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Lesicka receives award in D.C.

May 31, 2002|By MATT YOUNG

Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Most at home among bighorn sheep, deer and bobcats, Leon Lesicka hid his eyes behind tinted shades as he viewed the glare of downtown Washington.

Atop the Bureau of Land Management's headquarters, the 70-year-old Brawley resident remained quiet as an aide for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, described the powerful panorama.

The White House. The Capitol. The Pentagon.

Lesicka looked, and nodded at the aide's comments, but his thoughts often drifted back home.

Despite his expense-paid trip to Washington to receive one of only nine BLM awards for volunteer service on Thursday, Lesicka was itching to get his blazer off and get back to the Imperial Valley and his work as administrator of Desert Wildlife Unlimited, a nonprofit organization he founded to protect desert wildlife.

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‘‘It's nice, but I've got so much to do at home that I don't know I ought to be here,'' he said.

Lesicka said he wants to build more water tanks for thirsty desert creatures and get farmers to participate in his project to clean up the New River, which carries pollutants from Mexico and the Imperial Valley into the Salton Sea.

‘‘I'm retired and I'm working harder than ever,'' he said.

Lesicka created Desert Wildlife in 1979 when the Coachella Canal was lined with concrete. Lured by the canal water, deer went in to drink but couldn't get out over the concrete lining, he said.

To help keep deer from drowning, Lesicka began building easily accessible water stations around the Valley. By 1982 the Valley had lost a lot of deer, which worried hunters such as Lesicka as well as environmentalists.

Lesicka said he believes his volunteer group has helped prevent deer losses since.

More recently, he said he has been growing 27,000 acres of grain to keep doves from leaving the Valley. But Lesicka says that because he and many of his group's 250 members are hunters, his volunteerism hasn't always been met with cooperation from the BLM. The members don't hide that a main motivation in protecting deer is to improve their hunting forays. For instance, those water tanks have a nickname, Lesicka said: ‘‘Big-game guzzlers.''

Over the years, Lesicka said he has had difficulty getting permits from the BLM to build the water tanks because it was skeptical of the hunters' intentions. It once took him six years to get a permit to build a 10-foot-wide water hole for bighorn sheep.

Lesicka's New River cleanup also has a hunting facet. Lesicka helps clean the river by building filtration ponds, which collect nitrates, phosphates and suspended solids. According to John Ehlers writing in a July 2001 newsletter by the San Diego chapter of Safari Club International, ‘‘These ponds eventually will offer wonderful fishing, hunting and bird-watching opportunities.''

As for planting grain for doves, let's just say Lesicka is planning a trip to Argentina at the end of July to go dove hunting. But Lesicka said the majority of his organization's members also ‘‘realize nature needs help.''

Larry Caffey, chief of operations at the BLM El Centro office, said the healthier the game populations are, the better the hunting is. Caffey is a volunteer with Desert Wildlife Unlimited. Mike Pool, California director for the BLM, said, ‘‘I was completely fascinated with the work they've done down south,'' referring to Lesicka and his wife, LaVelle. ‘‘They're a couple I clearly admire from the heart.''

Lesicka said his wife's work is a major reason for the group's success.

‘‘If it wasn't for her we wouldn't get anything done,'' Lesicka said, thanking his wife for help such as driving water tanks across the desert. Hunter is especially fond of LaVelle.

‘‘She makes the best Coca-Cola cake ever,'' Hunter said.

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