The Bear River Bottoms

A Haven for Wildlife

The Bear River Bottoms, in Cache Valley, is a haven for wildlife, but these riparian areas also attract people and much of the river has been impacted.  The Bottoms are uniquely poised as a site to reverse past trends and mitigate future degradation of the middle Bear's natural values.  Northern Mountains Regional Director, Joan Degiorgio, explains why:

Why is the Bear River Bottoms an important site for conservation?

Joan Degiorgio:

The Bear River Bottoms is composed of low elevation riparian and wetland habitats, rare ecosystems that comprise only one-quarter of one percent (.25%) of the land mass in Utah. These limited, wet areas are so critically important to wildlife, including 42% of Utah's neo-tropical migratory birds, that the Bear River Bottoms was identified as a regional priority by The Nature Conservancy.

What are the most pressing threats to the area?

Joan Degiorgio:

Currently the Bottoms are surrounded by agriculture, but development is approaching in fast growing Cache Valley. This project offers the rare opportunity to protect an important area in advance of development.

What do you mean by "a rare opportunity"?

Joan Degiorgio:

In many other riparian areas in Utah, development impacted habitat before residents and communities began to appreciate the wildlife and recreation values of these lands. The Jordan River is a one example of this situation. Once development has crept in, conservation becomes very expensive and difficult. Fortunately, the Cache Valley conservation community is excited about efforts to protect the Bottoms, and landowners in the area are also supportive, so we have a chance to make a difference before these unique areas are lost.

Is the Conservancy working with other partners on this project?

Joan Degiorgio:

The Conservancy has worked with PacifiCorp, Bridgerland Audubon Society (BAS), Utah State University, local environmental consulting businesses like Juniper Systems, Bio-WEST, and Cirrus Ecological Solutions, and numerous volunteers.

I understand volunteers recently helped with mapping the Bottoms. Why?

Joan Degiorgio:

On-the-ground data is important to the development of informed conservation strategies. We used volunteers and scientists to map physical features such as fences and roads, vegetation communities and invasive weeds so there is a baseline that will allow us to measure ecological and physical changes over time. Volunteers spent over 500 hours last fall mapping 1,600 acres of priority bottomland areas.

What did the volunteers find?

Joan Degiorgio:

This fall, over two dozen volunteers returned to map ten species of noxious and invasive plant species. They documented over 340 patches of these plants - including only the second infestation of yellow star thistle known in Cache County. It is important to find these plants when the patches are small and easy to treat. The weed experts call this "early detection, rapid response." Where there hasn't been rapid response in other Western states, the plants have overtaken more than 8 million acres. Invasives are a worry because they provide no benefit to wildlife while elbowing out native plants that do.

How will the mapping inform the Conservancy's strategy in the area?

Joan Degiorgio:

With the mapping from last year, the Conservancy should be able to develop a comprehensive plan to control weeds and enhance wildlife use. Controlling weeds on the Bottoms is important so weed seeds don't travel to neighboring farms and reduce crop value or impact livestock (horses can get chewing disease from nibbling on young yellow star thistle). Now that we know that the Bear River Bottoms lacks a diversity of plant structure, with mostly low grasses, some willows, and trees, we can plant more shrubs and trees. This will help bring back the variety of neo-tropical migratory birds that the area once supported.

About the Interviewee
Joan Degiorgio, Northern Mountains Regional Director has worked for The Nature Conservancy since 2003 on projects in the Northern Wasatch and Uintah Mountains, from the Bear River Bottoms to assessing migratory corridors for lynx. Before coming to the Conservancy Joan spent over 20 years working for state and federal agencies and the private sector as a natural resources planner.


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