Most of Sand Creek WMA is characterized as high upland desert, with prominent buttes, rolling hills and exposed outcrops of broken lava reef at an elevation of 5,000 feet. Plant communities of bitterbrush, rabbitbrush, shiny-leaf ceanothus, mountain sagebrush, basin big sagebrush, snowberry and prickly-pear cactus dominate the landscape. Needle-and-thread grass, fescue, Indian ricegrass, balsamroot and lupine also prosper, interspersed with clumps of chokecherry and Rocky Mountain juniper.

The active sand dunes that distinguish Sand Creek WMA represent a unique habitat found only in scattered areas of Idaho. The sand dune landscape is dynamic, mobile and ever-changing as dune sands migrate, pressed into action by prevalent westerly winds. Dunes engulf everything in their path (including roads), sometimes covering an area for many years, only to pull up stakes and migrate again when prompted by local storms. You may notice the gray, bony skeletons of juniper trees, previously smothered by dune sands and exposed again, years later, as the dunes continue their wayward migration.

Travel twenty miles northeast to Sand Creek WMA?s northern border along Big Bend Ridge and the surroundings are noticeably different. At 6,200 feet, the sagebrush/grassland habitat surrenders to forest communities, where lodgepole pine, Douglas fir and aspen stands dominate. The Sand Creek ponds and Chester Wetlands Segment provide important habitat for fish and numerous waterfowl species.

Ornithological Summary

Both Columbian sharp-tailed and sage grouse reside on WMA lands. To the north, blue and ruffed grouse find breeding and nesting sites among the cover and shadows of forested habitats.

The ponds at Sand Creek and Chester Wetlands attract a wide variety of water birds, waterfowl, and shorebirds, including common loons, western grebes, trumpeter swans, snowy egrets, sandhill cranes, willets, and long-billed curlews. Osprey and bald eagles are seen near the Henry?s Fork of the Snake River, while dry, upland areas attract ferruginous hawks, red-tailed and Swainson?s hawks, and golden eagles.

Other Species of Greatest Conservation Need found here include burrowing owls, northern pintails, lesser scaup, black-crowned night-herons, white-faced ibis, Franklin?s gulls, Wilson?s phalaropes, Lewis? woodpeckers, and Brewer?s sparrows.

Conservation Issues

There is a minor noxious weed problem on the Sand Creek WMA and Chester Wetlands. Weeds are actively sprayed, and biocontrols are being released on weed infestations, which results in a minor problem of pesticides being present on the WMA. The WMA is used extensively by hunters during the fall deer (white-tailed and mule deer), elk, and moose hunts, resulting in some irresponsible hunting activity. Hunters engage in illegal off-road vehicle travel and create new unwanted roads on the WMA. Conservation officers patrol the WMA during the hunting seasons to discourage irresponsible hunting practices and write tickets for violations as necessary. Tickets are also written for off-road travel violations. Tree cutting is not allowed on the WMA, but some illegal harvest takes place.

Habitat

Most of Sand Creek WMA is characterized as high upland desert, with prominent buttes, rolling hills and exposed outcrops of broken lava reef at an elevation of 5,000 feet. Plant communities of bitterbrush, rabbitbrush, shiny-leaf ceanothus, mountain sagebrush, basin big sagebrush, snowberry and prickly-pear cactus dominate the landscape. Needle-and-thread grass, fescue, Indian ricegrass, balsamroot and lupine also prosper, interspersed with clumps of chokecherry and Rocky Mountain juniper. There are active sand dunes present on Sand Creek WMA. On the northern boundary along Big Bend Ridge, the elevation is 6,200 feet and has forest communities made up of lodgepole pine, Douglas fir and aspen stands.

Sand Creek has short and warm summers, with long winters and snow often into April. Rainfall varies from 8 inches in upland areas to 18 inches in Big Bend Ridge country. Summer temperatures occasionally reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with winter lows plummeting to -40 degrees. The growing season is correspondingly brief, with only 90 frost-free days.

Land Use

Wildlife viewing, together with hunting and fishing, are the primary recreational pursuits available to visitors. Sand Creek WMA is known for its concentrations of big game species, with moose, elk, and deer all found on the WMA. Visitors are welcome to hike throughout the WMA for wildlife viewing and photography purposes. Big game, upland game bird, and small game hunting are available in season. Trout fishing is popular at the Sand Creek ponds. A furbearer trapping season has also been established. Several handicap accessible fishing areas have been developed. Overnight camping is permitted in designated areas. Horseback riding is permitted on Sand Creek WMA with horse corrals available for use near Sand Creek Pond #1.

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