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Elk and Bighorn Sheep Feeding - Oak Creek Wildlife Area

The Oak Creek Wildlife Area is managed by the State of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. In the mid-1940s, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (then the Department of Game) began building almost 100 miles of 8-foot-high fences to keep the elk from damaging private property in the Tieton, Naches, and Wenas Creek valleys, as well as on the south side of the Kittitas Valley.

In 1939, the department established the 94,718 acre Oak Creek Wildlife Area to preserve winter homes for the Yakima elk herd of 3,000. Primarily recognized as elk herd winter range, Oak Creek is a sparsely timbered area in the grassy foothills with diversified habitat that benefits other wildlife as well. A supplemental winter feeding program maintains the Yakima elk herd on department lands during the winter; up to 1,200 elk, including about 90 branched-antlered bulls, can be seen at feeding times.

Recognized primarily as winter range for elk, its multipurpose acreage insures permanent populations of fish, elk, deer, bear, chukar, partridge, quail, grouse, and hundreds other other species. in addition, the wildlife area preserves many miles of streambank access for fishermen.

The Oak Creek Wildlife Area was purchased with funds obtained from sportsmen through the Federal Pittman-Robinson Act and established in 1939.

In addition to the elk feeding stations, a bighorn sheep feeding station is located at the Cleman Mountain site on the Oak Creek Wildlife Area.

The Visitor Center at the Oak Creek Headquarters is located 2 miles west of the junction of Highways 12 and 410 on Highway 12, approximately 20 miles west of Yakima.

After you turn onto Highway 12, look for the sign on the right of the highway. This historical sign explains the origins of the Oak Creek Game Range. Park and climb the stairs and see the elk feeding on the hillside. Continue west on Highway 12 one mile to the feeding station at the headquarters.

The Discover Pass is REQUIRED to view the elk at the Oak Creek Feeding Station.

Elk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State Naches

Elk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State Naches Elk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State Naches

Oak Creek and Cleman Mountain Feeding Stations

When: January and February are the best months for viewing the elk. Elk are fed daily at 1:30 pm at the Oak Creek Headquarters, and the bighorn sheep are fed mid-morning at the Cleman Mountain Feeding site. A normal winter season is mid-December to early March.

What to bring: Bring a camera, extra film, warm clothes, binoculars and a lunch.

Visitor Center hours: The visitor center at the Oak Creek Headquarters is open every day between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and is staffed by Wildlife Education Corps volunteers. Look for the helpful folks in the blue vests and caps. The center has a video program, exhibits, and a kids' corner. There is no charge to view the exhibits, but donations are welcomed. Donations are used to pay for the feeding program.

Popular Truck Tours: The staff at the Oak Creek Headquarters will take visitors on truck tours out amongst the elk as they are feeding. Tours are on both a first come-first serve and reservation basis. The tours are supported by participant donations, which are encouraged so that the tour program can be continued.

Call the Oak Creek Wildlife area at 509-653-2390 for more information on the tours and about road closures to protect wintering wildlife throughout the wildlife area. Or contact the Department of Fish and Wildlife Yakima office at 1701 South 24th Avenue, Yakima, WA 98902-5720 or call (509) 575-2740.

You can help maintain and protect these areas by:

  1. Keeping your campsite clean and removing your litter
  2. Driving only on designated open roads
  3. Leaving wildlife alone, especially during critical wintering periods and during the spring when females are having their young.
  4. Respecting this Wildlife Area and the wildlife on it as if it were your own.

Elk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State Naches Elk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State Naches

Elk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State Naches Elk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State Naches

Elk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State NachesElk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State Naches

Rocky Mountain Elk Facts

Rocky Mountain Elk were introduced into Yakima County in 1913.

Weight
  • Bulls average 450-900 lbs.
  • Yearling bulls weigh less than mature bulls
  • Cows average 400-650 lbs.
Calves
  • Born in late May to early July weigh about 30 lbs. at birth
  • Cows are pregnant for 270 days
  • Twins are rare
Antlers
  • Only found on the bulls
  • Begin growing when bull is one year old
  • During the growth period, the antlers are covered with a fuzzy skin called velvet
  • Velvet covers antlers until fall, providing nutrients for growth
    used for protection and rut.
  • They fall off in mid-March to May and regrow by August.
Bugling
  • Bulls are noted for bugling during the fall rut (mating season)
  • Bugling is used to challenge other males and attract cows

Visit the Feeding Station on YouTube

History of the Rocky Mountain Elk in Yakima County

In 1913 a group of landowners, sportsmen and Yakima County officials introduced Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone National Park to the Yakima area of eastern Washington.

Unlike the Roosevelt elk of the Olympic Peninsula, Rocky Mountain elk are migratory by nature and may travel as much as 70 miles from the spring-to-fall habitat in the upper-elevations of the Cascades to their wintering areas at lower elevations.

When snow blankets the mountains, the elk are forced to migrate to the foothills to find food. Here, they come into conflict with man, whose orchards, ranches, and homes occupy land that the elk need for winter range.

Wintering elk may eat from 3 to 10 pounds of hay per day at the feeding stations, most of which is grown and purchased from Washington farmers. During a severe winter, as many as 8,000 elk may use feeding areas. Elk begin arriving as early as mid-November, with the largest part of the herd arriving in January.

View 360° Panoramic Photo of the Elk Feeding StationElk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State Naches

As the snows melt in the spring, the elk follow the snowline to higher elevations. The bulls gradually separate from the herd and lose their antlers in March and April. Rodents eat the shed antlers, unless they are found soon after shedding by a lucky hiker. To reduce harassment to the elk, most department lands are closed to public entry during the March-April period.

Cows and calves form groups that are led by older cows. Calves are born in May and June, about the same time the bulls begin to grow new antlers.

Elk feed on grasses and sedges that grow in the meadows through the short summer. This nutritious feed helps the cows provide milk for growing calves and fattens the adult elk for the leaner months of winter.

During late September and October, the bulls rejoin the cows and calves for the mating season or "rut". At this time, the high country rings with the sound of bulls bugling, whistling, and barking in competition for cows. As days shorten with the advance of the season and snow returns to the high country, the elk once again migrate to lower elevations.

Elk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State NachesRocky Mountain & California Bighorn Sheep Facts

Bighorn sheep are medium-sized, stout ungulates
Rocky Mountain sheep are larger than the California sub species
Rocky Mountain - Adult male - 160-316 lbs. (72.6-143.3 kg.)
Bighorn -Adult female - 117 -200 lbs. (53.1-90.7 kg.)
California– Adult male - 181-205 lbs. (82.1-93.0 kg.)
Bighorn - Adult female - 106-145 lbs. (48.1-65.8 kg.)

Bighorn sheep can live to 17 years of age, but general life expectancy for both sub-species is 10 to
12 years.

Lambs

  • Born in May and June
  • Weigh about 7 to 10 lbs.
  • Gestation period for ewes is approximately 180 days
  • Twins do occur

Horns

  • Both rams and ewes have horns
  • Horns are curled on older rams, short and pointed on ewes
  • Never fall off and continue to grow through sheep's lifetime
  • Annulus, or dark band, shows one year's growth

History of Bighorn Sheep in Yakima County

Elk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State NachesElk Feeding Station - White Pass - Washington State NachesRocky Mountain and California bighorn sheep both exist in Washington State. Both are native to the state but disappeared in the 1930s. The exact reason for their demise is unknown, but we suspect the cause to be the transmission of disease and parasites from domestic sheep. Other contributing factors may have been excessive harvest and increasing human encroachment.

In 1957, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife brought California Bighorn Sheep from British Columbia and placed them on the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County. An additional herd of California Bighorn Sheep, now about 200 in number, was established in the Cleman Mountain area through the efforts of area sportsmen, who brought sheep from British Columbia in 1967, thus restoring sheep to their native range in the state. Recent surveys indicate that there are approximately 650 California bighorns throughout Washington State and the population is increasing.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep are found in northeast and southeast Washington. There are currently about 200 Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in Washington State and their numbers are rising. Restoration of both varieties of these sheep to their historic range in the State of Washington is a wildlife success story.

High elevation sheep habitat similar to that found in the Rocky Mountain states does not exist in the State of Washington, but the sheep do very well in the lower elevation area of Cleman Mountain, where they live on grasses and shrubs and occupy open timber areas.

During the winter months, rams and ewes of all ages congregate at the Cleman Mountain feeding station. In the spring, the older rams separate into bachelor groups. Also in spring, the young rams (1-1/2 to 3 years of age) remain close, although separated, from the ewes and lambs. Once the lambs are born, these young rams become castoffs. The herd now will consist of the ewes, newborns, and the previous year's offspring. Mature rams do not rejoin the herd until the breeding season in early November. As winter sets in, the sheep seek sun-warmed, lower elevation, southern-facing slopes where snow accumulation is lightest.

Both rams and ewes grow horns that are not shed but continue to grow throughout the animal's life. Ewes' horns are small and pointed; rams' horns are larger and curl. It may take a ram 7 to 8 years to develop a full curl. A dark band, called an annulus, forms each year on the horns during mating season. By counting these bands, it is possible to closely estimate the animal's age.

Bighorn sheep are well adapted to living on rocky slopes and existing on little water - making do on sedges - and are attracted to mineral and salt licks.

Viewing and photographic opportunities exist at the Cleman Mountain winter feeding station where up to 150 sheep congregate during feeding times. The Cleman feeding station is accessible in the winter and is located a half mile east of the junction of Highways 410 and 12 on the Old Naches Highway.

For more information, contact:

Ross Huffman, Manager
16601 Highway 12
Naches, WA 98937
(509) 653-2390, 575-2740

For more information, visit these websites:

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife - Oak Creek Wildlife Area and Cowiche Wildlife Area

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Our thanks to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife for sharing the information above.

Pictures of the Big Horn Sheep, courtesy Ross Huffman, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 

 

 
   


Upper Valley Bulletin Board
P.O. Box 881 | Naches, Washington 98937
Tel. (509) 653-2165 (RJ's Tires - ask for Randy)