ST. GEORGE — State wildlife conservation officers typically deal with all sorts of hunting and fishing wildlife investigations, but they are now trying to solve who last month stole equipment used to keep wildlife hydrated in Washington County.
The incident happened in March in the area of Utah Hill, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. It's located between St. George and the Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area in the southwest corner of the state.
The unknown thief made off with a metal apron of what the division calls water guzzlers, which collect rain and snow from passing storms so that wildlife have access to water to survive in one of the driest states in the country.
According to the agency, guzzlers are mostly made of three components: an apron that collects water from storms, a storage tank to hold water and a trough for wildlife to drink the collected water.
There were nearly 900 of these structures across most of the generally-dry areas of the state as of 2017; the division wrote they didn't publish the exact locations "in order to provide some protection for the animals that use them." The state's guzzlers have been known to be used by all sorts of large animals like deer, elk, bison and bighorn sheep.
Rainy days like today are critical for wildlife! 🌧️ In addition to helping plant growth, rain means that guzzlers we've placed throughout the state will fill & offer drinks to thirsty wildlife.— UtahDWR (@UtahDWR) April 26, 2021
Video description: Bighorns checking out a guzzler on the Newfoundland Mountains pic.twitter.com/m7scPxLW29
DWR Sgt. Brandon White said in a statement Tuesday that without the apron, the damaged guzzler located in Washington County last month was useless. It meant that it could have a "direct and potentially life-threatening" effect on wildlife who would otherwise use the guzzler.
"Guzzler water structures are extremely important to countless Utah wildlife species because they provide critical water sources for these animals throughout the year, and particularly, during the hot and dry summer months," he said.
Anyone who may have information about the guzzler equipment theft is encouraged to contact the division through its UTiP hotline, 800-662-3337 or contact White at 435-616-9453. Individuals can all submit tips by texting 847411, through the division's law enforcement app or through its website.
Division officials said that all requests for confidentiality will be honored and that a reward is available for information leading to a conviction.
It wasn't immediately clear if the guzzler has since been repaired.
Despite a storm that passed through the state Monday, Utah's drought conditions remain extreme across most of the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor lists all of Washington County in "exceptional" drought status, which is the driest possible condition.
Earlier this year, wildlife biologists explained how the drought negatively impacts deer and other animals in the state. They reported a massive dropoff in the statewide deer population over the past two years. It's also why biologists recommended nearly 4,000 fewer general buck hunting permits within southern Utah hunting areas, which experienced some of the biggest population dropoffs.