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Political authorities in Utah may face serious issues as a result of a small bird on the Great Salt Lake



Salt Lake City, Utah – Regarding the Great Salt Lake, a small bird might cause political leaders in Utah a great deal of trouble.

The Center for Biological Diversity is part of a coalition of environmental organizations that will petition the federal government to designate the Wilson’s phalarope as an endangered species. That would result in more rules and actions regarding the Great Salt Lake.

Small birds called Wilson’s Phalaropes migrate from North to South America and back, making stops in the Great Salt Lake to build their nests and replenish their supplies. According to Deeda Seed, a senior campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, there are roughly a million of them worldwide.

“The fate of these birds is connected to our fate. If we’re at a point where our lake is so vulnerable to collapse that we’re going to lose bird species, it’s also a huge warning bell for us that our existence here as humans is also imperiled with a collapsing Great Salt Lake,” Seed said.

Part of the motivation for the endeavor stems from dissatisfaction with the state’s handling of preserving the Great Salt Lake. Environmental organizations have expressed dissatisfaction with state authorities’ lack of action or speed in addressing the Great Salt Lake’s deteriorating emergency. The lake’s level reached its lowest point in 2022, and with hazardous dust storms, less snowfall, and negative effects on the economy, wildlife, and public health, Utah faces an ecological crisis.

The Great Salt Lake’s habitat is protected by an endangered species listing, which could override numerous state laws and ordinances if approved by the federal government.

“The federal government would have the capacity to say to the state, ‘You need to do things differently and if you don’t there will be consequences.’ So it confers important regulatory and legal power,” Seed said.

That might have a big effect on the state’s own Great Salt Lake rescue efforts.

“What the Endangered Species Act has always done is have a federal solution and oftentimes re-prioritizes what has been technically a state issue, which is water rights,” said Great Salt Lake Commissioner Brian Steed, who is tasked by state leaders with enacting plans to reverse the lake’s declines.

It would introduce “controversy and tension” into the rescue efforts for Great Salt Lake, according to Steed.

“I can tell you straight, that it would be complicated to have the federal government all of a sudden in the middle of it. I think there’s going to be a lot of politics that play out as a result of that. We would prefer if the bird is healthy that we don’t go down that pathway,” he said.

Republican members on Utah’s Capitol Hill said they were against the Wilson’s phalarope being listed as an endangered species. Sen. Scott Sandall, a Republican from Tremonton who is in charge of many water-related bills in the senate, issued a warning, claiming it would result in harsh regulations on water use, such as transferring water use for agricultural and drinking to the federal government.

“We have made great strides,” he said. “I know there are some out there that think we haven’t made them fast enough, but that’s the tug and pull in the legislative process. We have made incredible strides in getting water to the lake and we will continue to do it. We’re not going to allow the Great Salt Lake to dry up and go away.”

To formally announce the submission of the Wilson’s phalarope’s endangered species status, a coalition of environmental organizations, including Grow the Flow, Great Basin Water Network, Youth Coalition for Great Salt Lake, and the Sierra Club, will host an event at the Utah State Capitol on Thursday.

“We’re very glad that we’ve caught the attention of lawmakers,” she said. “Because they are the people that have the capacity to solve this problem.”


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