The Sinlahekin Wildlife Area (SWA) owned and managed by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) was the first wildlife area in Washington State, established in 1939 with the purchase of 2 parcels at a County tax sale. Most of what is now the SWA was purchased by 1943. An additional 2,833 acres of Federal lands, within and contiguous to WDFW owned lands, under Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administration was withdrawn by Executive Order of President Roosevelt in 1941 and set aside to be managed by the WDFW as part of the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area. Today the SWA is consists of over 14,000 acres.
The WDFW is mandated to preserve protect and perpetuate Washington’s fish and wildlife and the habitat they depend on while maximizing wildlife oriented recreational opportunities. To quote from the old sign at the entrance to the Sinlahekin headquarters road, "This area (Sinlahekin Wildlife Area) was acquired primarily as winter range for mule deer. Its multipurpose acreage also ensures permanent populations of grouse and pheasants. The project provides lasting and diversified benefits to hunters, fishermen, campers and tourists. Purchased by the Department of Game (now Department of Fish and Wildlife) on behalf of the sportsmen of Washington. The Sinlahekin is available to all who wish to enjoy outdoor recreation."
The SWA is one of many state wildlife areas upon which the WDFW manages multiple resources and uses, including timber; forage; recreation; fish and wildlife habitat; archaeological, paleontological, and historical sites. On the SWA there are 10 priority habitat types, 540+ species of vascular plants including 9 threatened or rare species, 43 mammal species, 173 bird species, 86 butterflies species including 1 state candidate species, 13 herptile (reptile & amphibian) species, 16 fish species, 20+ aquatic and terrestrial mollusk species including 1 federal candidate specie, 75 spider species including 5 new state records.
Most of the SWA is dry forest habitat that historically was subjected to and characterized by frequent fires. That is to say fire free intervals were short in duration resulting in very light fuel accumulation with resultant fires tending to be very mild. Plant communities, comprised of mostly fire dependent plant species, subjected to a frequent fire regime have more open ponderosa pine forest structure with less dense stands of brush. For over 100 years fire has been, for the most part, excluded from the fire dependent habitat on the SWA. In the absence of fire the ponderosa pine forest has increased in density, expanded into what were formerly steppe and shrub-steppe habitats. Other consequences of fire exclusion include: 1) an increase of Douglas fir, which competes with ponderosa pine for sunlight, nutrients and moisture; 2) an increase in stressors to ponderosa pine such as insects and diseases causing increased mortality; 3) a decrease in fire dependent species such as quaking aspen and evergreen Ceanothus; and 3) generally degraded wildlife habitat.
In cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service – Tonasket Ranger District, the WDFW – Sinlahekin Wildlife Area is undertaking dry forest habitat restoration including fuels reduction using mechanical and hand thinning and reconfiguration with fire regime restoration using prescribed fire. This effort will restore resiliency and sustainability to the fire dependent habitat of the Sinlahekin, reduce the risk of severe wildfire, and improve wildlife habitat. This effort will also create jobs and help the local economy.
Explore the photos taken over time at Sinlahekin Valley (WDFW lands)
to see how citizens are helping to generate scientific data.
"Here at Sinlahekin we're working to restore a healthy, fire-dependent ecosystem dominated by a combination of ponderosa pines and shrub steppe vegetation."
This project was made possible through support provided by the United States Forest Service, U.S. Department of Interior and The Nature Conservancy, under the terms of Cooperative Agreement #07-CA-11132543-049. The content and opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the USFS, DOI or The Nature Conservancy, and no official endorsement should be inferred.
This project was made possible through support provided by the Washington Biodiversity Council (active 2004–2010).
From Tonasket west on 4th Ave across Okanogan River to the Hwy 7 Junction. Turn right (north) on Hwy 7 and proceed north to the Loomis Hwy Junction continuing on (west) to Loomis. Drive through Loomis and proceed straight (west) into a sweeping left turn onto Broadway Street which turns into Sinlahekin Road. Proceed south on Sinlahekin Road about 3 miles where the road enters Sinlahekin Wildlife Area.
From Riverside north on SR 97 to about Mile Post 304.6. Turn left (west) on the South Pine Creek Road. Proceed west about 7 miles where road enters Sinlahekin Wildlife Area.
From Oroville south on SR 97 to Ellisforde, turn right (west) on Ellisforde Bridge Road. Proceed west about .75 miles then turn left (south) on Hwy 7. Proceed south to the Loomis Hwy Junction and Hwy 7. Turn right (west) onto Loomis Hwy and proceed west to Loomis. Drive through Loomis and proceed straight (west) into a sweeping left turn onto Broadway Street which turns into Sinlahekin Road. Proceed south on Sinlahekin Road about 3 miles where the road enters Sinlahekin Wildlife Area.
From Conconully proceed east out of Conconully on the Conconully-Fish Lake Road and follow road past Sugar Loaf Lake and over Sugar Loaf Pass to where the road enters Sinlahekin Wildlife Area.