Farm Bill passes Congress, provides $5 billion for wildlife conservation

When the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act (called simply the Farm Bill by most) passed through both chambers of Congress recently, sportsmen across the country sighed in relief because the legislation included approximately $5 billion in funding for critical conservation programs on private lands that protect soil health, water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat on this property.
This bill is a renewal and modification to the 2014 Farm Bill that expired the end of September, and while most of the law’s major functions continued until Congress passed new legislation, the conservation elements of the bill were left up in the air.
The $5 billion figure represents full-funding, and included increased funding of conservation measured touted by hunting, fishing, and environmental community.
Highlights include:
— The Agriculture Conservation Easement Program saw its funding increase from $250 million per year to approximately $450 million. This funding assists landowners with the protection, restoration, and improvement of wetland easements. This not only enhances fish and migratory bird habitat on big swaths of private land, primarily in the Midwest, but it also boosts hunting and fishing access to these lands. That is accomplished through the Program’s three primary elements ñ Swampbuster, Sodsaver, and the Conservation Reserve Program, known by sportsmen simply as CRP.
The bill maintains strong wetland conservation compliance, known as ìSwampbuster,î and strengthens ìSodsaverî grasslands protections. Combined, Swampbuster and Sodsaver provide critical safeguards for the wetlands and grasslands that comprise a significant amount of our waterfowl and upland bird habitat in the United States.
CRP acreage will grow by three million to a total of 27 million acres under this voluntary program, which offers incentives to landowners to remove highly erodible and environmentally sensitive lands from production. This increase will provide much-needed upland habitat and water quality improvements.
— The bill boosts the funds dedicated to wildlife habitat practices under the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) from five percent to 10 percent of the program’s total funds. This will dramatically increase the amount of money available for farmers and ranchers to actually create and improve wildlife habitat on working lands for species such as the greater sage grouse and monarch butterfly.
— Funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) tripled to $300 million a year to be spent on landscape-scale watershed projects that increase wildlife habitat while boosting water quantity and quality. This program is used everywhere from the Chesapeake Bay to the Columbia River to build resiliency in the face of pollution and drought.
— Especially important for hunting is that the bill provides an additional $10 million in funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. This assures the public will continue to have access to nearly a million acres of private land opened under this program for everything from hiking to hunting and fishing.
The bill’s passage was lauded by a wide range of conservation and hunting groups, but especially from the upland and waterfowl hunting community.
ìThis is the first time CRP acres have increased since the 1996 Farm Bill. Part of that is due to the support of our 140,000 members, volunteers, hunters, farmers and landowners making their voices heard in support of a strengthened CRP,î said Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.
ìOn behalf of the more than one million members and supporters of Ducks Unlimited, we’d like to thank Congress for their steadfast support of our nation’s wetlands and waterfowl through the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. By providing full-funding for the conservation title, Congress ensures that these voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs will continue to create opportunities to work with farmers, ranchers, and landowners across the country. Without their cooperation, Ducks Unlimited could not reach our goal of filling the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow, and forever,î said Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited.

Posted in JIM MATTHEWS | Comments Off on Farm Bill passes Congress, provides $5 billion for wildlife conservation

DFW reduces deer tag numbers in popular Eastern Sierra zones


The Department of Fish and Wildlife has dramatically reduced deer tag numbers in X9a, X9b, and X12 for the 2017 hunting season after 16 to 23 percent declines in these deer herds that live in the Eastern Sierra Nevada roughly from Bishop to Bridgeport. The reductions are for the general rifle hunts, the archery hunts, and the special late season and junior hunts in these deer zones.

The DFW said the population estimate for these three zones went from around 31,000 deer during 2016 surveys to just over 22,000 deer in surveys this year.

“That’s a pretty significant decline in the population,” said Stuart Itoga, deer program coordinator for the DFW. He also said that fawn survival was particularly troubling, with fawns making up just 26 percent of the Goodale herd and 28 percent of the herd in the Round Valley herd. Fawn survival was best in the Casa Diablo herd with nearly 50 percent of the herd consisting of fawns.

“Some of these migratory herds were hit real hard. It started snowing early and didn’t stop. We had significant mortality of both fawns and adults,” said Itoga.

Buck ratios also fell below the DFW management goals for these zones with the herds carrying from 19 to 23 bucks per 100 does. The DFW management objective is 35 bucks per 100 does.

For hunters hoping to draw a coveted Eastern Sierra tag for the 2017 season, the odds will be even tougher than most years. Here’s a summary of the hunts and their tag reductions.

— X9a will have 270 tags for 2017, down 380 tags from last year’s quota of 650.

— X9b will have 230 tags for 2017, down 95 tags from last year’s quota of 325.

— X12 will have 350 tags for 2017, down 330 tags from last year’s quota of 680.

— A16 (X9a archery) will have 30 tags, down 110 tags from the 140-tag quota last year.

— A17 (X9b archery) will have 210 tags, down 90 tags from the 300-tag quota last year.

— A18 (X12 archery) will have 40 tags, down 60 tags from the 100-tag quota last year.

— G3, the highly coveted late-season Goodale hunt will have 25 tags, down 10 tags from last year’s quota of 35 tags.

— G39, the even more coveted Round Valley late-season hunt will have just two tags in 2017, down from last year’s quota of five tags.

— J12, the special late-season junior hunt on the Round Valley herd, will have just three tags, down from the 10-tag quota in 2016.

In the past, the DFW would have probably kept tag numbers unchanged. The overall herd size is still well above the 25-year average and has been trending upward since 1997, according to the DFW abundance estimates for the Eastern Sierra management unit. The herd has been on a steady upward growth trend over the past six years, going from about 13,000 animals in 2010 to a modern high of 31,000 animals in 2015 and 2016.

Some deer hunters have questioned why now for a reduction in deer tags. Tag numbers have been at the same levels or higher when the deer herd was much smaller than it is today. For example, in 2013 ñ when the population estimate was just under 20,000 deer ñ tag numbers were 650 for X9a, 325 for X9b, and 680 for X12 general rifle seasons. Going back even further, in 1993, when the deer herd was around 15,000 animals, the tag quotas were 1,100 for X9a, 300 for X9b, and 1,500 for X12. But that was back when the DFW was managing for lower buck-doe ratios. During that period there were only 14 bucks per 100 does in X9a, 40 per 100 in X9b (which had a lower tag quota back then), and 12 per 100 in X12.

In the 1980s, when X9 consisted of X9a, X9b, X9c, and X12, the tag quota for this zone was 15,000 tags. It wasn’t until 1985 when X12 was split from the X9s and the quota was 3,000 for X12 and 9,000 for the X9 zone. It wasn’t until 1987 that X9 was split into X9a and X9b, but X9c was a part of D17 at that time and had been since 1986. Buck ratios for these herds during this era were sometimes at 10 bucks per 100 does or lower on some herd units. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the zones took their current shape and tag quotas declined to boost buck ratios and improve the quality of hunting. Seasons and tag numbers stayed pretty the same as they were last year for the past 20 years.

The 2017 tag reductions in the Eastern Sierra are mostly about increasing buck-to-doe ratios so the quality of these hunts in future years stays high. Buck ratios have been declining in recent years, and the addition of winter kill this year made the problem worse.

“We ran our model and decided maintaining tag numbers could have a significant negative impact on these herds’ [buck ratios],” said Itoga.

DFW data shows that the Eastern Sierra deer herd is capable of growing by 8,000 animals in one year, enough to make up for what it lost this winter. Between 2011 and 2012, the herd grew from about 12,500 animals to 20,500 deer. Similar growth this year would put the herds in the Eastern Sierra back at modern highs, and reduced tag numbers should bump buck ratios back up to near DFW goals.

Posted in JIM MATTHEWS | Comments Off on DFW reduces deer tag numbers in popular Eastern Sierra zones

Trump executive order asks for review of recent large National Monuments

Since the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906, Presidents have set aside federal lands as National Monuments by fiat.

Wand strokes.

Kingly decrees.

Any public input was usually one-sided and partisan or interest-group driven.

The act said the lands should be important “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, [or] other objects of historic or scientific interest,” but this has apparently has come to mean anything a president thinks is important, has a group he wants to placate, or shine up his legacy.

Teddy Roosevelt created the first national monument shortly after the act’s passage – Devil’s Tower National Monument – apparently knowing that someday it would be used as a backdrop for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” a wonderful Hollywood movie — or maybe as a future rockclimbing destination. It is an interesting rock formation, but what’s the great importance? It was a political favor.

Most presidents since have used the act to set aside historical sites for protection so they wouldn’t be sold off, plundered, or looted, but some – like Roosevelt’s first set-aside – were used for dubious reasons to protect natural resources which were already protected. Most changed little or nothing on the ground, except to add another layer of bureaucracy to the lands’ management. In most cases, the lands were still managed by the same management agency that was already managing them. In other words, most were for show.

For example, President Obama created more monuments with more acreage than any other president, with 34 designations covering over a half-billion acres, many of them very controversial, and none really falling within the scope of the original act.

President Trump, who apparently read the original act, signed an executive order recently (April 26) mandating that the Department of Interior, which oversees all monuments, begin a process to allow public review all monument designations over 100,000 acres made since 1996.

This, of course, was met with howls from the radical environmental community as an assault on the natural world – a flagrant lie – and there’s a sound a reason for the re-examination of the big parcel designations: The original act required that designations not exceed “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

Here in Southern California, four large monuments created since 2000 (one under Clinton and three under Obama) cover 2.6 million acres of existing public lands. Was that the “smallest area compatible” to protect – well, just want are these monuments protecting. What are monuments preserving on those 2.6 million acres that isn’t already protected under current management and laws? Ask that question and people look at you funny and scrunch up their face.

There were people advocating for the creation of National Parks for all four of these places, but there wasn’t the general public interest and political will in Congress to make it happen. They really didn’t fit for National Park creation. So the environmental community lobbied Clinton and Obama to take their pet projects to a faux finish line, and those, for show presidents, obliged.

However, a national monument is not a national park. The only thing most of these monument designations have done is stop mining on these lands and add an expensive layer of bureaucracy, which is needless and wasteful.

The Trump order directs Interior staff and asks the public to comment on whether the designated lands meet the criteria of the 1906 act, how the designations affect public multiple uses, if there were concerns overlooked when these monuments were created, and if there is funding available to properly manage these lands.

All the monuments in California (and probably all of them in the West) could and should be swept away tomorrow if funding is considered. The piggy bank is empty.

If there has been additional funding for the monuments, it came at the expense of other public lands in agency budgeting processes. The reality is that less money has been available for actual resource protection because of added staff. More importantly, there has been no additional money allocated for these new monuments. Any increases come at the expense of other public lands and programs.

Most are simply being managed the same as they were before the designations — with managers restricting public access as a way of coping with poor budgets for road and trail maintenance and repairs. Many managers have also used the designation as an excuse for closing routes (vehicle and hiking) under the guise of resource protection, without public input or heeding the original act’s specific instruction not to restrict public use.

The public review period on these monuments will begin May 12 and continue for 60 days (shorter for one in Utah). In Southern California, the four monuments up for review are Carrizo Plain, Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and San Gabriel Mountains national monuments. Other, smaller monument designations are also likely to be considered for revision or elimination under the new president’s order. If you live in the West, you have one in your backyard, too.

Some of us are pulling for total elimination of all these recent monuments, not just the big ones.

Six months from now the Department of Interior will submit a report back to the president with the public’s and agency staff’s recommendations.

The simple fact is that all of these monuments are an incredible waste of time and money with no benefit to the resource or its protection, and they simply don’t meet the criteria for designation under the 1906 act.

What are the odds the report will say just that?

Posted in JIM MATTHEWS | Comments Off on Trump executive order asks for review of recent large National Monuments

2016 – 2017 Shooting Time Table for Bird Hunting Southern California


Posted in Waterfoul | Comments Off on 2016 – 2017 Shooting Time Table for Bird Hunting Southern California

Raahauge’s Shooting Sports Fair June 3rd – June 5th

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 2.03.05 PM
Posted in Guns | Comments Off on Raahauge’s Shooting Sports Fair June 3rd – June 5th

Inmates are running the asylum:Anti-gun laws keep getting crazier

There was bad news this week for gun owners in California: three of the four anti-gun laws heard in the Assembly’s public safety committee passed out of that committee in their march to become the latest batch of senseless gun laws in this state. Two would expand the current definition of “assault weapon” to include all semi-automatic centerfire rifles with detachable magazines, and the third that moved forward would limit all gun purchases to one per month.

If someone could explain to me how those laws will do anything to reduce crime, help law enforcement solve crimes, or prevent mass shootings, I’m all ears. The only people they impact are legal gun owners.

But there is even more news this week: The California insanity is spreading. Maryland lawmakers are apparently are battling to get the front seats on the anti-gun hysteria crazy train.

This past week, a Baltimore legislator introduced a bill that would ban the sale, possession, and use of “imitation firearms,” targeting toys and air guns, unless they are brightly colored or can be readily identified by exterior markings — following in the footsteps of a similar California law already on the books. But the Maryland folks took it even further down crazy lane.

With no grandfather clause, anyone who currently owns a toy gun, air rifle, or air soft gun that looks like ñ just for example — a Colt .45 — could face a $1,000 fine and a year in prison. Are you laughing? Are you envisioning the juvenile courts and juvenile halls clogged with 12-year-old boys arrested with their Model 94 look-alike BB guns? Can you imagine a judge looking over his glasses tisk, tisk, tisking a creative college student who carved a wooden pistol with his pocket knife?

Oh wait, those same Maryland lawmakers want to ban pocket knives (and guns) on college campuses, too. Their concern is that horror of horrors: a college student with a wooden gun he’s carved with a –gasp! — banned pen knife. The Maryland prison population is going to explode when these bills pass.

All aboard the crazy train.

Posted in Guns, JIM MATTHEWS | Comments Off on Inmates are running the asylum:Anti-gun laws keep getting crazier

Grizzlies proposed for removal from endangered species listing

The environmental loon community is apoplectic this week. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was moving forward with the proposal to remove the grizzly bear in the greater Yellowstone region from the list of endangered species.

The grizzly population has grown to over 730 animals from a low of around 300 when they were listed. This is well above the minimum of 500 bears the management plan listed as a minimum for recovery. The bears are dispersing into areas they haven’t utilized for over 100 years and conflicts with humans have grown proportionally as the population expanded. Nearly 60 animals were killed because of human-bear conflicts in 2015, the most ever indicating the population has saturated its existing habitat.

The USFWS proposed delisting several years ago, but the lunatic fringe howled that loss of white bark pine and cutthroat trout, two major food sources of grizzly bears, were leading to the dispersal and forcing more human conflicts, not that the population had saturated its environment. But the professional scientists followed up on that train of thought and disproved the idea, saying the bears were versatile and adaptable not relying on a single food source.

It’s funny that if the science is settled on global warming, why isn’t the science settled on grizzly bears? All of the credible scientists say grizzly bears are recovered and continuing to expand their range, but the delisting will be balled up in court for another two or three years at least.

Why? Because the management of the bears will go back to the states now, and just like with wolves, the environmental loon community doesn’t like management that might include the killing of a few bears by sport hunters, who completely fund the state’s wildlife management program. They would rather have bears hit by cars or cubs killed an eaten by male bears because the population has grown beyond what its habitat will support. They lie that the shooting of a handful of bears would send them right back to the endangered species list.

As with wolves, the grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states will continue to grow and their range will continue to expand. Delisting is not a road to extinction; it’s a reason to rejoice. The species has recovered due to sound management. That sound management will continue under the states.

Posted in Big Game, JIM MATTHEWS | Comments Off on Grizzlies proposed for removal from endangered species listing

Musings on hunting as this year’s seasons end


This is the last weekend of the last of the popular hunting seasons in California, with waterfowl and upland birds seasons drawing to a close Jan. 31. For those of us who are avid quail and chukar hunters, this year has not been so much about shooting birds as it has been about taking long, quiet walks carrying shotguns through bird country with dogs and hunting buddies.

You see, quail and chukar numbers are at very low ebbs thanks to drought and rainfall that came at the wrong times to produce many young for the past several years. Since my Lab Duke and I hunt alone more than we hunt with other hunters, I suppose I should be honest and say there were a lot of days when I didn’t even bring the shotgun, preferring to leave the seed stock out there, hoping for a better season next year. It is fun to watch him work, and there were days he got snoot-fulls of quail scent. There just weren’t enough quail so I would feel comfortable taking a bird or two out of six or eight bird coveys, but there were enough to watch Duke’s roping tail and lope go into that happy ìbirds, birds, birdsî mode.

There were also places where the hunting was actually decent is you really wanted a few to eat. The Mojave Preserve had huntable numbers of Gambel’s quail at higher elevations, and Arizona Mearn’s quail were spectacular this year.

But chukar were dismal throughout the region. I didn’t talk to more than one or two hunters all year who had even heard a chukar until the last week or two of the season. Then I had a report of one guy getting into about 50 birds in the southern Sierra’s east slope near Inyokern, and another jumped a small covey of about a dozen north of Apple Valley. I relate these two reports because I know a lot of other good hunters who had pounded these same areas through the early part of the season and never saw or heard a single chukar. Not one.

For years, most of the chukar hunters I know start seeing paired up birds by the last couple of weekends of the season in our local desert mountains. The mate selection process is already beginning. But while on a long fruitless hike this week, after hearing the reports of chukar groups, I began wondering if chukar ñ especially in low birds years ñ start to aggregate in groups, perhaps coming from miles around to find company and go through the mate selection process before dispersing out across their habitat when it comes time to nest. I mean, seeing 50 birds in one area where no one else had seen any birds earlier in the season would lend credibility to that idea.

It also makes you wonder how far chukar move. For years, when they seem to disappear from whole mountain ranges and then suddenly reappear, I had wondered if anyone had ever done a study with radios to see how far chukar would move. Recently Shawn Espinoza, and upland bird biologist with the Nevada Division of Wildlife, told me of a 1980s study that showed chukar moved up to 35 miles from where they were fitted with radios. I’m not sure that would surprise anyone who’s hunted chukar and watched them flush off the top of a desert mountain range (usually out of shotgun range) and glide out of sight into the vast expanse of the Mojave. Or they fly across a deep valley and onto the side of a hill taller and steeper than the one you had just climbed to find them. (Chukar hunting is a young man’s activity.)

So it sort of makes sense to me. In poor bird years, the birds are going to be climbing up to vantage points and giving their raspy, gabbling call. Chukar hunters know they are social birds and the like company of other chukar, so it makes sense they would keep wandering around until they found company. Maybe all of the chukar for 35 miles in all directions were in that canyon near Inyokern to socialize and find mates.

Those are the kinds of things we think about on those long, birdless hikes in years like this.

Before I started hunting with dogs, I was certain valley and Gamble’s quail could turn invisible or do some sort of molecular evaporation and disappear from the open hillside where I watched them land and then reappear a half-mile down the wash calling, just to taunt me. Now, I know they will sometimes hold so tight that you literally have to stomp them out of cover, even low cover you’d swear wouldn’t hide them.

The waterfowl hunting has been very good this year. First, we again have a record number of birds in the flyway, and second, thanks to drought, they are concentrated on less water ñ or were until the rains late in the season scattered them all over the region. A flood control pond near my house had been dry until the recent rains, and it was holding a couple of flocks of mallard and teal this week. The green-up of vacant fields all over Southern California has Canada geese feeding all over the region. Those birds had been concentrated on golf course fairways and wildlife areas (where they could be hunted), and now those birds have spread out. Hunters have reported far fewer birds these last few weeks of waterfowl season. The early migrants will be heading north before too long. The seasons end at the right time.

Hunting seasons are long in the Southwest. Our rabbit seasons open July 1, quickly followed by the Sept. 1 dove opener, and then a plethora of season openers in October ñ from quail and chukar to waterfowl to deer. But it is all winding down now, and I’m already missing it.


Posted in JIM MATTHEWS | Comments Off on Musings on hunting as this year’s seasons end

Exasperated over latest gun control bills

It is exasperating.

Two anti-gun bills that will do nothing to solve crime, stop terrorist attacks, or increase the public safety have already been introduced into the California legislature this year.

AB 1663, introduced by Assemblyman David Chiu, would reclassify banned “assault weapons” to include all semi-automatic rifles with a detachable magazine or those with a “bullet button” magazine. For those of you who don’t understand the “bullet button” thing, it is simply that a pointed object ñ a pen, an counterpunch, a round of ammunition (“bullet” for those who don’t know the difference between a bullet and a cartridge) ñ can be used to depress a release that allows the magazine to be removed. Since these guns require a “tool” to remove the magazine, they are not currently included in the assault rifle ban.

AB 1664, introduced by assemblymen Marc Levine and Phil Ting, simply would ban semi-automatic rifles made with “bullet buttons.”

Existing guns with any of these features would have to be registered with the state (no later than 2018) and a registration tax paid. To fail to do that would make you a felon. All future sales of these guns would be banned.

Millions of gun owners in California have guns that fall into these expanded categories, and the Chiu bill will allow the state to charge whatever it wants to register the gun. The amount charged will be changed from “actual processing costs” to “reasonable processing costs” with Chiu’s bill. That little change alone makes me worry a “reasonable” tax that costs more than the gun is worth. That would be reasonable in Chiu’s mind, wouldn’t it?

But it is the basic premise of these bans that is so disturbing.

First, so-called assault rifles are used in very few crimes or murders. You are far more likely to get bludgeoned with a claw hammer or baseball bat than shot with a rifle of any kind. Those are the facts. Even the two terrorists who killed 14 and injured 22 others in San Bernardino would have been undeterred by either of these bills. They acquired the guns illegally and illegally modified them further. The assault weapon ban and 10-round magazine bans were ignored. And we probably shouldn’t forget that murder is already illegal.

The bottom line is that gun control does not impact crime, suicide, or terrorism rates, any more than Prohibition reduced alcoholism or bans on marijuana have reduced its use. Do we ban cars to stop drunk driving? Gun control simply doesn’t do what its proponents claim, and there seems to be a groundswell of thinking members of our society who are recognizing this ñ even people who do not use or like firearms. Yet, we have legislators in California (and across the country) trotting out the same old misleading, worn out, faux rationale for gun bans.

I’m exasperated because it means they are either stupid, unwilling to look at the data, and make rational decisions, orÖ.

The “or” bothers me most because I don’t believe for a second these people are stupid and buy into their own lying rhetoric. So the only conclusion those of us who own and use firearms can draw is that they know exactly what they are doing. They are discriminating against an entire class of people ñ people who own firearms, legally and peacefully.

In California, we long-ago banned most of the small, affordable handguns as “Saturday Night Specials” ñ those somehow “dangerous,” affordable guns that were cheap enough that a poor family in the ghetto could have personal protection. Another large batch of pistols dropped off California’s “legal” list this year. Very few semiautomatic pistols are available for sale here under the guise that the hundreds of other non-available are unsafe, including the latest, improved versions of those still legal here. We banned a whole class of autoloading rifles a few years ago. Piece-by-piece we are banning guns in this state. And the latest bills are just a further step in that march to disarm the public.

The reality is that all the banned guns are no more or less dangerous than the legal ones. The differences are mostly cosmetic, but each year we ban more, trying to keep firearms out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Criminals, insane people, and terrorists ignore the laws.

So why are politicians afraid of an armed public that could protect itself against home invasion robberies, carjackings, rapists, or even terrorists? Why?

Crime data proves that places with the most gun control have the highest crime and murder rates. Do you suppose that is because those breaking the law target those areas?

Do the politicians believe that only government law enforcement should be trained and armed? Do they believe those dedicated men and women will be able to protect us in all situations where we might need protecting? If they believe that is true, how are they going to respond to the families of those killed and wounded in San Bernardino. Police were there in less than five minutes and it was too late.

So, again, why are our politicians trying to remove guns from the public’s hands? What and who are they afraid of?

I wish I could answer that question, but I can’t, and it troubles me because there are no good answers.

Posted in JIM MATTHEWS | Comments Off on Exasperated over latest gun control bills

Mojave Preserve shuts down wildlife water restoration again

Goffs-B-118-photoBy JIM MATTHEWS

Here we go again.

Until this year, the volunteers for Cliff McDonald’s Water for Wildlife have worked on the Mojave National Preserve repairing and restoring wildlife water. Over a nine year period, the volunteers have restored 60 guzzlers that provide water for small animals and birds, restored five springs, and repaired a number of water tanks and windmills. Over 6,000 volunteer hours and $40,000 in private funding have gone into these efforts. Over 300 species of birds and at least 45 mammal species have been documented using these important water sources, which increasingly serve as mitigation for natural water sources lost to development and ground-water pumping across the Mojave Desert.

In January this year, McDonald was informed that their volunteer efforts would have to cease ìfor a short period of time,î while the NPS made sure the work was compliant with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

So McDonald adjusted his 2015 volunteer schedule off the Preserve to other public lands in the east Mojave Desert and on the Inyo-Mono county region. When he inquired in November about restoring eight more guzzlers in April and May, 2016 on the Preserve, he was told the volunteers wouldn’t be allowed to do work in 2016 either.

The reasons: The National Historic Preservation Act issue still hadn’t been resolved, and now the park staff didn’t want more work to be done until it was finished with its master Water Management Plan, a process that will probably take at least three more years. Imagine a muffled scream here.

A dozen years ago, McDonald went through the same set of denials and bureaucratic sleight-of-hand before he was finally granted permission to restore water for wildlife in the Preserve. It’s the same thing all over again. And for no reason.

The three-page letter from new Preserve Superintendent Todd Suess describing why McDonald’s work was stopped outlines in detail the two reasons. Let’s take them both in order:

The National Historic Preservation Act outlines how historic objects are to be protected and restored. The key feature is that they must be over 50 years old. Since virtually all of the guzzlers, cattle water developments, and developed (and natural) springs are over 50 years old, they would qualify. Apparently, the question is whether or not they should be included on the National Register of Historic Places, and Suess says his staff doesn’t have the expertise to make that determination, so they are ìseeking funding to accomplish the task through a contracted specialist.î

ìUntil we have made eligibility determinations, we cannot do any work on any potential historic structures,î wrote Suess.

I have a number of questions here.

First, since there is no other National Preserve or Park that has guzzlers, where are they going to find someone with expertise to make a determination? Even if there is such a person, shouldn’t that ìjobî request go to bid first, instead of the Preserve seeking funding for a task for which the preserve staff has no cost estimates?

Suess and his staff already have the authority to make a determination if the guzzlers are historic, and they have the authority to restore them (just like they have already done with Kelso Depot). They don’t need a consultant or specialist. I could quality as that specialist, call me, I’ll give them an answer for free.

Second, if the determination isn’t in the Superintendent’s hands, didn’t the previous Superintendents break the law by allowing McDonald and his volunteers do this work for nine years? I mean, the law has been around since 1966. And what about all those lovely historic windmills, and cattle water systems (that also served wildlife), and old ranches that were yanked out at the direction of the first Superintendent? Didn’t that 1966 law apply then?

Third, if the guzzlers are historic sites, the National Park Service would be required to maintain them. If they aren’t determined to be historic sites, the NPS could maintain them at its discretion ñ or more accurately, maintain them as called for in the Preserve’s management plan and its agreement with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Bottom line: The determination about their historic state has zero impact on what McDonald is doing.

But it gets even worse. Suess babbles on about the National Environmental Policy Act and how the California Department of Fish and Wildlife was given a categorical exemption (no environmental impact) and special use permit (used by McDonald) to repair guzzlers. This is because the repairs on guzzlers would not change the existing impacts to the environment, except to the positive. But somehow Suess wants to lump the Water for Wildlife work with other efforts to maintain and install much larger bighorn sheep drinkers along with a study that involves reactivating windmill sites for wildlife use.

ìThe sum of all these actions resulted in a large actionÖ and a decision was made to start a larger planning effortî that would be compliant with all environmental laws. ìUntil the Water Management Plan is finalized, I do not see it as prudent to permit specific, individual actions to maintain or retrofit small game guzzlers.î

How does this make sense? Why would you lump a project (guzzler repair), that Suess’ own letter compares to replacing a kiosk or campfire circle, with a project like building an entirely new campground in an undisturbed location? It simply doesn’t make sense.

And it gets even crazier. Even if — as the Preserve staff goes through the whole process of writing a draft Water Management Plan, allowing for public comment, then writing a final document — there is a crazy determination that all water should be removed from the Preserve, the work by McDonald’s crew will result in no change from the existing, pre-restoration condition.

Suess said his staff had looked at the eight guzzlers McDonald wanted to repair in 2016 and that they were all already holding water and with an El NiÒo predicted, it was unlikely they would dry up even in their various states of disrepair. He was saying that in the short term there would be no negative impact on wildlife that relies on that guzzler water.

So nothing will change if you do the work. Nothing will change if you don’t do the work. Nothing will change, except in the long haul. If the Water Management Plan sensibly determines that keeping water available for wildlife is a good thing, then why throw up a road block for Water for Wildlife for doing something now that has already been determined to have no negative environmental impact?

Shutting down this volunteer work is pure nonsense. If this doesn’t just make you scream at the insanity of government bureaucracy, nothing will.

It also makes you wonder if there really isn’t something else behind this effort to shut McDonald and the Water for Wildlife volunteers down.

Posted in Hog Hunter | Comments Off on Mojave Preserve shuts down wildlife water restoration again