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Outdoor Tales: Desert Wildlife Unlimited

January 24, 2002|By AL KALIN, Staff Columnist

The most important event of the year will be at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Lions Center on A Street in Brawley. It's the annual Desert Wildlife Unlimited's raffle and barbecue.

What's so important about this event, you ask? Well, if you are one of us who enjoys the outdoors here in the Valley, you owe Desert Wildlife Unlimited a debt of gratitude. What this organization of dedicated men and women, founded by Leon Lesicka of Brawley, has accomplished is legendary.

The group was originally formed to help save the deer and desert bighorn sheep in our eastern desert by constructing self-filling drinkers that provided wildlife with a source of water during dry months as well as drought years.

This was particularly important shortly after the Coachella branch of the All-American Canal was concrete-lined. Before the lining project, deer and even bighorn sheep watered along the banks of the canal during the hot summer months. After the project was completed many deer and some bighorn sheep were found floating dead in the newly lined canal because they could not climb the steep, slippery concrete sides of the canal after searching for water.

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Each location for a drinker is carefully studied and site locations are picked for their natural ability to channel rainwater into gigantic buried tanks. Many of the drinkers are designed to fill with only a quarter-inch of rain and provide drinking water for up to two full years.

Since DWU was formed, hundreds of drinkers have been installed. DWU still continues to install drinkers in our desert but not resting on its laurels, the group, led by Lesicka, has pursued other projects.

While scientists argue about the best method to save the Salton Sea, Lesicka and his group have quietly gone about developing a method that could eventually be used to improve the quality of the water in the New and Alamo rivers before it enters the Salton Sea. Two experimental wetland projects have been completed with the help of government funding and are being studied to determine how effectively they are cleaning the New River.

I recently visited the larger of the two projects, west of Forrester Road. It was educational to watch muddy water flowing in one end of the project and exiting crystal clear as a mountain stream before flowing back into the muddy New River.

The ponds were teeming with life as the water slowly flowed through the cleansing reeds. Waterfowl and many species of shore birds lined the projects feeding on aquatic insects and, mosquito fish. Overhead, flocks of Forster's terns wheeled above the ponds diving for the mosquito fish.

It wasn't difficult to imagine a full-scale project, one that would handle a large portion of the river's flow and furnish hundreds of acres of ponds full of bass, crappie and bluegill just waiting for fishermen to catch as well as affording hunting opportunities for waterfowlers.

The full-scale projects would dramatically increase the acres of wetlands, a precious commodity for migrating birds that continue to shrink yearly. More than 90 percent of California's wetlands have disappeared as urban sprawl has continued to expand.

Even though these wetland projects are designed to clean up our two major rivers, it's easy see what other great benefits will be offered by the increase in visitors taking advantage of the recreational opportunities and adding income to the Valley's coffers, thus improving our local economy.

Speaking of improving our local economy, DWU launched another major project last year. It was designed to bring more hunters into the Valley for dove season. To bring in more dove hunters you first have to attract more doves, and that's exactly what Lesicka and his friends from DWU accomplished.

Starting with a $40,000 California Fish and Wildlife heritage program grant, as well as donations from farmers and different businesses in the Valley, DWU leased 750 acres and planted strips of wheat and safflower. A few months before dove season, they chopped the plants, thus scattering the seeds and attracting thousands of doves for opening day.

Hunters came by the thousands and local economies received a welcome boost as money was spent in local stores, restaurants, motels and gas stations. The project was so successful that state funding has doubled for this coming year and more than 1,500 acres of upland gamebird habitat is being planted in preparation for next Sept.1 when dove season opens.

And that, folks, is why DWU's annual raffle and barbecue is the most important event of the year and needs your support. Only $10 buys a yearly tax-deductible membership and the barbecue is included in the price. Thousands of dollars in gifts will be raffled at the event. Raffle tickets are available from any DWU member or at the door.

If you can't make it to the annual event but want to donate, mail your $10 to DWU, 4780 Highway 111, Brawley, CA 92227, or call 344-7073 for more information.

>> Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at akalin@quix.net

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