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Resolution In Support Of The Salton Sea As Significant Wildlife Habitat

Western Field Ornithologists
March 1998

WHEREAS the Salton Sea, the third largest interior saline lake in North America, formed by accidental water diversions from the Colorado River into southeastern California in 1905-6 and presently maintained by inflows of water imported for agricultural purposes, agricultural runoff, and freshwater river flows, has long been recognized as providing significant wetland habitat for a highly diverse array of migratory and breeding waterbird populations, and

WHEREAS recent surveys have revealed populations of up to 1.5 million Eared Grebes in midwinter (Jehl 1988), up to half of California's wintering White-faced Ibis (Shuford et al.1996), and regional significance as an integral component of the Pacific Flyway for tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds (Page et al. 1992), waterfowl, and American White Pelicans, as well as significant breeding colonies of Double-crested Cormorants and Caspian Terns (Molina unpubl. data), nearly 40% of the nesting Black Skimmers (Collins and Garrett 1996), and by far the larger of only two breeding populations of Gull-billed Terns in western North America (Parnell et al. 1995), and

WHEREAS the Salton Sea has been documented to be of significant value as avian habitat from the time of its formation (see, for example, early studies reported by Grinnell 1908, Dawson 1923, Pemberton 1927, Miller & van Rossem 1929), and has retained this significance in the subsequent nine decades, with the Sea and its surrounding agricultural lands remaining a renowned birdwatching locality of national significance with over 350 species recorded and immense numbers of breeding, migrant, and wintering birds, in addition to unique post-breeding use by a variety of subtropical waterbirds, and

WHEREAS the Salton Sea represents a complex mosaic of habitats and land-use types, from saline lake waters to brackish and freshwater deltas resulting from both natural and imported (agricultural) water sources, and of State and Federal wildlife refuges, agricultural areas, and geothermal developments, all with equally complex interactions and often competing interests, and

WHEREAS the State of California and surrounding regions have experienced significant losses of wetlands (Johnson and Jehl 1994), including coastal wetlands, interior wetlands (most notably the Colorado River delta and Tulare Lake basin), and interior saline lakes such as Owens Lake (Jehl 1994), making the Salton Sea, despite its "artificial" genesis, especially unique and important as de facto mitigation on a regional if not continental scale, and

WHEREAS significant colonies of ground-nesting colonial waterbirds and ardeids, as well as of the recently established Brown Pelican, have thrived during the 1990s, likely due in large measure to decreased levels of human recreational uses of key portions of the Salton Sea (Molina 1996), and

WHEREAS the Salton Sea has experienced high levels of eutrophication, salinization, and contamination, resulting in diminished water quality and recently culminating in large-scale mortalities of birds and fish, and

WHEREAS freshwater sources for the Salton Sea are currently under threat from planned diversions to coastal urban regions of California, and

WHEREAS current attempts by agencies, NGOs, private concerns, and lawmakers to "save" the Salton Sea are gaining momentum,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the WESTERN FIELD ORNITHOLOGISTS recognizes the significance of the Salton Sea to wildlife and supports rehabilitation and conservation efforts for the Salton Sea that are responsive to the needs of wildlife and based on sound and thorough biological data; that recognize the importance of freshwater, delta, brackish, saline, and agricultural habitats at the Salton Sea; that improve water quality and guarantee continued adequate sources of freshwater; that stress the critical need for protection and isolation of waterbird colonies from human and other disturbance; and that seek to minimize threats to wildlife potentially resulting from urban and recreational development.

Literature Cited

Collins, C. T. and Garrett, K. L. 1996. The Black Skimmer in California: an overview. West. Birds 27: 127-135.

Dawson, W. L. 1923. The Birds of California. South Moulton Co., San Diego

Grinnell, J. 1908. Birds of a voyage on Salton Sea. Condor 10: 185-191.

Jehl, J., Jr. 1988. Biology of the Eared Grebe and Wilson's Phalarope in the nonbreeding season: a study of adaptations to saline lakes. Studies in Avian Biol. 12.

_____. 1994. Changes in saline and alkaline lake avifaunas in western North America in the past 150 years. Studies in Avian Biology 15: 258-272.

Johnson, N., and Jehl, J. Jr. 1994. A century of avifaunal change in western North America: overview. Studies in Avian Biol. 15: 1-3.

Miller, L. M. and van Rossem, A. J. 1929. Nesting of the Laughing Gull in southern California. Condor 31: 141-142.

Molina, K. 1996. Population status and breeding biology of Black Skimmers at the Salton Sea, California. West. Birds 27: 143-158.

Page, G. W., Shuford, W. D., Kjelmyr, J. E. and Stenzel, L. E. 1992. Shorebird numbers in wetlands of the Pacific Flyway: a summary of counts from April 1988 to January 1992. Point Reyes Bird Observatory, 4990 Shoreline Hwy, Stinson Beach, CA 94970.

Parnell, J. P., Erwin, R. M., and Molina, K. C. 1995. Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica). In The Birds of North America, No. 140. (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington , D.C.

Pemberton, J. R. 1927. The American Gull-billed Tern breeding in California. Condor 29: 253-258.

Shuford, W. D., Hickey, C. M., Safran, R. J., and Page, G. W. 1996. A review of the status of the White-faced Ibis in winter in California. West. Birds 27: 169-196.


Kimball L. Garrett
Ornithology Collections Manager
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90007 USA
213/763-3368 phone; 213/746-2999 FAX


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