Environmentalists and state game managers are locked in a battle over the man-made water holes that some biologists say are keeping bighorn sheep and other desert species alive in the drought.
As the Sonoran Desert National Monument south of Phoenix, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Bureau of Land Management want to update 16 "guzzlers" at a cost of about $20,000 each. Existing guzzlers — which use a concrete apron to capture rainwater, and are fenced to keep out cows — would get bigger underground tanks, greatly reducing the need to refill them with water trucks. Backers say the modified guzzlers will be more reliable, less conspicuous and require fewer intrusions into wilderness.
"I don't want to find out what will happen if those waters go dry in the summer for two or three weeks — that's a nightmare scenario," says John Hervert, a Game and Fish biologist. "You'd have a lot of dead animals."
But five environmental groups have appealed the plan, arguing that guzzlers are feel-good measures that actually spread disease, attract "killer" bees and give predators a convenient spot to ambush prey.
"Building guzzlers is really old-school, single-species management to grow big-dollar game species with little to no concern for the overall ecological effects," says Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
After environmental groups blocked the plan last year, hunting groups asked Interior Secretary Gale Norton to intercede. But in December, she declined the request, and the issue now sits at the Interior Board of Land Appeals, with no timetable for deciding it.