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Dale Swedberg | Sinlahekin Wildlife Area — 16 years of living the dream

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Since 1976, I have worked for Washington Department of Game, then Washington Department of Wildlife and now Department of Fish and Wildlife. The majority of my career with the agency, in five different positions, has been in Eastern Washington and mostly in North Central Washington.

By far the most rewarding position of my career was 16 years managing the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area (SWA) in north central Okanogan County near Loomis. As manager, I was privileged to live in a house built in the early 1920s by Herbert “Happy” Conner and Herbert Conner Talbot, two cousins who jointly formed the Bracket H Ranch in 1924, which is now part of the Sinlahekin.

In 1939, the former Game Department, using funds generated through the Pitman-Robertson Act of 1937, purchased the first parcels of what became the SWA and making it the first and oldest wildlife area in Washington State.

For me, the most memorable and fulfilling parts of managing the Sinlahekin were learning about the plants, animals, their habitats, managing these habitats, the natural and human history. I met many individuals experts, some from as far away as Germany, on butterflies, plants, mosses, mollusks, birds, reptiles and amphibians, paleo-botany, paleo-fire, fire ecology, bees, geology, human history, etc., who taught me about all these topics.

I spent countless hours hiking around the Sinlahekin observing and digesting the diversity and ecology of the piece of real estate I was so fortunate to be managing.

During my tenure, I learned that “disturbance” is important in managing habitats. I came to appreciate the fact that many things depend on one or more disturbance regimes and some of these disturbance regimes can be managed for desirable outcomes. The key word is “managed.” Cattle grazing, cultivating ground, logging and prescribed fire can be and are used to manage wildlife habitat.

I learned I was overseeing fire dependent wildlife habitat that had not seen fire for most of 100 years and as such was deteriorating from being “protected” from fire. Much of my energy and focus was spent on restoring fire with its renewing effects and by-products to the ecosystem and thus restoring functionality.

This year will mark the 75th anniversary since the first parcels of the SWA were purchased. In commemoration of this milestone, we are planning the Sinlahekin 75th Anniversary Celebration — “Exploring the Sinlahekin — Past and Present” with a series of free public field trips and presentations, led by experts on fauna, flora, geology, history and other topics, on the weekends of June 14-15, July 5-6, July 26-27, August 23-24, and Sept. 6-7.

We will conduct a brief kick-off ceremony on June 7 at headquarters and a “closing ceremony” on National Hunting and Fishing Day and National Public Lands Day, Sept. 27. Details on all these events will be available later this spring at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/sinlahekin/Sinlahekin/

Dale Swedberg is the prescribed burn program manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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