Nevada performs emergency water hauls to guzzlers in order to save bighorn sheep population

Nevada performs emergency water hauls to guzzlers in order to save bighorn sheep population

Photo credit: Brady Miller

Water is everything, especially to desert bighorn sheep. And, in Nevada, water is one of the main driving forces in keeping a healthy population of bighorns.

This summer was a difficult one in Nevada in terms of rainfall. To date, according to the National Weather Service, the Las Vegas area, for example, last saw measurable rain on April 20, 2020. That brings the total to 177 days since we last had measurable rain, which breaks a record that was set in 1959 of 150 days.

If you look at the United States Drought Monitor map image below, currently 100% of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, 99.36% moderate drought, 79.37% severe drought, 51.41% extreme drought and 5.8% is experiencing the highest level of exceptional drought.

Nevada Drought Status as of October 6

Drought status as of October 6, 2020. Source: US Drought Monitor

Emergency water haul to guzzlers

Guzzler Project

The Beko Guzzler Project pictured above.

With the direct impact to wildlife and especially desert bighorn sheep, an emergency water haul plan was developed to fly water to the guzzlers and fill them back up.

A guzzler is a human-made structure created to capture water. The apron structure above a guzzler collects rainwater or snowmelt and stores that water in tanks that then feed the water to a small drinker that wildlife can use. Many of the larger guzzlers have one or more tanks that typically hold 1,800 to 18,000 gallons of water. The survival of wildlife in certain areas of Nevada is dependent upon guzzlers; however, their benefit isn’t just tied to big game species like bighorn sheep, antelope, mule deer or elk. Upland game birds, rabbits and even small non-game species use these important man-made structures. Learn more about guzzlers HERE. It’s also worth noting and imperative that if you come across a guzzler and see that it needs repair to make sure to write down which guzzler it is (jot a note in your phone) so when you get back into cell phone range you can contact the appropriate wildlife agency so they can get it repaired. This is essential to also keep the guzzlers in working order.

Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) had been monitoring all guzzlers throughout this recent drought and they noticed a severe depletion of water. 

According to NDOW's Southern Region Water Development Biologist, Samuel Hughes, "The mountain ranges located in Southern Nevada have experienced a severe drought that has left many populations of desert bighorn sheep, who are habituated to artificial water sources, in jeopardy. These guzzlers deserve credit for re-bounding the population from the 1960’s historic low desert bighorn sheep crisis, they have allowed habitats that are perfect for bighorn sheep to be utilized because the only limiting factor was water. Now we have a responsibility to look after these populations.”

Number of bighorn sheep impacted

Helicopter filling up pumpkin

The helicopter dipping a Bambi Bucket into a pumpkin getting ready to deliver water to a guzzler. Photo credit: NDOW Biologist Samuel Hughes

Due to the extreme drought conditions, if this emergency project did not happen, there was the potential for the extirpation of numerous bighorn sheep herds throughout southern NV to be at risk. According to Hughes, "Without these water hauls, we could have expected to see a lot more mortalities throughout many more mountain ranges."

Water haul details

Helicopter dropping water on

The project began on Oct. 1 and the state went after this project in a two-stage fashion to ensure proper coverage of water at all guzzlers was available to wildlife. The two-stage process involved filling a small amount of water in every guzzler at first. This then allowed bighorn sheep and other animals access to the essential water. After all guzzlers were given the baseline water amount, then each guzzler was flown to again and topped off with water. 

In total, 22 guzzlers were impacted by this drought and now all 22 have water again! Those 22 guzzlers encompassed nine different mountain ranges of southern Nevada: McCulloughs, Muddys, Arrows, Meadow Valleys, Desert Range, Delmar Mountains, Bare Mountains, Spotted Range, Pintwaters, and the Las Vegas Range.

The emergency project used 126.1 hours of helicopter flight time in order to deliver an estimated 112,000 gallons of water. While most of the water was flown via helicopter (roughly 180 gallons per bucket of water per trip), there was an additional 2,500 gallons of water pumped with a firehose to the Cliffside guzzler. 

According to Hughes, "This water haul encircled all divisions of NDOW to come together and pull off the unthinkable by planning 22 guzzler water hauls in 13 days from the National Test and Training Range to BLM public land."

Contributors to this project:

Nevada relies on non-governmental organizations to help keep animals on the landscape and provide critical volunteers to work on these projects. These groups purposely fund projects that help bighorn sheep remain on the mountain. All of the bighorn sheep in these areas of Nevada wouldn’t be there without the Nevada Bighorns Unlimited and the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn.

Nevada cares about its wild sheep!

Helicopter dropping water on

Helicopter dropping water on the collection apron which then gets pipped into tanks for storage and goes to the drinker for wildlife to drink out of. 

Nevada is the king of wild sheep and the effort of the state and involved nonprofits further showcase how dedicated everyone is to conserving these amazing animals. 

Nevada has dealt with huge drought cycles in the past; however, at the same time, the state has never had the amount of wildlife dependent upon the guzzlers. A huge thanks go out to everyone who contributed to this emergency water project. Without the help of NDOW’s hard-working staff and biologists, healthy bighorn sheep numbers wouldn't be possible.

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