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«ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT for a Proposal to Convert 12 Ranching Wells into Wildlife Guzzlers Mojave National Preserve, California Mojave National ...»

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Wells-to-Guzzlers Environmental Assessment page 1 of 43

ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT for

a Proposal to Convert 12 Ranching Wells

into Wildlife Guzzlers

Mojave National Preserve, California

Mojave National Preserve

2701 Barstow Road

Barstow, CA 92311

Wells-to-Guzzlers Environmental Assessment page 2 of 43

TABLE OF CONTENTS

SECTION I: PURPOSE OF AND NEED FOR ACTION

Introduction

Purpose and Need

Background

Related Laws, Policies, and Other Planning Documents

Environmental Assessment

Issues and Impact Topics

Issues and Impact Topics Identified for Further Analysis

Impact Topics Considered but Dismissed from Further Consideration............ 11 SECTION II: DESCRIPTION OF ALTERNATIVES

Introduction

Alternative A (No Action)

Alternative B (Proposed Action)

Alternative C (Science-Based Management)

Elements Common to All Alternatives

Alternatives Considered but Eliminated from Further Evaluation.............. 15 Environmentally Preferred Alternative

Impairment

SECTION III: AFFECTED ENVIRONMENT

Introduction

Location and General Description of Mojave National Preserve and the Project Area

Physical Resources

Biological Resources

Cultural Resources

Use of the Preserve

SECTION IV: ENVIRONMENTAL CONSEQUENCES

Introduction

Methodology

Criteria and Thresholds for Impact Analyses

Criteria and Thresholds for Impact Analyses of All Other Issues............. 25 Impairment Analysis

Cumulative Effects

Alternative A (No Action)

Alternative B (Proposed Action)

Alternative C (Science-Based Management)

Environmentally Preferred Alternative

SECTION V: COORDINATION AND CONSULTATION

SECTION VI: LIST OF PREPARERS

SECTION VII: REFERENCES

LIST OF FIGURES

Figure 1. Mojave National Preserve

Figure 2. 12 Wells Proposed for Conversion to Guzzlers

LIST OF TABLES

Table 1. Comparison of Impacts

APPENDICES Appendix A. Minimum Requirements Analysis

Appendix B. National Park Service Press Release

Wells-to-Guzzlers Environmental Assessment page 3 of 43

SECTION I: PURPOSE NEED FOR FEDERAL ACTION

INTRODUCTION

California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), in cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS), has proposed to retrofit 12 ranching water developments into wildlife guzzlers. The existing wells were originally installed and operated for cattle ranching. Most of the larger cattle grazing leases in Mojave National Preserve have been retired; in consequence, use of the associated wells has been discontinued and in many instances windmills, pump jacks, and other equipment have been removed by the ranchers.

PURPOSE AND NEED

The National Park Service is considering the issuance of a special use permit to facilitate a proposal from CDFG to reactivate historic man-made water sources for wildlife use. CDFG has proposed to redesign the water developments into wildlife guzzlers. CDFG has identified the need to augment the existing population to return wildlife populations to pre-well removal and/or shutoff conditions and numbers. Drought conditions over the past decade have increased the urgency to implement this proposal.

This environmental assessment (EA) addresses wildlife water needs in Mojave National Preserve. It examines natural and artificial sources of water. The CDFG proposal is assessed in comparison with other alternatives to consider a range of options and effects on wildlife and the surrounding environment. The EA considers the advisability of obtaining more information in order to adequately define the water needs of wildlife in Mojave National Preserve.

BACKGROUND History of Cattle Ranching in the Mojave Desert, California Cattle have been grazed in the Mojave Desert for over 100 years. Cattle ranching in the desert uses a system of water developments to move animals between various areas of forage to avoid over-utilization and maximize livestock production. The rancher turns off the water in one area and turns it on in another to move cattle within the allotment. When the wells are turned on through the use of windmills, pumps, generators, and so forth, water fills into a watering trough or other similar basin above ground. The watering troughs remain filled as long as the wells are turned on. Troughs are allowed to go dry when not in use.

When the California Desert Protection Act was passed in 1994, it established the rights of cattle ranchers to continue grazing at their 1994 levels. Since then, several ranchers have willingly sold their lands and grazing rights. Most of these lands have been donated to the US Government and the associated grazing allotments have been retired. The ranchers have the right to remove their personal property, including range improvements (Public Law 91-646, as amended).

Range improvements would include fences, water tanks, pipelines and windmills (43 CFR 4120.3-6 Removal and compensation for loss of range improvements).





Because the above-surface materials are being relocated elsewhere, the ranchers have shut off the wells that were providing the water for cattle. Ranchers have been removing their personal property since 2001.

Wells-to-Guzzlers Environmental Assessment page 4 of 43 Figure 1. Mojave National Preserve Wells-to-Guzzlers Environmental Assessment page 5 of 43 Figure 2: 12 Ranching Water Developments Wells-to-Guzzlers Environmental Assessment page 6 of 43 Wildlife Management Policies in Mojave National Preserve Wildlife management at Mojave National Preserve is summarized in the Preserve’s General Management Plan (April 2002). Consistent with existing laws and policies, the GMP identifies Mojave’s wildlife management goal to preserve and protect native wildlife and their natural habitat such that they support selfsustaining populations of native species.

Wildlife Guzzlers and other Artificial Water Developments in Mojave National Preserve Six big game guzzlers were installed in the East Mojave National Scenic Area in the 1970s and 1980s. They are located on Old Dad Peak (3), Kelso Peak, Piute Peak, and Clark Mountain. There are also 133 small game guzzlers scattered throughout Mojave. An NPS survey team was able to relocate 117 of these and assess their condition in 2004.

These guzzlers were installed over the last 70 years by agencies and interest groups prior to the creation of Mojave National Preserve. Their purpose is to enhance or replace natural waters otherwise used for livestock, for use by wildlife. California Department of Fish and Game and volunteers have performed periodic maintenance on some of the guzzlers.

The GMP also addresses wildlife guzzlers in Mojave. It allows for the continued maintenance and repair of existing artificial wildlife watering facilities – 130-plus small game guzzlers and six big game guzzlers in 1994 – for native wildlife if found necessary to replace water lost due to previous human

activities. In particular the GMP states:

“Simultaneously, with the retention of these developed water sites, the National Park Service will actively begin to restore natural water sources to be self-sustaining. When a water source becomes self-sustaining, the artificial facility will be removed. The National Park Service has no jurisdiction over developed water sites on private land.” (April 2002, p.

70)

Natural Water Sources in Mojave National Preserve

Numerous seeps and springs occur in Mojave National Preserve. Depending on rainfall these water sources can number from over 100 to almost 200. During

droughts many of these springs are reliable, perennial water holes including:

Piute Spring fed by recharge in the New York Mountains and storage in the alluvium of Lanfair valley, Soda Springs along the edge of Soda Dry Lake near the terminus of the Mojave River drainage, and Cornfield Spring fed by mountain front recharge in the Providence Mountains. Several regional water table aquifers extend partially into the park. The largest groundwater system in Mojave is the northerly extension of Fenner Valley. The total area of the Fenner Valley watershed is about 1100 square miles with about half inside the park boundary. Recharge to this system occurs primarily in the park at a rate estimated between 5000 and 70,000 acre-feet per year. East of this is the Lanfair watershed. Lanfair is the smallest groundwater system, 225 square miles, entirely within the park but is important for resources because of its approximately 150 gpm discharge to Piute Spring. About 90% of the Kelso groundwater system, approximately 650 square miles in area, is inside the park and supplies water to the park’s main Visitor Center and to the Union Pacific Railroad. About half of the lower Mojave River system, with an area of about 950 square miles, lies within the park boundary while the remainder is up Wells-to-Guzzlers Environmental Assessment page 7 of 43 gradient from the Preserve. This is the water supply for the town of Baker, the park’s maintenance and employee housing, and the Desert Studies Center at Zzyzx.

The north side of the park falls within the Ivanpah system, comprising an area of 435 square miles, about half of which lies inside the park boundaries. This system supplies water to a cluster of casinos at Primm on the Nevada state line and to the Mountain Pass mine in California. Finally, a corner of the Shadow Valley system, lies within the park and provides groundwater supplies to a gas station and a private residence.

Many small springs and seeps are fed by shallow, perched aquifers typically associated with the margins of mountainous areas. Since the volume of water in these perched zones is small, they are much more responsive to changes in precipitation -- flowing extensively during wet years and going dry during extended droughts. Nearly all ephemeral and perennial sources of water in the park have been modified extensively historically. Modifications include tunneling, hand dug wells, drilled wells, dams in drainage channels, excavated earthen catchments, and pipeline diversions.

Regardless of whether they have been altered, most water sources are available for wildlife use. The small springs and seeps are used by plants, wildlife, and for domestic or commercial purposes. The National Park Service is currently studying wildlife use of developed and undeveloped water sources in Mojave National Preserve. Up to 32 infrared-triggered cameras are being installed at various locations to record wildlife activity at these locations. Data will be collected with the cameras and through direct staff observation during the driest season. Data collection by these means began in 2005.

The California Department of Fish and Game believes the retirement of grazing allotments in Mojave National Preserve in the past five years has had a detrimental effect on wildlife populations. Because of these retirements and the shut-offs of associated ranching wells, CDFG has asserted, “it is critical to wildlife conservation within the Preserve to have many of these historical water sources reactivated by utilizing more appropriate technology in the form of wildlife guzzlers” (August 30, 2004 letter to Mary G. Martin, Superintendent).

RELATED LAWS, POLICIES, AND OTHER PLANNING DOCUMENTS

Servicewide and Park Specific Legislation and Planning Documents The NPS Organic Act directs the NPS to manage units “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” (16 U.S.C. § 1). Congress reiterated this mandate in the Redwood National Park Expansion Act of 1978 by stating that the NPS must conduct its actions in a manner that will ensure no “derogation of the values and purposes for which these various areas have been established, except as may have been or shall be directly and specifically provided by Congress.” The Organic Act prohibits actions that permanently impair park resources unless a law directly and specifically allows for the action(s). An action constitutes an impairment when its impacts “harm the integrity of park resources or values, including the opportunities that otherwise would be present for the enjoyment of those resources and values.” (NPS Management Policies 2001 1.4.3).

NPS Management Policies 2001 also require the analysis of potential effects of each alternative to determine if actions would impair park resources. To determine impairment, the NPS must evaluate “the particular resources and values Wells-to-Guzzlers Environmental Assessment page 8 of 43 that would be affected; the severity, duration, and timing of the impact; the direct and indirect effects of the impact; and the cumulative effects of the impact in question and other impacts.” (NPS Management Policies 2001 1.4.4). The NPS must always seek ways to avoid or minimize, to the greatest degree practicable, adverse impacts on park resources and values. However, the laws do give the NPS management discretion to allow impacts to park resources and values when necessary and appropriate to fulfill the purposes of a park, as long as the impact does not constitute impairment to the affected resources and values (NPS Management Policies 2001 1.4.3).

NPS units vary based on their enabling legislation and mission, their natural and cultural resources, and the recreational opportunities appropriate for each unit, or for areas within each unit. This environmental assessment analyzes the context, duration, and intensity of impacts related to the alternatives associated with conducting bighorn sheep management activities, as well as the potential for resource impairment, as required by Director’s Order 12, Conservation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis and Decision Making.



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