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Antelope Island Drought
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Wildlife Biologists Considering Flying Fresh Water To Herds On Antelope Island

ANTELOPE ISLAND, Utah — The drought across the western United States is now impacting wildlife at Antelope Island in ways not seen in decades. It’s bad enough biologists are considering something they have never done before: flying fresh water into the wilderness.

Experts said the bison on the island have what they need in the form of a 100,000-gallon tank installed a few years ago.

The biggest concern is for the herd of roughly 30 bighorn sheep on the island. The sheep typically like to stay in the steep terrain where a lot of freshwater resources are already dried up. This herd, which was brought to the island in January 2020, immediately used manmade guzzlers for their water, which Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist Steve Bates said have now dried up.

That’s why biologists with the state park and DWR are considering flying a fresh supply here with a helicopter, something they’ve never considered before.

“This is something new to us out here,” Bates said. “For the past 20 years, there’s always been sufficient moisture here on the island to carry the wildlife through.”

Bates said in the worst case, there will likely be enough spring water to last through the season. But he doesn’t want the Bighorn to forget the guzzlers as a primary source.

“We had a population of bighorn that died out a couple of years ago,” he said. “When we brought in the new population, they immediately went to the guzzlers, to use them. And so this is kind of a proactive preventive means. I don’t want them to lose contact with those guzzlers as a source of water.”

Now the challenge is figuring out the best way to fly a large amount of water out to an island surrounded by saltwater. It will likely be a few weeks before that happens. Bates said he is also concerned about the springs on the island because even if Utah does have heavy snowfall next year, it typically takes weeks or months before that flow comes into the springs.

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