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

Washington, D.C. — Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) are introducing legislation to facilitate an integrated regional assessment of saline lake ecosystems—bodies of water that 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.

The senators’ legislation, the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act of 2020, would fill a critical data gap regarding current and future stressors in saline lakes that has made it nearly impossible to address a variety of problems caused by declining water levels.

“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. “We have to protect these ecosystems, but we can’t do that without sufficient data. This legislation will help us secure the studies and science we need to put long-term plans into action and ensure our saline lakes ecosystem remains healthy 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.”

“Declining saline lakes not only affect birds but also send a strong signal that we need to manage our scarce water resources in the West carefully,” said Marcelle Shoop, the National Audubon Society’s Director of the Saline Lakes Program. “This bill provides a regional approach that will help resource managers and communities understand how water and habitats are changing and how we can work together to respond. I want to thank Senator Merkley and Senator Romney for their leadership.”

Specifically, the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act of 2020 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.