Gunnison Island

Gunnison Island is the largest island in the north arm of the Great Salt Lake, and a critical habitat for the Lake’s bird communities. The Island serves as one of the largest rookeries remaining for the American White Pelican, in addition to providing breeding habitat and security to communities of California gull, Great blue heron, common raven, prairie falcon, and rock wren. The 10,000 white Pelicans that live on the island are estimated to represent ten to twenty percent of the entire extant population. Recent periods of low water have exposed a land bridge of salt flats that have allowed coyotes and other predators to access the island, a troubling sign for this critical habitat. Today the island is protected by the State of Utah as the Gunnison Island State Wildlife Management Area, with tight access restrictions designed to protect the nesting birds. About six miles from the western shore of the north arm, the island is about a mile long and a half mile wide. The island is named after John Gunnison, who was Howard Stanbury’s second-in-command on the 1850 expedition to map the Great Salt Lake. In the mid-1890s, the island was inhabited by the artist Alfred Lambourne, who turned his drawings and observations on the island into Our Inland Sea. In the same time period, guano-sifters arrived on the island, in a short-lived bid to mine the generations of bird excrement for use as a commercial fertilizer. The mining activity forced the Pelicans to abandon the island as a nesting sight, though they returned shortly after the miners packed up their tools and went home.

Photo showing Gunnison Island on the Great Salt Lake, Utah.  Circa 1950-1980. The photographs in the Wallace Earle Stegner Photograph Collection include portraits of Wallace Stegner, his wife Mary Page Stegner, their son Stuart Page Stegner, and one of his good friends, the writer Bernard DeVoto, as well as various photographs from trips he took that include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany, Italy, and Asia. From the Wallace Stegner Photograph Collection, Marriott Digital Library. 

American White Pelican Chick banding on Gunnison Island, Great Salt Lake, Utah. From the Great Salt Lake Bird Archive Photograph Collection, Marriott Digital Library. 

Click here for the full oral history with John Horel

Dr. Horel was born and raised in Eureka, California. He attended Humboldt State, received his bachelor’s degree from San Jose State, and a PhD in meteorology from the University of Washington. He worked as an assistant research professor at Scripps Institute of Oceanography before joining the faculty at the University of Utah. His research interests include weather and climate of the western United States, data assimilation, fire weather, Great Salt Lake studies, cold air pools, and periods of poor air quality in valleys and basins. In this interview, Dr. Horel talks about the combination of weather and atmospheric effects influenced by the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains. He relates personal experiences he has had with the Lake. He also talks about his work with the National Weather Service and other entities during the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City.

Click here for the full oral history with Dave Shearer

Dave Shearer is currently the harbormaster at the Great Salt Lake State Park Marina. He has been serving in that post since 1998. He moved to the marina in 1998, living on a boat docked there, and began volunteering with the Park Service on search and rescue until his appointment as harbormaster. Dave grew up in the Salt Lake area and first came to Great Salt Lake on a field trip in elementary school. He started sailboating with his family when he was ten. Eventually, along with his father and brother, he began sailboat racing and competed for many years all over the world. In this interview, Dave talks about his life and work at the Marina. He describes the business of running the marina. He discusses his search and rescue activities on the lake. He shares his thoughts about the lake, along with his hopes and vision of the lake’s future.

Click here for the full oral history with Tim Begue

Mr. Begue talks about his early life, and his first experiences at the Great Salt Lake when he went sailing with his family. He worked as a river guide, and his boss suggested they go into the brine shrimp business. Tim talks about fishing for brine shrimp and the business he started, Prime Artemia. He describes the overall process of brine shrimping, from the work and competition on the lake to the processing and distribution. Mr. Begue talks about industry on the lake and the process of acquiring a certificate of registration to fish. He sold his business in 1996. Finally, Tim describes some of his favorite places on Great Salt Lake and recounts some of his favorite experiences.

Click here for the full oral history with Kyle Stone

Kyle Stone was born in Ogden, Utah. He is a lifelong Weber County resident and graduated from Fremont High School in Plain City. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in zoology at Weber State University, where he worked for Dr. John Cavitt in the avian ecology lab. Kyle has worked for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources since 2010 and is a biologist with Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program, working mostly with brine shrimp and birds. In this interview, Kyle describes his daily and seasonal work as a biologist. He also discusses giving school presentations, including regular fishery classes for the DWR at Brigham Young University.

Click here for the full oral history with John Neill

John Neill was born in Pittsburgh and raised in South Ogden. Growing up, he and his family recreated frequently at Great Salt Lake and on Antelope Island. After graduating from Bonneville High in Ogden, John earned a degree in geology and environmental studies from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and did seasonal work at the Great Salt Lake. After completing a second bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Utah, John was hired full-time at the Division of Wildlife. John now works for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ bird aspect of the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program. He also works with the local nonprofit Linking Communities, Wetlands, and Migratory Birds. In this interview, John talks extensively about his work at the GSL. He discusses the lake’s hemispheric significance for bird migration, the brine shrimp industry, and threats to various bird populations.

South end of Gunnison Island. Donor & Photographer: Charles Kelly. From Classified Photograph Collection, Copyright Utah State Historical Society. 

Stansbury's triangulation point, erected in 1850 on Gunnison Island. Picture taken on November 11th 1934. Donor & Photographer: Charles Kelly. From Classified Photograph Collection, Copyright Utah State Historical Society. 

"Gunnison's Island looking north--Eastern shore."  From: An Expedition to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah by Howard Stansbury, p.178. From Classified Photograph Collection, Copyright Utah State Historical Society. 

Audio recording of California gulls at Gunnison Island.