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NPS staff continues to push a false narrative about man-made water


The science about the astounding benefits for wildlife of man-made water sources in our deserts is increasingly being proven beyond a shadow of any doubt, yet the National Park Service staff at the Mojave National Preserve continues to pedal a narrative about the water that is counter to all the science.

In bureacratic/politcal discourse you are apparently allowed to say anything to placate the public even when what you are saying is counter to facts and data. Todd Suess, the superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, is a master of this skill with the ability to look you right in the eye and tell you things that are elaborate fabrications.

For more than a year, Suess has been repeatedly telling an alternative universe version of the facts about the Mojave Preserve water management plant:

-- “If the science proves we need that water for wildlife, we can and will let volunteers fix them all,” he has said repeatedly. Yet, the plan – which still has not been given approval from the Department of Interior in Washington – has no provision for that option. In fact, it specifically calls for the removal or abandonment of all man-made small game guzzlers inside designated wilderness and most outside the wilderness areas. It even calls for the removal or relocation of some critically important bighorn sheep drinkers.

When this is pointed out to Suess, he ignores what the plan says and points out that they’ve already begun the quail study called outlined in the water plan that would prove the value to this water in the eastern Mojave Desert once and for all, insinuating that what he is saying is fact. If what he is saying is face, why don’t the words in the plan reflect those facts. Suess is pushing a novel variation of “we have to pass it to see what’s in it.” This is “we know what’s in it, but it doesn’t mean what it says.”

-- The National Park Service was recently responsible for the cancellation of a ground-breaking and ongoing deer study after eight years of work? The study was looking at the impacts of water on a landscape level over a broad sweep of time. After eight years of work, a recently published paper, from this work already has proven the profound importance of this man-made water for deer. But the work was cancelled, “because it wouldn’t change our management of man-made water on the Preserve.”

When asked about the deer study, Suess says, “we didn’t cancel the deer study, the state Fish and Wildlife did.” Whoa, the DFW didn’t cancel this study, they just couldn’t fund the entire project. The state and other private funding collapsed after the NPS cancelled their substantial funding. In a nutshell, the NPS cancelled the study by pulling its funding.

-- “If the guzzlers are designated ‘historic’ we would restore all of them,” Suess has said repeatedly. This is also not spelled out as a possibility in the water management plan. Even more importantly, they don’t have any idea how to determine if they are historic and have no plans to evaluate the issue. Suess says they are but can’t provide a timeline or names of staff who are working on making that determination. In other words, “this might be a possibility, but we’re not looking at it as an option.”

-- “This isn’t a final plan. It is more of a draft that will incorporate public comments,” Suess said at a public meeting in Barstow last year on the plan. It said “Final” right on the cover of the plan, but Suess said it could be changed due to substantial comments — which surprised his staff. They didn’t think so.

It turns out, the additional science provided in the public/agency comments were not even considered and the plan was forwarded to the regional offices and Washington, D.C. essentially unchanged from the document we saw last year. The additional science provided by a wide variety of groups and even other state and federal agencies were ignored. It’s the old, “Don’t tell us facts, our minds are made up.”

-- Most recently, Suess said the NPS couldn’t do emergency work on a vital sheep guzzler if it failed without an approved water plan. This was apparently an effort on his part to suggest that unless his “his” plan is adopted, the sheep would suffer. This is another narrative that is counter to the facts. The NPS has the ability to do emergency work on any project it deems necessary to protect resources within the Preserve. In the past, the NPS actually did deny the DFW and volunteers access to a bighorn sheep guzzler in wilderness that had failed which led to the death of a number of sheep. However, once the NPS saw the scope of the ongoing disaster, access was granted and the drinker repaired.

This water plan is about the bizarre belief in some NPS staff that the “concept” of wilderness is more important than the wildlife that lives there. Never mind there were roads across most of this “wilderness” in the Preserve. These relatively recently designated wilderness areas all have old mining digs, historic cabins (with historic road access), and historic cattle facilities, but the small game drinkers and big game guzzlers somehow destroy the intrinsic “wilderness” value and should either be removed or left to crumble back into the earth.

The water plan, as forwarded to Washington, D.C., should be taken out to the desert and left to rot back into the earth.


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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