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Converted Cattle Troughs at Carrizo Plains ER Help Wildlife Access Water
  • July 13, 2022
Wildlife water trough with view of Carrizo Plain in background

Windmill fed water trough on American Unit with view of the Carrizo Plain.

Old windmill with trough at Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve
Former windmill site on American Unit, now provides water with electric pump. Popular elk hangout.

Guzzler which feeds wildlife troughs at Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve
Fossil canyon guzzler/tank system installed for Eagle Scout Project.

Rain collection roof at Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve
Rain collection roof in Fossil canyon. Installed by Boy Scouts.

Wildlife at the 38,900-acre Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve in San Luis Obispo County have a little better access to water than what the land naturally offers. There are about 30 water troughs spread throughout the reserve—all fed by water storage tanks and guzzlers via miles of underground piping.

The water infrastructure hails from the heyday of cattle grazing in the 1970s. CDFW inherited the aging system when it purchased the land in the early 1990s. The system has since been converted for wildlife use by CDFW and is maintained by staff and volunteers.

“It’s such a good combination of the past, present and future,” said CDFW Habitat Specialist Joe Lambirth. “Using windmills and troughs from the past, we tweaked the system and made it better through improvements like installing solar pumps and piping that lasts longer. I’m sure in 10 or 15 years someone will find a way to make our system better. I’m kind of counting on it.”

Around 2005, CDFW began converting the cattle troughs for wildlife use. Staff came across a design for a trough that was being used by a local rancher. The troughs were eight feet long, made of concrete, and low to the ground—a durable design that would allow a variety of wildlife to access water from them. CDFW staff worked with the trough manufacturer to increase the length to 12 feet and added a cover to protect the float assembly.

The troughs are used by a variety of wildlife at the reserve including deer, elk, antelope, kit foxes, mountain lions, bears, reptiles, bats and many bird species.

When choosing trough locations, staff consider the needs of the wide variety of species that will benefit from their use.

“We try to find the right mix of open area and cover. Some wildlife might need to shoot out from a bush and get back quickly. A golden eagle might look for a perch that it can use to swoop down from. We try to put troughs near wildlife corridors like streams or canyons so the animals’ natural migration will lead them through the area,” said Lambirth.

Most of the troughs are fed by 5,000-gallon water storage tanks. A 5,000-gallon tank will typically feed a wildlife trough for at least two months, even in the heat of summer.

Visit CDFW’s Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve web page for more information.

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