Water For Wildlife
by Jim Matthews
The joint effort by the California Department of Fish and Game and the San Bernardino National Forest to inventory and repair wildlife watering devices in the San Bernardino Mountains of the forest has been a rousing success and will benefit wildlife throughout the mountain range.

With funding coming from both the DFG’s deer stamp fund and the USFS Adventure Pass, two seasonal aids — one from the DFG and one from the USFS — have worked to inventory and repair developed water sources within the San Bernardino National Forest. The two have worked under DFG supervisor Jim Davis and since June, 133 water systems have been inspected, mapped, photographed and repaired as necessary.

Davis said the work has involved installing 14 new drinker boxes, six new intake or water collection devices, replacement of 600 feet of pipeline, along with dozens of new valves, and a big investment of just plain sweat.

Davis said that 34 of the systems surveyed were non-functioning, which means they were not providing water to wildlife on a year-around basis. Most of those have been repaired.

With the seasonal-aid time running out on the crew, it is now time for the state and Forest Service to decide whether or not they will continue the program for next year, and perhaps look at expanding the work.

In fact, Davis was working to get the DFG back into water development in a big way because of the huge benefits it has for wildlife, and — indirectly — for sportsmen. Davis listed three ways he’d like to see the program continue.

First, Davis said he would like to continue the San Bernardino National Forest inspection and maintenance program in 2002, and add the Cajon and San Jacinto districts of the forest to the program. While most of the water sources on the San Bernardino Mountains portion of the forest have been identified and repaired, there is still a lot of work to do on other areas of the forest.

Second, Davis would like to expand the program to include development of new water sources for wildlife. “There are six or seven or eight water developments we want to put in existing areas that are pretty dry. By leapfrogging water out into these areas, it would have tremendous impacts for deer and bighorn sheep,” said Davis.

Third, the DFG is very close to getting a complete desert wildlife habitat crew off the ground. The DFG had such a crew for years, and it was responsible for building the hundreds of guzzlers throughout our desert. This new crew would work on both desert big game and small game guzzlers throughout Region Six on state, BLM, national preserve, and Forest Service lands in this region. Davis said Regional Manager Curt Taucher was working to get one permanent person to run the crew and a block of scientific aid time to hire two seasonal workers.

The move is a welcome effort by the DFG to actually spend money on the ground that has a huge benefit for wildlife and sportsmen. Water is often the single limiting factor that keeps wildlife populations from using habitat in the desert and foothill regions.

The U.S. Forest Service made a commitment to support the DFG on all four forests in the region using Adventure Pass funding to inventory and repair wildlife water sources. The San Bernardino forest made a significant investment in that program by hiring a seasonal aide to work with the DFG, and the results have been dramatic. There have been more limited efforts on the other forests in the region (the Cleveland and Los Padres), and the Angeles National Forest staff has completely dropped the ball, accomplishing virtually nothing over and above what it was doing before agreeing to support the water for wildlife program.

As sportsmen, we can only hope the DFG will continue to expand its portion of the water for wildlife program, making sure it has the funding for this meaningful effort. This is one of the best expenditures of our license money I have seen in a long time. We also should ask the DFG management to press on the Forest Service to continue and expand its portion of this work. Hunters and fishermen still purchase more annual Adventure Passes than any other single user group, and to trickle some of that money our way for wildlife habitat work is a good investment of those funds.

The Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service also needs to get off the dime and help the DFG in this effort in the desert. Davis said they did some survey work on 14 water sites on BLM lands that needed fencing from cattle and improvements so both wildlife and cattle could use the desert water. The DFG submitted a request to jointly do this work in the spring this year, and as of this week it has had no response from the BLM staff on the work regarding it.

The East Mojave National Preserve also needs to consult with the DFG for every one of its actions that might affect wildlife. Within the past year, the NPS removed water developments from a retired cattle lease on the preserve. But the NPS — in its zeal to return the desert to some arbitrary “natural” state — didn’t consider the impact the removal of that water might have on desert wildlife. I happen to believe the DFG should sue them over that issue because of the unauthorized “take” of wildlife the action probably caused.

The bottom line is that the DFG is on a good path toward improving things for wildlife in the southern part of the state, and the federal land use agencies need to be cooperating as effectively as the San Bernardino National Forest has cooperated — investing time and money in the effort.

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