The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today released the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge’s (Refuge) final Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (final CCP/EIS), analyzing three management alternatives and selecting Alternative 2 as the Service’s preferred.
The final CCP/EIS proposes a 15-year management plan for improving the Refuge’s habitats for the long-term conservation of fish, wildlife and plants and for providing wildlife-dependent recreation, environmental education, and interpretation opportunities for Refuge visitors. In 30 days, the Service’s Pacific Regional Director will decide which alternative will be implemented.
“One of the Refuge’s most important issues is restoring the degraded wildlife habitat conditions caused by feral horse and burro populations,” said John Kasbohm, Project Leader for Sheldon-Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Feral horses and burros are not native to the Refuge and cause considerable damage to native habitats by over-grazing and trampling fragile vegetation, stream beds and other wildlife resources. The Service reexamined habitat monitoring data obtained in 2002 and concluded that 44 percent of the Refuge’s streams and 80 percent of its springs are severely degraded by feral horses and burros. Results from ongoing research indicate both riparian and upland habitats are impacted by feral horses and burros.
The cost of managing feral horses and burros is substantial, which results in fewer funds and staff to support the Service’s conservation mission and the Refuge’s purposes.
“Managing the Refuge’s feral horse and burro populations has been required to limit damage to wildlife habitat,” Kasbohm said. “In the final plan, we propose to restore native habitats and species and lower long-term operating costs by removing all feral horses and burros from the Refuge within five years.”
Removal of the feral horses and burros would occur primarily through a roundup (gathers) and private adoption program.
The preferred alternative also recommends that 351,598 acres of the refuge be designated as wilderness. This includes 262,745 acres from a 1974 wilderness recommendation to Congress that has not been acted upon. Not all of the acres in the 1974 recommendation are included in the current recommendation, which incorporates some areas not included in the 1974 recommendation.
The 575,000-acre Refuge was established to conserve pronghorn antelope and other native species of the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, such as greater sage grouse, prairie falcons, pygmy rabbits, American pika and other migratory birds. Most of the Refuge’s lands are located in northern Nevada, with a small area in southern Oregon. In the semi-arid environment of this area, the Refuge’s fish and wildlife species rely on its valuable but limited water resources and adjacent meadows, wetlands and riparian zones, which are impacted by feral horses and burros year-round but most severely during late-summer and mid-winter.
The Service invited public comments on the Draft CCP/EIS in September 2011 and received suggestions for improving the Refuge’s habitat conservation and recreational programs. Those comments, addressed in the final CCP/EIS, regard the following issues:
Restore springs and other key habitats;
Manage wildland and prescribed fires;
Reduce and remove encroaching western juniper;
Provide wildlife-dependent public uses;
Delineate public vehicle access to the Refuge;
Add a visitor contact station and improve campgrounds; and
Consider currently proposed wilderness areas and wilderness study areas for a potential wilderness recommendation.
Notice of Availability of the final CCP/EIS published in today’s Federal Register. The final CCP/EIS is available on the Refuge’s Web site: www.fws.gov/pacific/planning/main/docs/NV/docssheldon.htm, and printed copies are available at public libraries in: Lakeview, OR; Alturas, CA; and Winnemucca and Reno, NV. Requests for a CD-ROM copy of the final plan can be submitted via e-mail or U.S. mail as follows.
U.S. Mail: John Kasbohm, Project Leader, Sheldon-Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex, PO Box 111, Lakeview, OR 97630.