A nearly untouched desert marsh near the Nevada border would be protected as an area of critical environmental concern, under a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management.

It is the Gandy Salt Marsh, formed in the Snake Valley by a series of 40 or 50 springs, located about three miles east of Gandy, Millard County. The BLM is considering designating about 2,270 acres as an area of critical environmental concern.The proposal is listed in the Dec. 27 edition of the Federal Register, the official journal where federal agencies announce their proposed actions.

An area of critical environmental concern is public land where special management is required to protect the resources and prevent irreparable damage to important historic, cultural, scenic, fish, wildlife or other natural values.

Peter Hovingh, a Salt Lake biologist who has made many trips to the region to study the biota there, is enthusiastic about the plan.

"It's a series of wetlands that are very natural as yet," he said. "There're no dikes, no manipulations of the springs."

The springs are of all sizes and flow slowly into the wetlands, which have sedges and bullrushes. From there the water percolates into the Gandy Salt Marsh Lake, a saline lake.

"They are all pretty natural except for the grazing there, and even the grazing hasn't impacted it that much," Hovingh said.

Among the wildlife in the wetlands are fish such as the Utah chub, least chub, speckled dace and a newly discovered species of dace; frogs, including both the spotted and leopard frogs; the spotted butterfly and several types of snails and leaches. Several of these species are threatened or endangered, meaning they are so rare that the federal government protects them and their habitat.

"You have a very diverse kind of wetlands," Hovingh said.

However important it is to wildlife, the region is desolate from a human standpoint. It's uninhabited, with only a couple of trees at one end of the marsh that were left over from an abandoned settlement.

"I think it's a very good idea," Hovingh said of the proposed designation. "There are so few springs that are natural anymore. . . . It's sort of a complete desert ecosystem."

Rex Rowley, the BLM's manager for the House Range Resource Area, said the marsh is unusual for a desert area. "It sits there at the bottom of Snake Valley, quite a bit of riparian (streamside) habitat."

One proposal to designate the marsh an area of critical environmental concern was made about four or five years ago, but it somehow fell through the cracks and wasn't designated, he said. Protection is advocated by the Nature Conservancy, he said.

The conservancy, based in Virginia, is a non-profit organization that buys, sells and trades land in order to set aside tracts throughout the world for environmental protection. It is especially interested in ensuring biological diversity.

Along the Strawberry River alone in northern Utah, the Nature Conservancy has acquired more than 5,600 acres of habitat. Also in this state, it has helped protect prairie dogs and rare plants.

The conservancy has been "working with one of the private landowners out there to try and purchase some of the private land right on the edge of the Salt Marsh Lake," Rowley told the Deseret News on Saturday.

He believes that within the present fiscal year, the BLM will be able to write a management plan for the marsh. The area is not under consideration for wilderness designation, he added.

"There are some sensitive species that we have some concern for," Rowley said. That's the main reason for the drive to create an ACEC designation.

In addition to the small aquatic species, ducks, geese and seagulls use the springs and salt lake. Sometimes wild horses drink from the springs also.

As part of the deal setting up the ACEC, private and public land would be exchanged.