Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge © Kristin Terwilliger

Places We Protect

The Bear River


The Bear River is a critical waterway for both nature and people.

The 500-mile Bear River—the longest river in the U.S. that does not empty into an ocean—is a conservation focus area for The Nature Conservancy and its partners. Important to both human and wildlife communities, the Bear River provides vital habitat and serves as the largest water source feeding the Great Salt Lake, a globally vital habitat. Our work protects at-risk species, like the Bonneville cutthroat trout and great blue heron, and also the hundreds of thousands of people that rely on the Bear's clean water. 

The Conservancy maintains many partnerships and projects along the Bear River, including the river-wide initiatives such as:

  • A Conservation Action Plan: Working with many partners, the Conservancy led a one-year collaboration to develop a river-wide, biologically driven Conservation Action Plan for the Bear, which identified the most important areas for restoration and improvement. The plan identified key strategies to abate the threats of human development and enhance at-risk wetland and riparian habitats. 
  • The Bear River Climate Change Adaptation Workshop: Warming temperatures translate into less water. To understand and address this challenge, The Conservancy brought together a regional team of scientists, planners and local experts to create adaptation strategies for the Bear River's wetlands and fish population, especially the Bonneville cutthroat trout. The workshop inspired the Conservancy to focus on removing barriers to fish movement (so that they can more easily find abundant or cooler waters) and sourcing water in ways that empower beneficial and sustainable users, such as the Bess Ranch. 

The Conservancy also frequently works on a local level on the Bear, forging paternerships, supporting research and establishing easements where possible. For example, the Conservancy recently celebrated a new easement to protect 500 acres of key riparian land along the Bear River in Cache County.

Teaming up with Bridgerland Audubon Society and PacifiCorp, the Conservancy helped to broker the conservation deal and provided scientific support to inform the terms of the easement as well as future management plans for the property. PacifiCorp will remain the owner of the land while Bridgerland Audubon will hold the easement and ensure the land remains protected. A new management plan for the acreage is being implemented, including efforts to control noxious weeds, restore oxbow wetlands and improve habitat for birds.

“This kind of riparian habitat is really very rare in the western United States,” said Joan Degiorgio, the Conservancy’s Northern Mountains Regional Director. “Lowland riparian zones (below 5,500 feet) are critical for a large percentage of Utah’s bird species, but account for less than one-quarter of one percent of the land in the state."