Project Update: Windmill Ranch Unit

by Tina Blewett, DU Regional Biologist

Ducks Unlimited recently completed infrastructure work on the Windmill Ranch Unit of the Sunnyside-Snake River Wildlife Area, which is open to the public and owned and managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This large unit contains Windmill Lake, Powerline Lake, many wetlands, crop circles/feed lots, and many upland areas consisting of mostly shrub steppe with occasional riparian habitats.

In August of 2019 two new water control structures were installed at the outlet of Windmill Lake to give WDFW maximum control of the water for vegetation management of both the lake and the downstream wetlands. In the future, the WDFW wants to pursue the plan to install downstream water control structures to create step-down ponds, but first will use the new water control capabilities to de-water two low areas downstream of the lake and perform vegetation management on weeds and overgrown areas.

Treatments will include mechanical (mowing, excavating), chemical, and fire (to decrease the amount of vegetated biomass in the area to open it up for wildlife and recreation as well as reduce wildfire fuel hazard). The upland work has begun with applications of herbicides to control weeds, and this will be repeated in spring of 2020 and fall of 2021, followed by a winter dormant seeding of native upland grasses to benefit nesting waterfowl and other birds.

Work at this site will ultimately benefit 37 acres of wetlands also includes restoration of 12.5 acres of native grass in uplands adjacent to the wetlands.

Windmill dike before water control structure | credit T. Blewett, DU
Windmill dike with water control structure | credit Pat Kaelber, WDFW