• Viewpoint: Benefits and impacts of wildlife water developments

      Rosenstock, S. S.; Ballard, W. B.; DeVos, J. C. (Society for Range Management, 1999-07-01)
      Resource managers in the western United States have long assumed that water was a key limiting factor on wildlife populations in arid habitats. Beginning in the 1940s-1950s, state and federal resource management agencies initiated water development programs intended to benefit game species and other wildlife. At least 5,859 such developments have been built in 11 western states. Most state wildlife management agencies in the western United States have ongoing wildlife water development programs that vary greatly in extent. Ranchers and range managers also have developed water sources for livestock, many of which also are used by wildlife. Recently, critics have suggested that wildlife water developments have not yielded expected benefits, and may negatively impact wildlife by increasing predation, competition, and disease transmission. Based upon a comprehensive review of scientific literature, we conclude that wildlife water developments have likely benefitted many game and non-game species, but not all water development projects have yielded expected increases in animal distribution and abundance. Hypothesized negative impacts of water developments on wildlife are not supported by data and remain largely speculative. However, our understanding of both positive and negative effects of wildlife water developments is incomplete, because of design limitations of previous research. Long-term, experimental studies are needed to address unanswered questions concerning the efficacy and ecological effects of water developments. We also recommend that resource managers apply more rigorous planning criteria to new developments, and expand monitoring efforts associated with water development programs.