In recent times the construction and maintenance of wildlife water developments for the stated purpose of conserving desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) populations has been controversial, especially within sensitive lands of the southwestern United States. A major portion of the controversy is whether wildlife water developments provide a benefit to populations of desert bighorn sheep and whether the associated incursion into the naturalness of an area is justified. Desert bighorn sheep are a valued natural resource and they exist today in small, isolated populations threatened with a variety of human-related impacts (e.g., disease, development, climate change, habitat fragmentation, water diversion). In this article I summarize the available published literature related to desert bighorn sheep and wildlife water developments and review the effects and consequences of water developments in desert bighorn sheep conservation. Based on my review, I contend that recent criticism of water developments has failed to adequately consider anthropogenic factors that can influence wildlife populations and their habitats. My review found that desert bighorn sheep benefit from water developments and that the role of active management of wildlife habitat, including the development of free-standing water for bighorn sheep where this component is unavailable, is justified as a means of mitigating negative anthropogenic influences in an otherwise natural setting.
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