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Needles office of BLM stops Water for Wildlife efforts to restore desert water sources


Water for Wildlife, a desert conservation organization that restores water sources in the Mojave Desert for wildlife, has been stopped from doing its work for the second time two years. This past week, the Needles office of the Bureau of Land Management refused to allow the group to conduct its March and April projects on guzzlers in the Clark and Kingston mountains region northeast of Baker.

The group was also stopped from restoring guzzlers on the Mojave National Preserve late in 2015, pending a determination from the National Park Service that work could continue. There has been no determination, yet, from the NPS and no word on the progress of the analysis.

The most recent stoppage of this work came Wednesday this past week in a letter from Daniel Vaught, assistant field manager in Needles for the BLM. Vaught wrote that “our archaeologist has recently expressed concerns regarding the cultural and historical resources and impacts involved in the small-game guzzler restoration.”

Cliff McDonald, Water for Wildlife coordinator, said he asked for the letter after a meeting recently when he was told the group’s work would need to cease until these concerns could be addressed.

In this meeting, McDonald said he asked why these concerns weren’t made last year or the year before. The group has been restoring wildlife water sources for 11 years in the region. McDonald said Vaught had no answers, except to say that the current archeologist, Chris Dalu, has been on the job for five years in Needles and was suddenly now concerned.

McDonald immediately cancelled the March work project, scheduled to take place over four days March 16-19, and the April 6-9 project was tentatively cancelled, pending a another meeting with BLM this coming week.

McDonald said the BLM has not identified any “cultural and historical resources” on any of the sites where they have worked in the past, and that their efforts have all been done on locations that were developed in the 1950 and 60s in joint efforts between the BLM and Department of Fish and Wildlife. These “administrative sites” were disturbed historically, and the restoration efforts do not enlarge the footprint of the site. He is baffled why they are doing this now.

Safari Club International, already in the midst of a battle with the National Park Service over its refusal to allow guzzler and windmill restorations to continue on the Mojave National Preserve, immediately jumped in to assist in “this important work for wildlife.”

In a letter to all members in the Orange County Chapter, Jim Dahl asked its member to write or call Vaught to remind him that for 11 years “Water for Wildlife has restored water drinkers… (and) have made significant investments and have a long history of restoring guzzlers.”

Craig Stowers, the deer program coordinator with the state DFW, wrote to McDonald in an unofficial capacity to say, “it’s not OK with DFW that this is going on. We have a significant investment there, too, and [have] a long history of working in this field…. It is a disturbing direction for them to go, and I’m at a loss to explain why this is suddenly an issue for them now.”

Clark Blanchard, an assistant deputy director with the DFW in Sacramento, said the issue just popped up on the radar, but said -- in an official capacity -- that “the department is aware of the issue and is diligently working to find solutions in order to allow this work to continue.”

Neither the BLM’s Vaught nor Dalu were available for comment Friday.

Those are the facts as we know them now.

What we have is two federal land management agencies, adjacent to each other, fighting to stop volunteer wildlife water restoration efforts.

It is ironic for the Needles office of BLM to jump in bed with the National Park Service on this issue. After years of battling with the state DFW, the BLM has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the DFW to even allow guzzler restoration in BLM wilderness areas, including the building of new water sources. Restoring existing sites is not even an issue any longer. Or it wasn’t. But now we have some low-level bureaucrat suggesting restoring existing desert water sites is going to harm archeological resources? And he’s saying this without a shred of data to support his claim.

The National Park’s argument for stopping guzzler restoration was equally as specious and completely lacking in data (or even common sense):

In a nutshell, Todd Suess, the new superintendent of the Preserve, listed two reasons why guzzler water restoration was stopped. First, he wrote that guzzlers might be historical sites and we can’t restore them until we determine if they are historical sites and then we can decide if they need to be restored or not. (It was that convoluted.) The caveat was that they didn’t have anyone who could tell if they were historical sites or not, so we can’t do anything. Second, he wrote that all guzzler water restoration had to stop until the Preserve-wide water management plan could be completed and implemented. That is like saying, you can’t replace a sign or repair a campground restroom until the Preserve’s entire facilities development plan is done. And of course, the water management plan is at least three or four years away from completion.

The “reasons” are both smokescreens to stop work that had been ongoing for nine years in the Preserve and 11 years on BLM land. Where was the concern before the work stoppage? Why are these specious administrative arguments, using obscure rules and regulations, being used now to stop important wildlife field work?

That’s the question that needs to be asked.

Here’s the answer: It’s about hunting, and Todd Suess has been the problem since being named the new superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve. I’m sure Suess is a good guy, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t particularly like hunting and hunters. Or maybe he’s even neutral on hunting. But his friends and staff who don’t like hunters have his ear. They know this guzzler and water restoration work is primarily being done by hunter conservationists. If it’s not him, then it’s his staff and associates who are persuading this man to issue bad rules based on bad information. It is anti-hunting, pure and simple. The decisions are certainly not pro-wildlife, sound administration, or correct use of the regulations. It can only be a bias against hunting.

More direct evidence?

Suess is also the one who recently determined -- wrongly -- that hunting should and would not be allowed on the new Castle Mountains National Monument, created by Obama during his last weeks in office. The National Park Service is administering the lands, and Suess made his no-hunting determination based on the misconception that the monument was now NPS land. It’s not. And he cannot legally close those lands to hunting by fiat. That is illegal. But it is exactly what he has done.

McDonald said that the park service nonsense must be contagious, now infecting the nearby BLM office.

And then he was even more blunt. “That’s the only thing it is -- it’s anti-hunting.

“At our last project [in Feb.], we were talking about this while finishing up work on a guzzler, and one of the guys said, ‘Who would not want this deteriorated little piece of concrete restored and holding water?’ We were out there trying to fix a postage stamp while looking down at a huge solar array.”

McDonald paused, then added, “They just don’t like that we are hunters.”

LADWP forces cancellation of

historic Blake Jones trout derby

The Bishop Chamber of Commerce announced it was cancelling the 2017 Blake Jones Trout Derby scheduled for next Saturday, March. 11. This would have been the 50th anniversary of this event, but the Chamber of Commerce had no options when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power rescinded its permission to hold the event at Pleasant Valley Reservoir.

The LADWP said the extremely high water level in the reservoir and high flows in the Owens River created “public safety” concerns.

So, is the reservoir closed to all fishing? Is the Owens River closed to fishing?

The answer to both of those questions is “No.”

Yet, again we are seeing a bureaucracy toss its weight around for no good reason. Pleasant Valley Reservoir and the lower Owens River are not closed to fishing, so why did the LADWP oust the derby? It makes no sense. If the reservoir and river are safe for any anglers to fish, how can it not be safe to allow the derby to go forward?

Decisions like this are why people hate the LADWP in the eastern Sierra Nevada. In addition, the DFW couldn’t or didn’t want to do the dance to get Millpond opened to fishing (it’s closed until April 29), which would have been a viable alternative. So the Chamber was out of options, and the staff cancelled the derby late this past week. Refunds for pre-registrants are being processed now, but it could take a few weeks to get this process completed.


[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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