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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
BITTER CREEK NWR: Public Participation is Critical Part of Refuge Planning Process
Region 8, August 14, 2008

Marc Weitzel, Hopper Mountain NWRC

An August 5, 2008,  article in the Bakersfield Californian called into question the Service’s commitment to public participation in planning for the future management of Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  The article falsely charges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with neglecting public input on management alternatives proposed in the draft Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge Grassland Habitat Management and Restoration Plan: Environmental Assessment (EA).

 

The Service issued the draft plan in May 2008 and asked the public to comment on plan by May 31. The availability of the plan was published in local newspapers and on our website. To facilitate greater public involvement, the comment period was extended to July 31.

 

The draft plan presents management alternatives for Bitter Creek Refuge. By policy, the Service normally identifies its preferred alternative. Contrary to popular myth, this does not mean we have already decided to adopt the preferred alternative.  In the draft plan, the Service’s preferred alternative suggests a seasonal grazing regime with supplemental mowing and herbicide application for weeds. Also included is the potential for selective prescribed burning following a 3-5 year evaluation of the grazing program. We also evaluate the no action alternative which would maintain year-round grazing as the primary strategy, an alternative that focuses on prescribed burning as the primary strategy, and an alternative that focuses on seasonal grazing without prescribed fire.  

 

Since its release in May, the plan has received a wealth of public interest and comment. Experience shows that public input often reinforces a preferred alternative, but can also cause us to rethink a preferred course of action. Comments received to date on our draft plan, especially those voicing concerns over prescribed burning have been heard!

 

Public participation is an invaluable component of Service’s planning process. As a National Wildlife Refuge, Bitter Creek is both a valued asset to the people of Kern County and to the endangered and threatened wildlife its grassland habitats support. Public input, together with federal laws, refuge policies, and the best available conservation science guide our decisions.  Our own analysis of the draft EA together with public comments will assist us in selecting the alternative that best fulfills the purpose and need for the refuge.

 

In response to the community, the Service has extended the comment period on the draft plan to September 30, 2008. Also, the Service will host a public meeting in late September to receive additional comments. Meeting time and location will be published when finalized.   I encourage all interested members of the public to attend. We will present the facts about the plan and, more importantly, listen to your comments.

 

--Marc Weitzel is project leader for the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex which includes Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge

Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov