Scores of volunteers and the state have delivered over 30,000 gallons of water to remote areas to sustain desert bighorn sheep this summer.
"If we want to preserve our state animal, we need to help desert bighorn along," said Mike Cox, big game biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Water developments or "guzzlers" catch and store precipitation and disperse it viadrinking troughs to a variety of animals. Desert bighorn sheep drink at least one gallon of water daily during the hot summer months. With the prolonged drought leaving natural water sources dry, Nevada Department of Wildlife biologists grew concerned. By early summer many guzzlers were low or nearly dry.
"Water levels were low going into the summer period," said Craig Stevenson, NDOW biologist. With just a few phone calls, funding was arranged and volunteers organized to ferry water into numerous water developments.
"We tried to fill them to levels that would get the animals through the summer and prevent projects from going dry," said Stevenson Water was delivered to replenish guzzlers via trucks and helicopters in this $95,000 effort, paid for entirely by Nevada Bighorns Unlimited - Reno Chapter, the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn and the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep.
"Climactic changes and human-caused changes to bighorn sheep movement patterns have challenged desert bighorns in accessing traditional sources of water," explained Cox. Typically, a desert bighorn would travel along mountain ranges and across valleys to reach the next water source. Human development has limited their options to survive and guzzlers were built to mitigate the loss of springs and the lost opportunity of the animals to travel.
NDOW and partners have enhanced water availability and distribution for both remnant and reintroduced herds to offset human impacts, but drought conditions have left guzzlers dry, limiting the bighorn's chances of survival. "We're compelled to help them survive, because we put them there, or man has restricted their ability to access other water sources" explained Cox.
Working in over 100-degree heat, suffering bee stings and hiking in steep terrain, volunteers showed their dedication to the state animal. At one water-drop operation in July, 70 sheep were waiting at the guzzler when crews showed up. "Obviously with 70 sheep waiting at the drinker the need was critical," said Jelindo Tiberti II, president of the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn. "Considering the brutal conditions that all these men worked under only makes their accomplishments more admirable."
In addition to the sportsmen's groups mentioned above, the following assisted in the project: The Sterling Gold Mine, U.S. Department of Energy - Nevada Test Site Fire and Rescue Crew, Bureau of Land Management Wildland Fire Crews (Pahrump, Las Vegas and Caliente), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Pahrump Valley Fire and Rescue Department, Mr. Keith Whipple, Valley of Fire State Park and the Moapa Valley Water District.
"Without our sportsmen's groups Nevada wildlife would be in a lot of trouble," said Cox. Bighorns were the focus of most large-volume water developments, however almost all the wildlife in are area benefits - bats, birds, lizards and a host of other mammals use guzzlers as well as desert bighorn sheep.