Lake Abert

Greg Burke

In the southeastern corner of Oregon, a hidden wonder shimmers — Lake Abert.

Covering an area of 105 square miles, Lake Abert is the sixth largest lake in Oregon. It is as shallow as it is broad, just 5 feet deep on average. It is the only saline lake in Oregon, and one of just six saline lakes in the U.S.

Lake Abert provides a crucial pitstop for the migratory birds that traverse the Pacific Flyway and replenish their energy by feasting on alkali flies and brine shrimp that are adapted to live in this saline environment. With huge flocks of shorebirds, waterbirds and waterfowl all congregating here at once, it can be a pretty raucous place during the spring and fall migration.

Located midway between the present-day towns of Burns and Lakeview, the Lake Abert area also boasts of a long history of use by Indigenous people. Artifacts, settlements, and petroglyphs dating back thousands of years found near the lake challenge the current understanding of the culture of the Chewaucan people.

 

voices

Aaron Tani, Sage Society Member

Aaron Tani, Sage Society Member

“It feels good to support ONDA on a monthly basis, because I know they never stop supporting our public lands. ONDA works to help make our lands a better place for the future, and I feel like I’m a part of that every month with my support.”

listen

Greater Sage Grouse and Sparrows at Hart Mountain

Greater Sage Grouse and Sparrows at Hart Mountain

watch

Wildflower Poetry Reading

Wildflower Poetry Reading

Wilson's phalaropes

J. Hertz

A Balance Upset

Two invertebrates are able to tolerate the salinity of Lake Abert — the alkali fly (Ephydra hians) and brine shrimp (Artemia franciscana) — but only when water salinity levels are between 3 and 8%. When salinity drops below or rises above that threshold, the fly and shrimp populations plummet due to inhospitable conditions. 

Since these two species serve as the main source of food for migrating birds, changes in their population present a major disruption in the Pacific Flyway migration route. 

Unfortunately, water withdrawals, reservoir construction and drought have reduced water flow into the lake, increasing its salinity or drying up the lake altogether. With the food gone, migratory birds can’t depend on stopping at this saline lake to replenish their energy.

Saving Lake Abert

Lake Abert is an indispensable ecosystem where birdwatchers and nature lovers alike can appreciate the wonders of the salt lake, and today it is at great risk. 

The Bureau of Land Management has classified the lake and the adjacent Abert Rim as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. However, the lake itself does not have any water rights so upstream withdrawals from the Chewaucan River, can leave the lake with little or no water, especially during climate change-related drought.

Long-term conservation, management and restoration of the unique habitat that desert saline lakes provide starts with a deeper understanding of their hydrology, biology and ecology. In 2021, Senator Merkley introduced legislation that will be vital to conducting this needed research. 

In the meantime, ONDA is urging the state of Oregon to take steps to support water delivery to the lake. We are committed to being a strong partner in understanding and ultimately conserving these fragile ecosystems.

Kevin Clark

Essential

Oregon’s high desert is an arid landscape, defined by the scarcity of water, but that does not mean that this vast landscape is without water. It means that every stream, […]

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