Desert Wildlife Unlimited holds annual meeting

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Hank Benton, Imperial, shows his grandson the Savage Axis .223 Remington Bolt-Action Rifle he won at the raffle.

BRAWLEY — Lions Center in Brawley was packed with Desert Wildlife Unlimited (DWU) members, composed of camo-wearing hunters and environmentalists, eating, laughing, and enjoying the camaraderie between those with more than an interest in the outdoors, but people who put their money, their time, and their efforts into allowing the fauna to flourish.  They gathered for their annual membership meeting and fundraiser, where they informed the crowd of the year’s work and, the highlight of the evening – auctioning rifles, shotguns, and archery equipment.

DWU formed in 1979 when the Bureau of Reclamation concrete-lined over 50 miles of the dirt-banked Coachella Canal, bordering the Chocolate Mountains. The lining cut off accessible water for the mule deer, desert bighorn sheep, burros, and other small animals and birds. The change caused the loss of 200 deer, bringing the local herd close to extinction.  Many animals died entering the canal, or falling into the canal, and drowning.

Leon Lesicka rose to the occasion, along with others concerned about the devastation the concrete lining was causing to the wildlife, and formed DWU. The group dug out old wells and installed windmills to bring the water to the surface for better drinking. What they discovered was movable parts break down and need a lot of servicing.  In time, through trial and error, they devised a system with no moving parts, no pumps, self-filling and life-giving. In fact, concrete steps are poured so even the desert tortoise can enter the drinker, drink, and walk back out safely.

Their system proved so successful, that the underground fiberglass, 20,000-gallon water tanks with the ground level drinker, and the catching system, over 100 drinkers have been placed throughout eastern Imperial County, Riverside, Arizona’s Grand Canyon and even Mongolia, according to DWU president Rob Yates.

Yates has been behind the helm for four years. Being president is not a full-time job, he has one as the project manager for a local construction company installing underground utilities.

“Ten core people make this organization run. They are the most selfless people I have ever worked with. They generously donate their time, money vehicles, checking the drinkers, maintaining them, doing installation,” said Yates.

However, the organization now does so much more than just drinkers. They run the Dove Field program where they populated 20 fields with doves, place maps at Walmart for visiting hunters, giving them a safe place to hunt.

They also have a Mallard duck and pheasant program. Robin Elmore coordinates one such program with 6th graders in seven different schools.

“We collect eggs from pens at Gibson’s Tool’s shop. They are placed in incubators donated by the Safari Club. Teachers explain to the children the whole egg cycle they see developing before their eyes, up to being hatched. Then the young chicks are raised in pens at the school until they develop their flight feathers, about seven or eight weeks old,” Elmore explained. “Actually, the chicks are almost at that stage now, so soon we will be releasing them to the wetlands DWU created.”

DWU is very child friendly Yates said.

“When we go out and check the drinkers, we go as a group, including our children. We will have a picnic out in the desert or a barbecue,” said Yates. “We want to teach our kids to be good stewards of public lands and the game animals. They are our future and they owe it to the past workers who provided such an abundance of mule deer and other animals. These populations are back on the rise. There was never a shortage of habitat, only a shortage of water.”

Yates is proud of the organization and the good it does for the county.

“Our work has such a public benefit, it is a benefit for all,” continued Yates. “Imperial Valley is the hunters’ destination, their arrival helps the economy. We have world-wide relationships which are a result of Lesicka’s outreach. I am proud of all the DWU does.”