January 14, 2006

Fish/Game seeks guzzlers for Mojave Preserve

News West

Mohave Valley News [Laughlin, NV]

NEEDLES - A proposal first floated by the California Department of Fish and Game to restore artificial water sources in the Mojave National Preserve has finally reached the public comment stage.

The state agency began meeting with the National Park Service in the summer of 2004 regarding the proposal to retrofit 12 former ranch wells in the Mojave National Preserve as wildlife guzzlers.

Ranchers raised cattle for many decades in what became the preserve in 1994. They drilled wells to provide water for their cattle. One well was first developed in the 1860s and many of them date to the dominant period of the Rock Springs Land and Cattle Company between 1894 and 1927, according to the park service.

Cattle ranchers turned their wells on and off to move cattle around, according to the park service, to keep them from overgrazing in a particular area.

Most of the larger grazing leases in the preserve have been retired, and the ranchers have shut off their wells and removed much of the above-ground equipment.

Wildlife have come to depend on the water sources initially developed for cattle and the state agency believes that the shutdown has had a detrimental effect on wildlife populations.

The state agency proposes to transform 12 ranch wells into guzzlers over a three-year period, for use by mule deer and other wildlife. The guzzlers would be filled by well water pumped into a holding tank. Generators would be carried to each guzzler periodically to refill the tank. The drinkers themselves would be placed a foot or two off the ground to keep desert tortoises from crawling into them.

Routine monitoring would try to prevent an incident similar to the one in 1995 when lambs fell into a guzzler on Old Dad Peak. The lambs' decomposing bodies poisoned the water drunk by other bighorn sheep, ultimately killing 38 sheep.

The park service has called for public comment on three possible alternatives: take no action, leaving the shut-down wells as they are; permitting the state agency to proceed with its proposal; and leaving things as they are while further scientific studies are conducted.

The park service has issued an environmental assessment that compares these three alternatives. According to the service, the assessment was distributed to libraries, but the Needles Branch Library did not receive a copy.

A copy of the assessment is available at www.nps. gov/moja and by request from Superintendent, Mojave National Preserve, 2701 Barstow Road, Barstow CA 92311. Public comments on the proposal must be postmarked by Jan. 31 and sent to this address or to MOJA_Superintendent@nps.gov.