U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
California

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ISSUE UPDATE: Guzzlers proposed by CDFG - Sheephole Valley Wilderness

INTRODUCTION:

The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) is proposing to install two new artificial big game water guzzlers in designated wilderness managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

ISSUES:

Current Status: The BLM and CDFG are cooperating to develop an environmental assessment (EA) on one of the guzzlers, the SD guzzler, which has the highest priority.

Prior to wilderness designation, CDFG was authorized to install two big game guzzlers and transplant 37 bighorn sheep into the Sheephole Wilderness Study Area. The Sheephole Valley Wilderness Area was designated in 1994. In Spring 2001, following the discovery of 15 dead bighorn sheep, CDFG in cooperation with Desert Wildlife Unlimited, a private bighorn sheep conservation group, requested that six new guzzlers be installed. In response, the BLM requested that a meta-population plan be completed. The BLM proposed assisting CDFG in monitoring and filling existing guzzlers and agreed to expedite processing of the proposal for two new guzzlers, identified as critical.

The water developments would be buried underground with only the walk-in drinker opening, or lip, being exposed. The area of initial impact for construction would consist of a 75-yard radius around each installation. Construction equipment would include a rubber tired backhoe and a flat-tracked excavator. Eight pick-up trucks would carry materials and staff to each site. Water tanks (1,000 gallons) mounted on trailers, and a gasoline powered cement mixer, would be towed to each site. One guzzler site is about two miles inside wilderness, and an old access route is available. The second guzzler site is about 14 miles into wilderness; no existing access route is available.

A notice of proposed action was issued; 107 comments were received. Strong opposition was voiced by wilderness organizations, including Wilderness Watch, Escalante Wilderness Project and Desert Survivors. Support for the project was expressed by Congressman Duncan Hunter and several bighorn sheep interest groups, including Desert Wildlife Unlimited and the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep. The BLM prepared an environmental assessment on the two guzzlers with CDFG review and input. A biological assessment was submitted in April 2002 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for potential effects on desert tortoise. The record of decision was signed in June 2003. An appeal was filed by the California Wilderness Coalition in July 2003 with the Interior Board of Land Appeals. BLM voluntarily remanded the decision back shortly after to include more information for CDFG on their meta-population plans.

Since then, BLM has been meeting with all parties including Rep. Hunter, CDFG, NPS, FWS and Desert Wildlife Unlimited to develop a stronger proposal for the SD guzzlers initially. As of November 2005, that EA is nearing completion and issues raised by environmental groups are being addressed

SUMMARY:

The BLM manages for the health of numerous species and the ecosystem, rather than for an individual species. Scientific data is needed to factually determine whether guzzlers are beneficial to bighorn sheep, as well as landscape data showing that the increased availability of water would not be detrimental to vegetation and non-water dependent species, including the desert tortoise, and the effects of water availability on potential increases in predators.

11/28/05