Mojave Preserve moves step closer to approval of disastrous water management plan
By JIM MATTHEWS
The Mojave National Preserve staff announced the Management of Developed Water Sources Plan was effectively approved this past week with the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the actions called for in the plan’s preferred alternative.
The preferred alternative of the plan calls for the removal of nearly all man-made water sources inside designated wilderness areas. Under the hotly contested plan, most man-made big game drinkers and developed springs in wilderness would either be relocated or abandoned. All small game man-made wildlife drinkers (used by over 100 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles) inside designated wilderness areas, and most of the guzzlers outside of wilderness, would also be abandoned or removed. These small game drinkers are usually called “guzzlers.”
In spite of the huge loss of wildlife water, the FONSI – prepared by the National Park Service staff – comes to the astounding conclusion that “the overall result will be an increase in habitat supported by developed water sources compared to the status quo.”
Wildlife enthusiasts have argued since 2011 that the water management plan needed to have a complete environmental impact report (EIR) completed so the proposed action could be backed up by studies and field science. Instead the park service opted for a less comprehensive environmental analysis (EA) requiring far less stringent analysis. The staff writing the plan then ignored reams of peer-reviewed science provided by leading biologists on the impacts the proposed plan would wreak on the preserve’s wildlife.
There are currently 130 small wildlife drinkers or guzzlers in the Preserve, but the FONSI approves the NPS plan, which says only “five to 10 small game guzzlers [outside of wilderness] will be selected for continued maintenance.” Neither the FONSI nor the EA suggest how the loss of 120 wildlife water sources would have no impact on the birds and small game using these guzzlers.
There is also serious concern among the country’s preeminent bighorn sheep biologists that the Preserve plan could put the state’s largest and most robust desert sheep herd into a decline both in numbers and range used, along having negative impacts to the other herds of desert sheep in the Preserve.
The FONSI said that public scoping (ie comment periods) ended August 12, 2011, but Todd Suess, Preserve Superintendent, continued to tell members of the public and the scientific community that their comments and data would be evaluated and even incorporated into a final documents. This was the case as late as May, 2018, at public meetins. Suess also insisted the preferred alternative would give the NPS the options of maintain all of the guzzlers within wilderness – in spite of that not being spelled out in the plan.
Apparently, the bottom line is that comments and scientific concerns supplied at a whole series of public meetings from 2012 through last summer were not factored into the decision to approve the plan.
“No changes were made to the Preferred Alternative following the draft plan EA,” according to the FONSI.
The FONSI also points out glaring contradictions – without comment or how they would or could be reconciled.
The chart listing “Mitigation via Adaptive Management Techniques” says this regarding small game populations: “Evaluate ecological importance of small game guzzlers and maintain those identified as necessary for supporting native wildlife populations. Evaluate ecological importance of developed springs and maintain those identified as necessary for supporting native wildlife.”
How does that square with removing or abandoning 120 to 125 small game guzzlers? Or dies it just apply to the “five to 10 guzzlers” that will be maintained?
The water management plan – and now the FONSI – are an embarrassment to sound science and the public scoping process. It ignores the needs of desert wildlife, and it points out the deaf ear federal bureaucracies’ turn to public concerns and peer-reviewed science.
Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.