Mojave Preserve water removed to detriment of


Mar 11, 2001
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MOJAVE PRESERVE WATER -- Jim Matthews column 28jul04

Mojave Preserve water removed to detriment of wildlife

Outdoor News Service

GOFFS -- Where there is water in the desert, there is abundant wildlife. Shrikes are catching grasshoppers and impaling them on the thorns of cactus. You can hear the haunting calls of roadrunners. Coveys of Gambel's quail herd their young under palo verdes to avoid Cooper's hawks. You can see deer tracks in the sand, mixed with the bobcat and coyotes prints.

Where there is no water, the desert is more stark. For miles and miles you will only see the animals that don't need water every day to survive the 100-plus degree heat that beats down here throughout the summer. There are only a few of those. Water is desert wildlife's lifeblood.

Since taking over the East Mojave, the National Park Service has removed over 100 water sources scattered all over the vast preserve, creating a wildlife wasteland where wildlife once flourished. Most of the water removal has occurred over the past two years as ranchers who have sold their properties to the federal government have been forced to removed windmills and stock tanks.

The elimination of the water sources was done -- many of us feel -- in direct violation of the preserve's own management plan that mandates that any removal of water be evaluated for its impacts before -- before -- it is removed. And that would include all of the cattle water that has been used by wildlife for over 100 years in most instances.

Many of us feel -- after hours of meetings and discussions with preserve management staff -- that the rush to remove water from the preserve has become a vendetta against the hunter-conservation groups who have battled the removal every step of the way. The hunter groups have argued that the cattle water and the facilities to maintain it should be preserved for two reasons: 1) for its historical importance as part of the cultural history of the preserve, which the park is also supposed to protect, and 2) the incredible value this water has for the majority of the preserve's wildlife.

Most wildlife needs a drink of water daily in hot weather, and most biologists believe the wholesale removal of the cattle windmills and tanks all over the preserve has led to a dramatic decline in wildlife the past two years.

With activist Cliff McDonald of Needles, I visited 11 windmills and water tanks that had been functioning one to two years ago in the eastern part of the preserve. They were all dry on Tuesday this week and mostly devoid of wildlife. At one set of windmills, it was obvious that they had not been shut down too long, one of the tanks still had some wet soil and perhaps a small puddle of water under a growth of tules. There were at least three large coveys of quail around the tank -- 100 to 150 birds. One of the coveys had a hen bird with six tiny fuzzballs chicks. Those chicks were destined to die as the water dried up, and perhaps the adults, too. The nearest water was over four miles away.

The mindset that will write a death warrant for huge numbers of wildlife in its haste to "return the desert to its natural state," has to be questioned in its ethics and its reading of the preserve's management plan. With each of the 11 sites we visited, most of the facilities that were alien to the desert -- the corrals, the windmill platforms, the dry tanks -- were all still there. The only thing the NPS staff did was shut off the water to the wildlife. That was the priority.

We also stopped at six small game guzzlers (which some park staff continues to say they would like to remove) and natural springs, which had plenty of water. The contrast between what we saw near the water and where there once was water was dramatic. The difference in wildlife was the difference between a full and an empty glass of water.

Visitors to the preserve will find a glass that has far less wildlife this year than it had in the past thanks to the NPS.

It looks like a park service goal is to kill native wildlife and destroy a major piece of human history on the preserve. Did they document the impacts water removal would have on the preserve's wildlife? Were the windmills and water pipelines evaluated for their historical value? Was the input from hundreds of people who requested -- even begged -- that the cattle water be retained for wildlife even considered an option? The correct answer to all three questions is "no."

We need a change in the management at the Mojave National Preserve, or even the National Park Service, if this is how wildlife and historical resources are going to be "protected" under this watch. The actions taken are wrong and wrong-headed, and it's time for a change.

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