Portions of the flooded Bear River Bird Refuge are beginning to reappear as the level of the Great Salt Lake continues to drop, a U.S. Wildlife Service spokesman says.
Keith Hansen, manager of the Ouray Wildlife Refuge in Vernal, met with Box Elder County commissioners to give the county its annual payment from the federal government in lieu of taxes a check for $9,950.The Ouray refuge has been assigned administrative responsibility for the Bear River refuge, flooded a few years ago by the Great Salt Lake's rising waters. The last Wildlife Service staff member was transferred from Bear River a year ago. The high water inundated 90 percent of the refuge and, coupled with winter conditions, destroyed all of the buildings there.
Hansen or a member of his staff visits the Bear River refuge once or twice a month. If the lake level continues to drop, the tops of the roads and dikes will be above water by the end of the summer. At that time, a U.S. Wildlife Service staff member could probably be placed in Brigham City to act primarily as a caretaker.
Because the Bear River Bird Refuge is one of the most visible in the country, Hansen said rejuvenation of the area begin as soon as possible. The lake's level is currently at 4,209 feet above sea level.
Before the lake flooded the refuge, the Wildlife Service was considering moving the refuge headquarters closer to Brigham City, Hansen said, perhaps next to I-15. When the refuge is rebuilt, that plan will be followed.
Most of the refuge buildings were destroyed by water and ice in the first year after the flooding began a few years ago. The second winter destroyed the rest of the buildings.
Depending on how much the lake level drops, Hansen explained that the north portion of the refugee would have the best habitat for birds for the next three or four years.
In rebuilding the refuge, the Wildlife Service would like to use smaller impoundments that more efficiently use of the water, Hansen said.
He said he flew over the refuge several weeks ago and saw more birds in the area than have been there for the past three or four years.
Clearing out debris, cleaning up fallen buildings and remedying safety hazards will be the first objectives in restoring the refuge, Hansen said.
Within a month, some type of barricade will be erected to prevent the public from driving to the refuge area. Although the road is above the water level and is passable, there are still threats to safety.