In response to years of drought, Southern California conservationists are planning to install water stations in inland desert regions that are home to bighorn sheep.
The Southern California News Group reported Wednesday that the nonprofit Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep will install up to 90 stations throughout the Mojave Desert, Chuckwalla Valley area and elsewhere. The proposal was approved last week by California's State Lands Commission.
The move comes as desert watering holes have dried up and less vegetation is growing due to drought, said James Cornett, an ecologist who has taught a course on bighorn sheep at University of California, Riverside.
With fewer places to find water, herds may see their movement limited and that can lead to inbreeding and additional problems for the population, Cornett said.
"When we put in artificial watering holes, we’re kind of playing God of course," Cornett said. "But because the populations are so small, anything we can do to help that doesn’t cause secondary problems is a good thing."
The plan is install rain catchers with underground storage tanks and a drinker box near the top of the tank that the sheep can safely access. Each station requires up to $40,000 to install and also must be maintained.
The Society obtained a 10-year lease to install the stations. Staff at the State Lands Commission said the project is in California's interest due to the drought.
Earlier this year, a popular hiking trail in Joshua Tree National Park was temporarily closed so bighorn sheep could access a key water source amid extreme drought. An estimated 100 to 200 desert bighorn live in the park, among a population of about 13,000 in parts of California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah, according to the park's website.