[Federal Register: June 20, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 119)]
[Page 38294-38297]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Decision and Availability of the Record of Decision 
Document for the Comprehensive Conservation Plan/Environmental Impact 
Statement for the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, Stevens 
County, Washington.

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of Decision and Availability of the Record of Decision 
Document for the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan/Environmental Impact Statement.


SUMMARY: This notice makes available to the public the Record of 
Decision (ROD) for the Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Final 
Environmental Impact Statement (Final CCP/EIS) for Little Pend Oreille 
National Wildlife Refuge, Stevens County, Washington. Pursuant to 
Council on Environmental Quality regulations implementing the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (40 CFR 1505.2), and U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service (Service) Comprehensive Conservation Plan policy, the 
Service issues this ROD upon consideration of the Final CCP/EIS 
prepared for the Proposed Action to Develop and Implement a 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Little Pend Oreille National 
Wildlife Refuge. The Final CCP/EIS was released to the public on April 
21, 2000. A notice of Availability of the Final CCP/EIS was published 
in the Federal Register on April 25, 2000 (65 FR 24221). The ROD which 
documents the selection of the Preferred Alternative as presented in 
the Final CCP/EIS, was signed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Acting 
Regional Director Dan Diggs, on May 31, 2000. The determination was 
based on a thorough analysis of the environmental, social, and economic 
considerations presented in the FEIS.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Inquiries regarding the Record of 
Decision or the Final CCP/EIS should be submitted to the Refuge 
Manager, Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, 1310 Bear Creek 
Road, Colville, Washington 99114, phone (509) 684-8384. Copies of the 
CCP/EIS and this ROD may be obtained from the above address; or 
downloaded from http://www.r1.fws.gov/planning/plnhome.html.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The text of the Record of Decision follows.

Record of Decision for the Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan/
Environmental Impact Statement for Little Pend Oreille National 
Wildlife Refuge

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) began the process of 
developing a management plan for the 40,198-acre Little Pend Oreille 
National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) in 1995. The National Wildlife Refuge 
System Improvement Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-57) now requires that 
each national wildlife refuge be managed under a Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan. The

[[Page 38295]]

purpose of this Plan is to develop a vision for the Refuge and provide 
management guidance for protection, maintenance, restoration, and 
public use of Refuge resources during the next 15 years.
    This Record of Decision (ROD) for the Final Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan/Environmental Impact Statement for Little Pend 
Oreille National Wildlife Refuge (final CCP/EIS) is a statement of the 
decision made, including, how the decision responds to primary issues, 
other alternatives considered, public involvement in the decision 
making process, and the basis for the decision.

Decision (Selected Alternative E)

    The Refuge will implement Alternative E, which was identified as 
the alternative that best satisfies Refuge System and Service missions, 
as well as long-term management objectives in the final CCP/EIS. 
Alternative E recognizes both the need to protect natural and cultural 
resources and to provide opportunities for compatible recreational 
uses. Some guidelines and actions in Alternative E remain consistent 
with those presented in the draft CCP/EIS. Others were modified in the 
final CCP/EIS to respond to public comments and concerns.
    The Service plans to manage the Refuge for the next 15 years 
through implementation of Alternative E. Key Refuge management 
components of Alternative E follow.
    Forest Management. Restore natural forest structure and composition 
creating a mosaic of stands which approximate the Historic Range of 
Variability within each forest type. For the long-term, promote large 
tree size and stand development into mature and old stages over 
approximately 50 percent of the Refuge. Use precommercial and 
commercial thinning, selective harvest techniques, and prescribed fire. 
Suppress all wildfires outside of prescription. Promote protection of 
wildlife corridors and buffer zones with neighboring landowners and 
    Riparian and Stream Management. Repair and improve roads that limit 
fish passage or cause excessive sedimentation, and plant and stabilize 
streambanks. In-stream flows take priority over diversion flows. 
Protect riparian areas, water bodies and fish bearing streams by 
enacting a 300-foot slope distance setback (600 feet, including both 
sides of a stream channel) or to the extent of the outer edges of the 
100-year floodplain, whichever is greatest for dispersed camping, 
commercial thinning, and road construction.
    Roadless Area. Manage the 5,520-acre roadless area in the southeast 
corner of the Refuge to protect the primitive roadless character and 
associated values. The roadless area will be studied further concurrent 
with development of the step-down Habitat Management Plan and the 
Public Use Management Plan to determine its suitability as a Wilderness 
Study Area.
    Use of Old Fields. Plant up to 200 upland acres with crops to 
provide wildlife forage and wildlife viewing opportunities. Allow about 
135 acres to revert to native vegetation, using prescribed fire and 
thinning to enhance natural succession. Maintain remaining upland 
openings with mowing, prescribed fire, and other methods.
    Noxious Weed Management. Develop an integrated weed management plan 
to treat existing weeds, minimize new weed introduction, and prevent 
conditions that favor weed establishment and spread.
    Entrances and Roads. Provide nine entrances and close minor entry 
points. Close or remove numerous selected roads as outlined in the road 
management criteria. The density of open roads in 14 subwatersheds is 
not to exceed 1.5 miles per square mile from April 15 to December 31 
and 0.5 miles per square mile from January 1 to April 14. Close all 
roads except the County-maintained roads from January 1 to April 14.
    Hunting. Expand quality hunting opportunities (spring turkey, 
grouse, and deer/elk bow hunts). A Refuge-wide hunting closure is 
retained from January 1 through August 31, with the exception of 
allowing hunting during the spring turkey season. The use of bait to 
hunt any wildlife on the Refuge as well as hound hunting for cougar, 
black bear, coyote, fox or bobcat, is prohibited. Specialized hunter 
education programs will be offered.
    Wildlife Observation, Interpretation, and Photography. Increase 
available wildlife viewing, information, and opportunities and offer 
programs and events such as a summer youth program. Interpretation will 
focus on the natural and cultural history of the area.
    Fishing. Continue current April through October fishing season and 
emphasize catch and release fishing in the Little Pend Oreille River. 
Increase opportunities for natural spawning in lakes. Continue stocking 
program in lakes with emphasis on native sources.
    Camping. Allow camping in designated campgrounds from April 15 to 
December 31 and in designated dispersed sites only between October 1 
and December 31. Close undesignated campsites located in riparian 
    Horseback Riding. Develop an equestrian plan, specifically 
addressing overnight use, trails, feed, and maintenance.
    Off-road Vehicles and Snowmobiling. Control illegal use with law 
enforcement patrols. Discontinue snowmobiling on all Refuge roads and 
lands except for passage through the Refuge on four miles of Olson 
Creek Road to Calispell Peak. Seek off-Refuge locations for the 
snowpark and trail to Calispell Peak.
    Livestock Grazing. Eliminate the annual grazing program in five 
years and thereafter use grazing only as habitat management tool to 
achieve wildlife objectives.
    Air Force Survival School. Phase out the use of the Refuge by the 
Air Force Survival School within five years.

Other Alternatives Considered

    The draft and final CCP/EIS evaluated four other alternatives for 
the management of the Refuge, a brief summary of each follows.
    Alternative A, the no action alternative. Make no changes to the 
prevailing practices and uses at the refuge.
    Alternative B, restore wildlife habitat while managing existing 
public uses. This alternative combines an active forest and riparian 
restoration program with minimal change to existing public uses.
    Alternative C, restore wildlife habitat while emphasizing priority 
public uses. This alternative adopts a greater emphasis on priority 
uses identified under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement 
Act of 1997 and eliminates or reduces non-priority uses. This 
alternative also incorporates a strong forest and riparian restoration 
    Alternative D, manage the Refuge as an ecological reserve and 
reduce human disturbances. This alternative minimizes human access and 
use of the refuge while conducting a moderate restoration program, with 
a greater emphasis on hydrologic restoration than other alternatives.
    Actions common to all alternatives include the maintenance and 
protection of the Refuge's two Research Natural Areas; protection of 
the roadless area; management of other fee and easement parcels; 
continuation of annual payments to counties; continuation of timber 
salvage and firewood harvest; and cultural resource protection.

[[Page 38296]]

Public Involvement and Comments Received

    Public comment has been requested, considered, and incorporated 
throughout the planning process in numerous ways. Public outreach 
included open houses, public meetings, plan work group meetings, a 
camping evaluation, planning update mailings, and Federal Register 
notices. Five previous notices were published in the Federal Register 
concerning this CCP/EIS (61 FR 65591, December 13, 1996; 63 FR 39884, 
July 24, 1998; 64 FR 24168, May 5, 1999; 64 FR 36712, July 7, 1999; 64 
FR 46404, August 25, 1999 and 65 FR 24221 April 25, 2000).
    Persons and organizations involved in the review process included: 
U.S. Forest Service; U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service; U.S. 
Air Force; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; members of 
national, state and local conservation organizations; timber industry 
representatives; grazing permittees; inholders and neighboring 
landowners; and other interested citizens. Comments and concerns 
received early in the planning process were used to identify issues and 
draft preliminary alternatives. Preliminary alternatives were developed 
and public input sought through open houses and mailings. These 
alternatives generated 141 comments. During the Draft CCP/EIS comment 
period that occurred from May 5 to August 31, 1999, the Service 
received a total of 300 communications (letters, faxes, postcards, 
email messages, visits, or telephone calls) representing 327 persons. 
These comments were received from the following locations: Stevens 
County (42%), Spokane area (24%), other parts of Washington (22%), out 
of state (6%), and location unknown (5%). The Service also received 
three petitions signed by a total of 318 people.
    All substantive issues raised in the comments have been addressed 
through revisions incorporated into the Final CCP/EIS text or responses 
contained in Appendix J of the Final CCP/EIS. These responses are 
incorporated by reference into the ROD.

Responses to Comments Received on the Final CCP/EIS

    U.S. Congressman George R. Nethercutt, Jr. requested that the 
Service complete a risk takings analysis pursuant to Executive Order 
12630, ``Government Actions and Interference with Constitutionally 
Protected Property Rights.'' This request was made specifically in the 
relation to the CCP/EIS proposal to eliminate the annual grazing 
program and cited several recent court cases. The Service researched 
property rights associated with water rights and found no valid claims 
associated with stock water rights or ditched rights of way. The 
Service concluded that eliminating an annual grazing program does not 
result in a constitutional taking and that Executive Order 12630 does 
not apply to federally owned lands within the Little Pend Oreille 
National Wildlife Refuge.
    U.S. Senator Slade Gorton's Eastern Washington Director, Catherine 
O'Connell, called to question the science referenced in the evaluation 
of effects of Air Force training. The Service referenced the best 
available science in the CCP/EIS. While reactions to disturbance can 
and do vary by wildlife species, the weight of evidence indicates that 
aircraft disturbance can (under the right conditions) cause a variety 
of stress reactions to large mammals and raptors. Ms. O'Connell 
requested that the Air Force be allowed to continue using the Refuge if 
they desired, since their mission and stability is a national priority. 
The Service concludes that their use is not compatible with the purpose 
of the Refuge and that five years is a reasonable length of time for 
the Air Force to relocate in other suitable training locations.
    Individuals representing the Kettle Range Conservation Group and 
the Pacific Biodiversity Institute requested that the Service 
reconsider its selection of a preferred alternative and encouraged more 
stringent measures to protect wildlife. These organizations questioned 
the preferred alternative's treatment of cattle grazing, Air Force 
training, snowmobiling, commercial logging, riparian buffers and 
riparian camping, open road density, and cumulative effects analysis. 
The commentators stated they thought the Service should be more 
aggressive in closing some of these activities. The Service's 
preference was to eliminate the existing annual cattle grazing program 
and Air Force training immediately. However, providing five years to 
phase out these long-term uses is determined to be a practical and 
reasonable approach to reduce impacts to affected parties. Stipulations 
to prevent further degradation from these uses will be incorporated in 
special use permits.
    Regarding snowmobiling and protection of Canada lynx, the Service 
intends to work with neighboring land owners to seek an alternate 
snowmobile route off-refuge for access to Calispell Peak. Since the 
Service does not have sole jurisdiction and ownership of Olson Creek/
Tacoma Creek Road, traditional ingress and egress will be allowed to 
continue. The lynx, a wide ranging species, requires landscape scale 
management and cooperation between landowners and land managing 
agencies. The Service will seek a landscape-scale solution to lynx 
    Regarding the extent of riparian conservation buffers, the Service 
has reviewed the standards for riparian protection and agreed to 
increase the 200-foot distance recommended in the Final EIS, to 300 
feet slope distance (600 feet, including both sides of the channel) for 
fish-bearing streams and lakes.
    Regarding open road densities, the Kettle Range Conservation Group 
would like the Service to adopt a stricter road density standard for 
summer range (one mile per square mile). After reviewing this comment, 
it is decided that the CCP recommended road density standard will 
remain at 1.5 miles per square mile, consistent with State of 
Washington recommendation for white-tailed deer summer range. This will 
allow the Service flexibility in habitat restoration, forest management 
and fire management which are high priorities in the next 15 years. 
Over time, as forest habitat is restored to more stable and natural 
conditions, additional roads may be closed thus reducing summer road 
densities in future years.

Environmentally Preferable Alternative

    The alternative which causes the least damage to the biological and 
physical environment and best protects, preserves, and enhances 
historic, cultural, and natural resources is Alternative D. The focus 
of Alternative D was to manage the Refuge as an ecological reserve. The 
key components of the alternative were to promote habitat restoration, 
to restore aquatic conditions to natural states, and to effectively 
enlarge roadless areas in the eastern Refuge by reducing human 
intrusions. The alternative supported the priority uses established 
under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, 
however, access for these uses was very restrictive. Only no-trace 
camping would be allowed. Other uses such as horseback riding, 
livestock grazing, and the Air Force survival training would be 
eliminated from the Refuge. Only four access points to the Refuge would 
be maintained. Many of the recommendations contained in Alternative D 
were opposed by a large number of public commentators.

[[Page 38297]]

Findings and Basis for Decision

    Based upon review and careful consideration of--the impacts 
identified in the Final CCP/EIS; results of the various studies and 
surveys conducted in conjunction with the Draft and Final CCP/EIS; 
public comments received throughout the process including comments on 
the Draft and Final CCP/EIS; and other relevant factors including the 
purposes for which the Refuge was established by Executive Order and 
statutory and regulatory guidance--the Service finds that selecting 
Alternative E for implementation is appropriate for the following 
    Alternative E consists of the programs and facilities mentioned 
    Alternative E, as it is described in the Final CCP/EIS for the 
Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge, best accomplishes the 
establishing purposes of the Refuge and balances the statutory mission 
of the Service to provide long-term protection of the Refuge's 
resources, while allowing for appropriate levels of visitor use and 
appropriate means of visitor enjoyment. Alternative E also best 
accomplishes identified management goals and desired future conditions.
    Alternative E represents the best balance between provision of 
habitat restoration, public access and recreation, and other programs, 
and public and agency concerns identified during the public 
participation process.
    Based on an Intra-Service Section 7 evaluation, no state or 
federally listed endangered or threatened or endangered species or 
their critical habitats are known to be effected by the plan. 
Implementation of the decision would avoid any adverse impacts on 
wetlands and is not likely to adversely affect any endangered or 
threatened species, or result in destruction or adverse modification of 
critical habitat of such species. The determinations are: No effect to 
peregrine falcon; No effect to Utes ladies' tresses; and Not likely to 
adversely affect any of the following: bald eagle, gray wolf, grizzly 
bear, and Canada lynx.
    No historic properties listed in or eligible for listing in the 
National Register of Historic Places are known to be affected by the 
    The requirements of NEPA and the implementing regulations (40 CFR 
parts 1500-1508) have been satisfied.

Measures To Minimize Environmental Harm

    Public concerns, potential impacts, and methods or stipulations to 
mitigate those impacts are addressed in the Final CCP/EIS. All 
practicable measures to avoid or minimize environmental impacts that 
could result from implementation of the selected action have been 
identified and incorporated into the selected action. Implementation of 
the selected action would avoid any adverse impacts on wetlands and any 
endangered or threatened species, or that would result in the 
destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat of such 
species. Mitigation measures called stipulations will be followed. They 
are documented in Appendix F, Compatibility Determinations for the 
Final CCP/EIS and are incorporated here by reference. These 
stipulations make public and other uses compatible with the purpose for 
which the Refuge was established. The referenced compatibility 
stipulations ensure that all practical means to avoid or minimize 
environmental harm from the Selected Alternative have been adopted.
    The Service has considered the environmental and relevant concerns 
presented by agencies, organizations and individuals on the proposed 
action to develop and implement a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for 
the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge. I have decided to 
implement Alternative E, the Service's preferred alternative. The ROD 
serves as the written facts and conclusions relied upon in reaching 
this decision.

    Dated: May 31, 2000.
Daniel H. Diggs,
Acting Regional Director, Region 1, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 00-15466 Filed 6-19-00; 8:45 am]