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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

June 28, 2002
Eddie N. Bennett, 303 236-8155 x 234

Service seeks public comments on transfer of federal aid interest in Almeria Meadows Wildlife Management Area in Loup County to the Lackaff Tract addition in Rock County, Nebraska

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a draft environmental assessment of a state proposal to transfer federal aid interest in the Almeria Meadows Wildlife Management Area to the Lackaff Tract. Public comments are welcome for a 30 day period.

Public comment on the proposal and draft environmental assessment will help the Service decide whether to approve the transfer of title from a current federally acquired property to another property. The draft environmental assessment, prepared by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provides an analysis of alternatives for the resolution of a loss of management control by the Commission regarding a property acquired with Federal Aid in Sport Fish and Wildlife Act funds. The responsibility for resolution of this loss of management control issue is with the Commission and the Service; this document is the National Environmental Policy Act compliance component. Resolution of this loss of control will enable the Commission to remain eligible to participate in the Federal Aid in Sport Fish and Wildlife Grant programs. Failure to resolve the loss of control could result in significant loss of funding to the Commission.

The draft environmental assessment describes the events leading up to the loss of control issue on Almeria Meadows Wildlife Management Area, describes the actions and alternative proposed to resolve the issue, and evaluates all environmental issues for selection of a preferred action. The Commission along with the Service delineated a set of criteria used in selection of a preferred action. The draft environmental assessment is also necessary to determine if a Draft Environmental Impact Statement is necessary to analyze the issue of loss of control. After public comments on the EA are reviewed, a determination will be made whether an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required. If an EA is determined to be appropriate the Commission will be advised to proceed with the preferred action to resolve the issue. If an EIS is needed, the Service will initiate the EIS process.

There are two methods which the Commission can choose to resolve the issue of loss of management control: 1) regain control or 2) replace the current property with another of equal benefit and equal value. Equal value is established by preparation of a certified appraisal for both the original property and the proposed exchange parcel. The appraised value of a proposed exchange property must be equal to or greater than that of the original property.

Equal benefit is established by assessing those factors of ownership of the original property to the presence or absence of these same factors on proposed replacement properties. While there is no expectation that a replacement property will have identical factors of benefit as the original, the use of these factors allows justification of selection of a primary replacement property. This selection process is a way of accounting for the benefits a replacement property should provide to the fish, plant and wildlife resources, their habitats, and the intended use of the property by the public. To ensure that a proposed property provides equal benefits as the original, a number of factors were considered including:

The availability of exchange properties that correlate with the purpose of the original;

The primary purpose, habitat type, floral and faunal species, recreational and public use, size, and associated property rights (e.g., water rights) of a proposed exchange property;

Resource features of a proposed exchange property that may be different but of greater value than the original; and,

The ultimate ownership, management, and use of the original property.

The Service, in a letter to the Commission, dated January 9, 2001, provided the following recommendations and criteria to be used in judging replacement properties: 1) a native grassland prairie, with wet meadows, for grassland bird species; 2) good fishing access to a riverine environment; 3) emergent wetlands in an established riparian zone; 4) larger, established woodlands for two deer species and turkey to benefit hunters, and 5) habitat types to support furbearers. The Preferred Action for resolution of the issue of loss of management control is to replace the Almeria Meadows Wildlife Management Area with a comparable property, the Lackaff Tract. The Commission will deed the title of Almeria to a private individual for an appraised value of the land and use these funds to purchase the Lackaff Tract as a replacement. Upon completion of the purchase, the Lackaff Tract will become a part of the Twin Lake Wildlife Management Area and become a federally acquired property subject to regulations in 50 CFR Part 80.

The Almeria Meadows Wildlife Management Area was purchased through a combination of state fishing and hunting license funds (25%) and federal aid in Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration funds (75%). The federal funds are administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service and come from taxes on firearms, ammunition, fishing equipment, import duties on tackle and boats, motorboat fuels and small engine fuels.

The Service has the discretion and authority, pursuant to 50 CFR Part 80, to require that the Commission resolve the loss of management control to remain eligible to participate in the benefits of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program. The Commission has the prerogative to choose which of the methods (restoring control or replacement) described above will be used. Consequently, correcting the loss of management control of Almeria constitutes a "Federal action," which must comply with various laws.

Detailed information on each alternative is contained in the draft environmental assessment. Copies of the document are available online at: http://www.r6.fws.gov/ne2 it is also available at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission site: http://www.ngpc.state.ne.us/infoeduc/new.html

Those persons without internet access may request copies by calling the Division of Federal Aid for the Service at 303-236-7392.

Send Comments to: Chief, Division of Federal Aid
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 25486
Denver, CO 80225

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93 million acres National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 530 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws and administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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