2.2 WATER DEVELOPMENTS FOR WILDLIFE


While most water developments have been created for the convenience or domestic livestock, the distribution of some wildlife can be extended into habitat areas that were formerly marginal or unsuitable (for those species requiring frequent access to water) through the development of artificial water sources. Such efforts have most typically been initiated to enhance or expand the distribution of native or introduced game species (such as antelope, quail, or chukar), to provide for increased hunter harvest, and for enhancing species re-introductions (such as for bighorn sheep). As of July 1999, it was estimated that at least 5,859 water developments had been constructed for wildlife in 11 western states (Rosenstock, Ballard, and deVos 1999).

Many state wildlife agencies have ongoing wildlife water development programs.

Water developments designed specifically for wildlife may include pipeline and tank systems, catchment systems (often referred to as "guzzlers"), and artificial ponds or reservoirs. Water developments for wildlife are intended to allow for wildlife access and to protect the water source from degrading influences - such as trampling or utilization by domestic livestock. Figures 2.1-1 and 2.1-2 illustrate two types of water developments maintained specifically for use by wildlife.

While water developments are believed to have benefited many game and non-game species, not all water developments for wildlife have yielded expected increases in species distribution and abundance. It must be remembered that while water may be a limiting factor; additional factors such as forage availability, aid or limit wildlife diversity, range, or relative abundance. In some instances, improperly constructed or improperly maintained wildlife developments can actually lead to the demise of wildlife species - particularly small mammals or birds.

As was noted in Section 1.1, the Great Basin Desert region supports fewer wildlife species overall than the warmer southern deserts. While certain groups of wildlife species (large native ungulates in particular) are more numerous in northern desert habitats, the colder climate of the Great Basin desert’s influence is also expressed through shorter growing seasons and a reduced diversity and availability of insect prey. This means, in turn, less diversity in cold desert passerines (small birds), small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

While warm deserts may be able to support increased numbers or diversity of species - not all species, or infinite numbers of even the most adaptable species - can exist in the warmer Mojave and Sonoran deserts. In addition, water resources are of limited value to many species unless accompanied by complimentary habitat features- including proximity to and abundance of forage or prey resources, and the presence or proximity of suitable hiding/escape cover. These features may be lacking at most water developments created for livestock.

Most water developments constructed or maintained specifically for wildlife have been geared towards increasing game species. This includes species ranging from waterfowl and upland game birds (quail, chukar, mourning doves) to large ungulate mammals such as deer and antelope. Attempts to re-introduce or introduce species such as desert big-horned sheep have also relied on wildlife water developments in many western desert habitats. This has proven to be effective in instances where the existing water resources have been usurped for anthropogenic uses such as livestock or agricultural development; or in order to introduce animals into formerly unoccupied habitat or into habitats altered over time through climate change. Although the presence of guzzlers, drinking boxes, or protected ponds and reservoirs may result in some benefits to incidental non-game species (ranging from amphibians and reptiles to rabbits and passerines) the overriding purpose for wildlife water developments has been to increase native or exotic/introduced game species for increased hunter harvest.

Natural selection over time has resulted in the survival of those species (and their "correct" population sizes) that are best adapted to arid conditions with highly variable precipitation levels and temperatures. While making efforts to provide water to wildlife when natural waters have been captured or removed through human developments or activities (such as mining, road construction, urban development, logging, agricultural conversion, livestock grazing or range developments) may be a necessary mitigation for extant wildlife resources - developing water sources to support species or abundance "beyond what nature intended" for native wildlife and historic habitats has come under increasing public scrutiny.

Rosenstock, Ballard, and deVos (1999) have stated,

Recently, critics have suggested that wildlife water developments have not yielded expected benefits and may negatively impact wildlife by increasing predation, competition, and disease transmission. Based upon a comprehensive review of scientific literature, we conclude that wildlife water developments have likely benefited many game and non-game species, but not all water development projects have yielded expected increases in animal distribution and abundance. Hypothesized negative impacts of water developments on wildlife are not supported by data and remain largely speculative. However, our understanding of both positive and negative effects of wildlife water developments is incomplete, because of design limitations of previous research. Long-term experimental studies are needed to address unanswered questions concerning the efficacy and ecological effects of water developments. We also recommend that resource managers apply more rigorous planning criteria to new developments, and expand monitoring efforts associated with water development programs.

A number of other public issues are also related to wildlife-specific water developments. In 1999 the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) noted, "Guzzler proposals are running rampant in Utah’s Great Basin." SUWA also noted that within an 18 month period, 114 new "wildlife water developments" were proposed for Utah’s West Desert. SUWA had a Request for Stay granted by the Interior Land Board of Appeals (IBLA) in 1999 following an appeal challenging the installation of water developments for wildlife (guzzlers) within an area identified as possessing wilderness characteristics. SUWA provided the following comments in their 1999 Summer Newsletter regarding BLM proposals for dozens of new "wildlife" water developments:

These water developments are primarily meant to benefit the non-native chukar partridge. Not only are the developments unnecessary eyesores but, more importantly, they will adversely impact the natural balance of the native species of wildlife and vegetation. The BLM argues that these water developments will not have an impact on an area’s wilderness potential, a less-than-credible argument given that, in the past, the BLM has dropped potential wilderness areas from further consideration due to the presence of these man-made water catchments.

There are nearly 14 million acres of BLM land in Utah where water developments could be installed without impacting potential wilderness. Yet, at the expense of wilderness values, local BLM offices irresponsibly continue to allow development in the areas that are proposed for wilderness designation.

Most water developments are constructed specifically to enhance populations of game species for hunter harvest. A public issue related to wildlife developments such as guzzlers is that of human safety. Safety and wildlife protection issues have been identified by Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (2002) as follows:

Because of safety concerns related to overcrowding guzzler areas with hunters, and because of the sensitivity of guzzler site locations being used by wildlife, the DWR will not provide guzzler site locations. The DWR does provide information about the general areas of Utah where most of the guzzlers are found, however.

This is completely opposite to the attitude taken by the Nevada Department (formerly Division) of Wildlife Resources, which issued the following as a public web-site announcement (Olsen 2002):

Looking for a gift for the avid outdoor enthusiast who has everything? Hunters, wildlife photographers, or simply those who enjoy observing Nevada wildlife may find the Nevada Division of Wildlife’s (NDOW) Wildlife Water Development Atlas a perfect companion to their adventures. The 77-page book of guzzler maps is available at Division regional offices for $30. The atlas is comprised of 68 1:100,000 quadrangle maps which identify the nearly 1,500 guzzlers in Nevada. The majority of maps in the publication show guzzler points for both big and small game.

While the main objective of this report is to explore the overall relationship of wildlife to livestock water developments, the purpose of this section has been to familiarize the viewer/reader with the concept of water developments constructed specifically for wildlife.

Public issues and concerns associated with wildlife water developments remain largely unaddressed in the west. It is interesting that not one of the agency sources reviewed for this report discussed issues related to wildlife developments such as weed introduction, motorized or cross-country travel employed to construct and maintain guzzlers or other wildlife developments, or of habitat impacts resulting from the public utilizing guzzlers or wildlife water developments for hunting or other recreational purposes. There was nothing found in any of the literature reviewed for this report to indicate to the public how many of these water developments actually assist a wide range of native species, how many actually remain functional, or of how many developments may have resulted in undesirable impacts to native wildlife species or to native plant community values.

FIGURES & TABLES

*Figure 2.2-1
*Figure 2.2-2
*Figure 2.2-3

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