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Habitat Management and Access on Wildlife Management Areas

Wildlife Management Area sign

Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are lands owned by New York State under the control and management of the Department of Environmental Conservation's Bureau of Wildlife. These lands have been acquired primarily for the purposes of wildlife reproduction and survival. They also provide opportunities for wildlife-related recreation. WMAs provide unique areas for the public to interact with a wide variety of wildlife species. There are 115 WMAs across the state, comprising approximately 197,000 acres. The Bureau of Wildlife manages an additional 38,000 acres of land, including Unique Areas and Multiple Use Areas, for a total of about 150 areas to visit.

Activities for all Ages and Abilities

wheelchair accessible platform at Wickham Marsh WMA
This wheelchair accessible observation
platform at Wickham Marsh WMA offers a
180 degree view of the marsh, a rare northern
white cedar swamp, and a rich shrub fen.

Sportsmen and women have funded the acquisition of a large portion of the WMAs through federal excise taxes collected on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. These special areas provide suitable habitats for rare, at-risk, and game species alike. WMAs offer a variety of activities, including:

  • hunting
  • trapping
  • bird watching
  • wildlife photography
  • fishing

Management Activities

DEC strives to provide a variety of habitat types in harmony with the dominant local ecology, wildlife needs, and management history. Common management activities at WMAs include:

  • restoring Karner blue butterfly populations by reestablishing pine barrens habitat;
  • maintaining high quality habitat for Ruffed Grouse, American Woodcock, and other wildlife by creating forest openings (DEC's Young Forest Initiative will dramatically increase young forest habitat for both rare and game species);
  • reestablishing grassland habitat, which benefits nesting songbirds and game birds, by mowing, removing hedgerows and woody brush, and controlling invasive species; and
  • maintaining impoundments for waterfowl and wading bird reproduction as well as for fishing.

For a more detailed listing of the habitat management practices used and an analysis of the impact of these practices, view the Environmental Impact Statement on Habitat Management Practices of the DEC's Division of Fish and Wildlife on the bottom of the Fish and Wildlife Guidance Documents page.

Providing Access

Howland Island bridge at Northern Montezuma WMA
The rebuilt Howland Island bridge in
Northern Montezuma WMA provides access
for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.

Providing safe and convenient access to undeveloped areas on WMAs is a challenging and complex job. Across the state, WMAs contain:

  • 2000 miles of roads
  • 180 miles of foot trails
  • 800 parking lots
  • 80 boat launches
  • 45 observation towers, blinds, and facilities

NY Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative

DEC is involved in a major effort to improve access to WMAs for people of all abilities as part of this initiative, which was launched by Governor Andrew Cuomo. In 2014, six million dollars in NY Works funding was allocated to create 50 new land and water access projects. It will connect people to more than 380,000 acres of existing state and easement lands that have gone largely untapped until now, including WMAs. Ten of these 50 access projects are located on WMAs. These projects include:

  • building new boat launches and parking areas
  • installing new hunting blinds; and
  • creating new trails to facilitate access for hunting, trapping, and the observation of wildlife.

Rules and Regulations on WMAs

Before and after photos of improvements to access road at a WMA
These before and after photos at
Upper and Lower Lakes WMA show
improvements to an access road.

Anyone using a WMA should be aware of the rules governing that particular area. For most areas, statewide hunting and fishing regulations as well as statewide WMA regulations (leaves DEC website) will apply. In general, prohibited activities include:

  • any use of motorized vehicles including motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles (except on town, county or state highway rights-of-way);
  • overnight mooring or boat storage; and
  • fires except for cooking, warmth, or smudge.

Additional activities that are prohibited, with exceptions under certain conditions, include:

  • camping
  • swimming
  • picnicking
  • mechanized boating

Note that in certain cases, however, additional special regulations are also in force. These special regulations can include:

  • reductions in hunting hours;
  • restrictions on the number of people using the area; and
  • increased requirements for sportsmen and women to report on the results of their activities.

Please refer to the webpage or kiosk of each WMA for specific restrictions. You may also want to read Public Use of Wildlife Management Areas (PDF, 349 KB) for a list of allowable and restricted activities.

History of WMAs

Timber cut at Connecticut Hill WMA will benefit wildlife.
Timber cuts, like this one at Rattlesnake Hill
encourage the regeneration of young
trees that benefit an abundance of wildlife.

Since the early 1900s the WMA program has established permanent access to lands in New York State for the conservation and promotion of its fish and wildlife resources and to secure these land parcels for public use. Money used to acquire lands included in the WMA system has been a combination of state and federal funding. The Conservation Fund (begun in 1925) was the first dependable source followed by two federal programs in the 1930s:

  • The Federal Resettlement Administration bought marginal and worn-out farmland and later donated it to the state for wildlife management purposes; and
  • The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (leaves DEC website), more commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, was signed into law in in 1937 and is still in effect today. It places an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. It funds restoration, acquisition, management of habitat for wildlife, and efforts to provide access for wildlife-related recreation.

WMAs also provide areas for research on various wildlife species. A Ruffed Grouse study conducted on Connecticut Hill WMA is considered the standard reference on Ruffed Grouse in the Northeast.

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