Beginning in 2006 the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge will be writing a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) to guide management of the Refuge for the next fifteen years. This is an opportunity to reach out and gather input from various state and federal agencies (eg. WV Division of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service), from various non-governmental organizations (i.e. the Nature Conservancy and National Audubon), from local community businesses and organizations (i.e. the Tucker Co. Convention and Visitors Bureau, Blackwater Bikes, the Friends of the 500th and Bright Morning Inn), and from interested individuals like you. This process will help increase the understanding of refuge management within the local community.
This article will provide a general overview of the Comprehensive Conservation Planning process. The next article will provide a little more detail about the first part of that process.
Two laws are crucial to understanding this planning process: The Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
The Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 requires the Secretary of the Interior to prepare a conservation plan for each Refuge within fifteen years, and to revise the plan every fifteen years thereafter. Plans must describe: 1) the purposes of the Refuge; 2) the fish, wildlife and plant populations, their habitats, and the archaeological and cultural values found on the Refuge; 3) significant problems that may adversely affect wildlife populations and habitats and ways to correct or to mitigate those problems; 4) areas suitable for administrative or visitor facilities; and 5) opportunities for fish and wildlife dependent recreation. The Secretary must ensure adequate public involvement in the preparation of the plans. Fish and wildlife dependent recreation is defined as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, nature photography, environmental education and interpretation.
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires any proposed major federal action(s) to include a report that describes: 1) the environmental impact of the proposed action(s); 2) any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented; 3) alternatives to the proposed action(s); 4) the relationship between the local short-term uses of man’s environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity; and 5) any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources which would be involved in the proposed action(s) should it/they be implemented. In practice, these reports are called Environmental Assessments (EA) for short reports describing little or no environmental impact, or Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for more controversial projects with more potentially adverse environmental effects.
The purpose of a CCP is to provide strategic management direction for the next 15 years, by:
- stating clearly the desired future conditions of Refuge habitat, wildlife, visitor services, staffing, and facilities;
- providing a clear understanding of the reasons for Refuge management actions to state agencies, Refuge neighbors, visitors, and partners;
- conforming Refuge management to the policies and goals of the Refuge System and its legal mandates;
- providing long-term continuity in Refuge management;
- ensuring the compatibility of current and future public use; and,
- documenting staffing, operating, maintenance, and annual budget needs.
A chart outlining the complete process is found on the next page.
A. Planning the Plan: The Refuge is currently beginning the Preplanning phase. In this phase we will identify a core planning team, identify key audiences for outreach, pull together a planning contact/mailing list, gather and examine literature, establish procedures for documenting and filing the planning record and identify the purpose and need for the plan. If you would like to be on the contact list, please phone or e-mail the Refuge (304-866-3858 or firstname.lastname@example.org), requesting to be on the planning contact list, and providing your name, address, phone number and e-mail address.
B. Initiate Public Involvement and Scoping: In this phase the core planning team will hold a series of workshops and public open houses to gather input from interested individuals, local businesses and organizations. This phase will be led by a contractor so that staff bias and experience do not affect what is heard from those who provide input. People will be able to comment about what they would like to see the Refuge do, either orally or in writing. Written comments will be encouraged. The core team will use the public input to identify the issues that need to be addressed in the plan. The Refuge expects to begin this phase in the fall of 2006.
C. Review Vision Statement and Goals & Determine Significant Issues: The core team begins with their ideas for a vision statement. Input from public involvement may change or modify this vision. Refuges often begin with purposes designated in their authorizing legislation. Staff develop goals based on these purposes. These goals may be modified in this planning process. Issues are any unsettled matters requiring a management decision. The public involvement process identifies the issues. Significant issues usually: 1) Are within the Refuge’s jurisdiction; 2) Suggest different actions or alternatives; and 3) Will influence plan decisions.
D. Develop and Analyze Alternatives: Alternatives specify different ways to: 1) Achieve Refuge purposes; 2) Meet Refuge vision and goals; 3) Contribute to the National Wildlife Refuge System Mission; and 4) Resolve issues. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires us to “rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives.” (in the Council on Environmental Quality regulations to enact NEPA). Alternatives are the heart of the planning and NEPA process. They provide a basis for choice, to compare impacts and make better decisions.
E. Prepare Draft Plan and NEPA Document: In the draft plan and NEPA document the core team tells the public what alternatives were considered, how they were analyzed and what is the preferred alternative. The NEPA document may be an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), depending on the significance of the issues. There will be a public review and comment period of the NEPA document and draft plan.
F. Prepare and Adopt the Final Plan: The public comments on the draft plan and NEPA document are analyzed and considered. Changes are made to the draft plan. A final plan is published and distributed.
G. Implement Plan, Monitor, and Evaluate: The plan is completed, but our work has just begun. Now the Refuge must implement the plan. We need to do what we have said we are going to do. As we implement the plan, we monitor and evaluate the management strategies to see how well we are meeting the vision, purpose, goals and objectives stated in the plan. If we aren’t doing that, then it is time to …
H. Review and Revise the Plan: The chart indicates the circular nature of the CCP process. The process starts over either after the fifteen year life of the plan, or if significant changes to the plan require further public review. The CCP process can be restarted at any time if the plan is not meeting the goals of the Refuge.