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Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas

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Oak Orchard WMA locator map

The primary purposes of Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are 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. 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 WMAs 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

Hiking

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General information on hiking includes how-to and safety tips and links to rules and regulations.

Please stay on the designated trails to protect the diversity and richness of the plant communities found within this area.

Hunting and Trapping

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Wildlife Management Unit: 8G

General information on hunting and general information on trapping include how-to and safety tips with links to seasons, rules, and regulations.

Oak Orchard and Tonawanda are posted as special regulations areas. All hunting and fishing may be enjoyed pursuant to State and Federal regulations with the following restrictions:

1. Trapping is conducted under a permit system. Permits and trap tags are distributed out of the Iroquois Field Office located within the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on Casey Road.

2. Waterfowl Hunting on opening weekend of duck season requires a permit. Waterfowl hunting on Oak Orchard and Tonawanda require a permit, which is issued by lottery.

3. Pheasant hunting is prohibited on Tuesdays and Fridays.

4. Waterfowl refuge areas are posted with a yellow and green sign indicating "Waterfowl Refuge-No Waterfowl Hunting". These areas, however, are open to all other uses allowed on the WMA. Please be sure to abide by all game laws (view hunting seasons and trapping seasons).

Fishing

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General information on fishing includes how-to and safety tips and links to seasons, rules, and regulations.

Wildlife

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General information on animals includes links to information about birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and insects that inhabit or migrate through the state.

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.

Directions

Situated between the two State WMAs 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 WMA is located 3 1/2 miles north of Oakfield in Genesee County, about midway between Buffalo and Rochester. It is the eastern-most unit of the two WMAs and encompasses approximately 2500 acres.

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

All coordinates provided are in decimal degrees using NAD83/WGS84 datum.

Rules, Regulations and Outdoor Safety

Practice Leave No Trace Principles (leaves DEC website) when recreating on state land to enjoy the outdoors responsibly; minimize impact on the natural resources and avoid conflicts with other users.

All users of Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area must follow all State Land Use Regulations and should follow all Outdoor Safety Practices for the safety of the user and protection of the resource.

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).

How We Manage Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas

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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, and 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.

Developments to the WMA have 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 WMAs 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 WMAs include:

  • control of succession by controlled burns
  • mowing and agriculture
  • planting food plots, trees, and shrubs
  • erection of nesting structures
  • conducting the hunting and trapping programs
  • research projects for furbearers and waterfowl
  • marsh management activities
  • public use activities such as teacher workshops and field trips for organized groups.

Nearby State Lands, Facilities, Amenities & Other Information

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

State Lands and Facilities

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.

Additional information, outdoor equipment, trip suggestions, and guided or self-guided tours may be obtained from outdoor guide and outfitting businesses. Check area chambers of commerce, telephone directories, or search the internet for listings.

Consider hiring an outdoor guide if you have little experience or woodland skills. See the NYS Outdoor Guides Association (leaves DEC website) for information on outdoor guides.