Published: November 2006
Author(s): Dale Swedberg
The Sinlahekin Wildlife Area (SWA) (~14,000 acres) was established, by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), in 1938 for the purpose of protecting and managing mule deer winter range in the Sinlahekin Valley about 2.5 miles south of Loomis, Okanogan County, Washington State. Most of the property was acquired through fee title purchases using Federally administered Pittman-Robertson Funds (PR funds) generated through a federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition. Additional lands were acquired through title transfer from the Federal Government. About 2,800 acres of federal lands under Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administrative authority were withdrawn by Presidential Executive Order and turned over to Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife for management as part of the â€�"Sinlahekin deer winter rangeâ€. Today, management of the SWA is with the intend to provide functional habitat based on historic ecosystem processes and habitat dynamics to sustain populations of all species of fish and wildlife present and in at least one case create habitat conditions that will allow reintroduction and sustainability of a mountain goat population which has been extirpated, since the late 1970â€™s, by habitat degradation through fire exclusion. Further the SWA is managed to provide fish and wildlife oriented recreational opportunities.
SWA has the distinction of being the oldest Wildlife Area in Washington State. Management goals for the SWA are to preserve and restore habitat including the processes that maintain healthy functioning habitat, i.e., fire and flooding, and species diversity for both fish and wildlife resources, maintain healthy populations of game and non-game species, protect and restore native plant communities, and provide diverse educational, recreational and research opportunities for the public to encounter, utilize, and appreciate fish and wildlife and where they live.
Recognized for its value as mule deer winter range in the mid-1930â€™s, lands in the Sinlahekin Valley were acquired. The first parcels were purchases from Okanogan County at a tax sale in 1939, using Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Funds (Pittman-Robertson Act) generated from federal excise taxes on firearms and ammunition.
Most of the private lands and Indian Allotment lands now comprising the SWA were subjected to grazing, dryland and irrigated agriculture and some logging. Most of the Federal lands, which are part of the SWA, had limited mining, grazing and logging. Fire exclusion has been a primary focus on all lands within the SWA, however prescribed burning to a small degree was used in the past. In the 1950â€™s exotic shrubs were planted as an experiment to determine what species of shrubs could be planted to enhance browse for deer. A number of these plantings can still be seen and many have died out from weed control efforts, fire or climatic conditions.
The SWA complex including SWA, Driscoll Island Wildlife Area and Chiliwist Wildlife Area are all jointly funded with Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act dollars. The total annual operations and maintenance budget under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act fund is $24,313 with non Federal Aid being $135,827 for a total annual O&M budget of $160,140. This amount includes salary and benefits as well as funds for combined management, including weed control, of SWA, Driscoll Island and Chiliwist Wildlife Areas. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration funds are matched, at a ratio of $4 Federal Aid funds to $1 of state funds, by other funds generated by WDFW through license and tag sales. The Department will, as part of the implementation of this plan, continue to submit grant proposals and applications and identify other strategies to address unfunded management needs on the SWA.
The 510+ species of vascular plants found on the SWA contributes to a diversity of vegetative communities plus the rocks, cliffs, streams, lakes and ponds, which collectively form the various habitats for the birds, mammals, herptiles (reptiles and amphibians), and fish. Over 215 species of birds, 60 species of mammals, about 20 species of reptiles and amphibians, over 25 species of fish and 90+ species of butterflies are confirmed or suspected of being present on the SWA during some part of their life cycle. In addition to factors already identified other factors contributing to, and allowing for, the tremendous wildlife diversity include: Elevation range: 1,100â€™ to over 4,000â€™ ASL, Temperature range: â€"20o to 110 o Fahrenheit, Precipitation range: 12â€ â€" 20â€ annually and Slope range: level ground to vertical rock cliffs.
Big game hunting, upland game bird and forest grouse hunting, fishing, bird watching, wildlife watching, hiking, horseback riding, trapping and camping are the primary wildlife oriented recreational pursuits enjoyed by many people since the SWA came into existence. Historically the SWA has been a destination for excellent Mule deer hunting, however, in the last 30 â€" 40 years, White-tailed deer have become the dominant species present.
Primary management concerns and public issues identified in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area Management Plan include:
- Complete Connor to Forde Lake and Forde Lake to south Blue Lake trail projects
- Complete Doheny WHIP project
- Complete Mule Deer Foundation Rx burn project
- Continue aggressive weed control efforts
- Prepare and implement a fuels treatment project in area logged winter of 2003-04 in preparation for coordinated fuels treatment and Rx burn with USFS
- Complete Fire Regime Condition Classification (FRCC) mapping
- Survey and/or mark/sign a minimum of 10 miles of SWA boundary
- Complete layers on SWA GIS project including Fence, Fence features, artificial nest structures, roads, culverts, campsites, toilets, signs, reader boards, power poles.
- Visit all known Dalmatian Toadflax and Russian knapweed sites at least twice to monitor and initiate appropriate treatment.
- Complete self-guided tour project
- Work with private, county, state and federal land managers to promote use of prescribed fire, in a coordinated effort on all lands, to improve wildlife habitat, i.e., North Central Washington Prescribed Fire Council
- Apply for at least one grant or other funding opportunities consistent with planned priorities to supplement funding