Amalga Barrens Wetlands Sanctuary
Project Description & Background
The Amalga Barrens encompasses about 5,000 acres of wetlands, alkali mudflats, scrub grasslands, and grain fields situated in the middle of the Cache Valley. The Cache Valley is a 70 mile by 25 mile mountain valley straddling the Utah-Idaho border and in Pleistocene times was the bed of ancient Lake Bonneville. Soil surveys completed in 1913 identified over 1,500 acres of wetlands in “the Barrens”, consisting of springs, open water, marsh, and extensive alkali mudflats. The Barrens drains into Clay Slough, which in turn flows south into Cutler Reservoir on the Bear River.
Part of the attraction for birds at the Barrens is the absence of human presence. Soils in the middle of the Barrens are generally unsuitable for farming or residential structures, so people are but visitors. Nevertheless, human intrusions have altered the Barrens. There are irrigation and drainage canals and in the 1960s a consortium, the Barren Company, was formed to drill for oil, found none, and evolved into a waterfowl hunting club. Old appliances, vehicles and dead livestock have been dumped in various places. In the mid-1980s, the Utah Division of Water Resources began considering the Barrens as a site for off-river water storage pumped from the Bear River. This project received extensive study, matched by extensive objections from environmentalists, taxpayers, and local landowners. The impoundment would have inundated approximately 12 square miles of land behind a 60 foot rip-rap retaining wall, destroying over 1,500 acres of wetlands. Fortunately, the 2002 Utah Legislature removed the “Barrens Dam” from consideration as part of the Bear River development project.
Bridgerland Audubon Society (BAS) has always had an interest in the Barrens, but began to take a more aggressive role in protecting it in the summer of 2001 when three individual members pooled their resources and paid $4,000 to purchase shares in the Barren Company hunting club so they would be apprised of any changes in management that might affect the habitat. In the fall of 2001, BAS negotiated with Pacificorp to purchase 80 acres of the Barrens for a wildlife sanctuary. A sympathetic investor agreed to finance the purchase, and BAS has promised to repay the investor the full amount, with 3% interest, in the winter of 2003. In the meantime, BAS learned that Pacificorp would be willing to sell an additional, adjoining 76.4 acres along Clay Slough, and has received a letter of intent from Pacificorp. This would increase the sanctuary to 156.4 acres of mudflats, marshes and grasslands bordering Clay Slough between 7000 North and State Route 218, including approximately one mile of riparian habitat.
The long-term project is conceived in three phases. Phase One includes the acquisition of the 156.4 acres, securing of boundaries by installing boundary signs and a simple smooth wire fence along the road to block motorized vehicle access, and a systematic survey of wetlands, soils, vegetation, avifauna, and water quality. Fine scale maps with soil and vegetation overlays will be prepared for a detailed use plan. Phase Two will create a master plan for protecting the habitat in perpetuity. Phase Three objectives depend on the results of the first two phases, but, if consistent with the central goal of protecting the habitat, may involve installation of some basic infrastructure, such as shallow levees to prolong shorebird habitat into the dry summer, a small gravel parking area, a short trail, and an observation blind. Phase Three may also add information signage and environmental education programs for all ages.
Acquire 156.4 acres of property at approximately $240 per acre. (Accomplished)
Fence approximately 2000 feet of property along the road on the north boundary and install approximately 100 signs around the boundary to prohibit motorized vehicles and firearms. (ongoing)
Gather data necessary for subsequent habitat planning. (ongoing)
Initiate systematic scientific monitoring of avifauna and water quality, and survey plant communities. (ongoing)
Begin a public relations program to inform and engage local landowners in the project. (ongoing)
Relationship of Goals and Objectives to IMJV Wetland Focus Area and Bird Conservation Plans
This project directly addresses the mission of the IWJV in that it will restore and maintain uncommon playa wetlands habitat in the Cache Valley of the Bear River Focus Area of primary benefit to migratory birds. The purchase of the property and its management by BAS will ensure protection for these wetlands at a time when Pacificorp is willing to divest itself of wetlands no longer deemed relevant to its reservoir management. Fencing, signage, and neighborly landowner relations should eliminate periodic illegal dumping, shooting and off-road-vehicle incursions. Integrating bird, soil, water, and vegetation surveys with ongoing bimonthly systematic bird surveys as part of the Important Bird Area program will highlight this site’s unique avifauna and enhancement potential.
Project Ownership and Management
The project will be owned and managed by Bridgerland Audubon Society as a sanctuary for shorebirds and waterfowl. The recent track record of BAS includes two other very ambitious and successful projects – the establishment of the Allen and Alice Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon in 1997, and the creation of the Wetlands Maze habitat designation in Cutler Marsh in 2000. The BAS Board of Trustees therefore feels confident in embarking on this new project to protect the Amalga Barrens for wildlife.
Magnitude and Duration of Benefits
Recent censuses of the neighboring Barren Company hunting club have counted over 2,500 birds and up to 43 species in one hour along a one kilometer transect. Over 120 bird species are known to use the Barrens. This project will extend protection of many of these same species along a one mile riparian zone. Habitat value may increase if later water improvements result in an increased capacity for more birds and longer periods of suitability during critical migration periods. See Avian Habitat Benefits section below for numbers of species using these habitats.
The property will be held in perpetuity by BAS as a bird sanctuary.
Project Selection Elements
Avian Habitat Benefits
Of the more than 100 species of birds that utilize the Barrens, 14 species reside year round, 32 species nest there, 22 species use it primarily for summer forage and eight for winter forage, and 51 species migrate through. This mix includes 30 species of shorebirds and several sensitive species for Utah, including: Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Burrowing Owl, Common Yellowthroat, Short-eared Owl, American White Pelican, and Long-billed Curlew. In the years that the Great Salt Lake flooded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, populations of Sandhill Cranes and shorebirds increased in Cache Valley, suggesting its importance as a “back-up” habitat to the Great Salt Lake Basin for these species.
This type of wetland is uncommon in the Cache Valley. The Barrens are one of few places where many migratory shorebirds can be found. Securing this property from agricultural use, dumping, and vehicular intrusion will make it possible to continue attracting species that need mudflats for forage and nesting.
Partnership Significance and Past Contributions
Since the Barrens Wetland Sanctuary project was initiated in the Fall of 2001, private citizens have donated funds targeted for the Sanctuary. These include donations from two families that totaled over $8,000. This spring, following the passing of BAS member, Melle Washington, the family asked that donations be made to BAS for this project in lieu of flowers. To date, over $1,900 has been received in her name. The Barrens Wetland Sanctuary was also featured at the BAS annual banquet, and BAS has since printed and mailed fundraising brochures to its membership, yielding over $3,325 from 25 donors in the first four days’ receipts.
Private companies have also committed to providing services. Wetlands Resources, a five year old company specializing in delineating jurisdictional wetlands, has agreed to donate $2,950 of services for mapping wetlands and vegetation complete with GPS coordinates and GIS mapping. Natural Resources Consulting has agreed to donate the environmental assessment analysis, valued at $13,400. Pacificorp has also invited BAS to apply for a GreenCorps grant of $2,000. (BAS received a similar grant from Pacificorp in 1999 for the Wetlands Maze project.)
Public organizations have also expressed interest in this project. The Utah Conservation Corps has agreed to provide a 6-8 person work crew for two weeks to install fencing and boundary markers, and clean up refuse and junk. These crews usually cost $2,300 per week, but UCC has offered to provide them at no charge because of the nature of the project. Other agencies have expressed their support and financial commitments are being sought.
Special Considerations/Risk Assessment
For over a decade, BAS fought various proposals to flood the Amalga Barrens under a reservoir. The pressure for such an impoundment has subsided somewhat with the passage of legislation removing the Barrens as a dam site under the Bear River Development project, but it is essential that local conservationists own land in the Barrens to demonstrate the value of the area to counter future unsound proposals. In the meantime, residential development is encroaching on the borders of the Barrens. Three new homes have appeared in the last two years on the west and south borders and another is being built on the west. Despite its isolation – or perhaps because of it – the Barrens continues to be a dumping ground for old appliances, dead livestock, and residential garbage. A more obvious presence by BAS as an interested landowner, coupled with good landowner relations, will diminish this dumping. Pacificorp is now willing to divest itself of property that it no longer needs to secure its Cutler Marsh power project. This window of opportunity is very recent and likely ephemeral. Currently, only one small waterfowl “refuge” exists in the valley, and it is managed primarily for waterfowl hunting. The need is now to secure this heart of the Amalga Barrens as a permanent refuge.
The Barrens Wetlands Sanctuary will benefit all of the species addressed in the section above on Avian Habitat Benefits.
Measure of Success/Monitoring Plan
Phase One will be successfully completed when: 1) BAS acquires ownership of the property; 2) fences and boundary markers, together with neighbor trust curtails ORV incursions, dumping and shooting, and 3) wetland, vegetation and soils are surveyed and mapped, and bimonthly systematic avifauna surveys transects are in place and operating,
The best measure of success, of course, will be trends in populations of birds. A monitoring transect for possible Important Bird Area designation was begun in 2001 on the property just north of this Barrens Wetland Sanctuary. That monitoring will continue and be augmented with monitoring on this new site to determine distribution and trends in avian species on the property. In addition to avifauna, monitoring of water quality, vegetation, and macro invertebrates using protocols (and perhaps volunteers) provided by Natural Resources Consulting and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ Citizen Wetland Monitoring Program will provide a baseline from which to judge our future efforts at habitat enhancement.
Other, less objective measures of success will be the enthusiasm of local citizens for the project. The strong positive reaction to BAS’ recent Stilt article (see Appendix 3) and fundraising brochure also serve as some indicator of public support. The local newspaper, The Herald Journal, has already carried a full-page feature article and an editorial on the project with very positive comments (see Appendix 4).
Bridgerland Audubon Society will use volunteers whenever possible, but the BAS Board of Trustees will be ultimately responsible for coordinating all monitoring and work on the project as well as assessing the success of the project.
Pictures of Sanctuary
April 2005 through April 2006
List of Plants
April / May 2005 Report
June 2005 Report