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Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn gets involved with Southern Nevada wildlife

Updated May 17, 2017 - 5:47 pm

When it comes to wildlife conservation, there are those who talk about it and those who get their hands dirty doing it. Unfortunately, the talkers tend to get noticed instead of the doers.

In Southern Nevada, the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn is a group of conservation doers that donates money and time. The group spends most of its time getting sweaty and dirty on behalf of Nevada’s wildlife.

I became familiar with the fraternity in the early 1990s during a conservation project funded by that organization. The project involved the installation of large water tanks in an area so remote that all the required materials had to be flown in by helicopter. Those tanks were to be part of a self-contained system that collects and stores rainwater for the benefit of desert bighorn sheep.

A large group of fraternity volunteers climbed into a narrow canyon in the Muddy Mountains, and with picks and shovels built a platform on which the tanks were placed. The group was comprised of business owners, laborers, professionals and retirees, all working for the conservation of desert bighorn sheep.

In the canyon above the tanks, volunteers repaired a small dam so rainwater trapped behind it could be channeled through a pipe down the canyon to the tanks. From the tanks, water would be fed into a drinker that can be accessed by bighorn sheep and other wildlife species.

The volunteers worked for hours as sweat rolled down their faces and blisters tore open on their hands, but no one complained. Instead, they laughed, told jokes and shared stories of projects past. At day’s end, the group packed tools and hiked back down the canyon, leaving behind a source of water that benefits wildlife species and bighorn sheep, and taking with them a sense of satisfaction.

The Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn was founded in 1964 as a nonprofit, all volunteer organization. It has no salaried staff. The money raised goes directly to conservation projects that will help “keep Desert Bighorn Sheep on the mountain.”

Through the years, the fraternity has worked with the Nevada Department of Wildlife and other conservation organizations to build 115 water developments across the Southern Nevada landscape. Those developments provide a storage capacity of 732,000 gallons, according to the fraternity.

The fraternity also provides funding for other aspects of bighorn sheep conservation, such as the state’s sheep trapping and transplant program. The organization’s contributions have helped to restore sheep to much of their historic range from which they had been extirpated.

In the late 1960s, the state’s bighorn sheep population was about 2,500. There are more than 12,000 today, inclusive of the state’s three sheep species. Desert bighorn account for about 10,000 of those animals.

The fraternity is funded through donations, membership fees and money generated through its annual banquet and auction. The 53rd banquet is scheduled for Saturday at the South Point. Doors will open at 5 p.m., with dinner at 7. For more information, go to desertbighorn.com.

Safe Boating Week

The annual boating season officially begins Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, with it comes fatalities. In 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard documented more than 4,150 recreational boating accidents that resulted in 626 deaths, 2,613 injuries and $42 million in property damage.

Near the top of the list of primary contributing factors are operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout and excessive speed.

Seventy-five percent of the deaths were by drowning, and 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets, according to the National Safe Boating Council.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by NDOW. Any opinions are his own. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.

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