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Red Slough

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By Robert Bastarache and David Arbour, 2007

The unique wetland resource known as Red Slough once covered an area approximately 4 miles long by 2 miles wide and was formerly one of the largest wetland complexes found within Oklahoma. Most of this area was lost or drastically altered over the course of the last half century. Historically, bottomland hardwoods dominated the area, accounting for 75% of the Red Slough property. Scrub/shrub, emergent vegetation, and prairie habitats accounted for the remaining 25.

Mike Dillon, Berlin Heck, and David Arbour, competes in the “BIG SIT” competition every October from one of the observation platforms at Red Slough

In the late 1960s, Red Slough was drained, cleared, and converted to agriculture land, primarily for production of rice, soybeans, corn, and milo. The channelization and dredging of Push Creek, the creek that transects Red Slough, greatly reduced the frequency and duration of overbank flooding. This conversion to agricultural land greatly reduced or eliminated important wetland values previously associated with the natural flooding cycle.

In 1996, landowner Philip Hogan enrolled 5,814 acres of his Push Creek Farm into the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The WRP is a voluntary program offering landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. The NRCS goal for land enrolled in the WRP is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled in the program. To that end, NRCS constructed over 25 miles of dike and installed 18 water control structures to restore the hydrologic conditions and wetland functions of the Red Slough. In addition, approximately 50% of the area was scheduled for hardwood reforestation. Mr. Hogan's enrollment of his property into the WRP began the Red Slough Wetlands Reserve Project. Total acreage within the Red Slough Wetlands Reserve Project boundary currently stands at approximately 7,800 acres and consists of seven different landowners.

In 1997, The Conservation Fund (TCF) purchased 3,855 acres from Mr. Hogan. They donated that acreage to the Ouachita National Forest to be put into public ownership. This is the tract that began the Red Slough Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and forms the heart of the Red Slough Wetland Reserve Project. In 2000, TCF purchased the remaining 1,959 acres from Mr. Hogan. Between 2000 and 2004, the Ouachita National Forest acquired those remaining acres from TCF. The Red Slough WMA presently consists of 5,814 acres, all of Mr. Hogan's original enrollment.

Bittern Lake


The 5,814 acre Red Slough WMA is cooperatively managed by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Ducks Unlimited. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also serves the project through technical assistance. Currently, the Red Slough WMA consists of approximately 2,500 acres of moist soil management units, 2,900 acres of bottomland hardwood reforestation fields, and 414 acres of reservoirs.

The goals and objectives of the project area are aimed at providing the highest level of diversity possible, both plant and animal. Habitat types consist of mudflats, emergent marshes, shallow water impoundments, deep-water reservoirs, riparian zones, bottomland hardwoods, wet prairies, and scrub/shrub. Management practices such as water level manipulation, disking, prescribed burning, and mowing are used to achieve project goals and objectives. Combinations of these practices are used within individual units to maximize their diversity potential. Intensive, active management of these individual units provide the habitat base for retaining the high level of diversity found within Red Slough.

Birders on observation platform

Recreational Opportunities:

Red Slough has become one of the hottest recreational destinations for birders and other wildlife enthusiasts in the United States. The management style employed by the Red Slough management team has made it possible for the extraordinary diversity of birdlife to occur at Red Slough. Red Slough has become a premier birdwatching and waterfowl hunting area. It is not uncommon for many birdwatchers to see more than one lifebird at Red Slough in a day's trip. To date, 292 bird species have been sighted and documented within the Red Slough Wetland Reserve Project. Many of these species found at Red Slough do not regularly occur elsewhere in Oklahoma or are rare to the state. Birdwatchers have likened this area to the Gulf Coast habitats of Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. Species such as purple gallinules, least bittern, common moorhens, least terns, tricolored heron, white ibis, neotropic cormorants, anhingas, black-bellied whistling ducks, king rails, roseate spoonbills, and wood storks are regular summer residents and/or breeders. In winter, merlins, golden eagles, sandhill cranes, and short-eared owls are regular. Rarities such as least grebe, glossy ibis, crested caracara, Harris' hawk, trumpeter swan, tundra swan, swallow-tailed kites, American avocets, mottled ducks, piping plovers, prairie falcons, black rail, sage thrasher, and common ground-doves have been spotted. In the fall, good numbers of yellow rails stage here. Thirty-four species of shorebirds are known to occur, including buff-breasted sandpipers, black-necked stilts, white-rumped sandpipers, black-bellied plovers, American golden plovers, dunlins, long-billed dowitchers, Hudsonian godwits, whimbrels, and Wilson's phalaropes.

Yellow Rail census

In winter, thousands of ducks flock to the Red Slough, foraging on the flooded vegetation and aquatic invertebrates. This provides one of the best waterfowl hunting locations found within Oklahoma and the Great Plains region. The main waterfowl species include mallards, widgeons, gadwalls, pintails, wood ducks, shovelers, and teal. Waterfowl hunters come from as far away as California, Minnesota and Georgia to specifically hunt at Red Slough. Yearly disking of approximately 300-500 acres, supplemented by millet and milo seeding, create the quality habitat necessary for waterfowl.

Red Slough contains 414 acres of reservoirs. These reservoirs are available for fishing and are walk-in access only. Note that Otter Lake, Pintail Lake, Lotus Lake, and Bittern Lake are within the designated refuge area and cannot be fished between October 15 and January 31.

Rules and Regulations:

The entire Red Slough WMA is closed to motorized vehicles, including cars, trucks, and 4-wheelers. A special use permit is required to conduct guided hunts for a fee on any National Forest lands. Permits can be obtained by applying at the district office nearest the area where you plan to conduct guided hunts. No other special permits are required for recreational activities within Red Slough. Valid State of Oklahoma hunting and fishing licenses and their necessary stamps/tags are required for these activities.

A refuge area has been designated around the four major reservoirs (Otter Lake, Pintail Lake, Lotus Lake, and Bittern Lake). This area is closed to the public between October 15 and January 31 yearly. The refuge is designed to provide resting and feeding areas free of disturbance during the hunting season. Refuge boundary signs are erected completely around the refuge area, and entrance behind the signs is not permitted during the closed period.


From Idabel, Oklahoma, travel U.S. Highway 259 south approximately 18 miles to State Highway 87. Turn east on State Highway 87 and travel approximately 3 miles. Turn north onto Mudline Road (by the Getty gas station sign) and access the heart of the project area.

Click here or on map for full PDF version of this map


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Copyright © 2009 Tulsa Audubon Society
Last modified: September 21, 2009




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