Mojave Preserve extends comment period on plan to remove guzzlers

By JIM MATTHEWS

www.OutdoorNewsService.com

Yet again, the Mojave National Preserve has extended the comment period on its disastrous water management plan. The plan calls for the removal or allow nearly all of the man-made water sources on the Preserve to fall into a non-functioning state. The plan would effectively dry up dozens, if not hundreds, of wildlife water sources across the Preserve.

Originally, the comment period was set on end on April 19, approximately 30 days after the plan was released to the public on March 20.

The first howls from the public erupted immediately and grew intense.

The comment period was then extended to May 19, and the public outcry became even more intense and started emanating from across the nation.

Now, the comment period has been extended until July 18. It is almost as though the park service staff is hoping someone, some group, will support their wackadoodle proposal to remove wildlife water sources and shirk their responsibility to help maintain those that currently exist on the Preserve.

It is baffling. The document and accompanying environmental assessment (EA) really don’t have a rationale about “why” the park service wants to remove or abandon these man-made water sources -- except to support a few staff’s beliefs that it would help make designated wilderness more – ah -- wild. There are no laws or regulations that suggest this is necessary or even advisable. There is no science available that supports the removal of water in the desert. There is no science available that would support that relocating water sources out of wilderness areas would benefit bighorn sheep. In fact, the available science is pretty clear this is a horrific idea.

It is pretty clear the NPS will violate its own policies and environmental law by implementing this plan. (In fact, many comments from professional scientists have suggested a plan of this magnitude needed a full environmental impact report – EIR – to comply with the law.)

I rage when I look at the plan and my disgust and horror about what the plan will wreak on our desert grows deeper with each comment I read that points out another scientific or legal flaw in the document.

Water for Wildlife 2018 project update

But then Cliff McDonald’s report on the 2018 work done by the volunteers with the Society for the Protection and Care of Wildlife (more well-known simply as the Water for Wildlife crew) arrived this week. These are the hunter volunteers who fix, restore, and fill these wildlife drinkers across the eastern Mojave Desert (and more recently in the Eastern Sierra Nevada). The very same type of wildlife drinkers the National Park Service wants to yank off the Preserve, some offices of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are begging for McDonald’s volunteers to restore the drinkers on the public lands they manage.

A little summary of the Water for Wildlife crew’s work is worth mentioning. For 2018, there were just four projects each month from February through April. On the four projects there were 109 volunteers, who put in 1,519 hours of labor, and completed the restoration on 16 wildlife drinkers, several that were dry. Material costs for the work totaled $9,700.

“This is the 13th year water for wildlife volunteers have been maintaining the wildlife drinkers in the Eastern Mojave Desert, and the third year we have held a project in the Bishop area,” wrote McDonald. “After 13 years the volunteers have completed 180 drinkers, six springs, and two windmills. I’d say that is a job well done.”

No one gets paid and many of the volunteers went to all four projects this year, and a few – like McDonald – have been on all the projects since the very first one those 13 years ago.

McDonald’s rant on NPS plan to remove guzzlers

McDonald sends out this work report to his volunteers and donor list via e-mail, and on this most recent one he added some thoughts directly related to the insane water management plan’s proposal to abandon and reverse the work he and the volunteers have accomplished the last 13 years, much of it on the Preserve. I thought it was worth sharing:

“Around 70 years ago, the California population was really starting to grow, the cities were expanding, thus taking the water and land away from the wildlife. Around this time, the (then) California Department of Fish and Game came up with a plan to expand the habitat of upland game birds and other wildlife in the mountains and deserts of California. The mountains and deserts contained good habitat for upland birds, but it just needed a little water. So, the F&G put into motion this plan to build wildlife drinkers in California.

“This was no easy task, it took over 20 years, thousands of man hours and dollars to install approximately 1,200 drinkers throughout the state. Now these little drinkers have supplied water for wildlife for up to 70 years. These drinkers helped expand the range of upland game birds along with other wildlife including mammals and migratory birds, hawks, eagles, owls, etc.

“Over the last 70 years these little drinkers have just sat there doing their job, providing much needed water for wildlife…. [but] during those 70 years some of the drinkers have fallen into disrepair. Over the… [some maintenance was performed, but many drinkers needed to have a complete maintenance, from the tank to the concrete apron.

“Well! in 2005 I received a call from the Fish and Game asking me if I could gather volunteers to do maintenance work on the drinkers located within the Mojave National Preserve (MNP). I had no idea what was about to happen. I sent out an email to the 50 people on my list, giving some dates and location for us to gather. When I showed up that first cool March morning there were 18 volunteers waiting and ready to go to work.

That was 13 years ago and at that time all our work was focused on the MNP. Water for Wildlife volunteers worked diligently for nine years on the MNP maintaining 68, drinkers, six springs, and two windmills. During these years very little problems seemed to arise. Then, all of a sudden these little 70 year old drinkers became one of the main topics of the MNP, the BLM, and recently the USFS.

“Seventy years.... Now it seems like personal agendas in these agencies matter more than wildlife. The biologist, archeologist, hydrogeologist, geologist, the recreationist, the wildernessists, the whoisist, whatisist, whyisist, the crypto biotic crust experts in all these agencies have become consumed with these little drinkers. They say, we need to have studies to see how many birds drink, how many mammals drink, how many lizards, snakes, sheep, deer, donkeys, eagles, ravens, buzzards, bees – I could go on forever. Do we maintain them, do we destroy them, do we keep half and let the rest go. What in the world are we going to do with these little, life-supporting water sources? After all, they have only provided water for wildlife for the last 70 years. Let’s do water studies. Do we need an EA, an EIS, and comply with NEPA? What do we need to make it as easy as possible to convince the public to get rid of these nasty things so we can clean up the mountains and deserts and rid the landscape of the wildlife that have become accustom to using these water sources?” wrote McDonald.

“I do not have the credentials of these people listed above, I have just been around the desert and mountains of California for over the last 50 years. In my little mind, I would think that these little drinkers have done a great service to our wildlife for 70 years…. so, why don't we just keep these little drinkers, maintain these little drinkers, so that our future generation might be able to enjoy some of the wildlife that we enjoyed when we were growing up.

“‘No, no, no,” say some of these experts. ‘They are unnatural.’ ‘They are an eye sore.’ ‘Ravens drink the water.’ ‘They drown desert tortoise.’ ‘There are too many bees around them.’ ‘They ruin my wilderness experience.’ ‘You have a game farm in the mountains and desert by having this artificial water.’ ‘You are messing with the web of life.’ ‘You hunt three [types] birds that might use the water.’ Never mind the other 300 species that might use the water. What other ignorant, stupid, reasons are they going to throw on the wall and hope it sticks?’

“Because of the issues we have had in the last three years with the NPS, BLM, USFS, I just had to rant a little and get this off my chest,” wrote McDonald.

We get it, Cliff. It does seem more than a little crazy when a few within our federal land management agencies want to abandon over 70 years of effort – effort stepped in scientific management – is abandoned for an agenda that has no basis in science or law.

Hey, NPS, withdraw and abandon this so-called water management plan and write one where you actually make protection and enhancement of desert water sources a priority. (By all means, lets add those new bighorn sheep drinkers outside wilderness, but not remove the ones in wilderness.) The public would support a plan that sees the value of added water.

END

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

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