Elk NetworkCalifornia Volunteers Provide Dependable Water Source for Tule Elk

Conservation , Volunteer News | July 20, 2020

A 70-year-old pond badly needed a facelift. As one of few wildlife water sources on the 35,554-acre Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve, publicly-owned land available for all to access, the pond sits on the Chimineas Ranch and is heavily used by tule elk.

Located roughly 35 miles north of Santa Barbara, California, it captures water overflowing from an 80,000-gallon cistern originally constructed to serve an historic cattle feedlot. Though the business ceased operations in the 1980s, the water system remains but years of deferred maintenance left it eroding and in poor condition. Additionally, due to the presence of several endangered aquatic species living in the pond, emptying the pond even on a short-term basis was not an option. Neither was using local soil material to construct a new berm.

“Volunteers standing on the old berm that day were a general contractor, a retired auto service manager, a county road department employee, a travel agent, an industrial insulation salesman and a retired chief of police,” said Mike Post, Chimineas Ranch Foundation executive director and past chair of the San Fernando Valley RMEF Chapter. “Within that group, a problem-solving discussion was held. By the end of that meeting, it was agreed we would build a new berm in front of and on top of the old berm, and that the required materials would be obtained by the construction of a new ‘vernal pool’ site (seasonal wetland) below the pond to be fed by the redirected overflow from the pond. CDFW (California Department of Fish and Wildlife) was ecstatic over the new vernal pool idea and promptly gave an approval to the project.”

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation also took action by teaming up with several partners including the Chimineas Ranch Foundation and the CDFW. Thanks to fundraising efforts by its dedicated California-based volunteers, RMEF provided $10,000 in grant funding that helped leverage an additional $15,000 to pay for the overhaul.

RMEF volunteers mapped water pipelines on the site by using a metal detector and then painted and flagged the location of pipes for the contractor. Heavy machinery, including a front end loader, bulldozer, dump truck and compactor, got to work by rebuilding the berm to make it two feet taller with an erosion-resistant overflow. Thanks to a suggestion from a CDFW biologist, crews created a “borrow” area about 200 yards below the berm and sculpted the excavation so it replicated a large spring-like pool, which stores water from both pond overflow and rain storms. Volunteers also removed metal debris collected from the pond and disposed of it.

The upgraded pond now holds 15,000 gallons, measures three feet at its deepest point and provides crucial water and riparian habitat for the Chimineas tule elk herd which plays an important role in conservation for the species as a whole. It is also a popular water hole for birds and other wildlife species and is utilized as a walk-in area for upland game season.

Beginning in 2000, RMEF provided more than $50,097 in funding that leveraged an additional $144,090 in partner funds for eight habitat stewardship projects on the Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve.

RMEF also has another tie to the immediate landscape. Over a 12-year span, RMEF and its partners provided nearly $50,000 for an annual junior apprentice elk hunt on the Chimineas Ranch. Volunteers from the ranch and San Fernando Valley Chapter host the outings.

“We can’t say enough about our volunteers,” said Marshall Starks, RMEF regional director. “Thanks to their hands-on and fundraising efforts, tule elk have a reliable water source for years to come. And more and more young people are learning about hunting and its important link to conservation. We thank all for their past and continuing efforts.”

Go here to view a Restoring Elk Country video of the project.