[Federal Register: August 28, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 167)]
[Page 52121-52123]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Intent To Prepare a Comprehensive Conservation Plan 
(CCP) and Associated Environmental Assessment (EA) for Pierce National 
Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Franz Lake NWR, and Steigerwald Lake NWR, and 
Notification of Two Public Scoping Meetings

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of Intent to Prepare a Comprehensive Conservation Plan 
and Associated Environmental Assessment for Pierce National Wildlife 
Refuge (NWR), Franz Lake NWR, and Steigerwald Lake NWR, Clark and 
Skamania Counties, Washington.


SUMMARY: This notice advises the public that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service (Service) is preparing a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) 
and Environmental Assessment (EA) for Pierce NWR, Franz Lake NWR, and 
Steigerwald Lake NWR (refuges [collectively]), and announces two public 
scoping meetings. The refuges are located in the state of Washington, 
in the Columbia River Gorge, in Clark and Skamania Counties. The 
Service is furnishing this notice in compliance with Service CCP policy 
and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and implementing 
regulations for the following purposes: (1) To advise other agencies 
and the public of our intentions; (2) to obtain suggestions and 
information on the issues to be addressed in the CCP; and (3) to 
announce public meetings for scoping. It is estimated that the draft 
CCP and EA will be available for public review in October 2000.

DATES: Two public meetings are scheduled. The dates are September 20 
and 21, 2000, see Public Meetings under Supplementary Information in 
this notice for locations and times. Submit scoping comments on or 
before October 6, 2000, to the Project Leader, Ridgefield NWR, the 
address follows.

ADDRESSES: Address comments, requests for more information, or requests 
to be added to the mailing list for this project to: Project Leader, 
Ridgefield NWR Complex, P.O. Box 457, Ridgefield, Washington 98642.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tom Melanson, Project Leader, (360) 



    The Service initiated development of a management plan for these 
refuges in 1990 but this planning effort was postponed due to 
anticipated changes in refuge planning procedure and policy. Two public 
meetings were held during this period to collect comments and 
suggestions from the public on how the refuges should be managed. The 
information obtained from these meetings, as well as new information to 
be collected during the current project scoping process, will be 
incorporated into the CCP.
    The refuges are located within the Columbia River Gorge National 
Scenic Area, administered by the U.S. Forest

[[Page 52122]]

Service. The Management Plan for the Scenic Area, adopted by the 
Columbia River Gorge Commission on October 15, 1991, called for the 
development of ``gateway facilities'' at major entry ways to the Scenic 
Area. Steigerwald Lake NWR was selected as the northwest gateway. The 
Service signed a Finding of No Significant Impact on December 23, 1999, 
for a proposed visitor center (Gateway Center) and interpretive trail 
at Steigerwald Lake NWR to accommodate wildlife-associated recreation, 
interpretation, and environmental education. Development of the Gateway 
Center, parking lot, interpretive trail, and associated infrastructure 
will not be addressed in the CCP. Construction will begin when Congress 
allocates funding for the project.

Current Planning Effort

    The Service is beginning the process of developing a 15-year 
management plan for Pierce NWR, Franz Lake NWR, and Steigerwald Lake 
NWR. The plan will include the following topics: (1) Significant 
problems adversely affecting resources within the refuges; (2) long-
term goals, objectives and strategies for the refuges, consistent with 
the National Wildlife Refuge System mission and other legal mandates; 
(3) compatible public uses of the refuges, including but not limited to 
wildlife observation and photography, environmental education and 
interpretation, and hiking; and (4) refuge facility, staffing and 
maintenance requirements.

Preliminary Issues

    The following preliminary issues and questions have been identified 
and will be addressed in the CCP. Additional issues will be identified 
during public scoping.
    1. How should the Service manage exotic and invasive plants and 
animals? Invasive species are non-native organisms possessing a fast 
reproductive rate and ability to spread rapidly. Invasive species 
reduce native plant and animal diversity by out-competing natives for 
space and resources. While all three refuges support non-native 
species, not all non-native species are considered invasive. Several 
exotic species of ``tame'' pasture grass are actively managed to 
provide browse for geese and other waterfowl. The invasive plant 
species of greatest concern for the refuges include Himalayan 
blackberry, reed canarygrass, tansy, leafy spurge, Canada thistle, and 
knapp weed. Invasive species of wildlife on the refuges include 
bullfrogs, nutria, and warm-water fish such as carp and bass. 
Bullfrogs, which were originally introduced to the western states from 
the east, are voracious predators of native amphibians and reptiles. 
There are a number of other non-native species in the Columbia River 
that have a high potential to invade the refuges. Although it may be 
impossible to eliminate invasive species from the refuges, measures can 
be taken to reduce their impact and prevent further invasions. Certain 
invasive species can be controlled using mechanical, chemical, and 
biological methods. Tansy and Canada thistle can be spot-treated with 
herbicides. Non-native fish and the eggs and tadpoles of bullfrogs can 
be controlled by seasonal drainage of ponds. Adult bullfrogs can be 
intensively harvested to reduce local populations. While these measures 
have proven to be effective, they are labor intensive, costly, and can 
have unintended short-term impacts to native species.
    2. What management actions should be taken to protect and restore 
aquatic resources, particularly rare and declining species? Surface 
water is a common feature to all three refuges. The numerous springs, 
streams, sloughs, and ponds provide important habitat for a great 
variety of native wildlife, including rare and declining species. 
Pierce NWR supports one of only three remaining runs of chum salmon in 
the lower Columbia River. In addition to chum, a small run of coho and 
a few remnant fall chinook and steelhead also spawn in Hardy Creek, 
although upstream migration is precluded by concrete culverts on the 
creek at State Highway 14 and the Burlington Northern Railroad. Adult 
coho salmon, winter steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and river lamprey 
return to Gibbons Creek at Steigerwald Lake NWR to spawn in the upper 
watershed, which also supports resident cutthroat trout. The refuges 
also provide important habitat for pond breeding amphibians and 
reptiles such as Western toad and painted turtle. Aquatic resources are 
threatened by invasive species and impacts to water quality resulting 
from development in the watershed above the refuges.
    3. How should the Service manage wetlands and what should be the 
role of water level manipulations in this management? Protection of 
riverine wetlands such as Franz and Arthur Lakes and Hardy Slough 
provides partial mitigation for the extensive loss of tidally 
influenced wetlands resulting from the construction of hydroelectric 
projects on the Columbia River. Releases from Bonneville Dam cause 
water levels in these wetlands to fluctuate widely, and the Columbia 
River levee prevents seasonal flooding of bottomland habitat at 
Steigerwald Lake NWR. The refuges partially compensate for these 
impacts by constructing and operating internal levees and water control 
structures. Certain areas of Steigerwald Lake NWR and Pierce NWR are 
seasonally flood irrigated to improve goose browse, control invasive 
species, and enhance wildlife production. Additional measures could be 
taken to improve the water supply and delivery system (e.g., drill 
wells and construct pipelines). However, the diverse and possibly 
conflicting needs of multiple species must be considered.
    4. What opportunities exist to restore riparian areas on the 
refuges? Riparian areas on the refuges have been substantially altered 
from their historic condition as a result of cattle grazing, land 
clearing, stream diversions, levee construction and hydroelectric 
projects. Restoration of degraded riparian areas has included such 
actions as fencing out cattle, relocating roads, and planting buffer 
strips. Extreme fluctuations in water elevations resulting from 
operation of Bonneville Dam continue to cause bank erosion. Similar 
impacts occur from wave action caused by traffic on the Columbia River. 
Water temperatures are elevated in some stream reaches due to 
inadequate amounts of shade.
    5. How should the Service manage upland vegetation to benefit 
wildlife resources? Upland areas of the refuges support mixed 
coniferous and hardwood forests and grasslands. Historic land uses, 
especially logging and ranching, resulted in conversion of bottom land 
forest to pasture. These grasslands today consist primarily of 
introduced pasture grasses and exotics. The forest understory consists 
of native and non-native species. The Indian Mary Creek watershed above 
State Highway 14 is heavily forested. Grassland management consists of 
weed control, haying or mowing, grazing and other pasture improvements 
as necessary for production of goose browse. Riparian hardwoods have 
been planted in some areas to restore bottomland forest cover.
    6. Does the public desire access to the refuges? What opportunities 
exist to open the refuges to compatible public uses, and how should 
these uses be managed to protect refuge resources? The refuges are 
located in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Steigerwald 
Lake NWR is one of four designated ``gateways'' to the Scenic Area. In 
establishing the Scenic Area, Congress intended federal, state and 
local governments to work cooperatively ``to protect and provide for 
the enhancement of the scenic, cultural,

[[Page 52123]]

recreational and natural resources of the Columbia River Gorge.'' 
Recreation, while given equal weight in Scenic Area directives, must be 
compatible with the refuges' purposes for inclusion in refuge programs. 
Currently, the refuges are closed to public use with the exception of 
requested staff-led tours. Construction of the Gateway Center and 
interpretive trail was approved in December of 1999, and will commence 
at Steigerwald Lake NWR in the near future. Opportunities to provide 
similar public uses at Franz Lake NWR and Pierce NWR are limited by 
access across a busy railroad track. With any increase in human 
visitation, the potential for disturbance to wildlife and the incidence 
of trespass, vandalism, and littering is anticipated to increase.

Public Comments

    With the publication of this notice, the public is encouraged to 
attend public meetings and submit written comments for staff to 
consider in developing the CCP. Comments received shall be used to 
identify issues and draft preliminary alternatives. Comments already 
received are on record and need not be resubmitted.
    All comments received from individuals on Environmental Assessments 
and Environmental Impact Statements become part of the official public 
record. Requests for such comments will be handled in accordance with 
the Freedom of Information Act, the Council on Environmental Quality's 
NEPA regulations [40 CFR 1506.6(f)], and other Service and Departmental 
policy and procedures. When requested, the Service generally will 
provide comment letters with the names and addresses of the individuals 
who wrote the comments. However, the telephone number of the commenting 
individual will not be provided in response to such requests to the 
extent permissible by law. Additionally, public comment letters are not 
required to contain the commentator's name, address, or other 
identifying information. Such comments may be submitted anonymously to 
the Service.
    The environmental review of this project will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy 
Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), NEPA Regulations (40 
CFR 1500-1508), other appropriate Federal laws and regulations, the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, and Service 
policies and procedures for compliance with those regulations.

Public Meetings

    Two public scoping meetings will be held in September. Dates, 
locations, and times follow. The format will be a presentation on the 
planning process and the refuges followed by facilitated discussions to 
gather public comments. The dates, times, and locations of the public 
meetings follow.

September 20, 2000, 7 pm to 9 pm, Jemtegaard Middle School, 35300 
Evergreen Blvd., Washougal, Washington.
September 21, 2000, 7 pm to 9 pm, Rock Creek Center, 710 SW Rock Creek 
Drive, Stevenson, Washington.

    Dated: August 21, 2000.
Don Weathers,
Acting Regional Director, Region 1, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 00-21863 Filed 8-25-00; 8:45 am]