White Mountains Online

Wildlife Habitat Areas on the
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests


Quiet Places...Quiet Times


In 1985, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and Arizona Game and Fish Department announced an innovative wildlife habitat program aimed at improving wildlife habitat, wildlife viewing, photography, and hunting opportunities. Five wildlife habitat areas were established on the forest that were closed to the use of motorized vehicles. Since that time, two more areas have been added and one area was deleted for a current total of six habitat areas. Although wildlife habitat areas have been established in other states, this was the first extensive program of its kind in southwestern National Forests.


The primary objective of the program is to provide wildlife, particularly species such as elk, deer, and turkey, habitat which is free from motorized vehicle disturbance. The quiet areas that are created through the exclusion of motorized vehicles allow more effective use of key habitat by wildlife species for foraging, nesting, and reproductive activities. These areas can be particularly beneficial for wildlife when adjacent areas have ineffective vegetative cover, high open road densities, and motorized vehicle use. Thus, the improvement in "habitat effectiveness" for wildlife is a key benefit of the program.

RaccoonThe management objectives of each area may differ since they are established to meet particular species needs. Some areas emphasize elk habitat, calving areas in particular; other emphasize fawning areas for deer; and still others emphasize habitat for wild turkey. Several areas have objectives for multiple species, but one common thread runs through them all, there are definite benefits to all wildlife found in each area.

In addition to wildlife objectives, these areas are managed to protect soil, vegetation, and water resources. Visitors to the Apache-Sitgreaves are invited to continue using these non-motorized areas. Generally these areas would not require you to walk more than two miles from an open road.

Wildlife Habitat Area Descriptions:

Hulsey Bench Wildlife Habitat Area is located on the Alpine Ranger District. It is generally described as the gentle bench land immediately west of Escudilla Wilderness. It encompasses much of the headwaters of Watts Creek, Milk Creek, and Hulsey Creek. Visitors to this area may see mule deer, elk, turkey, bear, bobcat, fox, and if you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of an elusive mountain lion. This is also an excellent area for bird watchers.

Beaver Turkey Ridge Wildlife Habitat Area is generally described as the land area encompassed by Turkey Creek, Beaver Canyon, and the Mogollon Rim and is located on the Chevelon Ranger District. This area, like most wildlife habitat areas is very popular with deer, elk, and turkey hunters. It is also a great place for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

Horse Trap Willow Springs Wildlife Habitat Area is within the area bounded on the west by Woods and Chevelon Canyons, on the south by Willow Springs Lake Recreation Area and on the north and east by Forest Road 237. It is on the Heber Ranger District. This area is important as an elk calving area. If you hike into the area, large groups of elk may be observed grazing along the closed roadbeds. Popular activities besides wildlife viewing and hunting include mountain biking and hiking.

St. Peter's Dome Wildlife Habitat Area is the land area encompassed by Forest Roads 117, 118, and 117A and is a mile northeast of Greens Peak on the Springerville Ranger District. This is an excellent area for archery hunting, hiking, horseback riding, and photography. Elk, deer, and turkey can be seen throughout the area. This area is most popular during late summer and fall.

Middle Mountain Wildlife Habitat Area is a gentle to moderately steep south and southwesterly facing area of land that lies between Beaver Creek and Middle Mountain on the Alpine Ranger District. This area is closed to motorized vehicles from August 15 until December 31. This seasonal closure provides security and cover to elk, deer, and turkey and is especially important during hunting season. Large herds of deer and elk have been observed in this area. Early morning and evening should provide wildlife photographers and viewers the best opportunities.

Woolhouse Wildlife Habitat Area is the land area bounded on the north by U.S. Highway 60, on the south by Forest Road 45, and on the east by the Navajo and Apache County line. It is north and east of Porter Mountain on the Lakeside Ranger District. Woolhouse is a large area and is more of a challenge to hikers and hunters. This area is closed to motorized vehicles year-round and because of this, increasing numbers of elk can now be seen in the area.

Hiking in Arizona's White MountainsBenefits:

Some of the benefits of area closures to motorized vehicles are:

  • Reduced disturbance and stress to wildlife during critical periods (e.g., nesting), resulting in healthier animals and lower mortality rates.
  • Improved the quality of wildlife viewing and hunting experiences for individuals seeking solitude and undisturbed animals.
  • Provide wildlife the opportunity to make more effective use of all habitat.
  • Reduced motorized vehicle disturbance to vegetation, soil, and water resources.
  • Reduced road maintenance needs and costs.

Public response to the wildlife habitat areas has been overwhelmingly in favor of continuing and/or expanding the program. Hunters enjoy what they consider a "quality hunt," free from the disturbance of motorized vehicles. Photographers and wildlife viewers are able to see abundant deer, elk, turkey, numerous species of birds, and much more throughout the recreation season.

Any opposition to motorized restrictions has been mainly from individuals or groups with concerns about visitors who may not be physically able to walk through these areas. Since the total mileage affected is only around one percent of all travel ways on the Apache-Sitgreaves, visitors with physical impairments still have opportunities to enjoy thousands of miles of roads that remain open to vehicular traffic.

Permitted access with motorized vehicles is limited to only that which is an absolute necessity or emergency. For example, some areas have powerline or waterline permits where it is sometimes necessary to use motorized equipment for maintenance. Also, the designation of these areas does not preclude other on-the-ground management activities, such as timber harvesting and grazing.

The remaining six areas are re-evaluated periodically by a team of Forest Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department personnel. The team looks at numbers of violations, effects on soil, cost to manage, and other factors. Than, a decision is made for each area to do one of three things: keep the area the same, delete the area, or adjust the area's boundaries. The Swale Area, on the Heber Ranger District was dropped in the late 1980s during the latest re-evaluation process. There was little pressure from motorized vehicles, and there were no appreciable benefits to wildlife.

If we have whetted your appetite... with these brief descriptions of the six wildlife habitat areas, be our guest and visit one of these national forest "quiet places." Try out that new mountain bike. Hike an area and see how many different species of wildlife you can observe or photograph. Enjoy nature's spectacular fall color or just get away from your favorite campground and enjoy this unique part of...AMERICA'S GREAT OUTDOORS.

Wildlife Habitat Areas

Published with the permission of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests & Arizona Game & Fish Department.

For more information, Contact:

Forest Service, Dept. of Agriculture
  • Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests
    309 S. Mountain Avenue, U.S. Hwy. 180
    P.O. 640
    Springerville, AZ 85938
Arizona Game & Fish
  • Arizona Game & Fish Department
    Region 1
    HC 62, Box 57201
    Pinetop, AZ 85935