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How Utah's Drought Is Impacting Wild Life

Steve Motzkus

As almost all of Utah faces extreme drought this year, many animal species are feeling the effects.

Water levels in streams, lakes, and reservoirs across Utah are low and shallow water means less habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms. It also means less drinking water for animals. 

“Less water just means less vegetation, which is the food for wildlife. And that's just kind of a cascading effect of all of the different food chains,” said Daniel Eddington, the Project Manager for Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative. 


He said the impacts of decreased water are not always obvious. For example, a lasting drought can lead oak trees not to produce acorns in the fall, which are a staple of turkey diets. If decreased rainfall causes berries to be less abundant, bears may stray into new areas looking for food. 


Water levels at the Great Salt Lake are on track to reach an all-time low this year. For millions of migratory birds, the Great Salt Lake is an important stop on their journey. 


John Luft is the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program Manager and said the lake acts as a desert oasis for migratory birds. 


“If you look at the wetlands, the wetlands are obviously just drying up,” Luft said. “We fly transects to do surveys for that on a fairly regular basis and most of our transects ended with no water, no birds counted, so that's discouraging” 


Eddington said that one way humans can be mindful of animals during water shortages is by diverting water in ways that animals like fish can still migrate. In addition to responsible water usage, we can ensure that we don’t interfere with the wildlife that shares our water.  


“You know, sometimes not camping right next to water sources that wildlife want to use can help a lot with making sure that wildlife species are able to, you know, access that water without additional stress to them,” Eddington said. 

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.