Keeping Water In
California's East Mojave
by Jim Matthews
Scouting for the opening weekend of upland bird season is a ritual for many of us who’d rather hunt desert quail or chukar than just about anything. It is hot in the Mojave even in early October, and daytime temperatures of 100 degrees are not uncommon. In weather like this, upland birds need to drink daily and don’t stray too far from their water sources.

It makes for good scouting conditions if you can bear the heat. Find the water, and you will find the birds and can see what the fall hunting seasons hold — big coveys, small coveys; good production, poor production. You can tell how the season will be by watching around water.

In the Mojave National Preserve, increasingly the problem is finding the water. With each retired cattle lease and land acquisition by the park service, cattle water developments are being removed, many of them over 100 years old. A lovely, historic old windmill by a small corral off Kelbaker Raod where I used to hunt is gone. Another windmill that fed a series of three stock tanks along a two-mile pipeline is gone. At a tank once fed by a pipeline from a nearby mountain spring, the drinker was empty this month and you can see where the tank itself had been drained for some reason. Gone with those old cattle water tanks are the associated coveys of quail that frequented them.

An old windmill and water source developed by the Department of Fish and Game for deer in the Pinto Valley region has been left in disrepair and no longer provides water for deer or birds. A string of four guzzlers near Goffs were all dry in early October when I visited them. I walked in to two guzzlers inside of a new wilderness, and there was no sign of bird use in the area. Two outside the wilderness could at least have been filled by truck if there was any monitoring by the park service or interest in providing water to desert wildlife.

When I did find water — at four guzzlers that obviously had sound underground tanks and had received adequate rainfall to fill them this year — the quail numbers were pretty impressive. At one guzzler, there must have been 150 birds — mostly young quail that called as soon as they scattered from my approach. At another, I watched two coveys of 25 to 30 birds each en route to the water at midmorning, coming from different directions, and another covey’s members were calling in the distance.

But the loss of water in the desert is depressing — and needless.

The National Park Service (NPS) recently acquired the OX Ranch cattle lease. There is a long pipeline from Caruthers Canyon down out into the flats for several miles that fed a whole series of stock tanks that also did wonders for desert wildlife. They were all dry when I was there early this month, and it appeared the pipeline was being removed. I was told recently by a NPS staff person that it was likely the rancher would remove the tanks and windmills that were salvageable, and then the agency might consider what to keep for historical value. What about keeping the whole works for both its historical value and its values to wildlife?

I’ve decided that hunters need to build a coalition to keep these historical water sources in the preserve. I recently asked the NPS to notify me whenever they are contemplating any move that would remove desert water. I’ve told them that hunter conservation groups would be willing to raise whatever money it takes to purchase the infrastructure and to maintain the water. If we don’t aggressively work with the NPS in the East Mojave, we are going to lose some of the best bird hunting we have in the West due to continued degradation of desert wildlife habitat through water loss.

Sportsmen’s groups and individual hunters should contact the East Mojave National Preserve’s Dennis Schramm at (760) 255-8840 and ask to be placed on the list to be notified when any water source in the desert might be impacted by preserve management and what options might be available to keep or replace any water that is proposed for removal.

We can make a difference if we pull together and offer the NPS viable solutions — both physical and financial — to removal of these water sources. We also need to let them know that politically it would be wise for them to pay attention to this issue.

| WH Home | Contact Western | WH Archive |

Copyright © 2001 J & D Outdoor Communications. All rights reserved.