HUNTING FOR ACCESS IN THE EL PASO MOUNTAINS
by Don Amador
Sometimes lost in theland-use debate is the importance of access for conservationists who want toenhance habitat for various species of wildlife on federal or state lands.
Recently, I had theprivilege to go on a hunt with my friends from Ridgecrest Chapter 457 of QuailUnlimited (QU) and the High Desert Multiple-Use Coalition (HDMUC). The touralso included an inspection of dozens of water guzzlers located along many of theold mining roads in the El Paso Mountains. This rugged desert area is about 15miles southwest of Ridgecrest, California.
Dave Fisher, the localspokesman for QU, explained how his organization has invested literallythousands of volunteer man-hours and a similar amount of donated fiscalresources to improving the viability of local wildlife and game bird populations by installing water guzzlersthroughout the El Paso Mountains.
Several varieties of quail,chukar, and other animals have been hard hit by an ongoing drought in thisregion of the state. QU volunteers with support from the Bureau of LandManagement (BLM), the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), and local businesseshave worked hard to install water collection devices called guzzlers. These arebasically large fiberglass, concrete, or plastictanks that have a flat apron designed to collect and channel rain into a basinfrom which wildlife can drink. In years of extremely poor rainfall, theseconservationists often have to use a 4-wheel drive pickup or water truck tohaul life saving fluid to fill guzzlers that are dry.
Volunteers also build abrush or stick pile over the top of the tank so that small animals and birdsmay find refuge from predators or harsh weather.
Ron Schiller, chairman forHDMUC, explained that vehicular access, or lack thereof, to the guzzlers hasbeen at the center of the current Wilderness debate and other land-use planningin this area. The continuous effort by some so-called environmental groups andliberal legislators to close more roads and trails on BLM lands near Ridgecrestand elsewhere in Southern California has met with strong opposition by QUvolunteers who need access to maintain guzzlers.
Access for motorizedvehicles is often needed because guzzler maintenance requirements includehauling in heavy materials such as rolls of fencing, t-posts, concrete, andconcrete mixing pans for making repairs. On some occasions, motorized pumpsmust be carried in to remove contaminated water before disinfecting the tanksand shoveling out accumulated residue in the bottom of the reservoir.
If not inspected regularly and maintained properly, an artificial water sourcefor wildlife can become a death trap. Such was the case when the National ParkService would not allow the DFG to use a helicopter to do a fly-over inspectionof the remote bighorn sheep drinkers in the Mojave National Preserve.Ultimately, a crew hiked in and found that a water reservoir had collapsed andtrapped a bighorn sheep inside. The dead sheep caused botulism contamination,which resulted in the death of nearly forty bighorn sheep. The tragedy couldhave been prevented if only the Park Service would have authorized a simplefly-over inspection.
Sometimes anti-access advocates claim that sportsmen only do this for more gamebirds to kill. However, the fact is that wildlife guzzlers are artificial watersources that provide benefits for many different species of small wildlife thataren’t able to range as far as larger species like coyote, bobcat, and mountainlion. Although the guzzlers are designed to preclude use by larger wildlifespecies, they do ultimately benefit from the drinker because their prey such asmice, squirrel, and birds use the guzzlers during the dry season and droughtyears. These guzzlers are often most beneficial for migratory non-game birdsand many non-resident species have been known to use the guzzlers duringmigration.
In many cases ourrecreational roads and trails on public lands often serve a dual-purpose byproviding access for hunting opportunities and to maintain ongoing conservationprojects. QU volunteers and other user groups who donate their time to improveour trails, take care of our campgrounds, and enhance wildlife on public landsdeserve our praise and support. Rather than closing roads that are used forresponsible recreation and conservation activities, politicians shouldencourage more partnerships between land managers and organizations so thatboth our access to, and use of, federal lands may continue for generations tocome.
Don Amador is the western representative for theBlueRibbon Coalition, a national recreation access group. He writes onenvironmental issues from his office in Oakley, CA. He may be reached by emailat: firstname.lastname@example.org