Sarah Fletcher Tract, Tucker County, West Virginia

About the Sarah Fletcher Tract

This property consists of 370 acres of old farmland in the Canaan Valley, Tucker County, northeastern West Virginia. The Canaan Valley encompasses about 40 square miles. It is a popular area for hiking, skiing, hunting, and wildlife viewing.

Black bear, beaver, bobcat, and fisher are but a few of the many species of mammals found in the valley. Great numbers of migrating birds stop off in spring and fall, using woodland, grassland, wetland, and shrubland habitats Forested areas support hemlock, sugar maple, red maple, aspen, and yellow birch, and lowlands have speckled alder – trees and shrubs that are more common farther north but grow in the Canaan Valley because of the area’s cold climate and 3,200-foot elevation.

The Fletcher Tract is drained on the east by the headwaters of the meandering Blackwater River. The flat, damp acreage is largely old cattle pasture growing up in aspen, other hardwoods, alder, and hawthorn. The property borders the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge on the north and east.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

Photo of a strip cut through prime woodcock habitat in West Virginia

A recently made strip cut through prime woodcock habitat on the Fletcher tract.

The project focuses on four fields where a range of management practices will create and enhance the habitat for use by woodcock and other species.

Wildlife technicians have begun clearcutting stands of mature alder, which will grow back densely, producing prime feeding and brood-rearing areas for woodcock. On both sides of a powerline running through the property the alder is being cut in parallel strips 66 feet wide. In areas where there is no risk of erosion, the strip cuts extend right up to the Blackwater River.

The first set of strips, totaling 14.5 acres, was cut during the winters of 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, using a skid-steerer with a mulching head on loan from the Ruffed Grouse Society. More strips will be cut in the third, fifth, seventh, and ninth years of the ten-year project, regenerating a total of 60 acres of alder. Machine operators leave food-producing trees such as fire cherry and hawthorn, as well as standing snags and hollow den trees. They mow down spirea and St. Johnswort, plants that create groundcover that is too dense for woodcock to use.

A second part of the project involves regenerating quaking aspen. Altogether, five separate stands will be clearcut, for a total of 13 acres. The aspen will be cut during the trees’ dormant period, from November through March, so that energy stored in the root systems will spur abundant regrowth. As they grow back as thickets of saplings, the aspen areas will provide feeding, nesting, and brood-rearing habitat.

Natural openings on the Fletcher Tract are used as singing grounds by woodcock in the spring. The new cuts will provide singing grounds and roosting habitat for a short period before shrubs grow back. Grazed pasture on a neighboring farm also provides singing grounds and roosting cover.


The Canaan Valley is arguably the best – and certainly the best known – area for woodcock in West Virginia. In 1964 the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources began an ambitious program to learn more about woodcock in the Mountain State. Most of the research took place in the Canaan Valley, including on the Fletcher tract and the adjacent lands that became the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in 1994.

The publication American Woodcock and Common Snipe Research and Management (1969) grew out of the research, as did American Woodcock in West Virginia by Robert C. Kletzly (1976). Early work was done by Kletzly, William Goudy, and Joseph Rieffenberger. Rieffenberger developed a night-lighting technique for capturing woodcock, based on using battery-powered, handheld spotlights and a 3-foot-diameter hand net; this technique is now widely used to catch woodcock for banding and for fitting with radio-transmitters.

By 1971, biologists had captured more than 2,800 woodcock in the Canaan Valley. Data from banded birds yielded important information on life history, food and habitat requirements, mortality, migration, wintering grounds, and management practices to improve lands for timberdoodles.

Funding and Partners

Sarah Fletcher, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (Wildlife Resources Section), Ruffed Grouse Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Ecological Services Division), Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute.

How to Visit

The Canaan Valley is northeast of Elkins, WV. From West Virginia Route 32, just south of the headquarters for the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, turn east on Timberline Road. Habitat improvement practices are taking place next to and north of Timberline Road. For more details, contact Keith Krantz, wildlife biologist, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, at (304) 637-0245 or