July 29, 2004


San Bernardino Sun

Goffs -- Where there is water in the desert, there is abundant wildlife. Shrikes are catching grasshoppers. You can hear the haunting calls of roadrunners. Coveys of Gambel's quail herd their young under palo verdes to avoid Cooper's hawks.

Where there is no water, the desert is stark. For miles and miles you will see only the animals that don't need water every day to survive the 100-plus degree heat that beats down here throughout the summer. There are only a few of those. Water is desert wildlife's life blood.

Since taking over the East Mojave, the National Park Service has removed more than 100 water sources scattered all over the vast preserve, creating a wildlife wasteland where wildlife once flourished. Most of the water removal has occurred over the past two years as ranchers who have sold their properties have been forced to remove windmills and stock tanks.

The elimination of the water sources was done -- many of us feel -- in direct violation of the preserve's own management plan that mandates that any removal of water be evaluated for its impacts before it is removed. That includes the cattle water that has been used by wildlife for more than 100 years in some cases.

Many of us feel -- after hours of meetings and discussions with preserve management staff -- that the rush to remove water from the preserve has become a vendetta against the hunter-conservation groups who have battled the removal every step of the way.

Hunter groups have argued that the cattle water and the facilities to maintain it should be preserved for two reasons: For its historical importance as part of the cultural history of the preserve, which the park is also supposed to protect, and the incredible value this water has for the majority of the preserve's wildlife.

With activist Cliff McDonald of Needles, I visited 11 windmills and water tanks that had been functioning one to two years ago in the eastern part of the preserve. They were all dry Tuesday and mostly devoid of wildlife.

At one set of windmills, one of the tanks still had some wet soil and perhaps a small puddle of water under a growth of tules. There were at least three large coveys of quail -- 100 to 150 birds -- around the tank. One of the coveys had a hen bird with six chicks. Those chicks were destined to die as the water dried up, and perhaps the adults, too. The nearest water was more than four miles away.

The mind-set that will write a death warrant for huge numbers of wildlife in its haste to "return the desert to its natural state," has to be questioned in its ethics and its reading of the preserve's management plan.

We also visited six small-game guzzlers (which some park staff say they would like to remove) and natural springs, which had plenty of water. The contrast between what we saw near the water and where there once was water was dramatic. The difference in wildlife was the difference between a full and an empty glass of water.

It looks like a park service goal is to kill native wildlife and destroy a major piece of human history of the preserve. Did they document the impact water removal would have on the preserve's wildlife? Were the windmills and water pipelines evaluated for their historical value?

We need a change in the management at the Mojave National Preserve, or even the National Park Service, if this is how wildlife and historical resources are going to be "protected" under this watch. The actions taken are wrong and wrong-headed, and it's time for a change.

Jim Matthews is a freelance writer. His column appears on Thursdays. Readers may write to him at 399 North D Street, San Bernardino, CA 92401, phone at (909) 887-3444 or fax to (909) 887-8180. or e-mail odwriter@earthlink.net