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Work and wildlife: combining passions for the outdoors to give animals access to water

It was a long road, but new and rehabbed water sources are helping Nevada’s wildlife thrive in the Goshute Mountain Range

A bull Rocky Mountain elk stops by one of the new guzzlers for a drink.

By Josh Vittori, Project Manager (Reno, Nevada)

As someone who loves the outdoors and animals, I think there is no question that the domestication of the horse greatly aided human development. It’s part of our heritage, especially in the West.

For some people, a horse is the most beautiful animal on earth. Unfortunately, in the deserts of Nevada, once domesticated horses were turned loose over the last 50 to 100 years and now roam the countryside struggling to find their place in the natural environment. In the Goshute Mountain Range of northeastern Nevada, natural springs that once provided abundant riparian habitat and a water source for the native wildlife—including mountain lions, elk, pronghorn, and birds—have been decimated by the local horse population. These water sources (seeps and springs) became significantly impaired from overutilization. With Nevada seeing less annual rain fall than any other state in the US, every drop is important—for people and animals.

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A mountain lion takes a drink from one of the new guzzlers in the Goshute Mountain Range of northeastern Nevada.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) began looking for solutions to quickly solve this problem. Because so much of the land in question is under federal control, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) became a partner and agreed the available water and riparian habitat for wildlife should be enhanced. This meant preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA). As the project took shape, partners quickly realized they needed help preparing the EA and Stantec was called in to assist. Other interested parties joined, including the Nevada Bighorns Unlimited (NBU), the largest grassroots sportsmen organization in the state. Although my day job for the last nine years is a professional biologist with Stantec, I also volunteer my time with the NBU, where I’m a current director and immediate past-president. This presented a unique opportunity for me to contribute to the project.

With the help of Kristi Schaff, the company’s Nevada National Environmental Policy Act lead, our team donated nearly $50,000 worth of volunteer time to the project over the course of several years. In conjunction with the agencies and other interest groups involved, we prepared the EA, and a subsequent Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for approval was issued by the BLM allowing protection of the springs and creation of two new wildlife guzzlers.

Pronghorn antelope approach a guzzler, which captures rainwater and stores it in underground tanks.

What’s a “guzzler”?
When I say “guzzler” you may think about your favorite carbonated beverage from the convenience store. What it means in the deserts of Nevada is something entirely different. A guzzler catches rainwater and snowmelt, storing it in a system of tanks—in this case tanks holding upwards of 10,000 gallons of water. The unit includes a unique self-leveling drinker, which means there are no mechanical parts to malfunction. A special fence surrounding the whole system excludes livestock and the wild horses but allows wildlife access.

For the first guzzler build in late July 2016, nearly 60 volunteers from NDOW, the sportsmen groups, and Stantec prepared the area and constructed the guzzler. NDOW built the second site and the protective spring fences. The projects became a new water source for the wildlife throughout the mountain range. 

Golden eagles stop at one of the two guzzlers installed in the Goshute Mountain Range. A wide variety of wildlife are benefitting from improved access to fresh water.

Water to drink
In the past year, there have been numerous documentations of a wide variety of wildlife using the guzzlers. Photos from motion cameras at the two sites show Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, mountain lion, coyote, red fox, golden eagle, Cooper’s hawk, short-eared owl, kestrel, and chukar regularly quenching their thirst at the guzzlers. A multitude of bat species and other small mammals are also visiting the sites.

In addition to the obvious good for the wildlife, the project represented a significant achievement because the spring protections and new guzzlers were approved within a designated Wilderness Study Area, which to our knowledge had never been done before.

For Stantec, this project meant helping the State of Nevada. For me, it meant bridging the gap between my professional and personal passions. For the native wildlife, it meant habitat restored and water to drink.

Josh is passionate about wildlife management, both as an environmental science project manager and as someone who enjoys Nevada’s wide-open spaces. He leads teams that focus on biological surveys and monitoring, along with biological conservation and mitigation.

In the Goshute Mountain Range, natural springs that once provided abundant riparian habitat and a water source for the native wildlife have been decimated.

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