Volunteers hauling water to help wildlife survive drought

According to climatologists at the University of Arizona, the state remains in the grips of a 50-year drought. Meanwhile, the fire danger is higher than ever, with many of the National Forests in Arizona still closed.

At the same time, pressure is mounting on wildlife. Bear, mountain lions, deer and elk are searching for water in residential areas, because there is none in the wild. However, one group of volunteers is trying to help by delivering thousands of gallons of water to wildlife in need.

Without it, the loss of elk and other wildlife would be devastating.

"This one we are working on today is a Game and Fish drinker," said Steve Clark, Executive Director of the Arizona Elk Society. "They have about 500 in the state."

Filling and maintaining these water catchments are volunteers from the Arizona Elk Society. Every day, they have been hauling water down these Forest Service roads to hundreds of catchments, one of which is located near Flagstaff.

"The U.S. Forest Service has about 1,500 little drinkers, little water catchments," said Clark.

They pump effluent water from water treatment plants in Flagstaff.

"This one here holds 10,000 to 15,000 gallons," said Clark.

Game camera video shows how desperate elk can be just to get a drink of water.

"Right now is calving season for the cow," said Clark. "Elk, it starts at the beginning of June, so they need water to produce milk."

It's proof every drop of water they deliver is being put to use.

"Elk drink about six to eight gallons a day," said Clark. "You get a heard of 40 or 50 elk -- we've seen pictures of 200 elk in a heard. That's a lot of water they can drink in a day."

One catchment is covered with corrugated metal, in order to catch rain water and funnel it into storage tanks below. However, there hasn't been much rain lately, so water is trucked in every day.

"This particular year is one of the worst," said Michael Anderson, team leader for Wildlife for Water. "It's one of the worst I've seen."

Anderson has lived in Fflagstaff his whole life, and he's never seen it this dry. They usually start hauling water in March or April, but not this year.

"This year was November, and we haven't stopped," said Anderson.

"Game and Fish tells us where the Elk are, where the concentration and where the highest need is, and we make sure those tanks are full," said Clark.

Elks aren't the only ones taking advantage of these water catchments.

"We have pictures of mountain lions. When you got out here this morning, we showed you some mountain lion tracks," said Clark. "There is deer out here. You got birds, you got bees, you got squirrels you got bats. Bats need water too."

The fence around this catchment is designed to allow wildlife in, but keep cattle out.

"You will see the bottom rail is about 18 inches off the ground," said Clark. "That allows the baby deer and elk and other stuff." Mature elk can just hop over this fence and the deer its real easy."

They even help area ranchers keep their water ponds full.

"Ranchers are calling us saying, 'hey we could use some help in 7 west unit 10. Your elks are drinking all our water,'" said Clark. "So we help the ranchers because they are our partners in wildlife conservation."

Without volunteers, none of this would be possible. The rewards are sometimes right in front of them.

"My thank you personally is seeing an elk come out of one of these tanks, then I know what we've accomplished is what needs to be done," said Anderson.

All of the money they use to deliver water and maintain catchments comes from donations or grants from the Forest Service and Arizona Game and Fish.

Arizona Elk Society