CASPER, Wyo. — Sometimes, pictures are all the proof Lander-based Water for Wildlife Foundation needs.
The group raises money to build and install guzzlers — varying types of water tanks sprinkled around the state’s dry, arid landscape. When donors ask if they work, the group shows them the evidence.
Within days of being installed, remote-censored trail camera pictures near the guzzlers display not only the animals targeted for water relief such as elk or bighorn sheep, but also pronghorn, songbirds and even a bobcat, said Erica Flom, executive director of the foundation.
And the animals keep coming.
Water for Wildlife and partner organizations from around the state recently installed another five guzzlers throughout Wyoming to offer a vital resource to thirsty wildlife. One on Elk Mountain in northeast Wyoming has the picture with the bobcat – though also ones with dozens of bighorn sheep, elk and deer. Other guzzlers include one at Seminoe Mountain to benefit bighorn sheep; one at Platte Valley Springs to help everything from elk and moose to song birds and raptors; and one at Bull Creek to provide water for elk, pronghorn, sage grouse, turkeys and other birds.
The contraptions are intended to provide water to animals during periods of drought and also expand their ranges into areas where they might not otherwise be able to live, Flom said.
Water for Wildlife started in the early ‘70s, as an offshoot of the Lander One Shot Antelope Hunt. A group called the Past Shooters Club decided to help some of Wyoming’s pronghorn living in the parched Red Desert by offering consistent water throughout the spring, summer and fall.
“We’ve gone through periods of severe drought, which affect all of us, from ranchers to wildlife and you and I,” Flom said. “With that, we’ve realized it’s more than just antelope that need these, it’s all species. Water for Wildlife restructured itself to encompass all species from birds and waterfowl, large game, small game, everything from A to Z.”
Since then, the group has built more than 450 water projects across 12 states.
Rex Lockman is among the true believers. As wildlife range specialist for the Laramie County Conservation District, he’s seen them work. Pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and other upland game birds flock to water tanks sprinkled around southeast Wyoming. Builders install stairs or ramps into the tanks to provide access – and an escape route if needed — no matter the water depth.
He estimates Laramie County alone houses nearly 100 guzzlers, ranging from small ones targeted specifically to birds and larger ones used more frequently by deer or elk.
“In areas we have installed guzzlers, there’s definitely an increase in birds using them,” he said. “I definitely think it’s a beneficial thing to install.”
While Lockman is not much of a bird hunter, he has reaped the rewards of the systems in areas where he hunts big game.
Each guzzler is just a little bit different depending on the area, said Ryan Amundson, statewide habitat biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Some operate by wells hooked to solar panels, others have sophisticated roof systems used to trap and funnel rainwater into holding tanks.
“During a really droughty year like 2012 or 2002, those were years we saw some of the tanks just not getting replenished, and they get pretty low. You rely on Mother Nature to fill some of those tanks up,” Amundson said. “In a lot of cases we’re hoping to create water sources that are a greater distance than 1 mile away from other sources. Some of them might be 3-5 miles from another permanent water source.”
The tanks have become particularly useful for Wyoming’s bighorn sheep populations. Wyoming and the West is covered in high mountain, desert-like terrain that has enough food to support bighorn sheep but often lacks water, Amundson said.
That means bighorn sheep either travel great distances from the rocky slopes where they feel comfortable down to creeks or reservoirs to drink – risking burning critical body fat or exposing themselves to predators – or they simply move on.
Amundson is Game and Fish’s point person for helping Water for Wildlife decide which projects are viable.
Guzzler prices can run anywhere from $1,500 up to $10,000 to build and install depending on location, materials used and size. Water for Wildlife also requires each system have someone in charge of regular maintenance, Amundson said.
“Developing water provides some of the most instantaneous benefit to wildlife,” Amundson said. “We do prescribed burns and plantings that takes years to see benefit, but water is instantaneous, and that’s really good.”