Oak Orchard and Tonawanda
Wildlife Management Areas
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. This 5,600-acre wetland tract is the westernmost of the two State waterfowl areas. The Oak Orchard Wildlife Management 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area 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.
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.
Public Use Opportunities:
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. Wildlife observation, hiking and photography may be enjoyed in these areas year-round. 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 (2 P.M.).
Waterfowl refuge areas are posted with a yellow & 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. There are also no restrictions on hiking, wildlife observation and photography in these areas. Other public use opportunities available on the State areas include:
- Boating: Unmotorized boats only.
- Camping: Organized groups only, by permit.
- Oak Orchard Education Center: Open daily from sunrise to sunset, this facility includes a pavilion, picnic area, parking lot and four nature trails. L-located on Knowlesville Road.
- Observation Tower: Located on Albion Road at Oak Orchard. Open daily from sunrise to sunset.
- Picnicking: At the Education Center only, prohibited elsewhere.
- Photography Blinds: Available for Public Use.
- Motorized Vehicles: Prohibited on State land, except in designated parking areas and along town and county roads.
- Nature Trails: Available at the Oak Orchard Education Center on Knowlesville Road.
- Dog Training: Allowed pursuant to State regulations.
The Wildlife Management Program:
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.
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.
* A nature trail can be used as a hiking trail, a hiking trail differs from a nature trails in that a nature trail usually has printed information along the trails and often has a brochure