Within our arid western ecosystems the presence or lack of free surface water may govern the ability of wildlife species to utilize a particular geographic location. Many game and non-game wildlife species must have access to free water during part or all of their annual biological life cycles. While some efforts have been made within western habitats to actually develop and provide water sources or water systems specifically for wildlife, most water development projects on western rangelands are specifically designed for providing water to domestic livestock.
Livestock water developments on public lands in Idaho and adjacent western states may provide very limited value, if any, to the majority of resident or transient wildlife species within a geographic area. Yet water development proposals presented to the public for approval frequently include statements indicating that a major factor for authorizing the water development is to ‘provide benefits for wildlife.” While some benefits may occur to resident or migratory wildlife species through the construction of particular types of water developments, there is increasing public concern that the overall ecological costs of water developments may not justify their construction and placement within natural habitats.
Another source of public dissatisfaction with agency management is the failure of agencies to actually carry out management actions that meet stated objectives for wildlife. While agency personnel and livestock permittees may be annoyed with increasing public scrutiny of their actions, it is important to remember that the public has a vested interest in the responsible management of public lands. As livestock grazing is the most widespread human activity occurring on our public lands today, it thus receives the lion’s share of public concern and requests for accountability.
This report is not intended to serve as an all-encompassing treatise on livestock and wildlife interactions, of which there are many. The goal is to provide information to the reader/viewer regarding livestock water developments and associated wildlife and public issues- issues that may not be routinely identified or addressed by public (or private) land managers. Initial report sections explore basic relationships between western wildlife and water, the use of water developments for wildlife and livestock management, and the ecological impacts or “costs” associated with livestock water developments. The concluding sections of this report discuss wildlife access and safety issues related to livestock water developments; provide examples of failures of agencies and their livestock permittees to construct/maintain water developments that allow for wildlife access and escape; and discusses why livestock water developments on our western rangelands may represent serious violations of the public trust.