[Federal Register: December 22, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 245)]
[Page 71126-71128]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of the Final Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Summary for the Alamosa-Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges 
Complex, Alamosa, CO

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces that the final 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and Summary are available for the 
Alamosa-Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges Complex. This CCP, 

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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 Complex for the 
next 15 years.

ADDRESSES: Requests for copies of the CCP or Summary should be 
addressed to: Alamosa-Monte Vista NWR, 7393 El Rancho Lane, Alamosa, 
Colorado 81101. Requests may also be submitted via electronic mail to: 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Adam Misztal, Planning Team Leader at 
(303) 236-4383; fax (303) 236-4792 or Mike Blenden, Complex Manager, 
Alamosa/Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge Complex (719) 589-4021; 
fax (719) 587-0595.

    Background: Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges were 
established under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act 
``* * * for use as inviolate sanctuaries, or for any other management 
purpose, for migratory birds.'' The purpose for managing habitats on 
the Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge (the Complex) is 
to provide a biologically diverse area that complements the San Luis 
Valley (SLV) ecosystem.
    Ten different plant communities/habitat types exist on the Complex: 
upland shrub, tall-emergent, short-emergent, saltgrass, short-grass, 
shallow seasonal wetland, semipermanent wetland, riparian, riverine, 
and agriculture. These habitats support a variety of mammals, reptiles, 
amphibians, and birds. Mammals include coyote, red fox, black bear, 
mountain lion, bobcat, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, raccoon, mink, 
American badger, and other small mammals. Birds commonly seen on these 
Refuges include numerous waterfowl species, including ten that nest on 
the Complex: mallard, gadwall, cinnamon, green-winged and blue-winged 
teal, northern pintail, northern shoveler, American wigeon, redheads, 
and ruddy ducks, and one species of goose (Canada). The Monte Vista NWR 
(MVNWR) has one of the highest densities of nesting waterfowl in the 
continent. On average, 15,000 ducks are produced on MVNWR annually, 
which constitutes a major contribution to the State's population and, 
subsequently, to the Central Flyway's duck population.
    Other birds using the Complex include great blue heron, little blue 
heron, snowy and cattle egret, sandhill crane, northern harrier, 
Swainson's hawk, ring-necked pheasant, Ross' goose, black-bellied 
plover, greater yellowlegs, willet, and Wilson's phalarope. Two 
endangered species, the whooping crane and southwestern willow 
flycatcher, and one threatened species, the bald eagle, utilize the 
Complex. In addition, five species of management concern to the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service's National Migratory Bird Office also use the 
Complex: American bittern, black tern, burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, 
and white-faced ibis.
    The CCP identifies the proposed management of the Alamosa and Monte 
Vista National Wildlife Refuges in the San Luis Valley of southwestern 
Colorado. The CCP describes how the habitat management tools, water 
management, rest, prescribed burning, prescribed grazing, farming, and 
habitat protection will be used to provide wildlife habitat. Also 
described is the management of public use, cultural resources, and elk.
    Water Management: efforts would focus on improving efficiency of 
surface water application, monitoring of water usage, better 
understanding of water rights, historical processes, subsurface and 
surface interactions, and improving knowledge of groundwater and its 
role in maintaining wetlands. Better methods and capabilities for 
monitoring habitat responses to water application will be developed to 
facilitate an adaptive habitat management program.
    Efforts will be taken to restore meandering streambeds and their 
associated hydrology and riparian habitats on Refuge lands. Although 
such actions will not have major impacts on either the unconfined or 
confined aquifers of the Valley, they can positively impact localized 
groundwater tables and artesian wells, and increase efficiency of 
irrigation during the following season.
    Irrigation systems in all Refuge units will be upgraded as funding 
allows to enact more precise and efficient management of irrigation 
water. Currently, wetland vegetation is maintained using flood 
irrigation practices where water is applied at the highest elevation of 
a unit from a supply ditch or well head and is allowed to flow across 
the unit to lower elevations.
    Rest: The ratio of periods of rest to disturbance in order to 
provide the optimum cover of vegetation for nesting ducks and other 
species is largely unknown for the San Luis Valley and needs to be 
examined. A successful program will help managers determine when areas 
of either Refuge need disturbance, the most effective tool to use, and 
when. An active adaptive management strategy would be implemented. This 
program would be based on monitoring of prescribed rest to document how 
different vegetation types respond to different rest strategies. This 
will allow for increasingly effective application of rest to meet 
habitat goals.
    Prescribed Burning: Management will implement two new initiatives. 
First, formation of an interagency fire team would be pursued. This 
idea has been discussed among the various State and Federal land 
management agencies, but no action has been taken. This team would be 
responsible for conducting prescribed burns and suppressing wildfires 
on member agency lands. Secondly, Refuge management will pursue the 
hiring of additional staff to develop a burn monitoring program and 
detailed burn criteria in an effort to better understand the impacts of 
prescribed burning and to better implement its use in meeting 
management objectives.
    Prescribed Grazing: Future use of prescribed grazing on the Refuges 
will be largely dictated by the results of research currently being 
conducted. In the future, if and when grazing is used, prescriptions 
will delineate the location of the site to be grazed and specific 
objectives and purposes of the tool such as to control weeds, increase 
new growth, and provide a competitive advantage to certain vegetation. 
This site-by-site evaluation and planning will allow for maximum 
control and flexibility of this tool as well as ensuring that only 
delineated sites are affected by the tool and that all factors and 
interests are considered.
    Farming: Migrating birds will be provided with the same amount of 
small grain food from crops currently provided. The existing mixed 
organic/non-organic farming program operated by Refuge staff will be 
converted to a cooperative farming program. Farming will continue but 
Refuge staff will only be responsible for irrigation of the crops. The 
cooperating farmer would continue the crop rotation of two years of 
small grains followed by two years of alfalfa and then one year fallow.
    The cooperating farmer will be allowed to keep all or a portion of 
the alfalfa crop based on yields of the small grain crops.
    Refuge staff will also augment the farming program with a moist 
soil plant management program to diversify the types of feed available 
to the birds. The farming and moist soil plant programs would be 
monitored and managed through the adaptive management concept. Research 
will be encouraged to help identify the amount and kinds of high energy 
food sources the Refuge

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could and should be providing for migrating and wintering avian 
    Habitat Protection: Current support for the Service's Partners for 
Wildlife program will continue in order to ensure the program's growth 
and success. The Refuge will also continue to be an active partner in 
Colorado Wetlands Initiative Legacy project led by the Colorado 
Division of Wildlife.
    Public Use: Educating the public as to the nature and value of 
wetlands will focus on contrasting the intensely managed wetlands of 
Monte Vista NWR with the more natural aspects on the Alamosa NWR 
wetlands. To assure compliance with public use minimum standards, money 
will be targeted for projects through RONS (Refuge Operating Needs 
System) and MMS (Maintenance Management System). Currently, funding 
proposals are developed for projects that will improve the quality of 
visitor experiences.
    Hunting: Current waterfowl and small game hunting will continue to 
be supported and encouraged. To the extent feasible, the hunting 
experience will be further tailored to meet the desires of hunters 
using the Refuges based on periodic questioning of waterfowl hunters 
and other public input. The limited amount of overnight use currently 
available in parking lots during waterfowl hunting seasons will be 
    Fishing: The shallow water in Refuge wetlands does not support a 
viable fishery. Wetlands either dry up or freeze solid annually which 
eliminates all fish that have entered the system. Therefore, fishing is 
not allowed on the Refuges.
    Wildlife Observation: Support for the Crane Festival will continue. 
On the Monte Vista NWR, public and scientific input will be sought 
regarding the seasonal expansion of the auto tour route, development of 
wildlife observation sites at Parker Pond, and development of wildlife 
observation decks along County Road 3E. Opinion and information will 
also be sought regarding the development of an observation deck 
adjacent to the Refuge Headquarters at the Alamosa NWR and near the 
proposed visitor center and education facility at the Monte Vista NWR.
    Wildlife Photography: Photography will continue to be allowed, with 
no additional Refuge support provided to photographers.
    Interpretation: A multi-purpose education and visitor center 
facility on the Monte Vista NWR is the highest educational priority for 
the Complex. Also, the Refuge staff will implement an interpretation 
program centered around the cultural resources found on the Complex and 
around the Valley. Interpretation of past human use will focus on the 
theme that humans have always, and still depend upon natural resources 
for survival.
    Environmental Education: Volunteer and/or contractor led 
environmental education programs for local schools will continue to be 
provided, both as Refuge field trips and classroom presentations.
    Universal Access and Design: Developments will include new rest 
room facilities and wildlife observation blinds and/or platforms. 
Universally accessible hunting blinds will be built on both Refuges. 
All of these projects will follow the Americans with Disabilities 
Accessibility Guidelines.
    Cultural Resources: Archaeological work on the Complex will be 
expanded to include work needed to determine the eligibility of four 
documented sites for nomination to the National Register of Historic 
Places. Management will also include a sample archaeological inventory 
of Refuge lands over a 15-year period.
    Elk Management: The resident elk will be managed to discourage 
their use of Monte Vista NWR in large numbers with the intent to 
prevent habitat degradation.

    Dated: August 29, 2003.
John A. Blankenship,
Deputy Regional Director, Region 6, Denver, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 03-31436 Filed 12-19-03; 8:45 am]