There is a creek that runs through Madera Canyon, but it is dry like many other water sources in the state.
For years, Arizona Game and Fish has transported water to the canyon and other wildlife areas across the state to fill man-made pools or catchment areas to provide water to wildlife.
The number of trips they make has steadily increased over the years as a drought stretching on for nearly 20 years. As of January, AZGFD has made an average of at least two trips a week bringing water to 60 wildlife catchment areas in southeastern Arizona.
AZGFD Public Information Officer Mark Hart held two hoses together when one was not long enough to reach the water intake.
AZGFD spokesman Mark Hart said their Water for Wildlife program is gaining traction as arid conditions persist.
“This is an unprecedented drought, at least historically, and it is affecting wildlife, the landscape and us. But more vulnerable are the creatures and habitats that have to be outdoors, ”said Hart. “You don’t get any alternating current. They don’t get any water unless it rains, so we have to get it out. “
On Thursday, Hart and Tucson volunteers drove a nearly 1,000 gallon water tugboat to one of three drainage areas in the canyon, not far from the Proctor parking lot. It’s been around since the 1960s; AZGFD maintains 3,000 catchment areas in the state.
Tucson AZGFD Volunteer Coordinator James “Spud” Hester said the drainage area they fill is popular with wildlife in the canyon. He said there were bears there less than two weeks ago.
“They are here all the time using this water,” he said of the animals. “This catchment area, you see how disrupted it is, that gives you an idea of how many animals use it. We would call that heavy use. “
They usually only need to fetch water in summer, but for the past two years it has been winter and summer, Hester said.
“We haul a lot more in the summer months because it’s really dry now,” he said. “We don’t expect it to get any better. From now on it will be more critical every year. “
Dale Bradshaw volunteer fills the watershed.
Last year, AZGFD Tucson shipped 173,000 gallons of water to locations like this one. This year they have already hauled more than 73,000. In 2019, they dragged in 155,000 gallons.
“The past four or five years have been more each year than the year before, and this year has gotten to a point where demand is draining our resources,” said Hester. “As far as we travel as often as we can.”
The catchment areas are designed so that the animals have access to an area that has water and a limited risk of falling.
The water comes mainly from the city of Marana, with which AZGFD has a contract. They have also received water for catchment areas through other communities as far as Tombstone, along with individuals who have volunteered to bring water themselves.
The annual budget for AZGFD’s Water for Wildlife program is $ 200,000, excluding staff and fleet costs.
Volunteer Dale Bradshaw and AZGFD spokesman Mark Hart bring the hose to the catchment area.
“The water isn’t free,” said Hart. “We have to pay for it, like we do for Marana, that’s why donations are largely there to pay for the water. Since we are mostly staffed by volunteers, there are no salary costs, but there are fleet costs because when using these vehicles, fuel etc.
Hart said donations are vital to funding the program, and in 2018 they launched the Send Water fundraising campaign that raised $ 317,000.
“We’ve been hauling this for years, but it wasn’t a problem until recently when we had to haul so much,” said Hester. “People called and wanted to donate water to wildlife. At first we didn’t know what to do with it so we called Phoenix and they actually started a fund. All paid-in money flows into the fund. “
Volunteer Dale Bradshaw waits for water to flow through the hose.
AZGFD does not receive any tax money from the state and is dependent on donations in addition to things like hunting or fishing licenses and a federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition, which is returned to wildlife authorities through grants for projects.
The Madera Canyon drainage basin will likely be around three months now that it is full. But there are a variety of factors that affect the durability of the water, including evaporation and rain.
Hart said the program would not be possible without volunteers.
“We have rangers doing normal jobs and in a normal year they could fetch water, but this is an unusual circumstance so volunteers come to the rescue,” he said. “They are the heroes for the wildlife.”
AZGFD Tucson Volunteer Coordinator James “Spud” Hester.
For AZGFD, the Water for Wildlife program is one of the most important services.
“There won’t be any animals,” said Hester. “Bears will die, coatis will die. That’s the most important thing we do. Down here we were unlucky not to get any rain. That’s pretty much all. “
Jamie Refer | 520-547-9728