Wildlife oasis: Volunteers, firefighters repair Siskiyou County water guzzlers

Bill Choy
Siskiyou Daily News
Volunteers repair a water guzzler, a vital water source for wildlife in Siskiyou County.

Man-made water sources critical to the survival of Siskiyou County wildlife are being repaired by volunteers and state agencies.

Goals are to repair and refill wildlife guzzlers now and into next summer, throughout Siskiyou County in the Klamath National Forest and Shasta Trinity National Forest. 

His organization received a $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation of the North State (CFNS) to help pay for some of the repairs, Ore-Cal Resource Conservation and Development executive director George Jennings said.

Many of the more than 230 guzzlers in Siskiyou County are not working, he said.

The guzzlers are needed to help wildlife affected by drought and wildfires over the last two years, he said. With severe drought occurring in the state and lakes dying up, these water guzzlers provide a needed water source and gathering place for a wide variety of wildlife, from deer to bears and eagles. Drought is becoming a life and death situation for animals and maintaining these water sources is of the utmost importance. 

A water guzzler damaged by fire. Guzzlers provide water sources for wildlife in Siskiyou County.

“They are so many animals that are using them to drink,” Jennings said. “In a drought, there's so few places out there.” 

As of Wednesday Nov. 10, most of Siskiyou County is in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 

Humans lend animals a hand

Water guzzlers usually are constructed of plastic or aluminum and become a lifesaver for many thirsty animals. A working guzzler gathers rain and snow, storing it in its reservoir tank. Tanks range in size from 500 to 1,800 gallons. Set slightly below ground level, they normally have steps, stairs or a drinking platform that allows wildlife to reach the water.

When damaged — due to wear and tear, or fires over the summer including the Lava Fire and Antelope Fires — they lose their precious water.

Teams repaired some of the guzzlers located in the heart of decimated burn areas, Jennings said. Those guzzlers are an oasis in a fire-scorched wilderness to which animals gravitate.

A volunteer puts water into a guzzler. Repairing and refilling the water source's reservoir is especially important to wildlife in burn areas.

Among the volunteers and agencies repairing the guzzlers are people with North State fire agencies. They're using fire hoses to fill them.  

Before the current drought, 89 Siskiyou County guzzlers were deemed non-functional, Jennings said.

Years of volunteer work increased the functioning guzzler number to 140 by the beginning of the 2021 fire season, but many were damaged or destroyed in fires — 20 just by the Lava Fire.

Harold Duchi, a retired California Fish and Game commissioner, has been a key person helping maintain the guzzlers in Siskiyou County, Jennings said. 

“He has been a driving force, for many years, for locating and maintaining over 230 guzzlers in Siskiyou County,” Jennings said.

Volunteers replace a water catcher for a guzzler in September 2021.

Other groups and volunteers involved include the Siskiyou Fish and Game Commission, the Cal Deer Association, Rocky Mt. Elk Foundation, the Turkey Federation, the United State Forest Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.   

For more information or to donate funds to repair the guzzlers go to the Ore-Cal RC&D Council's Giving Tuesday page at https://bit.ly/3ChPdHC; or mail tax-deductible contributions to Ore-Cal RC&D Council c/o Guzzler Project, PO Box 383, Yreka, CA 96097.

Bill Choy covers sports and general news for the Siskiyou Daily News/Mount Shasta Herald/USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter at@SDNBillChoy. Email Bill at bchoy@siskiyoudaily.com. Support local journalism by subscribing today.