Habitat - Wildlife Area Management
Date Published: November 2006
Number of Pages: 79
Author(s): John McGowan and Leray Stream
Acquisition of the Oak Creek Wildlife Area properties was initiated in 1939 to provide a home for the Yakima elk herd to reduce conflict with private landowners, orchard growers, and livestock interests. Land purchases continued from 1940 through the 1970’s in the Oak Creek, Cowiche, and Bethel Ridge areas and trades with DNR and Boise Cascade resulted in the current Wildlife Area of approximately 43,000 acres that includes alternating sections of DNR ownership. Most of these lands were purchased with Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Funds. An additional 10,000 acres were recently added to the Wildlife Area with the purchase of the Tieton lands from the Nature Conservancy.
These lands provide a diverse mix of low elevation open shrub-steppe and forested habitat that provide key deer and elk winter range, approximately 20 miles west of Yakima, in Yakima County. A supplemental winter-feeding program was started at Oak Creek around 1968 to control wandering herds of elk to minimize damage to surrounding private lands, and miles of eight-foot high elk fence were constructed to stop elk movement into lower elevation agricultural lands during winter months. The feeding operations supports a popular viewing opportunity and provide the Department of Fish and Wildlife with excellent public relations and educational opportunity, with over 100,000 visitors passing through the Wildlife Area each year.
The Oak Creek unit is surrounded on three sides by lands under management of Federal or State agencies, including the USFS Wenatchee National Forest (Naches Ranger District), WDFW (Wenas Wildlife Area), and Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). These agencies manage their lands for natural resource protection, with objectives for salmonid recovery, enhanced range and forest condition and production, and beneficial wildlife management activities. WDFW and DNR are currently negotiating a land exchange to allow both agencies to manage their properties more efficiently since it consolidates a large portion of their respective ownerships. It also significantly increases the certainty that ‘at risk’ shrub steppe lands will be protected in perpetuity for fish and wildlife resources and related recreation.
The primary management concerns and public issues identified in the Oak Creek Wildlife Area plan are:
- Protecting and enhancing shrub-steppe, riparian and forest habitats.
- Maintaining fish and wildlife populations through habitat protection and enhancements.
- Monitoring and managing the impacts of public use on wintering elk and other species.
- Providing public access compatible with fish, wildlife and habitat protection.
- Controlling noxious weeds identified by the Yakima County Noxious Weed Board.
- Protecting fish habitat and water quality by monitoring detrimental impacts.
In 2006, WA staff continued efforts to control elk herds by maintaining supplemental feeding, fence maintenance, and winter range closures. Approximately 150 acres of recently logged area in the N. Fork Oak Creek was reseeded as forage enhancement for elk. Grant applications for the acquisition of 300 acres of riparian habitat were successful, and cooperative management of large land ownerships adjacent to the Wildlife Area were continued. Public education, information stations, wildlife viewing, and various administrative efficiencies were also accomplished in 2006.
Plans for 2007 include: act as lead for a cooperative prescribed burn on the Tieton lands; initiate a large-scale forage reseeding project utilizing a two-year RMEF grant; inventory and draft an updated RMAP for the Wildlife Area; complete installation of a high-speed internet system and wildlife cameras; and begin infrastructure removal and enhancement projects on the Oak Flats riparian project. Additionally, all of the normal activities noted in 2006 above will occur in 2007.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2006. Oak Creek Wildlife Area Management Plan. Wildlife Management Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia. 79 pp.
Draft documents are provided for informational purposes only. Drafts may contain factual inaccuracies and may not reflect current WDFW policy.