Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, Sussex and Orange Counties, New Jersey

About the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge

This federal wildlife refuge lies 60 miles northwest of New York City in northern Sussex County, New Jersey, and southern Orange County, New York. Created in 1990, the refuge includes 9 miles of the Wallkill River and more than 5,100 acres of diverse habitats including headwater wetlands, scrub-shrub wetlands, wooded swamps, open-water impoundments, calcareous fens, bottomland forests, upland forests, grasslands, and farmlands.

The rich limestone soil in the Wallkill River Valley once supported many vegetable and dairy farms. Recently, numerous housing projects have been built in the area. With heavy development farther east on the coastal plain, the refuge represents an extremely important area of undeveloped land.

Waterfowl, wading birds, raptors, and songbirds breed on the refuge and feed in its various habitats during spring and fall migrations. The refuge protects a small population of bog turtles, listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Mammals include bats, beaver, muskrat, river otter, mink, red and gray fox, coyote, white-tailed deer, and black bear.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

Photo of aspens growing in young-forest habitat

Aspens behind this sign provide good timberdoodle habitat.

Around 1,000 acres of scrub-shrub habitat lie within the refuge’s boundary. (Not all of these acres have been purchased yet.) Managers plan to maintain these and additional acres (a total of 1,708 brushy and shrubby acres are projected to be acquired within an expanded acquisition boundary for the refuge) to benefit species including woodcock, ruffed grouse, golden-winged warbler, prairie warbler, field sparrow, eastern towhee, and gray catbird.

Over the next 15 years, hundreds of acres of old farm fields will be allowed to grow back as shrubby habitat. Some of the fields are less than 5 acres, while others cover more than 100 acres.

When these shrubby habitats start getting too old, workers will cut down invading trees. The refuge staff will also use prescribed burns, mowing, livestock grazing, and herbicide treatments to keep the vegetation in a scrub-shrub stage. Such areas will be managed on a 10- to 15-year rotation. So far, invasive non-native trees and shrubs, including autumn olive, multiflora rose, and ailanthus, have been removed from several hundred acres.

The refuge has a small permanent staff, so many of the habitat-improvement measures are done by volunteers, including members of the local Ruffed Grouse Society chapter. Over the last eight years, volunteers used chainsaws to cut back around 20 acres of mature aspen; the trees are growing back thickly, providing woodcock feeding and brood-rearing habitat

Using a tractor with a large mower, workers have cut thick matted grass, suppressing invasive plants and keeping open habitats functioning as woodcock singing grounds. They have planted gray dogwood, birch, aspen, alder, and sumac on about 100 acres of old fields and other areas.

More early successional habitat may be created naturally, through flooding of the Wallkill River, storm blowdowns of floodplain trees, and beavers.

Funding and Partners

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ruffed Grouse Society, U.S. Geological Survey, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Wildlife Management Institute.

How to Visit

The Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge is east of the borough of Sussex, NJ. Travel south through Sussex on New Jersey Route 23. Turn left on County Route 565 North (Glenwood Road). After 1.5 miles, the refuge headquarters is on the left. The headquarters is generally open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. A woodcock interpretive trail is in the planning stages.

The refuge’s comprehensive conservation plan was published in 2009. It can be viewed or downloaded at http://library.few.gov/ccps.htm. A CD-ROM of the plan can be obtained from the refuge manager, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, 1547 County Route 565, Sussex, NJ 07461, phone 973-702-7266. The refuge’s website is http://wallkillriver.fws.gov.