By Jennie Jones Scherbinski
The Important Bird Area (IBA) program identifies and stewards key areas for bird conservation worldwide. National Audubon, in partnership with BirdLife International, oversees the IBA program in the US with each individual state nominating areas of statewide, national, or global importance. The Nevada IBA program, spearheaded by Lahontan Audubon Society (LAS), began in the early 2000’s and designated 40 IBAs throughout the state. Throughout the years LAS has participated in conservation projects at a number of these sites, however, the nationwide IBA program has been primarily focused on identifying these areas. Now, the program is transitioning into the next phase of engagement and stewardship and LAS is excited to participate in this next chapter of the program. With that in mind, we will be featuring one of Nevada’s IBAs in each quarterly Pelican Newsletter, starting with an area we have been actively working to conserve, the Lahontan Valley Wetlands.
The Lahontan Valley Wetlands are remnants of the ancient Lake Lahontan (our namesake). The area is comprised of several distinct management areas: Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribal Wetlands, and the newly designated Carson Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA); which was designated a Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) in 1988. With all these designations (IBA, NWR, WMA, WHSRN) you would be right to assume this is a special place and if you visit during migration, it will be easy to see why. As many as 250,000 shorebirds have been recorded annually at the site, with peak numbers during spring and fall migration. The area also serves as critical breeding habitat for a diverse group of species and wintering habitat for a variety of raptors.
LAS has a long history of protecting and conserving shorebirds and their habitat in the Lahontan Valley Wetlands. The wetlands have been impacted by the over-appropriation and subsequent diversion of the Carson River. In response to this, LAS was a part of the Lahontan Wetlands Coalition, which achieved a federal mandate and funds to buy water rights for the Lahontan Valley wetlands. With on-going drought conditions, these water rights and the refuge they provide for wildlife are more important than ever.
Recently, LAS partnered with the National Audubon Society's Saline Lakes Program, Manomet, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Nevada Department of Wildlife to identify management opportunities for shorebird habitat and to increase shorebird and habitat monitoring capacity at the Lahontan Valley wetlands. Our volunteers are conducting shorebird surveys at Stillwater NWR and Carson Lake WMA during peak migration to better our understanding of population dynamics for key species. Additionally, we are contributing to Nevada Department of Wildlife’s conceptual management plan for Carson Lake WMA.
We are also working with a group of partners to revive the Spring Wings Festival which celebrates the spring migration at the Lahontan Valley Wetlands. We hope you are able to join in the festivities, and in the meantime, get out and visit the wetlands on your own. Check out our Area Birding Guide for more information on visiting Carson Lake WMA and Stillwater NWR. This is an incredible area and you will not be disappointed with your visit.