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Desert Bighorn Sheep grow stronger with elixir of life

20 Jan 2016 | Cpl. Medina Ayala-Lo Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

As the largest Marine Corps base in the world, the Combat Center utilizes approximately 1,100 square miles of training area to conduct relevant live-fire combined arms training, urban operations, and Joint/Coalition level integration training that promote operational force readiness. The installation manages to do this while maintaining an awareness of the environment, shared land and the creatures that inhabit it.

The Guzzler Project provides man-made water sources for desert wildlife. The project aims to ensure the Combat Center remains a good steward of the environment.

“The Guzzler Project is a long-term plan that we have outlined in our integrated natural resources management plan,” said Martin B. Husung, natural resource specialist, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs. “Within that plan, we have a program to monitor and maintain the Desert Bighorn Sheep population that inhabits MCAGCC.”

The Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep helped install the guzzler systems with the purpose of providing a man-made artificial water source for Desert Bighorn Sheep. Due to the way the guzzlers are designed, birds, small mammals, coyotes, bobcats, and other forms of desert wildlife can use them too.

“The systems are very unique,” Husung said. “Each guzzler holds about 4,500 gallons of water, and is filled by rain water. In a scenario where we had a lot of wildlife using the guzzler and they started to run out, I would go in and manually pump water back into the system.”

Sheep, along with other desert wildlife, will not move unless they know there is a resource available. Through installing additional guzzlers in the center of the installation, NREA hopes to influence mating between the sheep populations in different areas.

According to Husung, this strategy will make for a more stable sheep environment because stronger genes are passed down to offspring and inbreeding is avoided, which makes the sheep population healthier.

“If I were to make an estimate, we currently have about 40-45 Desert Bighorn Sheep that utilize these water sources aboard the installation,” Husung said. “The way the guzzlers work is the mat collects rain water, and the rain water flows down a gravity feed system and fills up the tanks.”

NREA took the initiative to install the first guzzlers aboard the base more than 20 years ago. The rest were donated to the base by the SCBS, combining for a total of seven guzzler systems. Each requires little to no maintenance and is estimated to last up to 50 years.

“We have a large amount of land that we have to manage and part of being a good steward is being very proactive in the management of the resources and wildlife we’ve been entrusted to take care of,” Husung said. “The Desert Bighorn Sheep is just one of many things we have to take care of. We know we have sheep on the installation and we’re trying to do our due diligence to make sure that we provide the resources available to those sheep so they can sustain themselves, reproduce and survive.”


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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms