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Wildlife Area Spotlights

New Castle County | Cedar Swamp Wildlife Area

The Cedar Swamp Wildlife Area, located in southern New Castle County, encompasses nearly 6,000 acres of upland and tidal marsh habitats. Cedar Swamp is comprised of three separate areas; the main tract which spans from Collins Beach to the Smyrna River; and the Bell and Rocks Tracts located a few miles north along the banks of the Blackbird Creek. Visitors to Cedar Swamp will notice eastern red cedar growing throughout the area and often believe this to be the reason for the area’s name, while in fact Cedar Swamp actually got its name from the Atlantic white cedar that once dominated the marsh, and whose dead stumps can still be seen rising above the marsh grass in some areas.

The habitats found within the Cedar Swamp Wildlife Area are some of the most diverse and pristine in Delaware, in large part because the watershed has the least amount of development and impervious surface of any watershed in the state. In recent years the Division of Fish and Wildlife, in partnership with PSE&G, has been working to restore the tidal marshes within Cedar Swamp, and have successfully converted what was once a phragmites dominated system into one that now contains a diverse mixture of native wetland plants. Visitors taking a stroll through Cedar Swamp’s uplands will encounter habitats of nearly every type including early successional grass and wildflower fields, brushy fields and hedgerows, and various aged mixed hardwood and pine forests. One of the unique features of Cedar Swamp is the abundance of seasonally wet areas known as vernal pools. These pools typically hold water during the fall, winter, and spring before drying out in the summer. This dry period prevents fish from being able to survive but provides perfect breeding habitat for frogs and salamanders. Numerous ponds, small impoundments, and wetlands can also be found scattered throughout the property which in addition to being home to several rare plant and animal species, are great places to view wintering waterfowl and migrating shorebirds. A keen eye may also notice the relative lack of many common invasive plant species, as the Division of Fish and Wildlife has spent a great deal of time controlling and has nearly eliminated species such as autumn olive, multi-flora rose, mile-a-minute, and Canada thistle from the main tract of Cedar Swamp.

During late winter and early spring, many of the grass fields and agricultural buffers will appear black and charred which is no accident. Prescribed fire is one of the management tools used heavily by area managers to help maintain early successional grass and native flower habitats. By burning fields in late fall managers can reduce the overall grass density and promote the growth of flowers and other herbaceous plants that are extremely valuable to numerous wildlife species. These plants are critical for many insect and other pollinator species, which in turn are beneficial to local farmers and even your home garden! Managers also frequently burn in late winter or early spring. Burning at this time of year helps reduce the amount of woody vegetation, removes much of the dead thatch layer created by several years of grass growth, helps control invasive species, and promotes an earlier green up that is attractive to many wildlife species. Most fields are burned every 3-7 years depending upon individual conditions and the management objectives for the particular field. By having fields on different rotational schedules, the Division of Fish and Wildlife can ensure that there is always a diversity of habitats available for all wildlife species.

For those seeking outdoor recreation, Cedar Swamp has much to offer. Hunters will find abundant deer, waterfowl, turkey, and small game populations and should refer to the area maps for special regulations. For wing shooting enthusiasts, fields on the Guestford and Rocks tracts are planted annually with either sunflowers or winter wheat, and are open to dove hunting via lottery. The many access roads and deer stand trails throughout the area provide excellent access for bird watching, wildlife viewing, or simply getting some exercise. During most of the year many of the access gates are closed to prevent vehicular access but these areas can still be accessed on foot. Anglers can use the boat ramp at Collins Beach to access the Delaware River and Bay as well as the adjacent tidal marshes in pursuit of white perch, striped bass, blue crabs, and a multitude of other species. The Collins Beach ramp is also a good location to launch your canoe or kayak, however careful attention should be given to the tide schedule as currents can be quite swift at times.

Kent County | Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Area

The Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Area comprises approximately 4,441 acres in western Kent County. It is named after the Division of Fish & Wildlife’s first director, Norm Wilder, who assumed that position in 1948 and actively pursued the acquisition of many properties in today’s wildlife area system. Although named for Mr. Wilder many locals still refer to this area as “Petersburg” due to the location of the main tract near this town. There are actually 5 tracts that comprise the area: The Petersburg tract is the largest at 3,285 acres and is the southernmost; the Bartsch tract lies on either side of Berrytown Road and is 186 acres; the Willow Grove tract lies north of the town it is named for and is the second largest at 772 acres; the Caulk tract and its 143 acres can be accessed from Route 10 and the 55 acres of the Bennett tract lies south of Mud Mill Road. The majority of the area lies in the Choptank River Watershed except for a small portion of the Petersburg tract that falls in the Murderkill River Watershed.

The birth of this area began back in 1940 when the then Board of Game & Fish Commissioners obtained the ground from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The early 40’s saw the Commission dedicate an approximate 150 acre section of the Petersburg tract to bird dog field trialing, and in the early 1950’s the field trialing interests were instrumental in building a clubhouse that served many conservation groups and hunter education classes over the years. The Division still maintains the area as early successional habitat for year round dog training and has the reputation as one of the premier bird dog field trial areas in the country. The Division rebuilt the Ralph D. Kellam Conservation & Recreation Center in 2014.

The Wilder area contains some of the largest intact forest blocks of any wildlife area in Delaware. Areas of oak forest adapted to wet conditions make up over 2,300 acres of the entire property. These forests were ditched decades ago in an effort to make farm ground surrounding the area more suitable. Present day management activities include plugging ditches and utilizing water control structures to restore some of the original hydrology to the forests. The area has a nice mix of agricultural ground and old field/brush habitat. Farm ground is competitively leased out and farmers must leave some of the crop for wildlife. Farm fields are surrounded by buffers of old field habitat to provide small game habitat and to reduce runoff. An active effort of creating shallow water wetlands in wet agricultural fields has been in place for years. The area has over 9 miles of internal dirt roads that offer hunter access, hiking, bird watching and horseback riding opportunities.

By far the most popular type of hunting on Wilder is for deer followed by wild turkeys. The oak forests provide plenty of cover and food in the form of mast for these species. In fact the #4 non-typical whitetail ever taken in Delaware came from this area in 2004. Rabbit hunting is also popular and fields are planted with sunflowers to provide dove hunting opportunities. Continued wetland restoration has increased waterfowl hunting opportunities especially for wood ducks. Woodcock are known to frequent the area and are an under hunted opportunity. No additional permits are required to hunt the area provided hunters are properly licensed. Specific regulations are provided on area maps which are available on the Division’s website and Dover office.

Sussex County | Midlands Wildlife Area

The Midlands Wildlife Area is known by deer hunters as a great place to hunt near Millsboro in Sussex County. It was established in 2000 when three timber management companies sold over 6,000 acres of pinelands in Sussex County to the State of Delaware. The sale was called the Chesapeake Forest Lands Purchase. It allowed the Division of Fish & Wildlife to create three new wildlife areas—Old Furnace, Marshy Hope, and Midlands. Its name was derived from the fact that it lays in the middle of the Indian River, Chesapeake, and Pocomoke River watersheds. Its topography is flat and it’s hard to tell which direction the water flows because of its headwaters status. Its most discernable feature is the loblolly pine trees. Originally 2,126 acres in size, it has grown to 4,083 acres through 3 additional purchases of both woodland and farmland. The latest purchase contained more hardwoods and a plethora of small farmed fields. Since the original owner was a timber company they planted and harvested loblolly pines like a crop for both timber and pulp over the years. Over 85% of the land is planted in genetically improved loblolly pine trees planted in rows. There are hardwoods along the ditches and right of ways, as well as along the roads, but it is essentially a large pine forest with a system of dirt access roads surrounded by farmed fields.

The Division leased the original 2000 acres plus other nearby tracts of land beginning in 1992 for public hunting. Collectively called the Industrial Forest Lands they included several tracts owned by the Chesapeake Forest Products Company and the Glatfelter Pulpwood Company, who retained ownership while giving the Division the right to invite hunters on to lands managed for hunting professionally. The Division continues to lease some of these lands (Barr Tract for example) after the purchase of hunting rights easements, but Midlands was bought outright. It continues to be used by deer and turkey hunters who say it’s a great place to hunt.

Our goal is to manage the lands towards a more diverse forest while capturing the value of the pine crop. We thinned thick stands of young pines for better wildlife cover in 2005, thinned older stands for profit and a more diverse shrub community in 2014, and used prescribed burns (2007) to enhance the food value of herbs growing under trees large enough for harvest within the next 5 years. In 2008 we began working with the Delaware Forestry Service to develop a Forestry Plan. They began inventorying the timber in 2009, and generated a revised plan in 2010. As a result of this collaboration between sister conservation agencies the first step in a long range plan to harvest trees in ways most compatible with wildlife management objectives began with a commercial tree thinning operation in 2014. All of these practices complement the original forestry goals while making the forest more attractive to young quail, turkey, and deer.

Midlands has several farmed fields—both large and small. They are leased to a farmer (s) who agrees to leave standing crops (usually corn or soybean) after the harvest as supplemental winter food. Some of the smaller fields that are close to the adjacent forest and who are either too small or too irregularly shaped have been planted in trees most beneficial to wildlife. Other fields that were chronically too wet for farming have been (or will be) converted into small wetlands. Nutrients in one main ditch are kept out of the Chesapeake Bay by installing a water control structure (2014) which backs up the water giving the plants more time to absorb them. Come discover Midlands Wildlife Area near Millsboro in Sussex County, as We Bring You Delaware’s Great Outdoors through Science and Service.

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