian habitat that support more than 40 percent of bird species in America’s Southwest. Saline lakes—the landlocked saltwater lakes fringed with wetlands that dot the Intermountain West—are beacons for millions of birds crossing an otherwise arid landscape. But as water recedes and exposes toxic dust, not only is habitat lost, but surrounding communities are at higher risk for asthma and other health issues.

In short, precipitous declines in Western water quantity and quality are exacting a high toll on the health, prosperity, and quality of life for rural and urban communities, and putting birds and wildlife at jeopardy.

Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Declined represents the first comprehensive assessment of the complex and vital relationships that exist among birds, water, and climate change in the region. Our research focused on two of the most imperiled and irreplaceable Western ecosystems: 1) the Colorado River Basin; and 2) the West’s network of saline lakes—including the Great Salt Lake and Salton Sea as well as other smaller but vitally important lakes. To read the full report, click here. Have questions? Read the FAQ. Want to get up-to-date news on water issues in West? Join the Western Rivers Action Network.

American Avocets in the Salton Sea. Photo: David Tipling/NPL/Minden Pictures. Screen shot American Audobon Society western water website, October 4, 2017.

Here’s a report from Ian Evans writing for Water Deeply. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

David O’Neill and Karyn Stockdale of the National Audubon Society talk about a recent report that highlights the threats to two major habitats used by migrating birds in the West: saline lakes and riparian habitat along the Colorado River.

The report highlights how drying saline lakes in the West and changing riparian habitat along the Colorado River are impacting migrating birds. But the two habitats also share a vulnerability to climate change and water management. The demand for water from growing metropolitan areas, like Salt Lake City, is often at the expense of these habitats and wildlife.

But David O’Neill, Audubon’s chief conservation officer, says that doesn’t have to be the case. In the report, Audubon highlights areas where environmentalists are working with policymakers, water managers and farmers to supply both birds and people in the West with enough water.

Saline lakes and riparian habitat on the Colorado both provide invaluable habitat for birds flying from Canada to Latin America and back every year.

Saline lakes, like the Great Salt Lake or the Salton Sea, provide valuable food and resting spots for shore birds, such as American avocets, while riparian shrubs and willows on the Colorado River provide food and shelter for vireos, warblers, flycatchers and more.

Water Deeply spoke with O’Neill and Karyn Stockdale, director of Audubon’s Western Water Initiative, about the report, the relationship between birds and water in the West and how Audubon hopes to help meet the water needs of people and the environment…

Water Deeply: Have you had success in solving the issues that you lay out in terms of the saline lakes and riparian systems along the Colorado River?

Stockdale: In the Grand Valley in Colorado, the Grand Valley Irrigation District has been implementing a few pilot projects, essentially doing more water conservation, upgrading old irrigation infrastructure, improving some of the flows on the Colorado. And while the volume of water is small, what’s really happening is that it’s demonstrating to water users and the decision-makers in the area, this kind of project’s possible, that it actually has mutual benefits. So there are a lot of small examples like that. Sort of, laying out the path and proving that this really works, being able to then talk in kind of the larger scale.

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