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December 19, 2014

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Columnist Barb Henderson: Workers help bolster water source

Barb Henderson is an outdoors enthusiast, freelance writer and producer/host of outdoors radio television programming. Her column appears Friday in the Sun.

While most folks enjoyed a gorgeous day at home this past Sunday, approximately 50 volunteers headed to work with picks, shovels and sledge hammers in hand.

The volunteers and material were airlifted by helicopter to the worksite amongst the rough, rocky steep terrain of the McCullough mountain range, with one goal -- to improve a water source for desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife.

"The majority of the materials were lifted to the site prior to Sunday," said Bill Vasconi, president of the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn."This took about four hours of slinging with the use of a helicopter. We started moving manpower to the site on (Sunday) at 8 a.m. and the last of the workforce was off the hill by 4 p.m."

Within the McCullough mountains are four water developments. These projects have been essential to improving habitat conditions and increasing the population of Desert Bighorn Sheep to 300.

"The wildlife waters may not be enough to ensure sheep remain in the McCulloughs. Development is steadily surrounding the range," said Craig Stevenson NDOW Habitat Biologist.

"During the planning process for the Sloan Canyon NCA, some people have proposed extensive hiking, mountain biking and horse riding trails, which wildlife biologists believe will have negative impacts on bighorn use of the area.

"Another concern is the proposed relocation of helicopter tour operations to the Sloan area. Flight paths are proposed over the main bighorn use area and would bracket one water development.

There are two types of water developments -- a slick rock and an apron project.

The slick rock consists of building a low structure dam at the base of a slick rock. The collection area has pipes coming downward from the dam toward the storage tanks and continuing down to a drinker.

During the construction of an apron, the ground is cleared and a huge tarp-like material or metal roofing panel is laid down to better gather precipitation. Pipes are placed in the ground running downhill from the apron toward tanks. After the precipitation gathers inside the apron the water flows in a downward slope toward the pipe leading to a holding tank and eventually drains into a drinker. A valve controls the amount of water being released.

Sunday's work actually begun in 1986, when about 35 dedicated volunteers first constructed McCullough No. 1, as a slick rock project. The development was later named "Linda," by the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn.

Linda served its purpose for years. However, for the past several years this development has had problems collecting the light rains, forcing wildlife to obtain water from the nearby Southern Nevada Liteweight Mine.

The upgrade included a 40-foot by 80-foot metal apron to improve the collection of rainfall, a fourth tank was added to expand the water storage capacity to 10,000 gallons and a dam was constructed in a nearby ravine to enhance the collection of rain from the slick rock. Volunteers, a helicopter, material and $18,000 were used to complete this task.

Though this job has been referred to as an upgrade. Perhaps it might have been better defined as a labor of love.

"These men and women were just as energetic and dedicated to preservation of the desert sheep as the volunteers were years ago," said Ed Pribyl, a founding member and past president of the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn.

This level of volunteerism is a prime example of the remarkable membership you'll find within this organization. The work will never be 100 percent complete. Members routinely check on the water developments.

"It is extremely important that we have and keep volunteers involved in the upkeep, checking on status, and doing the required upgrades and repairs on all the existing water guzzlers for the benefit of all wildlife in our desert surroundings," said Nevada State Wildlife Commissioner Clint Bentley.

"Thanks to the dedication of the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn over the last 40 years, there have been over 100 big game water guzzlers installed in the southern portion of the state. During extended time frames without rain the wildlife become dependent on these water guzzlers as their source of water to survive. Therefore it is imperative that the volunteers inspect and maintain these water guzzlers in topnotch shape."

For more information on the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn, click on the Internet at: www.desertbighorn.com.

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