Mojave Preserve’s Water Management Plan still under ‘high scrutiny’ by DOI
By JIM MATTHEWS
The controversial Management Plan for Developed Water Sources in Mojave National Preserve still has not been approved by the Department of Interior (DOI) in Washington, D.C., according to Todd Suess, the superintendent of the Preserve.
Suess said the document was under “high scrutiny” in the capitol because a variety of conservation groups concerned with the plan’s drastic changes to man-made bighorn sheep water sources and appealed to the Department of Interior to intervene in the plan. The appeals were based on comments provided by the most pre-eminent bighorn scientists in the nation who felt the Preserve’s plan endangered desert sheep populations within the Preserve. Those concerns were ignored.
Suess, who is currently acting director of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, admitted the water management plan was forwarded to the regional office of the National Park Service with essentially no changes to the document as released to the public early last year. The plan was not changed after two comment periods where extensive public input and substantive scientific concerns were raised.
The proposal called for the removal of virtually all man-made water sources from wilderness areas within the Mojave National Preserve, and the final document did not take any of those concerns under consideration or make changes to accommodate them.
Furthermore, Suess said that no work on any of the water sources can be done in the interim because no plan is in place.
“If we don’t get a plan approved, we’re kind of dead in the water,” said Suess. And he was concerned that “more detrimental impacts [to sheep] will occur. I can’t really stress that enough. For example, if the Old Dad [drinker] fails and we wanted to rebuild it, we can’t right now.”
Suess said that without a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) document or FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact} the repair work could not go forward, and the Park Service would be forced to essentially abandon an essential failed water source.
Suess said the DOI concerns have focused on bighorn sheep big game guzzlers, but there was also a huge concern with the public and bird scientists about the impacts the removal or abandonment of small game guzzlers would have on bird and mammal populations in wilderness areas.
Suess continued to insist that studies – which have already begun – on the importance of the small game guzzlers to quail and other species would allow the Park to approve restoration on all small game guzzlers if it shows they are essential. However, the is clearly the exact opposite of the wording in the water management plan which says small game guzzlers inside areas designated wilderness areas will be “removed or abandoned.” There are no provisions in the wording that blunt that language. There is no language anywhere in the plan that says “they will be removed or abandoned if studies show they are not serving any function or have no value to wildlife.” The plan is very clear that small game guzzlers are going to disappear in wilderness.
The only small game guzzlers the on-going study could save are those outside of wilderness, and the plan actually calls for the removal of most small-game guzzlers outside of wilderness, too.
Suess also continued to insist that if the NPS determined the guzzlers were “historic” sites, they would be protected from removal and could be restored as “historic” structures. But the NPS still has not found the money or the right person to make that determination.
The controversy over the water management plan has been ongoing since March, 2018, when the final “draft” plan was released for public comment. The guzzler removal and abandonment language stirred up the ire of literally thousands of sportsmen and scientists who have been instrumental over the past 70 years installing and maintaining these important water sources. These water sources have been documented repeatedly to help restore wildlife populations and help mitigate for lost natural water sources that have disappeared across the desert because of groundwater pumping and drought.
The news that the NPS had not incorporated any of the simple suggested wording to assure that if the guzzlers were deemed important to wildlife, they could be maintained and restored, has been an ongoing point of contention. Many of the groups felt it was a waste of time to solicit comments backed by scientific data if the science was just going to be ignored.
“They had already decided what they were going to do,” said Cliff McDonald, a long-time organizer and volunteer with Desert Drinkers For Wildlife (formerly Water for Wildlife) which has restored over 180 small game drinkers across the desert and Eastern Sierra for 14 years. “The comment period and public meetings were just a dog-and-pony show.”
The final water management plan has been held up by the DOI in Washington for four months, but there is still no word on if or when the final document will be released or if there are any changes being made to the plan.
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.