Emily Downing

New Intermountain Insights: Working Science for Working Landscapes

Agriculture and human settlement have long been tied to ecologically important wetland and riparian resources and the water they provide. For over one hundred years, this pattern has concentrated private land ownership in the West’s river bottoms and valleys, areas that are surrounded by publicly-owned sagebrush rangelands and forests.

Those private lands account for only 30 percent of the land in the Intermountain West, but what they lack in expanse they make up in wetland and riparian habitat value. Privately owned wetlands and hay meadows overlaying riparian floodplains and once-naturally occurring wetlands make up the majority of seasonally flooded habitats. These wetlands, along with a network of publicly managed wildlife refuges, provide vital stopover habitat for waterbirds to rest and refuel while migrating between northern breeding and southern wintering grounds.

A new Intermountain Insights explores the ways in which the timing of water deliveries to these working wetlands is critical to the value of migratory waterbird habitat they provide. Migration chronologies – or when birds move between nesting and wintering grounds – vary from species to species. Some birds, like northern pintails, arrive at stopover sites earlier than other species, requiring an earlier supply of water at those locales. How scientists, land managers, and water uses track and respond to these variances is vitally important for wetland habitat conservation and the conservation of migratory waterbirds.

This was the focus of the study Synchronizing conservation to seasonal wetland hydrology and waterbird migration in semi-arid landscapes (Donnelly et al., 2019). Read more about this study and how it can be used by public and private land managers when planning for conservation in our new Intermountain Insights.

Source: Donnelly, J.P., Naugle, D.E., Collins, D.P., Dugger, B.D., Allred, B.W., Tack, J.D., Dreitz, V.J. 2019. Synchronizing conservation to seasonal wetland hydrology and waterbird migration in semi-arid landscapes. Ecosphere. https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ecs2.2758