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Water for Wildlife restores 13 guzzlers used by wildlife in east Mojave Desert


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 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.

Mallards, all duck numbers up in

California surveys done this spring

After a three-year decline in all duck numbers, and especially in mallard numbers, the annual breeding bird survey completed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife showed dramatic increase in nesting birds for the 2016.

The breeding population of mallards increased from 173,865 to 263,774 (an increase of 52 percent) and total ducks increased from 315,577 to 417,791 (an increase of 32 percent).

“The late, abundant spring rains were a real boost to the habitat this year,” said Melanie Weaver, a CDFW waterfowl biologist. “We expect good production and a larger fall flight this year because of it.”

CDFW biologists and warden pilots have conducted this annual survey using fixed-wing aircraft since 1948. The population estimates are for the surveyed areas only, which include the majority of the suitable duck nesting habitat in the state. Surveyed areas include wetland and agricultural areas in northeastern California, throughout the Central Valley, the Suisun Marsh and some coastal valleys.

The full Breeding Population Survey Report can be found at

The majority of California’s wintering duck population originates from breeding areas in Alaska and Canada and surveyed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Those survey results should be available later this month. CDFW survey information, along with similar data from other Pacific Flyway states, is used by the USFWS and the Pacific Flyway Council when setting hunting regulations for the Pacific Flyway states, including California.

Briefly noted….

MOVIE ‘THE DOG LOVER’ MAKING IMPACT: The highly-reviewed movie “The Dog Lover” opened this week in theaters and via Video on Demand. It has many people who see the beautifully done move saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” The movie is inspired by real-life events and shows what happens when animal lovers end up on the wrong side of right. Learn more and find where the movie is playing at

DFW ANNOUNCES S.H.A.R.E. HUNTS: The DFW has announced a number of SHARE (Shared Habitat Alliance for Recreational Enhancement) program hunts across the southern half of California for this fall. The hunts range from private land big game hunting in Santa Barbara to state land dove hunts in San Diego County. For more information about SHARE hunting opportunities, go to


[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 909-887-3444.]

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