The Oak Creek Wildlife Area covers 67,100 acres in Yakima and Kittitas counties, about 15 miles northwest of Yakima. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) first acquired land in the area in 1940 to provide a home for the growing Yakima elk herd that was conflicting with private landowners, orchard growers and livestock producers. The area now has a winter feeding program that has helped to reduce damage to agricultural lands and also provides a great opportunity to see elk up close.
A wide variety of other wildlife species are also visible throughout the wildlife area, including mule deer, California big horn sheep, mountain goats, forest grouse, turkey, quail, chukar, and a myriad of small mammals. The area also provides habitat for a variety of neo-tropical and upland birds, raptors, reptiles and amphibians.
The topography of the wildlife area is dominated by steep, rocky slopes, a rolling series of ridges and canyons. The Naches and Tieton rivers run through the middle of the Oak Creek Unit, supporting endangered salmonids, including bull trout. These rivers are fed by perennial streams, including Oak Creek, South Fork of Cowiche Creek, Rock Creek, Gold Creek and Milk Creek.
Open ridges and southern slopes at the lower elevations support sagebrush, bitterbrush and rabbitbrush. Bluebunch wheatgrass is the most prevalent native grass. In the early spring the area is full of color with wildflowers scattered across the rangeland.
At higher elevations, the vegetation transitions to conifer forests. Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, sub alpine fir, Engelmann spruce and western white pine can all be found as elevations increase in the Rock Creek Unit. Oregon white oak grows in the riparian zones and adjacent lower canyons of the Tieton River, Oak Creek and Cowiche Creek.
The wildlife area is managed in three units with some areas in a checker-board pattern of ownerships between WDFW, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the U.S. Forest Service, with scattered private in-holdings. In 2012, WDFW and DNR completed a land exchange, allowing DNR to consolidate ownership on Bethel Ridge, Rattlesnake and Little Rattlesnake Creeks. The latest acquisition was in 2014, with the purchase of 2,900 acres in the North Fork Cowiche Creek Area.