Finding Peace in Nature: Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area

“The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will” – Theodore Roosevelt

Dear Friend of WV Rivers,

It’s been awhile! Everyone here at West Virginia Rivers Coalition hopes you, your family, and your community are staying happy and healthy as we begin to embrace the cool nights of fall.

Just wanted to pop in with a quick question for you – what does the fox say?

Apparently, they say a lot, especially in those dark hours that make sleepy, fearful dogs (and their owners) burrow deeper down into their sleeping bag.

This month our family found peace in nature, and learned about things that go yip in the night, at Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area.

Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area is a 22,000-acre preserve managed by the WV Division of Natural Resources that straddles the ridgeline between Morgan and Berkeley Counties. In addition to fishing in the 205-acre Sleepy Creek Lake, visitors can explore the trails system, which includes portions of the Tuscarora Trail and at its northern tip Devils Nose and camp at any of the 70+ primitive camp sites.

Sleepy Creek WMA is part of a larger Conservation Focus Area identified in the WV Division of Natural Resources State Wildlife Action Plan that includes Sleepy Creek and neighboring Back Creek and Warm Springs Run. This 10-year plan seeks to conserve the full array of habitat types and biological diversity in the state, and in doing so, halt the decline of at-risk species and thus avoid the need for federal listing as threatened or endangered; assist with the recovery of federally listed species; and keep the common species common. In regards to the Sleepy Creek Conservation Focus Area:

Streams, riparian habitats, and wetlands are important for the continued survival in West Virginia for several species, many of which have limited distributions in the State, including Wood Turtle, Northern Cricket Frog, Northern Red-bellied Cooter, eight mussel species of concern (including Green Floater, Triangle Floater and Brook Floater), the declining Tessellated Darter, and two federally endangered plants: Harperella and Barbed-bristle Bulrush. On state lands, and especially Sleepy Creek WMA, blocks of upland forests and embedded rocky habitats are important for many species, including interior forest nesting birds, wintering Golden Eagle, Allegheny Woodrat, and Timber Rattlesnake. A cave in the Back Creek Watershed contains a cave amphipod species known only from that site.

Wood Turtle. Photo by Kevin Oxenrider, WV-DNR.

In total, 133 priority species inhabit this Conservation Focus Area. Truly, Sleepy Creek WMA is a shining jewel of public lands in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.

New legislation passed by Congress aims to protect our public lands, waters, and wildlife in special places like the Sleepy Creek WMA.

The America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act legislative package (S. 3051), co-sponsored by Senator Shelley Moore Capito, is groundbreaking legislation that addresses conservation issues nationwide through a suite of conservation bills, including the Chesapeake WILD (Watershed Investments for Landscape Defense) Act.

This provision authorizes $15 million annually for a new fish and wildlife habitat protection and restoration program. For the first time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be directed by Congress to create a habitat program specifically in the Bay watershed. This new program will focus not just on fish and wildlife habitat in the Bay proper, but everywhere in the six-state 64,000 square mile watershed, including here in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. WV Rivers Coalition has advocated for Chesapeake WILD Act throughout 2020 – read more herehere, and here.

The ACE legislative package also includes a number of other bills that will help restore our local lands and waters in the Eastern Panhandle, including the Reauthorization of the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program and increasing its funding from $85 million to $92 million annually.

This legislation has the potential to help solve multiple conservation crises. We know that more progress must be made to reach Bay-wide Goals for clean water; while at the same time we’re witnessing a significant 68% decline in global biodiversity since 1970. This is all within the backdrop of climate change in West Virginia.

Our dog, Annie, listening to the foxes after a fun day of hiking at Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area. 

So, what does the fox say? Next time we see each other in public (and hopefully, sooner than later!) just ask me, and I’ll do my best impression. SPOILER ALERT – it will probably sound more like this instead of this.

Until then, we can rest assured that wildlife, in particular all of the priority species that inhabit our public lands, have a voice at all, and that voice is you – advocates for clean water, healthy public lands, and thriving wildlife.

And even though wildlife can’t truly speak for themselves, we can join them in thanking our public policy makers for passing the ACE Legislative Package and protecting the lands and waters that we all call home.

On the count of three – yip yip, hooray!

To clean water and clean hands,

Tanner Haid, Eastern Panhandle Field Coordinator

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