Mojave Preserve staff seems determined to remove man-made wildlife water from all wilderness
By JIM MATTHEWS
The Mojave National Preserve’s final water management plan and environmental assessment is nearly complete and will be forwarded to the National Park Service Regional and Washington D.C. offices next week for final approval, according to Todd Suess, superintendent of the Preserve.
The draft plan stirred up a huge controversy earlier this year when the draft called for the abandonment of most of the small game guzzlers (man-made watering structures) within the Preserve and all of those located inside existing wilderness boundaries. It also called for the relocation out of wilderness areas of many big game drinkers critical for desert bighorn sheep populations.
While Suess said he “can’t share” the details of this final plan before final approval, Danette Woo, who has been the public’s point of contact on the plan since the process began, said there were no “significant changes” between the draft and final version before deferring comment to Suess.
While most decisions of this nature are mostly signed off on the regional level, according to Suess. This plan generated a lot of interest in the Washington, D.C. office of the Department of Interior, which oversees the National Park Service. Suess said it was Washington staff that called for the extension of the comment period on the plan for an additional 60 days earlier this year.
Suess said he thought the plan would be final and approved by mid-October, but that the Washington involvement might extend that time frame.
Woo’s comment clearly tips the Mojave National Preserve staff’s hand on this issue, according to Cliff McDonald of Desert Drinker 4 Wildlife (formerly Water For Wildlife), a volunteer group dedicated to restoring and maintaining these critical wildlife water sources. He said it was simply reaffirming what seemed clear during the public meeting process -- the decisions on man-made water sources had been predetermined and accepting public comments and the supportive scientific data on the importance of this water was merely going through the motions.
“There was never an option in the plan to keep the guzzlers,” said McDonald. “The DOI (Department of Interior) have the information we all submitted, and all we can do is hope they do the right thing and protect these important wildlife water resources.”
House moving toward reauthorization
of Land and Water Conservation Fund
The House Natural Resources Committee advanced a bill to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was set to sunset the end of this month. Since 1965, the LWCF has been used to provide direct funding and matching grants to federal, state, and local government for the outright acquisition or purchasing of easements of land and water resources. The fund’s primary function has been to enhance recreation opportunities and protect natural resources.
The LWCF is generated through offshore oil and gas leases and currently accrues about $2.5 million a day. The LWCF’s annual budget has been capped at $900 million annually, but Congress has authorized this amount only twice during the program's existence. The current House bill would fully fund the LWCF at $900 million a year and dedicate three percent of LWCF dollars specifically to increasing public access on existing public lands.
Passage of the LWCF bill would permanently secure the most critical tool for opening 9.52 million acres of landlocked public lands, according to Whit Fosburgh with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP).
“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is the single most important federal program for conserving habitat on and expanding access to America’s 640 million acres of public lands,” said Fosbergh.
Grants from the LWCF have funded projects in every county in the country, with over 42,000 projects completed since 1965 and total funding has been $3.9 billion.
The TRCP and onX, a leading maker of a hunting map application, recently revealed the results of a new study showing 9.52 million acres across thirteen Western states are entirely landlocked by private property. The report pointed to the LWCF as the best-available tool for policymakers to open and expand access to these public lands.
“Sportsmen are depending on Congress to act swiftly and see that the LWCF is permanently reauthorized with full, dedicated annual funding and that a comprehensive public lands maintenance backlog fund is established to benefit all of our land management agencies,” says Fosburgh. “We hope this commendable move by the House Natural Resources Committee is the first step toward getting these priorities passed into law.”
The LWCF would expire Sept. 30 if a reauthorization bill is not approved by Congress and signed by President Trump.
Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 909-887-3444.