Merkley, Romney Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Long-Term Health of Saline Ecosystems

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley teamed up with U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) today to introduce their Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act—bipartisan legislation to facilitate an integrated regional assessment of saline lake ecosystems that would fill a critical data gap that has made it nearly impossible to address a variety of problems caused by declining water levels.

Saline lakes line wetlands across the West Coast, serving as habitats for a diverse array of wildlife and providing important economic and social benefits to nearby communities.

“Our lands and waters—including our saline lakes like Lake Abert and Goose Lake—are integral to the futures of countless animals and migratory birds, as well as Oregonians’ quality of life and livelihoods,” said Senator Merkley. “These ecosystems must be protected, but we can’t do that without sufficient data. So let’s work to secure the studies and science we need to put long-term plans into action, so we can ensure that our saline lakes ecosystem can thrive for generations to come.”

“The Great Salt Lake is the largest saline lake in the Western Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world. It is also an iconic and cherished part of Utah,” Senator Romney said. “I’m proud to lead this legislation with Senator Merkley, which will establish a scientific foundation and ongoing monitoring system to inform coordinated management and conservation actions for threatened Great Basin saline lake ecosystems and the communities who depend on them. This legislation should complement and help elevate the work already being done by the State of Utah to understand this key resource and the role it plays as part of the larger landscape.”

Specifically, the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act would authorize a study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)—in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and other federal, state, tribal, and local agencies, research universities, non-profit organizations, and other partners—in order to form an action plan for a robust multi-year integrated program to assess, monitor, and conserve saline lake ecosystems.

“Saline lakes and their wetlands in the arid West sustain millions of migratory birds while also benefitting local communities and their economies,” said Marcelle Shoop, Audubon’s Saline Lakes Program Director. “This science-based legislation comes at such an important time—as we see lakes across the Great Basin drying at an alarming rate. The regional program will build on existing knowledge to help us understand how water supplies and habitats are changing, and identify opportunities where we all can work together on solutions that protect bird habitat and communities. We’re grateful for the leadership of Senator Merkley and Senator Romney in championing this important legislation.”

“Desert saline lakes, including Oregon’s Lake Abert, provide food, water, and safe harbor for millions of migrating birds that traverse the Pacific Flyway every year. With huge flocks of ducks, gulls and wading birds all congregating here at once, it can be a pretty raucous place during the spring and fall migration! Long-term conservation, management and restoration of these unique habitats starts with a deep understanding of their hydrology, biology and ecology. Senator Merkley’s legislation is vital to conducting this needed research. We applaud his commitment to understanding and ultimately conserving these fragile ecosystems,” said Ryan Houston, Executive Director, Oregon Natural Desert Association.

“Lake Abert is a unique lake in Oregon and one of only three similar hypersaline lakes in the Great Basin that provide critical summer habitat and food to fatten many thousands of migratory shorebirds. There’s much we don’t understand about this special ecosystem that is threatened by climate change. The saline lakes bill spearheaded by Senator Merkley will be a huge boost to begin filling gaps in our knowledge,” said Theo Dreher, President, Oregon Lakes Association.

Merkley and Romney were joined in the introduction by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

Full text of the legislation is available here.