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Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas

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Oak Orchard WMA locator map

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Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) The primary purpose of the Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMAs is wildlife management, wildlife habitat management, and wildlife-dependent recreation. This 5,600-acre wetland tract is the western most of the two State waterfowl areas. The Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management areas were acquired, developed and are maintained primarily by funds generated from the sale of hunting and trapping licenses and by an excise tax placed on the sale of guns and ammunition. These areas are managed for the benefit of all wildlife and are enjoyed by many types of recreationists. Oak Orchard WMA is located in a historic wetland, the "Oak Orchard Swamp," created by a natural barrier across Oak Orchard Creek. This restriction is an outcropping of dolomitic limestone located at Shelby Center that resisted the cutting action of the creek and created a huge wetland upstream. The Tonawanda area is located in the Tonawanda Creek flood plain situated to the southwest of the Oak Orchard Swamp. Historically, spring flooding by Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Creeks provided temporary water areas for migrating waterfowl, but by late spring water levels would drop, leaving only scant nesting habitat. After the State areas were acquired, water levels were stabilized by constructing several miles of dike and 60 water level control structures. To date, approximately 3,000 acres of permanent marsh have been developed which is used extensively by waterfowl for nesting and as a resting and feeding area during the spring and fall migrations.

Featured Activities

Hunting and Trapping
Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMA is located in Wildlife Management Unit 8G. The public areas are posted with a white sign indicating 'public hunting grounds-trapping by permit'. In these areas, all hunting and fishing may be enjoyed pursuant to State and Federal regulations, with no permits required. Trapping is conducted under a permit system. Permits are distributed at a lottery conducted on the first Saturday in October at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on Casey Road (2PM). Waterfowl refuge areas are posted with a yellow and green sign indicating 'waterfowl refuge-no waterfowl hunting'. These areas, however, are open to small game and deer hunting pursuant to State and Federal regulations with no permits required. (View hunting seasons and trapping seasons)

Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMAs are open to fishing; please visit DEC's website for more information about fishing.

Wildlife Viewing
Each spring, upwards of 100,000 Canada geese and thousands of ducks including blacks, mallards, American widgeon, pintails, teal, shovelers, ringnecks and others stop here to rest and feed before continuing north, while some remain to nest on the area. Occasionally, unusual birds such as the cinnamon teal, ruddy duck, European widgeon, cackling goose, white-fronted goose, blue goose and snow goose are identified by the more serious observers. Interesting shore birds, marsh waders, warblers and other songbirds also use this excellent wildlife habitat and are a constant challenge in identification to the amateur and professional ornithologist, alike. the best time to view the outstanding waterfowl concentrations occurs from early March through the middle of May. Other highlights on the areas include AKC retriever trials, the large deer herd that winters at Oak Orchard, and of course, the large waterfowl concentrations each spring. Use both the Wildlife Management Area Mammal Checklist (PDF 453 KB) and Wildlife Management Area Bird Checklist (PDF 240 KB) as wildlife viewing guides.


Situated between the two State areas is the 11,000-acre Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge creating a 19,000-acre complex of State and Federal wetlands.

oak orchard and tonawanda wma brown signAll Google Map links leave DEC website.

The Oak Orchard area is located 31/2 miles north of Oakfield in Genesee County, about midway between Buffalo and Rochester. It is the eastern-most unit of the two State areas and encompasses approximately 2500 acres.

The Tonawanda area is located halfway between Lockport and Batavia along Route 77 in Genesee and Niagara Counties, bounded on the south by the Tonawanda Indian Reservation.

Rules, Regulations and Outdoor Safety

Rules & Regulations

The following activities are not permitted in Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMA:

  • Unless specifically stated, using motorized vehicles, including:
    • all-terrain vehicles
    • snowmobiles
    • motorboats
  • Swimming or bathing
  • Camping
  • Using metal detectors, searching for or removing historic or cultural artifacts without a permit
  • Damaging or removing gates, fences, signs or other property
  • Overnight storage of boats
  • Cutting, removing or damaging living vegetation
  • Construction of permanent blinds or other structures such as tree stands
  • Littering
  • Storage of personal property

Outdoor Safety Tips

NOTE: Ticks are active whenever temperatures are above freezing but especially so in the late spring and early fall. Deer ticks can transmit Lyme and several other diseases. More information on deer ticks and Lyme disease can be obtained from the NYS Department of Health. (Leaves DEC website). Also, practice Leave No Trace (Leaves DEC website) principles when recreating on state land to enjoy the outdoors responsibly; minimize impact on the natural resources and avoid conflicts.

How We Manage

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Like most of the state's Wildlife Management Areas, Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMAs are managed by DEC's Division of Fish and Wildlife for wildlife conservation and wildlife-associated recreation (hunting, trapping, wildlife viewing/photography). Funding to maintain and manage this site is provided by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration or "Pittman-Robertson" Act, which is acquired through excise taxes on sporting arms, ammunition and archery equipment.

Development has included the construction of numerous impoundments, production of annual grains for wildlife use under sharecropping agreements and construction of large overlooks to observe migratory waterfowl. Other developments include hunter parking areas and access trails which are available to the hunter, hiker and naturalist. The primary objective for the State areas is waterfowl production. A second objective is to provide a resting and feeding area for waterfowl during the spring and fall migrations. At Tonawanda, a third objective is flood control. Here the various impoundments are capable of storing up to 4,000 acre feet of flood water which protects the village of Wolcottsville situated to the west. Management of the State areas includes the control of succession by controlled burns, mowing and agriculture, planting food plots, planting trees and shrubs, erection of nesting structures, conducting the hunting and trapping programs, research projects for furbearers and waterfowl, marsh management activities and public use activities such as teacher workshops and field trips for organized groups.

Tourism Information for Nearby Attractions, Amenities & Activities

Numerous guide books and maps are available with information on the lands, waters, trails and other recreational facilities in this area. These can be purchased at most outdoor equipment retailers, bookstores, and on-line booksellers.

Web links below can provide information about other recreation, attractions and amenities in this area.