July 10, 2016

Water for Wildlife restores 13 guzzlers in East Mojave Desert

Water for Wildlife volunteers put the finishing touches on guzzler B226 near Flat Top Mountain in February 2016. The large concrete apron on the right collects rainwater, funneling it downhill into the storage tank on the left. Inside the crescent-shaped opening is a wildlife ramp that allows access the water inside. (Photo: Chris S. Ervin) 
By Jim Matthews
Victorville Daily Press

Cliff McDonald and his group of volunteers at Water for Wildlife announced the results of their efforts this winter and spring. In a nutshell, a total of 13 wildlife water sources (guzzlers) were restored and filled in the eastern part of the Mojave Desert over a total of four work weekends.

The volunteers invested over 1,500 hours of effort into the repairs and spent over $9,000 on materials and tools needed to complete the work, or just over an average of $725 per drinker.

Their efforts assure that a wide variety of desert birds, mammals, and even reptiles will have a permanent water supply this summer and fall, and since most desert species still need open water to survive, these man-made drinkers — often called guzzlers — are the only thing between life and death, especially during our ongoing drought.

These guzzlers all have similar features. First, they have an “apron,” which can be made of a variety of materials, that captures rain waters and funnels it into a storage tank (above or under the ground), and then access to the water is provided by a drinker box or simply an opening in the tank and ramp down to the water. Most of the guzzlers in the Mojave were made in the 1950s and 1960s by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (formerly Fish and Game), with little or no maintenance since then. While many still hold water, most are in various states of disrepair. They either hold no water or hold far less water than they could if functioning at their full potential.

Over the 10 years Water for Wildlife volunteers have been working on guzzlers in the East Mojave, they have now restored 75 guzzlers and five springs, and they repaired a number of water tanks and windmills on old cattle systems that now exclusively serve wildlife. This has involved over 7,500 volunteer hours and $50,000 in private funding.

The payoff is that over 300 species of birds and at least 45 mammal species have been documented using these important water sources, which increasingly serve as mitigation for natural water sources lost to development and ground-water pumping across the Mojave Desert.

So where’s the Sierra Club or the Humane Society in supporting this important work, making sure desert wildlife survives during this drought? Where are all the other conservation and environmental groups when it comes to actually doing things on-the-ground to help wildlife?

I’ll tell you where, they are MIA – missing in action.

They spend all their money on making sure you rejoin, fundraising, lobbists and attorneys. None of them spend a dime on actually doing anything that make a difference for wildlife. In fact, the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity have repeatedly fought against guzzler construction and restoration on the basis that they are “unnatural.” Well, human groundwater pumping and housing developments are “unnatural,” and they have led to the drying up of desert springs and seeps for decades. Guzzlers and other man-made water sources act as mitigation for these other losses. But loony fringe won’t hear of that.
Even the new superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, Todd Suess, where Water for Wildlife would have directed all of its efforts this year, threw up a bunch of bogus reasons to stop guzzler repairs on the Preserve (even after the previous two superintendents endorsed and supported McDonald’s work). So the guzzler repairs were all done on BLM lands out of the Preserve again this year.

If you care about desert wildlife, know that water is the most critical factor in their survival. The only groups assuring that desert water sources are maintained for wildlife are groups like Water for Wildlife. I give McDonald’s group a lot of publicity because it amazes me how many volunteers come from so far to work so hard for nothing. But the High Desert (Apple Valley) and Ridgecrest Quail Forever chapters (and all the other QF chapters, for that matter) do as much work as McDonald’s volunteers in the west Mojave. The Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep focuses on the bigger “guzzler” projects primarily aimed at helping desert bighorns, and the Southern California Chapter of the California Deer Association works on springs, guzzlers, and other waters all across the southern half of the state. Leon Lessica’s Desert Wildlife Unlimited’s desert water work in the Imperial Valley may be the only reason we have a healthy desert burro deer and bighorn population there.

The one thing you need to know about all of these groups is that they usually can muster up enough volunteer manpower for their projects (although more, younger volunteers are always welcome), but they frequently have to scrape and beg enough money together to get the materials they need for this work. Donations are always appreciated. With other so-call conservation or environmental groups you might get a letter or phone call after you join or donate, but the letter or call is to ask for money. With these groups, the letter or call you receive is just offering heartfelt thanks and perhaps information on where you dollars are going to be spent so you can see the results of your donation.

You can find out more information out Water for Wildlife at the group’s new website at waterforwildlifeemd.com. You can find all the local Quail Forever, Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep, and California Deer Association chapters with searches on the Internet. If you have trouble, you can e-mail me and I can help you out.