Salton Sea, CA – As Audubon California ramps up its efforts to address the many challenges to critical habitat at the Salton Sea, the organization today announced the hiring of Frank Ruiz as Salton Sea Program Director. Ruiz, who hails from nearby Coachella, will be tasked with leading Audubon California’s multi-faceted campaign to not only safeguard habitat for birds at the Salton Sea, but also address the potential public health disaster impacting thousands of California’s as the waters of California’s largest lake recede.
The Salton Sea is one of the most important places for birds on the Pacific Flyway, and one of the most imperiled. Beginning in 2018, the Salton Sea will get a lot less of that water from the nearby Colorado River, eventually up to 40 percent less. Huge expanses of lakebed may be exposed, creating plumes of toxic dust. Tens of thousands of acres of habitat will disappear. Increased water toxicity will kill off the fish that cormorants and pelicans need to survive. The State of California and dozens of stakeholders are working on a plan for the Salton Sea that will control dust, preserve habitat and protect the local economy as the sea shrinks.
“The community around the Salton Sea is my home and I am committed to helping guide it to a healthy future,” said Ruiz. “Birds and nature are part of what makes the Salton Sea special.”
Ruiz comes to Audubon California with more than 13 years of experience leading non-profit organizations, most recently Por la Creación, a national alliance of more than 300 faith-based leaders that organizes and trains community stakeholders in their efforts to protect the environment. In addition, his ties to theregion run deep, as pastor for a large congregation in Indio, and through Por la Creación, a driving force behind the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act, which established three new national monuments in the California desert.
“The issues around the Salton Sea are complex and have vexed policymakers for decades,” said Audubon California Executive Director Brigid McCormack. “Frank Ruiz brings local experience and a proven ability to pull people together to protect ecosytems, and he is going to make a big difference not just for our efforts to protect birds, but for the health of the Salton Sea community.”
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.
Audubon California and its partners recently released a report identifying the need for 58,000 acres at the Salton Sea that provided essential habitat for birds. This report will serve as a roadmap for policymakers developing a plan for managing the lake in the coming years. The state is expected to release its draft management plan for the Salton Sea in the coming weeks.
“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 McCormack. “Audubon is committed to helping make progress, and we look forward to continuing to work with the state, the federal government, the local community members and groups 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.