Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area
On October 8, 1993, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (Department) purchased the White Mountain Hereford Ranch, consisting of 1,362 deeded acres. Renamed Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area (SWMWA) in 1995, the property is located in east-central Arizona approximately seven miles southeast of the towns of Eagar and Springerville. The land and resource values associated with this acquisition provide opportunities to meet objectives of Arizona's Heritage Fund Program for Threatened, Endangered and Sensitive (TES) species and their habitats, as well as provide benefits for other wildlife species and recreational opportunities for the public. The $3,795,301 acquisition was accomplished utilizing funds from the Commission's Heritage and Waterfowl Conservation Funds, along with significant contributions from the Department's allocation of funding associated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Federal Aid Program (Pittman-Robinson Wildlife Restoration Act) and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) funds.
Visiting the Wildlife Area
Since its acquisition, the Department has steadily enhanced the habitat values of the property and attractions for visitors. A small visitor center, a series of hiking trails complete with interpretive signage and wildlife viewing sites, and a day-use picnic area offer the public the opportunity to learn more about Arizona’s unique wildlife and their habitat needs.
Sipe lies in the shadow of historically famous Escudilla Mountain in eastern Arizona. From Eagar, take U.S. Highway 180/191 south towards Alpine; you’ll see the turnoff signs on top of a mesa two miles from Eagar. Follow the improved dirt road five miles to the property. Park your car at one of two designated parking areas. Many of the facilities are barrier-free, and there is no entrance fee to the wildlife area or the visitor center. You are welcome to hike, bicycle or horseback ride on the property. The easiest way to get around is to follow the hiking trails. They’ll take you to wetlands, meadows, old homesteads and scenic vistas. There are four hiking trails at Sipe, ranging from easy to moderate hiking difficulty, with the longest being a 2.5 mile loop. Several wildlife viewing points are located on the trails, including one with a 20X spotting scope situated on the High Point Trail overlook for locating wildlife in the surrounding forest and meadows.
The visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, from mid-May through mid-October. Visitors are encouraged to look through the center first, then explore further on the grounds to enhance your wildlife viewing experience.
While elk can be found here throughout the year, fall and winter are the best times to see them. Winter is also best time to see bald eagles perched in trees around reservoirs. Waterfowl are readily seen during migration periods of fall and spring. A variety of raptors, including ospreys, kestrels, hawks, golden eagles and peregrine falcons, can be spotted throughout the area. In summer, nesting birds include rufous and broad-tailed hummingbirds, Lewis' and acorn woodpeckers and mountain bluebirds. The best birding at Sipe is along Rudd Creek and in the orchard around visitor center. Look for sora at the small pond next to the orchard. Other wildlife to look for are gray fox, striped skunks, badgers, coyotes, mule deer, Merriam's turkey, pronghorn antelope, and a variety of ground squirrels, chipmunks and bats. Wildlife is most active and visible at sunrise and sunset when there is a high probability of seeing elk and antelope.
At the end of July, the Department conducts its very popular “High Country Hummers” program where the public is able to observe and photograph hummingbirds up close, and ask questions of independent reseachers as they capture, process and band the four hummingbird species – broad-tailed, rufous, calliope and black-chinned – that migrate through the area during the summer monsoon season. For more information, contact the Pinetop regional office at (928) 532-3680.
Hunting: In season is allowed on the property.
Narrative Description and Vegetation Types
The 1,362 acre Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area property includes approximately:
- 2.5 miles (50 acres) of stream and riparian habitat along Rudd Creek and below McKay Reservoir, which currently provides key habitat for the federally-threatened Little Colorado spinedace (Lepidomeda vittata) and known potential habitat for many other dependent wildlife species
- 40 acres of open lake and pond habitat associated with McKay and Trinity reservoirs and two small ponds, and 50 acres of wetland and marsh associated with these water bodies on the property that collectively provide habitat for fish, waterfowl, nongame and other dependent species
- 300 acres of irrigated cropland and pastures that provide forage resources for many wildlife species such as elk (Cervus elaphus), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and turkey (Meleagris gallapavo merrriami);
- 250 acres of high elevation pinyon-juniper woodland and 670 acres of grassland that provide habitat for many big game, small game and nongame species;
- 1,540 acre-feet of storage and irrigation water rights associated with Rudd Creek, McKay and Trinity reservoirs and other ponds and wells on the property, and Glen Livet, San Salvador, St. Joseph's and St. Mary's wetlands and reservoirs on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests (ASNF) that provide potential for the management of stream and wetland riparian habitats;
- Several cultural resource sites;
- physical features, including several buildings, corrals, wells and other structures;
- Rudd Creek Allotment Grazing Allotment, which was waived back to the ASNF via a cooperative agreement with the ASNF and RMEF. The cooperative agreement emphasizes wildlife values, particularly on riparian areas and big game winter range.
Management Objective Goals
- Meet the objectives of the Heritage Fund (Title 17, Chapter 2, Article 6) program for the Identification, Inventory, Acquisition, Protection and Management (IIPAM) of sensitive species and their habitats.
- Meet the objectives of the Waterfowl Conservation Fund (Title 17, Chapter 2, Article 4) for developing migratory waterfowl habitat.
- Meet the objectives established in the Pittman-Robinson Wildlife Restoration Act as administered through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Federal Aid Program.
- Manage and maintain the existing resource values of the physical structures on the property, such as the buildings and cultural sites.
- Manage and maintain the water right values associated with the property.
- Provide public access to the property and its biological and physical resources, and optimize opportunities for public outdoor recreation.
- Prevent, detect and assess habitat damage caused by off-highway vehicles and enforce applicable wildlife laws and regulations.
Public Use Opportunities and Resource Management Emphasis
Management emphasis for Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area is the management of wildlife and wildlife habitat values, while permitting compatible human uses. Resource management follows an ecosystem approach in that management strategies are designed to provide for all associated organisms within plant and animal communities on the wildlife area. Approaches to management emphasize managing to achieve sustainable habitats as a means of providing viable wildlife populations.
Stream and Riparian Habitats
Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area contains approximately ¼, 2 miles of Rudd Creek. The stream's fish community is made up both native and introduced species. Brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis and rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss x , Apache trout Oncorhynchus apache. Hybrids dominate the upper reaches of the stream with Little Colorado spinedace, speckled dace, Rhinichthys osculus, bluehead mountain-sucker, Pantosteus discobolus and Little Colorado sucker, Catostomus sp. Three of them making up the native fish community of lower Rudd Creek.
Lake and Wetland Habitats
The lake and wetland habitats found on the wildlife area are primarily associated with three earthen dam reservoirs. The invertebrate populations appear excellent on both reservoirs, which is very important to nesting waterfowl as an animal protein source. All three reservoirs have had high densities of waterfowl observed (500+) at various times of the year, including both diving and dabbling species. These reservoirs have a good component of herbaceous riparian vegetation, which may provide potential habitat for several of the riparian dependent TES special status species. These potential species include the Chiricahua leopard frog, Rana chiricahuensis, northern leopard frog, R. pipiens, Arizona toad, Bufo microscaphus microscaphus, narrow-headed garter snake, Thamnophis rufipunctatus, and meadow jumping mouse, Zapus hudsonius. This habitat also provides good foraging, resting and breeding and nesting sites for a variety of nongame and waterfowl species.
Irrigated Meadow and Pasture Habitats
Meadow habitat on the property is comprised of approximately 300 acres of irrigated pasture and unused cropland. This habitat provides cover for various nongame mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, as well as high quality forage for big game.
Upland habitat comprises the largest area within the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area. This area includes approximately 250 acres of pinyon-juniper woodland and 670 acres of grassland habitat. The existing habitat currently provides food and cover resources for a variety of big game, including elk, mule deer and turkey, small game and nongame species. The area may provide potential habitat for federally threatened and endangered species, such as the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), which has reintroduction potential, and the ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis) and foraging areas for waterfowl.
Special Status Species occurring on or near the wildlife area have been identified through the Department's Heritage Data Management System and are listed below. This includes the federally-endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher, Empidonax traillii extimus and the federally-threatened Mexican spotted owl, Strix occidentalis lucida, Little Colorado spinedace and Chiricahua leopard frog, Rana chiricahuensis.