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New report offers roadmap for protecting birds at the Salton Sea

Study shows acreage of habitat state needs to provide to maintain area’s role on the Pacific Flyway.

San Francisco, CA – As state officials continue to work on a plan for the Salton Sea that will address future habitat loss and dust, a new report details how much – and what type of – habitat the millions of birds that rely on California’s largest inland lake use. Using data from two time periods, the report completed by Audubon California, Point Blue Conservation Science and Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc., shows that birds are currently using five distinct types of habitat, totaling approximately 58,000 acres.

“If the state wants to maintain the Salton Sea’s importance to birds, it will need to keep an eye on this long-term goal of 58,000 acres as it plans to build and manage habitats at the sea,” said Andrea Jones, Audubon California’s director of bird conservation. “This information should act as a roadmap for the protection of birds at the Salton Sea.”

State officials are under pressure to meet their commitment to address habitat loss and dust-related public health problems that will arise beginning in 2018 when the Salton Sea will start to receive significantly less water, eventually up to 40 percent less. The shrinking sea will expose up to 64,000 acres of the sea bed over the next 15 years, destroying tens of thousands of acres of habitat and kicking up massive dust storms.

The entire report can be found here.

More than 300 bird species rely on the deep water, shoreline, mudflats, and wetlands at the Salton Sea, as well as the river channels and agricultural drains leading into it. Tilapia live in the deeper waters, providing essential food for many species, including California Brown Pelican, American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, and Caspian Tern. Perhaps the sea’s greatest value for birds is its ability to support very large numbers of waterbirds during the winter months, including in previous years up to 80% of North America’s Eared Grebes, 50% of Ruddy Ducks, and 30% of the American White Pelicans. The mudflats and shorelines are also essential for hundreds of thousands of shorebirds. It has been declared an Audubon Important Bird Area of Global Significance.

The report identifies and quantifies five specific habitat types that birds were documented as using: playa; mudflats and shallow water; mid-depth water; deep water; and permanent vegetated wetlands.

“One thing that this document reveals is the vital link between bird habitat and dust control,” added Jones. “With water being an essential element in four of the five habitat types, you can see the role that tens of thousands of acres of habitat can play in preventing dust from becoming airborne as the sea recedes.”

At the time it signed the Quantification Settlement Agreement in 2003, the State of California committed to funding restoration at the Salton Sea to address the widespread habitat loss and dust emissions. Over the years, there have been legislative proposals, public hearings, and planning sessions – but little progress has been made. A task force created last year by California Gov. Jerry Brown set a medium-term goal for 25,000 acres restored, a number recently echoed in a memorandum of understanding between state and federal officials.

The state is expected to have its draft management plan for the Salton Sea in the coming months.

“Now is the best opportunity we’ve had in years to make a real difference for the more than 650,000 people who live around the Salton Sea, as well as the birds and other wildlife that depend on this place for their survival,” said Audubon California Executive Director Brigid McCormack. “Audubon is committed to helping make progress, and we look forward to continuing to work with the state, the federal government and other stakeholders on this vital issue.”

About Audubon California 

Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 350,000 members and supporters in California and an affiliated 49 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society.


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