Box Elder County commissioners have voiced support for restoration of the Bear River Bird Refuge, but are more cautious in considering whether to support a proposed expansion of the site.
Since the level of the Great Salt Lake has dropped, the bird refuge is no longer covered by water. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for $14 million from Congress to repair or replace damaged and destroyed dikes, various buildings and roadways. A new visitors' center is also planned, to be built adjacent to I-15.The expansion being considered would give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service control of adjacent lands, either through ownership or easements.
Commission Chairman Bob Valentine said there were some facets of the expansion that would be beneficial to the county and adjacent landowners. He said he preferred easements rather than federal ownership of adjacent lands.
Commissioners met recently with representatives of Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah.
He also stated that there were some concerns about the expansion that would need to be addressed before the county commission could fully support it.
Commissioner Frank Nishiguchi said his own personal opinion was that if the refuge were to expand, it would be in direct competition with the county and landowners for the water in the Bear River. "Expansion would be devastating to industrial and culinary growth. There is a very limited amount of water. Box Elder County is in a deficit as far as water is concerned," he stated.
Nishiguchi is a member of the newly formed water conservancy district in Box Elder County.
He said he is also concerned about the "buffer zone" that now exists between the refuge and private landowners. There are restrictions on what herbicides and insecticides may be used by farmers because of potential harm they could do to the birds on the refuge.
If the expansion is approved and funded, the buffer zone would be eliminated and restrictions on nearby farmers would be even greater.
Valentine said that some landowners are definitely interested in easements rather than in selling their property. An easement would allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve wetlands as they now are. The service would purchase an easement from a landowner and that landowner would then be obligated to preserve the wetlands on the property and make no changes.