[Federal Register: July 22, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 140)]
[Page 42359-42361]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan/Environmental Impact 
Statement for the Sweetwater Marsh and South San Diego Bay Units of the 
San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge

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

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces that a 
Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan/Environmental Impact Statement 
(Draft CCP/EIS) for the Sweetwater Marsh and South San Diego Bay Units 
of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge is available for review 
and comment. This Draft CCP/EIS has been prepared pursuant to the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and is designed to address 
the Service's obligation under the National Wildlife Refuge System 
Administration Act of 1966, as amended by the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Improvement Act of 1997. The Draft CCP/EIS describes the 
Service's proposal for managing these Refuge Units over the next 15 
years. Also available for review and public comment in the Draft CCP/
EIS are draft compatibility determinations for several public uses and 
a draft Predator Management Plan.

DATES: Written comments must be received at the address below on or 
before Monday, September 19, 2005.

ADDRESSES: A copy of the Draft CCP/EIS is available on compact disk or 
in hard copy, and you may obtain a copy by writing to: Victoria 
Touchstone, Refuge Planner, San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 
6010 Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, CA 92011. You may also access or 
download copies of the Draft CCP/EIS at the following Web site address: 

    Hard copies of the Draft CCP/EIS are also available for viewing at 
the following locations:
     San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 6010 Hidden 
Valley Road, Carlsbad, CA;
     Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center, 301 Caspian Way, Imperial 
Beach, CA;
     Chula Vista Public Library, Civic Center Branch, 365 F 
Street, Chula Vista, CA and South Chula Vista Branch, 389 Orange 
Avenue, Chula Vista, CA;
     Coronado Public Library, 640 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA;
     Imperial Beach Library, 810 Imperial Beach Boulevard, 
Imperial Beach, CA;
     National City Library, 200 East 12th Street, National 
City, CA; and
     City of San Diego, Central Library, Government 
Publications, 820 E Street, Logan Heights Branch Library, 811 South 
28th Street, Otay Mesa Branch Library, 3003 Coronado Avenue, and 
Paradise Hills Branch Library, 5922 Rancho Hills Drive, San Diego, CA.
    A public meeting to present the details of the Draft CCP/EIS is 
scheduled for Wednesday, August 31, 2005, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 
the Chula Vista City Council Chambers located at 276 Fourth Avenue, 
Chula Vista, California 91910.
    Comments on the Draft CCP/EIS should be addressed to: Victoria 
Touchstone, Refuge Planner, San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 
6010 Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, CA 92011. Comments may also be 
submitted via electronic mail to Victoria_Touchstone@fws.gov or via 
fax to (760) 930-0256. Please type ``San Diego Bay CCP'' in the subject 

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:  Victoria Touchstone, Refuge Planner, at 
(760) 431-9440 extension 349.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The National Wildlife Refuge System 
Administration Act of 1966, as amended by the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Improvement Act of 1997 (16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee et seq) requires 
the Service to develop a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for each 
National Wildlife Refuge. The purpose for developing a CCP is to 
provide refuge managers with a 15-year strategy for achieving refuge 
purposes and contributing toward the mission of the National Wildlife 
Refuge System (Refuge System), consistent with sound principles of fish 
and wildlife science, conservation, legal mandates, and Service 
policies. In addition to outlining broad management direction for 
conserving wildlife and their habitats, the CCPs identify wildlife-
dependent recreational opportunities available to the public, including 
opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and 
photography, and environmental education and interpretation. The 
National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as amended 
by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, 
requires the Service to review and update these CCPs at least every 15 
years. Revisions to the CCP will be prepared in accordance with the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321-4370d).


    The CCP for the Refuge Units in San Diego Bay was initiated in June 
2000. At that time and throughout the process, public comments were 
requested, considered, and incorporated in numerous ways. Public 
outreach has included scoping meetings, public workshops, planning 
updates, a CCP webpage, and two Federal Register notices. When the CCP 
was initiated, these refuge lands were referred to as the Sweetwater 
Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and the South San Diego Bay Unit of the 
San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. However, in June 2004, these lands 
were reorganized into the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

[[Page 42360]]

This action was taken to streamline management and facilitate public 
understanding and recognition of the two refuge areas within San Diego 
Bay. This change had no affect on the approved refuge boundaries or the 
current management practices. All that changed were the names. We now 
refer to these areas as the Sweetwater Marsh and South San Diego Bay 
Units of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
    The San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge is located approximately 
10 miles north of the United States-Mexico border in southwestern San 
Diego County, California. Collectively, the two Refuge Units encompass 
approximately 2,620 acres of land and water in and around the south end 
of San Diego Bay. The native coastal salt marsh and intertidal mudflats 
preserved within this Refuge annually provide essential foraging and 
resting habitat for tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds and 
wintering waterfowl traveling along the Pacific Flyway.
    The Sweetwater Marsh Unit was established as a National Wildlife 
Refuge in 1988. Encompassing approximately 316 acres, this Refuge was 
established to protect federally listed endangered and threatened 
species. The coastal salt marsh and upland areas within the Sweetwater 
Marsh Unit support 6 federally listed species, including 3 listed birds 
that nest within the Unit, one State-listed endangered species, and 26 
species of birds identified by the Service as Birds of Conservation 
    The South San Diego Bay Unit was established in 1999 as a unit of 
the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge for the purpose of protecting, 
managing, and restoring habitats for federally listed endangered and 
threatened species and migratory birds. The Service currently manages 
approximately 2,300 acres of the 3,940 acres included within the Unit's 
approved acquisition boundary. The majority of this management area is 
leased to the Service by the California State Lands Commission. 
Included within this Unit is the largest remaining expanse of 
intertidal mudflats in San Diego Bay. This and other habitats within 
the Unit support 5 federally listed endangered and threatened species, 
1 State-listed endangered species, and 19 species of birds identified 
by the Service as Birds of Conservation Concern. Open water is the 
dominant habitat, followed by intertidal mudflats, disturbed uplands, 
salt marsh, and freshwater wetlands. The Unit includes an active 
commercial solar salt operation that is managed under a Special Use 
Permit. The salt pond levees provide important nesting habitat for a 
variety of colonial nesting seabirds.

Purpose and Need for Action

    The CCP is intended to provide a coherent, integrated set of 
management actions consistent with the purposes for which the two 
Refuge Units were established; the mandates of the Refuge System; and 
the vision, goals, and objectives defined in the CCP. The CCP 
identifies the Refuge Units' roles in support of the mission of the 
Refuge System, describes the Service's management actions, and provides 
a basis for budget needs. This CCP is also intended to satisfy a 
condition of the Public Agency Lease between the California State Lands 
Commission and the Service, requiring management and public access 
plans for the South San Diego Bay Unit and to fulfill the Service's 
obligation described in a Cooperative Agreement between the Service and 
the Unified Port of San Diego to prepare ``a holistic habitat 
restoration plan'' for a 1,035-acre portion of the existing salt ponds 
within the South San Diego Bay Unit.


    The Draft CCP/EIS identifies and evaluates three alternatives for 
managing the Sweetwater Marsh Unit and four alternatives for managing 
the South San Diego Bay Unit for the next 15 years. One alternative for 
each Refuge Unit that appears to best meet the Refuge purposes is 
identified as the preferred alternative. The preferred alternatives 
were identified based on the analysis presented in the Draft CCP/EIS, 
which may be modified following the completion of the public comment 
period based on comments received from other agencies, Tribal 
governments, non-governmental organizations, or individuals.

Alternatives for the Sweetwater Marsh Unit

    Under Alternative A--No Action, the Sweetwater Marsh Unit would 
continue to be managed as it has in the past. No major changes in 
habitat management would occur. The existing wildlife observation, 
photography, environmental education, and interpretation programs would 
remain unchanged.
    Under Alternative B, current management activities would be 
expanded to emphasize enhancement of existing salt marsh habitat. Tidal 
and freshwater circulation within the salt marsh would be improved to 
enhance habitat quality for the endangered light-footed clapper rail 
and other trust species. Existing public uses would continue with added 
opportunities for environmental interpretation provided adjacent to 
Paradise Marsh and the F&G Street Marsh.
    Under Alternative C (the preferred alternative), management 
activities would be expanded to include restoration of intertidal and 
upland habitat. The existing trail system on Gunpowder Point would be 
redesigned and new interpretive elements would be provided to better 
complement the existing environmental education programs supported by 
the Refuge.

Alternatives for the South San Diego Bay Unit

    Under Alternative A--No Action, the South San Diego Bay Unit would 
continue to be managed as it has in the past. No major changes in 
habitat management would occur. The existing opportunities for fishing, 
wildlife observation, photography, environmental education, and boating 
would remain unchanged and commercial solar salt production would 
continue. The Service would continue to pursue land management 
opportunities within the approved acquisition boundary for the Unit. 
This activity would occur under any of the alternatives evaluated for 
this Unit.
    Under Alternative B, current management activities would be 
expanded to emphasize enhancement of nesting opportunities in and 
around the salt ponds for the California least tern, western snowy 
plover, and various other colonial seabirds. New nesting habitat would 
be created and levee tops would be capped with clean, light sand to 
improve the quality of available nesting substrate. The current public 
use programs would remain unchanged.
    Under Alternative C, portions of the salt ponds and all of the Otay 
River floodplain would be restored to native coastal habitats, and the 
nesting enhancements described in Alternative B would be implemented. 
Two restoration options are presented for both the salt ponds and the 
Otay River floodplain that could result in the restoration of up to 410 
acres of intertidal habitat in the salt works and 140 acres of habitat, 
including intertidal salt marsh, freshwater wetlands, and native 
uplands, within the Otay River floodplain. Opportunities for fishing 
and wildlife observation would be expanded, the Otay Valley Regional 
Trail would be facilitated, and the construction of a boardwalk along 
the south side of the salt ponds is proposed. The commercial solar salt 
operation would continue within a reduced footprint.

[[Page 42361]]

    Under Alternative D (the preferred alternative), the habitat 
potential within the salt ponds would be maximized. Approximately 600 
acres of salt ponds would be restored to tidal influence to support 
intertidal mudflat and coastal salt marsh habitats. Additionally, some 
30 acres of new nesting habitat would be created, 230 acres of pond 
area would be managed to benefit waterfowl and shorebird foraging and 
nesting, and 44 acres of salt ponds and associated levees would be 
managed to sustain a viable population of brine invertebrates to 
support the foraging needs of specific species of migratory birds. The 
Otay River floodplain would be restored as described in Alternative C 
and the nesting enhancements described under Alternative B would be 
implemented. Opportunities for wildlife observation, photography, and 
environmental interpretation would be expanded, the regional trail and 
boardwalk described in Alternative C would be provided, and the other 
public uses that are currently provided, including fishing, 
environmental education, and boating, would be maintained. Restoration 
under this alternative would be phased and would ultimately result in 
the closure of the existing commercial solar salt operation.

Predator Management Plan

    A draft predator management plan has also been prepared to 
accompany the CCP. Implementation of this plan is proposed pursuant to 
the Service's endangered species management responsibilities and would 
occur on the Refuge in conjunction with other wildlife and habitat 
management activities. Species to benefit from the implementation of 
predator management include the federally listed endangered California 
least tern and light-footed clapper rail and the threatened western 
snowy plover. The predator management plan has been developed as a 
comprehensive wildlife damage control program that addresses a range of 
management actions from vegetation control and nesting habitat 
enhancement to non-lethal and lethal control of both mammalian and 
avian predators. Under this plan, the most effective, selective, and 
humane techniques available to deter or remove individual predators or 
species that threaten nesting, breeding, or foraging California least 
terns, western snowy plovers, or light-footed clapper rails would be 

Public Comments

    After the review and comment period ends for this Draft CCP/EIS, 
comments will be analyzed by the Service and addressed in the Final 
CCP/EIS. All comments received from individuals, including names and 
addresses, become part of the official public record and may be 
released. Requests for such comments will be handled in accordance with 
the Freedom of Information Act, the Council on Environmental Quality's 
NEPA regulations, and Service and Departmental policies and procedures.

    Dated: July 14, 2005.
Ken McDermond,
Manager, California/Nevada Operations, Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 05-14217 Filed 7-21-05; 8:45 am]