[Federal Register: May 1, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 84)]
[Page 21711-21712]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability

SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces that a Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment (CCP/EA) 
for Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) is available for 
review and comment. This CCP/EA, prepared pursuant to the National 
Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 and the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969, describes how the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service intends to manage the Refuge for the next 15 years.

DATES: Please submit comments on the Draft CCP/EA on or before May 31, 

ADDRESSES: Comments on the Draft CCP/EA should be addressed to: Steve 
Knode, Project Leader, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Crescent Lake 
National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 115 Railway Street, Suite C109, 
Scottsbluff, NE 69361-3190.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Steve Knode, Project Leader, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge 
Complex,115 Railway Street, Suite C109, Scottsbluff, NE 69361 (308) 
635-7851; fax (308) 635-7841; or John Esperance, Branch Chief, Branch 
of Land Protection Planning, PO Box 25486-DFC, Denver, CO 80225; (303) 
236-8145 ext. 658.


Availability of Documents

    Copies of the Draft CCP/EA may be obtained by writing to Steve 
Knode, Project Leader, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Crescent Lake 
National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 115 Railway Street, Suite C109, 
Scottsbluff, NE 69361. Copies of the plan may also be viewed at this 


    The 45,849-acre Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge), 
established in 1931, is located 28 miles north of Oshkosh, Nebraska in 
Garden County, within the Central Flyway, at the southwestern end of 
the Nebraska Sandhills. It is administered by the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service as part of the Crescent Lake/North Platte National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Complex headquarters is 100 miles to the 
west in the city of Scottsbluff, NE.
    Crescent Lake Refuge lies on the southwestern edge of the 19,300 
square-mile Nebraska Sandhills, the largest sand dune area in the 
Western Hemisphere and one of the largest grass-

[[Page 21712]]

stabilized regions in the world. The Sandhills are characterized by 
rolling, vegetated hills and inter-dunal valleys which are oriented in 
a northwest to southeast direction. Many shallow lakes and marshes are 
interspersed in the lower valleys. Native grasses predominate. Wildlife 
diversity, except large ungulates and their predators, is relatively 
unchanged since early settlement.
    The initial Refuge was 36,920 acres, acquired primarily from one 
large ranch. Additional lands were acquired between 1932 and 1937. Most 
lands were acquired or exchanged under the authority of the Migratory 
Bird Conservation Act (45 Stat. 1222). Approximately 2,566 acres were 
acquired under the Resettlement Administration (Executive Order 7027, 
April 30, 1935), a drought and depression relief program.
    The Nebraska Sandhills are one of the few large native prairie 
areas in the United States that have not been substantially converted 
to farmland or otherwise modified. Thus, most of the plant and animal 
species present when settlement began are still present today.
    This Draft CCP/EA identifies and evaluates four alternatives for 
managing Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Garden County, 
Nebraska for the next 15 years.
    Under the No Action Alternative, the refuge managers would continue 
current management and would not involve extensive restoration of 
wetlands and grassland habitat, nor improvements to roads, 
interpretive, and administrative facilities.
    This alternative would result in managing grasslands through 
grazing, using permittee cattle, rest, and limited prescribed fire. The 
Refuge staff would conduct limited surveys and management for 
threatened and endangered species, use grazing, fire, beneficial 
insects, and herbicides to control exotic plants and weeds; maintain 
the current levels of hunting, fishing, and wildlife observation; stay 
with the current cooperative agreements and partnerships; and continue 
the current levels of wildlife and habitat monitoring.
    Under Alternative 2, the refuge managers would provide for the 
reintroduction of a bison herd that would range freely on Crescent Lake 
NWR. The bison would be reintroduced to the Refuge though a special use 
permit by allowing a permittee to seasonally graze on Refuge land, 
following the guidelines of a grazing step-down plan. The public would 
have visible access to the bison herd, which would provide historical 
ecology interpretation. With the reintroduction of the bison herd, the 
Refuge staff would increase monitoring of fire effects and wildlife 
trends. Over time, use of permittee cattle on the Refuge would be 
phased out. The Refuge staff would increase the use of prescribed fire 
to replicate historic fire frequency. Over a period of time, water 
control structures would be removed and lakes would return to natural 
levels. The Refuge staff would monitor and study threatened and 
endangered species to determine effects of historic management. The 
control of exotic plants would be done using increased prescribed fire 
along with beneficial insects and herbicides. The same number of lakes 
would remain open to fishing. The Refuge staff would continue current 
cooperative agreements and seek partnerships in bison management. The 
current hunting programs would be continued.
    Under Alternative 3 the Refuge staff would actively manage 
grasslands using grazing with permittee cattle, rest, and prescribed 
fire. Water level management would be more intensively implemented. 
Existing water control structures would remain as necessary for draw-
downs. The Refuge staff would increase monitoring, management, and 
research on threatened and endangered species. Control of weeds and 
exotic plants would be accomplished by use of grazing, beneficial 
insects, herbicides and increased prescribed fire. Current hunting 
programs would continue with limits on numbers of hunters instituted if 
crowding occurs. This alternative calls for the increase in number of 
Refuge lakes open to sport fishing and an increase in the fishery 
management of those open lakes. This alternative also calls for an 
increase in the levels of interpretation and environmental education. 
Continue current cooperative agreements and partnerships and seek 
additional ones. The Refuge would increase monitoring of wildlife and 
    Alternative 4 is the Service's preferred alternative that would 
enable Crescent Lake NWR staff to manage their resources for native 
birds and wild animals, and to pursue the desire to implement a more 
natural/historic management regime with bison and prescribed fire as 
historical habitat management tools.
    Under this alternative the Refuge staff would, through a special 
use permit, reintroduce a bison herd on the 24,502-acre proposed 
Wilderness Area of the Refuge. The bison will be allowed to seasonally 
graze on Refuge land. The permittee would be required to follow the 
guidelines of a Bison Management step-down plan. The Refuge would 
increase prescribed fire in this area and incrementally remove interior 
fences. A five-year monitoring program would be established in this 
area to document changes in grasslands and wildlife. After the five-
year period, the Refuge staff would determine if bison grazing is truly 
compatible with a healthy grassland ecosystem. If not, they would 
return to permittee cattle as the primary grassland management tool.
    Under this alternative, the Refuge would retain the lakes presently 
open to fishing.
    This alternative includes the following management strategies that 
would monitor threatened and endangered species use and conduct applied 
research to determine methods to increase use:
     The Refuge would continue to transplant blowout penstemon 
in additional sites and protect trees for bald eagle roosts.
     Control weeds and exotic plants using a combination of 
prescribed fire, beneficial insects, and herbicides.
     Continue current fishing opportunities with an increased 
emphasis on public environmental education and interpretation.
     Continue current hunting opportunities and add limited 
waterfowl hunting.
     Current cooperative agreements and partnerships would 
continue, and the Refuge staff would seek outside funding to implement 
parts of the Plan.
     The Refuge staff would actively seek a partnering effort 
in bison management.
     Refuge staff would increase monitoring of grasslands and 
wildlife with emphasis on evaluation of the use of bison and fire to 
manage grasslands.

    Dated: March 13, 2002.
John A. Blankenship,
Deputy Regional Director, Region 6, Denver, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 02-10685 Filed 4-30-02; 8:45 am]