California Wildlife Get a Drink
by Annette Howell, South Central Coast Chapter
Sometimes a girl like me just needs a little encouragement to get a good thing done. Case in point: in 2008, John McGray with the Back Country Horsemen (BCH) Los Padres Unit began coaxing me, as a local Forest Service employee, to replace the dilapidated water tank above the old Gifford Ranch house. The tank is located east of Santa Maria on California Department of Fish and Game land surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest. The site is part of what used to be the privately owned Chimineas Ranch, and now hosts an annual RMEF youth tule elk hunt.
A year later, John broke out the Hot-Shot and started prodding me along. In response, I applied for and received a PAC grant from RMEF for funding to help replace the tank, which provides water to a system of troughs located on the national forest. This area is a popular public deer and elk hunting area accessed by foot or on horseback.
In 2010, with John riding herd over me, I finally arranged for the new tank to be purchased and then flown by helicopter to the remote project site. The Aviation Plan alone took a year to get pushed through the Forest Service channels for approval. Funding to purchase the tank came from the BCH and the livestock grazing permittee, Dow Ranch. Our local Forest Service fire suppression helicopter and crew flew in the new tank and flew out the old one.
Another year passed and as you can imagine John was by now a burr under my saddle for sure! I vowed to get the project done, and set an installation date. Then wouldn’t you know it—it rained and rained and rained! John puts the whip and spurs to me again, so I set a new installation date. The week before we were set to go, Forest Service crews repaired roads and removed downed trees to allow ATVs to access the Gifford Ranch project site.
Finally the big day arrived! March 12, 2011, will no doubt go down in history—somewhere. Ross Nyswonger (Dow-Chimineas Ranch livestock manager), Mark Gomes (Chimineas Ranch Foundation) and Randy Jokela (BCH) hauled pipe, fencing supplies and tools from the top of the ridge to the project site on ATVs. The rest of our 10-person, three-horse, five-mule and four-dog crew came in from the Gifford Trailhead off Highway 166. Those on two legs included John McGray, of course, Bob and Melody Stone (USFS and BCH), and RMEF South Central Coast Chapter volunteers and BCH members Dan Point and Butch and Adam Newton. The mules packed in additional project supplies—like chocolate chip cookies—and equipment such as a generator to run power tools.
Everyone got to work preparing the new tank pad. When it was time to move the tank into position, someone yelled, “Now everybody PUSH on the count of three!” Sounded like a good idea, except that everyone was evenly spaced around the tank. Finally, we hooked the tank up to the existing pipeline and—success! Three gallons per minute flowed from the Gifford Spring, down the pipes and into the tank. We then erected an exclosure fence around the tank and pipe connections to keep livestock from damaging them.
This was a multi-year and multi-partner effort that was well worth the time and energy it took to finally see water flowing again. RMEF funding and volunteer help allowed us to finally see this project through to completion. Water in this country is scarce during our dry summer months, and the tank is vital to elk, deer and other wildlife, along with recreational and commercial livestock.
A big "thank you" to John McGray for prodding me along, to Helicopter 527 for bringing the tank in, to Ross Nyswonger and Butch Newton for their technical support in grant writing and planning, and to all of the volunteers who helped install the new tank! Happy trails!