Rio Tinto Kennecott has transformed acreage once dominated by over-grazed lands, salt evaporation ponds and illegal dumps into a 3,670-acre shorebird and waterfowl reserve along the south shore of Great Salt Lake.
We created the Kennecott Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve (ISSR) under a mitigation plan developed in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to offset the loss of 1,000 acres impacted when the company expanded its tailings impoundment in 1996.
Only two years after opening, the Association of Engineering Geologists designated the ISSR as the Outstanding Environmental and Engineering Geologic Project. The number of bird species using the reserve area has increased from 50 in 1995 to 200 today, with 120,000 birds using the reserve annually, an increase of over 1,000 percent. Because of this incredible success, the reserve has now expanded to over 3,600 acres.
In 2004, the area became an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is now part of BirdLife International's IBA Program. The purpose of the program is to identify, monitor and protect a global network of IBAs to conserve birds and other biodiversity — birds being one of the most vital indicators of a healthy environment.
The ISSR has become a haven for birds and an important education and scientific resource as Kennecott employees, birding groups, schools and university research teams visit the reserve to observe and study.
American avocet: Populations of American avocets declined in the 1960s and 1970s, largely from the loss of wetlands due to the diversion of water for human use. The ISSR is an important part of the migratory stopover with annual total counts well over 20,000.
Long-billed curlew: The long-billed curlew is considered 'highly imperiled' because of declines and threats to both breeding and wintering areas. The ISSR has one of the highest densities of nesting curlew on Great Salt Lake.
Tundra swan: True to its name, the tundra swan breeds on the high tundra across the top of North America. It winters in large flocks along both coasts and is frequently encountered during its migration across the continent. Although the ISSR is not perfect habitat for swans, they roost here during the winter as a response to hunting pressure in nearby areas.
Burrowing owl: Burrowing owls are listed as endangered or threatened in some states and provinces. They have increased on the ISSR as coyotes have forced out red foxes, leaving more fox dens as nesting 'burrows' for the owls.
Black-necked stilt: The Great Salt Lake is an important nesting and resting stop for stilts. The ISSR habitats are mostly too salty for high numbers of stilts so it is special to have them nest here.
Willet: A large sandpiper of the interior west and the ocean beaches, the willet is known by its piercing calls, bright black-and-white flashing wings, and perching on bushes. Willets on the ISSR are the last species to arrive for nesting and the first to leave for fall migration. When the willets are gone, fall is well on its way.
Long-billed dowitchers: These birds’ legs are seldom seen because they wade in water to their bellies and use their long bills to feed on aquatic insects on the bottom of the pond. Although not numerous on the ISSR, they are a consistent and welcome visitor.
Sunrise from Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve (ISSR) facing south. To mitigate the expansion of our tailing impoundment, we purchased severely scarred land near Utah's Great Salt Lake and transformed it into a wetland reserve that provides feeding, staging and breeding habitats for thousands of migratory birds.
Deer vetch: This purple flower blooms on the oolitic sand dunes on the western boundary of the ISSR. Oolites have shell of concentric layers of calcium carbonate that precipitated around a nucleus or central core of usually a tiny brine shrimp fecal pellet or a mineral fragment. For more information visit geology.utah.gov/utahgeo/rockmineral/collecting/oolitic.htm.
Snowy plover: The western snowy plover used to nest all along the Pacific Coast from Washington to Baja, retreating in the fall to southern California, Mexico and the gulf coast of Texas. Today the coastal areas have seen rapid declines of these birds and the Great Salt Lake is one of the few remaining habitats that provide safe conditions free from human disturbances and development.
Ducks and geese: Thousands of waterfowl amass on Great Salt Lake during fall migration and many winter here. Over 35,000 ducks the ISSR visit annually. The most common species are mallard, northern pintail, gadwall, northern shoveler, and cinnamon teal.