[Federal Register: August 2, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 147)]
[Page 44355-44357]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment for Okefenokee National Wildlife 
Refuge in Folkston, Georgia.


SUMMARY: This notice announces that a Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment for Okefenokee National Wildlife 
Refuge are available for review and comment. 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 
develop a comprehensive conservation plan for each national wildlife 
refuge. The purpose in developing a comprehensive conservation plan 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, consistent with sound principles of fish and wildlife 
management, conservation, legal mandates, and Service policies. In 
addition to outlining broad management direction on conserving wildlife 
and their habitats, the plan identifies wildlife-dependent recreational 
opportunities available to the public, including opportunities for 
hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, and 
environmental education and interpretation.

DATES: Three meetings will be held to present the plan to the public 
and accept formal public comments. Mailings, newspaper articles, and 
postings on the refuge Web site will be the avenues to inform the 
public of the date and time of the meetings. Individuals wishing to 
comment on the Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental 
Assessment for Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge should do so no 
later than September 16, 2005.

ADDRESSES: Requests for copies of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment should be addressed to Mr. M. Skippy 
Reeves, Refuge Manager, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge--CCP, Route 
2, Box 3330, Folkston, Georgia 31537; Telephone 912/496-7366; Fax 912/
496-3332. The draft plan and environmental assessment may be accessed 
and downloaded from the Fish and Wildlife Service's Internet Web site 
http://www.southeast.fws.gov/planning/. Comments on the draft plan and 

environmental assessment may be submitted to the above address or via 
electronic mail to okefenokee@fws.gov. Please include CCP in the 
subject line and your name and return address in your Internet message. 
Our practice is to make comments, including names and home addresses of 
respondents, available for public review during regular business hours. 
Individual respondents may request that we

[[Page 44356]]

withhold their home addresses from the record, which we will honor to 
the extent allowable by law.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The draft plan identifies and evaluates four 
alternatives for managing the refuge over the next 15 years.


Alternative 1. Maintain Current Management (No Action Alternative)

    The current management of Okefenokee National Refuge recognizes the 
importance of looking beyond the refuge boundary. Open communication 
and partnerships with adjacent landowners and interest groups 
downstream from the Okefenokee Swamp are important aspects of the 
current management strategy. To protect the resources outside the 
refuge boundary, as well as within the refuge, cooperation during 
emergency fire/weather incidents has been established and would be 
continued under this alternative. Upland management would emphasize the 
maintenance and restoration of longleaf pine communities. The refuge 
would continue to seek partnerships with adjacent landowners to enhance 
the refuge's habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and 
associated species by providing corridors between refuge upland 
management compartments or expanding foraging and nesting areas. 
Environmental parameters would be monitored, and additional parameters 
would be added as issues arise. Current staff would monitor selected 
flora and fauna for long-term trends. Other institutions would be 
sought to investigate topics in detail. The protection of wilderness 
qualities is considered in management decisions and standard operating 
procedures are established for management activities within the 
wilderness. The use of fire to benefit the resources is implemented and 
expanded. The refuge messages are disseminated through the public 
services program. All six priority uses (e.g., hunting, fishing, 
wildlife observation, wildlife photography, and environmental education 
and interpretation) are incorporated in the current program. Emphasis 
is on refuge facilities and activities with some outreach avenues 
established at both the local and State level. Recreational solitude is 
emphasized through the current canoe system. Current staffing has 
limited the quantity and quality of the service the refuge provides. 
With the addition of 20 requested positions identified in the Refuge 
Operating Needs System (RONS), staffing would be adequate to meet the 
management needs at the level presented in this alternative.

Alternative 2. Integrated Landscape Management (Preferred Alternative)

    Threats to the refuge are becoming more prominent as development 
activities occur in northeast Florida and southeast Georgia. Although 
Okefenokee Refuge is a large system in itself, it can be greatly 
compromised by activities a distance away from its boundary. Through 
Alternative 2, the refuge staff fully recognizes the impact these 
activities may have on the integrity of the swamp. These ``zones of 
influence'' vary depending on the resources involved. Under this 
alternative, the staff would continue activities as stated in 
Alternative 1 and extend beyond the immediate neighbors to address 
issues associated with the aquifer, air shed, and biota exchange 
pathways. Extensive resource sharing and networking with other refuges, 
State agencies, organizations, specialists, researchers, and private 
citizens would expand the knowledge base and develop cooperation 
between interest groups. Restoration of natural systems, native 
communities, and healthy environments would be emphasized, thus 
promoting a high quality of life regionally. Within the refuge, the 
original refuge purpose, natural processes, and the wilderness 
philosophy will be strongly considered in all decisions. Management 
within the wilderness will be evaluated through the Minimum Requirement 
Decision Guide. Monitoring environmental parameters, flora, and fauna 
would be incorporated into an integrated study to gain knowledge on the 
health of the Okefenokee ecosystem. The refuge and surrounding area 
would be promoted, linking recreational and educational avenues. 
Education and outreach would be expanded with an emphasis on the health 
of the whole ecosystem and the links between the components. Staffing 
would be expanded to meet the needs of partners and the greater number 
of interest groups, and accommodate data and resource sharing. A 
significant increase in staff is presented in this alternative due to 
the time necessary to manage the refuge with a greater consciousness 
for the wilderness resource. Ninety-eight additional staff members 
would be needed to fully implemented this alternative at the highest 
quality level.

Alternative 3. Conservation Through National Processes

    Management of the upland management compartments outside the 
wilderness boundary would be similar to Alternative 2, including the 
interest in networking and partnerships to address outside threats 
within the ``zones of influence.'' This alternative differs from the 
others in the concept of embracing the exclusive use of natural 
processes to govern the health of the Okefenokee Wilderness Area. It 
also promotes primitive and unconfined recreation. Hand tools and non-
motorized equipment would be used exclusively to maintain the network 
of boat trails. The use of motorized boats by the public in designated 
areas, as established in the legislation for the Okefenokee Wilderness 
Area, would continue; however, motorized transportation, such as 
motorboats, airboats, and helicopters, and equipment would not be 
allowed for administrative purposes except for emergencies such as 
wildland fires. Large crews in canoes using hand tools would maintain 
the trail system. To promote primitive and unconfined recreation, the 
canoe reservation system would be eliminated, along with all platforms, 
toilets, and trail markers. The visitors would be allowed to travel 
throughout the swamp and camp where they are able. Natural processes 
are relied on exclusively with no prescribed fires conducted on 
interior wilderness islands. Protection of private property adjacent to 
the refuge would be focused on due to the increased threat of wildland 
fires moving off refuge lands. Land purchases to create a fire 
management zone outside the wilderness area would be considered. Fire, 
water levels, and weather parameters would be monitored to make 
predictions to meet the needs of adjacent landowners. Other monitoring, 
of environmental parameters, fauna, and flora, would continue at a 
level to determine general long-term trends as they relate to natural 
processes. Obtaining data on trends of the endangered red-cockaded 
woodpecker on interior islands would be limited to Billys Island, which 
is accessible by boat. Because of the time and effort needed to 
maintain trails and conduct surveys in compliance with the specified 
tool restrictions, a significant increase in staff over the number that 
would be required to implement Alternative 2 is necessary. A total of 
129 staff members, mostly in resource management, have been identified 
to fully implement this alternative.

Alternative 4. Refuge-Focused Management

    This alternative would focus the refuge staff activities 
internally, within the jurisdictional boundaries, on the land that is 
directly under the care of

[[Page 44357]]

the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as Okefenokee National Wildlife 
Refuge. Collecting information on outside threats would continue but 
few partnerships would be pursued. The refuge would rely on interest 
groups to carry the refuge's concerns forward to the appropriate level. 
The restoration of native communities and the health of resident 
wildlife species would be emphasized on refuge lands. Monitoring of 
environmental parameters, flora, and fauna would demonstrate long-term 
trends, environmental changes, or the results of management practices 
on refuge lands. Research, management, protection, education, and 
public use would be conducted to maximize benefits to Okefenokee Refuge 
specifically. Land acquisition on high-priority areas, rather than 
partnership formation, would be emphasized. This alternative requires 
an increase in staff similar to that of Alternative 2 because of the 
additional time and manpower needed to conduct surveys, trail 
maintenance, and other management functions within the wilderness area. 
The additional staff identified in Alternative 2 for developing and 
maintaining partnerships and outreach are not included in Alternative 4 
due to Alternative 4's emphasis on refuge lands only. Eighty-four 
additional staff members are necessary to fully implement this 
    The Okefenokee Refuge is situated in the southeastern Georgia 
counties of Ware, Charlton, and Clinch, and in northeastern Florida's 
Baker County, roughly between latitudes 30[deg]33' and 31[deg]05' North 
and longitudes 82[deg]07' and 82[deg]33' West. In 1937, with Executive 
Order 7593 (later amended by Executive Order 7994), President Franklin 
Delano Roosevelt established the refuge, designating it as ``a refuge 
and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.'' It 
protects the ecological system of the 438,000-acre Okefenokee Swamp. 
The refuge consists presently of 395,080 acres. The refuge's approved 
acquisition boundary includes 519,480 acres, 123,480 acres beyond the 
current refuge acres. Approximately 371,000 acres of the Okefenokee 
Swamp wetlands are incorporated into the refuge; and 353,981 acres 
within the swamp were designated as wilderness by the Okefenokee 
Wilderness Act of 1974, making it the third largest National Wilderness 
Area east of the Mississippi River. In 1986, the Okefenokee Refuge was 
designated by the Wetlands Convention as a Wetland of International 
    Okefenokee's natural beauty was first threatened in the 1890s, when 
attempts were made to drain the swamp to facilitate logging operations. 
The Suwannee Canal was dug 11.5 miles into the swamp from Camp 
Cornelia. After the failure of this project, other interests acquired 
the swamp and began removing timer in 1909, using a network of tram 
roads extending deep into the major timbered areas. When logging 
operations were halted in 1927, more than 423 million board feet of 
timber, mostly cypress, had been removed from the swamp.
    The establishment of Okefenokee Refuge in 1937 marked the 
culmination of a movement that had been initiated at least 25 years 
earlier by a group of scientists from Cornell University who recognized 
the educational, scientific, and recreational values of this unique 
area. The Okefenokee Preservation Society, formed in 1918, promoted 
nationwide interest in the swamp. With the support of State and local 
interests and numerous conservation and scientific organizations, the 
Federal Government acquired most of the swamp for refuge purposes in 
    Okefenokee Refuge preserves the unique qualities of the Okefenokee 
Swamp for future generations to enjoy. The swamp is considered the 
headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys Rivers. Habitats provide for 
threatened and endangered species, such as red-cockaded woodpeckers, 
wood storks, indigo snakes, and a wide variety of other wildlife 
species. It is world renowned for its amphibian populations that are 
bio-indicators of global health. More than 600 plant species have been 
identified on refuge lands.
    Combining Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge with Osceola National 
Forest, private timberlands, and State-owned forests, more than 1 
million contiguous acres provide wildlife habitat and recreational 
opportunities. Researchers and students study the resources.
    The Georgia communities of Waycross (12 miles north), Folston (7 
miles east), St. George (8 miles southeast), Fargo (5 miles west), and 
Homerville (20 miles northwest) surround the refuge, and Jacksonville, 
Florida is 40 miles to the southeast. Nearly 300,000 people visit the 
refuge each year, making it the 16th most visited refuge in the 
National Wildlife Refuge System. In 1999, the economic impact of 
tourists in Charlton, Ware, and Clinch Counties in Georgia exceeded $67 
    The Okenfenokee swamp has shaped the culture of southeast Georgia. 
Most residents of Charlton, Clinch, and Ware Counties have ancestors 
who once lived or worked in the swamp and view the swamp as a part of 
their heritage.

    Authority: This notice is published under the authority of the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement ACt of 1997, Public Law 

    Dated: May 13, 2005.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 05-15182 Filed 8-1-05; 8:45 am]