Wetland Area Offers Slew of Sights Ron Stahl
Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department July 21, 2004
One of the prettiest Oklahoma sunrises I have
seen is the sun coming up near Red Slough in McCurtain County, far
southeast Oklahoma. Fittingly, the sun was a huge red plate in the
sky and it hit the marshy land with a palette of light that turned
a plain morning into something special. Not long afterward, still
somewhat stunned by the sun's greeting, I watched flocks of large
American white pelicans cruise the water's surface to land among
feeding geese and ducks. Graceful, long-legged shorebirds stalked
the shallows and the cries of many species blended to a wilderness
melody - the start of another perfect day at Red Slough.
When you tell people about Red Slough in McCurtain County you often
get blank stares. And when you tell people it is one of the very
few places in Oklahoma where you can see alligators, those blank
stares often turn to suspicious looks. When you ask people where
Red Slough is located, most can't tell you. It may be one of the
most important yet least appreciated wildlife management areas in
South of Idabel and just a stone's throw from
Texas, Red Slough WMA is a 5,800-acre maze of reservoirs, moist
soil management units (think swampy!) and forest. Red Slough is
cooperatively managed by the Ouachita National Forest, Oklahoma
Department of Wildlife Conservation, and the Natural Resource Conservation
Service. It is one of the largest wetland projects of its kind.
Robert Bastarache, District Wildlife Biologist for the Ouachita
National Forest, admits that it is a bit unusual to think about
wetlands being a part of the National Forest Service. He says it
adds a "unique component" to his job.
Bastarache and personnel from the other agencies involved at Red
Slough have rescued an Oklahoma treasure that was almost lost forever.
In the late 1960's, the Red Slough area was
converted from a forested wetland, with open expanses of water and
hardwood forests, to rice fields. In the 1990's, landowner Phillip
Hogan enrolled it in the wetland reserve program through the Natural
Resource Conservation Service. Twenty-five miles of levees and other
water control structures were built and Red Slough slowly returned
closer to its natural state. Bastarache estimates it is about 80%
there. The final major phase of the revival of area is restoration
of the hardwood element. Areas are being replanted and the real
picture may become complete twenty years from now when those trees
The resurrection of Red Slough led to the
return of abundant wildlife to the region.
During annual migrations, it is a stopover for hundreds of species
of birds, many of them rare. If you know how to identify a king
rail, a purple gallinule, a dunlin, or a Wilson's phalarope, you
probably know about Red Slough. Tropical species, like the roseate
spoonbill, have been seen here and visitors from the northern climes,
tundra swans, are frequent visitors. In all, 271 bird species have
been officially documented here. It is popular with bird watchers
from at least four states and beyond as a place to add to your life
list. Some birders add four or five species to their lists on just
one visit to Red Slough.
Because it is a wildlife management area, it is also open to hunting
during season. Waterfowl hunters from all over the United States
have come to what is considered one of the finest duck and goose
hunting areas in this part of the country. Ducks Unlimited is a
consulting partner in the project.
"We have people from as far as Minnesota
and South Carolina who come here specifically to hunt Red Slough,"
Bastarache says. "It's exciting to know that it is a destination
and they are not just passing through to go somewhere else."
Red Slough has also become a haven for other wildlife. Common species
like white-tailed deer, beaver, mink, and nutria are plentiful.
Black bear and river otters are also known to be in the area.
The star resident of Red Slough, though, may be the American alligator.
Common in neighboring Louisiana, it occurs rarely in Oklahoma. Ten
to fifteen are known to inhabit Red Slough. It is not difficult
to see alligators here but you must be here at the right time.
"The best chance is around the middle
of summer until the middle of fall, say June through September or
October", according to Bastarache. "When the weather warms
up they really like to bask out on the back banks of these reservoirs
or out on a log or a sandbar. That's when you are more likely to
When you go, you should bring binoculars and
wear comfortable shoes, for much of Red Slough is walk-in area.
Insect repellent is recommended and sunscreen is a wonderful idea.
You will be rewarded with spectacular sights,
serenaded by more songbirds than you knew existed, and you may get
to see one of Oklahoma's rarest creatures.
More information on Red Slough can be found
on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation website, www.wildlifedepartment.com
or on the Ouachita National Forest website, www.fs.fed.us/r8/ouachita.
Information on lodging and events in the area
may be found on the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department website,
or by calling, toll-free, 1-800-652-6552.
Public Relations Specialist
Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department
Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department
15 N. Robinson, Suite 100, Oklahoma City, OK 73102
Ron Stahl: 405-522-1381 or Rstahl@otrd.state.ok.us