90 Miles from Needles: the Desert Protection Podcast90 Miles from Needles: the Desert Protection Podcast

S3E10: Can the Wilson's Phalarope Save the Great Salt Lake?

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Episode Summary:

In this thought-provoking episode of "90 Miles from Needles," the Desert Protection podcast, we journey with the host to the shores of the rapidly shrinking Great Salt Lake and the steps of the Utah State Capitol. We delve into the urgent efforts led by advocates and scientists to save the critical ecosystem of the lake and protect species like the Wilson's Phalarope through the Endangered Species Act.

The discussion highlights the worrying state of the Great Salt Lake, its declining water levels, and the dire consequences for the unique saline ecosystem that supports millions of migratory birds. The plight of the Wilson's Phalarope, a bird species whose existence is threatened by the lake's dehydration, and its petition for federal protection, stands as a stark reminder of the interconnectedness of biodiversity and our responsibility in its stewardship.

About the Guest(s):

Terry Tempest Williams is a renowned author, conservationist, and advocate for environmental justice and human rights. Her work as an essayist and naturalist has been influential in the environmental literature scene. She has a rich publication history on topics related to the American West, wilderness preservation, and social justice. Her notable works include "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place," a memoir intertwining her family's experience with cancer and the rising Great Salt Lake. Williams' affinity for the natural world and her impact as a voice for conservation have established her as a beloved and respected figure in environmental advocacy.

Patrick Donnelly is the Great Basin Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a leading role in the organization's efforts to protect the wildlife and wild places of Nevada and the Great Basin region. His involvement in conservation spans various projects, including species petitioning and habitat preservation.

Ryan Carl, a biologist with the group Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, specializes in the study of phalaropes and other wildlife dependent on saline lake ecosystems. His work is crucial in understanding and mitigating the threats these species face due to environmental changes.

Adelaide Scott represents Utah Youth Environmental Solutions, voicing the concerns and active role of younger generations in environmental conservation and advocacy.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Great Salt Lake is experiencing record low water levels, threatening its unique saline ecosystem and the species it supports.
  • The Wilson's Phalarope is under threat, and advocates have petitioned for its protection under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Scientists warn of an ecological collapse of the lake's ecosystem by 2029 without significant conservation efforts.
  • Community leaders, including Terry Tempest Williams, emphasize the moral and societal imperatives of conserving the lake.
  • The episode underscores the importance of a unified approach that includes the voices of marginalized communities and acknowledges social dimensions alongside scientific research.

Notable Quotes:

  • Terry Tempest Williams remarks on the social and spiritual significance of the Great Salt Lake: "Great Salt Lake is my mother…it's a body of water in retreat. Grief and love are siblings."
  • Patrick Donnelly discusses the essential role of the Endangered Species Act: "The Endangered Species act has a 99% success rate at preventing the extinction of the species protected under the act."
  • Ryan Carl shares the global importance of the Great Salt Lake for species like the Wilson's Phalarope: "Great Salt Lake is one of the most important places on the planet for this species."
  • Adelaide Scott reflects on the broader implications of the lake's drying: "It's undeniable that there is a sizable portion of people affected by the loss of the lake who are not being listened to."


Listen to the full episode to immerse yourself in the intense and passionate fight to save the Great Salt Lake and prevent an ecological tragedy. Stay tuned for more enlightening conversations and explorations that bring critical environmental issues to the forefront.

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90 Miles from Needles: the Desert Protection Podcast

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