March 13, 2007

Big game guzzler is threat to wilderness area


Hi-Desert Star [Yucca Valley, CA,]
By Patrick Donnelly / Yucca Valley

Morongo Basin residents should be aware of an action that may be taking place in one of our beloved local wilderness Areas. The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is seeking approval from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to construct six new artificial water sources (called “big game guzzlers”) in the Sheephole Valley Wilderness Area, just northeast of Wonder Valley, on the eastern border of our Basin.

These planned six guzzlers are to be a part of a vast network of 93 new guzzlers envisioned by DFG, of which dozens are within designated Wilderness.

Guzzlers have a long and checkered history in our desert. They are put in place in order to bolster declining populations of big game, specifically desert bighorn sheep. However, their presence within designated Wilderness Areas has caused conflict, as DFG employees regularly drive through Wilderness (an action that is barely legal, at best) in order to maintain or refill the guzzlers.

Also, there is one particularly infamous case near the Granite Mountains, up in Mojave National Preserve, where in 1995 a bighorn lamb fell into a guzzler and drowned. As its body decomposed, the water in the tank became poisoned, ultimately killing 38 other bighorn that drank from it.

The first of the six proposed guzzlers in the Sheephole Valley Wilderness Area has had an environmental assessment completed, and is up for public comment right now.

This guzzler, given the name “SD,” would consist of a 50-foot-wide concrete diversion dam across a wash that comes off the high Sheephole Mountain crest; a 30-foot long, 10,000 gallon storage tank; another 2,500 gallon “drinker” tank which would be where wildlife would access the water; and a concrete apron to feed water into the tanks. DFG would also need vehicular access into the Wilderness Area in order to do construction and maintenance. To accomplish this, they would be re-opening an old mining road that has long hence begun returning to its natural state.

They would then be bringing an excavator, dump truck and passenger trucks into the Wilderness Area for construction, and potentially again and again over the coming years for maintenance and refilling. However, the Wilderness Act specifically prohibits vehicular access except to meet the “minimum administrative requirements.”

Unfortunately, the BLM appears complicit in approving this over-reaching action by DFG.
The environmental assessment prepared by the Needles Field Office is sorely lacking. It does not fully analyze potential alternatives to the proposed action, including using non-mechanized means of installation; locating the guzzler outside of Wilderness; or removing invasive weeds like tamarisk, that may be taking seasonal water. In addition, while the environmental assessment contains a narrative analysis of the SD guzzler as a part of a larger guzzler installation program, there is no detailed scientific analysis.

The BLM needs to re-do the environmental assessment as a full Environmental Impact Statement, and to analyze new guzzler installation on a programmatic scale, not just guzzler-by-guzzler.

Online environmental assessment

BLM is accepting comments from the public until March 21 at or by mailing the Needles Field Office.

If you disagree with the government violating its own laws by constructing artificial water sources in Wilderness, I encourage you to make your voice heard.

Bighorn sheep have existed for millions of years in our desert, without artificial water sources.

If the three bighorn I once saw bounding up a canyon in the Sheephole Mountains are any indication, they will continue to do fine without our help.