New Technique To Manage Wetlands Facing Ecological Threats

Sep 20, 2016

Protecting wetlands facing the dual threat of water scarcity and invasive species is a challenging task for land managers.  

Wetlands, like those in the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, provide ecosystem services like flood control, water filtration and critical habitat for migratory birds. In addition to improving the ecology of the area, these services provide tangible economic benefits to the people of Utah.

But Utah wetlands face unique challenges.  Second only to Nevada, Utah is the driest state.  If there isn’t enough water, wetlands aren’t wet, and then it's just land.  Land that no longer provides those vital ecosystem services.  Additionally, invasive species like Phragmites, a tall grass native to Eurasia, cause major problems. According to Dr. David Rosenberg, a water modeling expert with the Utah State University College of Engineering, these threats can work together synergistically.

“If you only consider the hydrologic aspect, for example water levels, you’ll come up with a very different result or recommendation than if you consider invasive vegetation and water together,” said Rosenberg.

Utah State University scientists and engineers published new strategies for managing these two threats in the journal Water Resources Research by using dynamic hydrological management, which involves using differing volumes of water throughout the season.

“By more dynamically managing the water levels in those units, over time, through the year, they can increase the suitable area or the area of habitat that’s good for the birds that they’re managing for.”

Dr. Rosenberg and his coauthors, Dr. Karin Kettenring, a wetlands ecologist with the USU College of Natural Resources, and Dr. Omar Alminagorta, a former postdoc with the Utah Water Research Lab, hope that managers can use this dynamic managing technique to better protect the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and gather new data to test and further refine their model.