[Federal Register: August 16, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 157)]
[Page 48187-48189]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge

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

ACTION:  Notice of availability of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment for Crocodile Lake Naitonal Wildlife 
Refuge in Monroe County, Florida.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service announces that a Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for 
Crocodile Lake 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, plans 
identify wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities available to the 
public, including opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife 
observation, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, and 
environmental education and interpretation.
    Significant issues address in the draft plan include: threatened 
and endangered species; migratory birds, habitat restoration; invasive 
exotic species control; funding and staffing; and land acquisition.

DATES: Individuals wishing to comment on the Draft Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for Crocodile Lake 
National Wildlife Refuge should do so no later than October 17, 2005. 
Public comments were requested, considered, and incorporated throughout 
the planning process. Public outreach has included public scoping 
meetings, planning updates, and a Federal Register notice.

ADDRESSES: Requests for copies of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment should be addressed to the Florida 
Keys National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 28950 Watson Boulevard, Big Pine 
Key, Florida 33043; Telephone 305/872-2239. The plan and environmental 
assessment may also be accessed and downloaded from the Service's 
Internet Web site http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://southeast.fws.gov/planning/. Comments on the 

draft plan may be submitted to the above address or via electronic mail 
to van_fischer@fws.gov. Please include your name and return address in 
your Internet message. Our practice is to make comments, including 
names and mailing addresses of respondents, available for public review 
during regular business hours. Individual respondents may request that 
we withhold their home addresses from the record, which will honor to 
the extent allowable by law.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Service developed three alternatives for 
managing the refuge and chose Alternative 2 as the preferred 


    Serving as a basis for each alternative, goals and sets of 
objectives and

[[Page 48188]]

strategies were developed to help fulfill the purposes of the refuge 
and the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Objectives are 
desired conditions or outcomes that are grouped into sets, and for this 
planning effort, consolidated into three alternatives. These 
alternatives represent different approaches to managing the refuge 
while still meeting purposes and goals. Plans will be revised at least 
every 15 years, or earlier, if monitoring indicates management changes 
are warranted. Goals are common for each of the alternatives with 
objectives and strategies differing. A comparison of each alternative 
follows the general descriptions.
    Alternative 1: (No Action) Continuation of current refuge 
management that includes basic habitat management, such as control of 
exotics and fundamental monitoring. This alternative represents no 
change from current management of the refuge and is considered a 
baseline. Management emphasis would continue to focus on maintaining 
biological integrity of habitats found on the refuge. Primary 
management activities include invasive exotic plan control, pest 
management, habitat restoration, and basic monitoring of threatened and 
endangered species. Alternative 1 represents the anticipated conditions 
of the refuge for the next 15 years assuming current policies, 
programs, and activities continue. The other two alternatives are 
compared to this alternative in order to evaluate differences in future 
conditions compared to baseline management.
    This alternative reflects actions that include supporting recovery 
efforts for federally listed species, restoring hammocks, restoring 
wetlands, and acquiring lands from willing sellers within the 
acquisition boundary. Monitoring of plants and animals would be limited 
due to staffing constraints and limited research interest. Habitat 
management actions are intended to benefit all wildlife by maintaining 
habitat integrity.
    Management coordination would occur between the refuge and the 
adjacent state botanical preserve. Coordination would be limited 
because of staffing constraints and remain focused on invasive exotics 
control, habitat restoration, and threatened and endangered species. 
Since the refuge is closed to the public, visitors would continue to be 
directed to the state botanical preserve. The preserve has 
infrastructure to accommodate visitors who want to experience being in 
a hardwood hammock or mangrove forest.
    The refuge would remain staffed with a refuge manager and periodic 
interns. Researchers would be accommodated when projects benefit the 
refuge. The refuge would remain closed to public and commercial access.
    Alternative 2: (Preferred Alternative) Increase management actions 
that focus greater attention on actively managing habitats to provide 
increased habitat value.
    This alternative is the preferred alternative for managing the 
refuge. Under this alternative, existing management activities would 
continue, and some activities would be expanded. This alternative 
proposes to add an additional full-time biological technician to allow 
for expansion of activities such as monitoring, exotics control, and 
    The staff member would help support the additional activities 
proposed under this alternative.
    Increasing efforts related to exotics control, pest management, and 
monitoring are characteristic of this alternative. This increased 
management actions would help to achieve the long-term goals and 
objectives in a timelier manner than under the ``no action'' 
alternative. This alternative would result in a more ecosystem-based 
management approach that views the refuge as a single system rather 
than separate habitat types. Federally listed species would still be of 
primary concern, but needs of other resident and migratory wildlife 
would also be considered.
    A more proactive approach to land acquisition would be taken in 
order to purchase remaining inholdings. The refuge would actively 
contact owners of inholdings and seek to acquire the parcels. There are 
roughly 400 acres of inholdings that the refuge wants to acquire in 
order to restore distributed habitats on those parcels. Acquiring 
inholdings would also ensure that connectivity of refuge habitats is 
    Alternative 3: (Limited Public Access) Open refuge to limited 
public use and access while increasing management actions that focus 
greater attention on actively managing habitats to provide increased 
habitat value.
    This alternative is an expanded version of Alternative 2 that 
allows for opening the refuge to limited public use. The refuge was 
established as a closed refuge and the possibility of allowing public 
use was considered for this alternative. Restoration of habitats may 
provide an opportunity to incorporate nature trails that provide access 
to the refuge.
    These potential nature trails would need to be located in areas 
that would result in no disturbance to wildlife since they would be 
located in areas that were disturbed. The trails would also provide 
interpretive signs to educate visitors about refuge resources.
    In addition to the nature trails, there would be a strengthening of 
the refuge friends group in order to provide guided tours of the 
refuge. Refuge staff would train volunteers to conduct tours of areas 
that are only accessible with a guide. This approach would open the 
refuge and allow visitors to experience the refuge while minimizing 
disturbance to sensitive wildlife areas.

Alternatives Considered, but Rejected

    Opening the entire refuge to general public use and access was 
rejected since it would create too much disturbance to sensitive 
wildlife. Additionally, a full-time refuge ranger and law enforcement 
officer would need to be added to the staff to handle the influx of 
visitors. The Florida Keys receive approximately 4 million visitors per 
year and even a fraction of a percent of those visitors stopping at the 
refuge would cause impacts of unacceptable levels.
    Active habitat manipulation to emulate natural disturbances (e.g., 
hurricane micro-bursts) was discussed at length during the biological 
review as a possible approach to increase preferred habitat for 
federally listed species. This alternative centered on clearing one to 
five acres of mature hardwood hammock to create disturbed areas. The 
planning team unanimously agreed that destroying intact hardwood 
hammock was too controversial to undertake. However, restoring existing 
disturbed areas (e.g., NIKE site) to a younger-aged hammock was agreed 
upon and incorporated into the preferred alternative.
    Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge is in north Key Largo 
approximately 40-miles south of Miami, Florida, on County Road 905. The 
refuge headquarters is 1.8 miles north of the U.S. Highway 1 and County 
Road 905 split in Key Largo, Florida. The refuge was established as a 
closed refuge and is not open to the general public.
    Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1980 to 
protect critical breeding and nesting habitat for the endangered 
American crocodile and other wildlife. The refuge is currently 
comprised of 6,700 acres including 650 acres of open water. It contains 
a mosaic of habitat types, including tropical hardwood hammock, 
mangrove forest, and salt marsh. These habitats are critical for 
hundreds of plants and animals including six federally listed species. 
The refuge is unusual in that not all of the critical habitat areas are 
in a pristine,

[[Page 48189]]

undisturbed condition. A large portion of the refuge was going to be a 
residential development complete with canals for boating access. The 
dredge-spoil from the canal system was piled up in berms on the banks 
of the canals and became an important nesting area for the federally 
listed American crocodile. American crocodiles are fairly wide-spread 
throughout the tropics, however, in the United States, crocodiles are 
only found in south Florida and the Keys.
    The refuge protects one of the largest remaining tracts of tropical 
hardwood hammock, which is a globally threatened habitat type. These 
diverse forests are home to hundreds of plants and animals including 
the federally listed Key Largo woodrat, Key Largo cotton mouse, Schaus 
swallowtail butterfly, Stock Island tree snail, and eastern indigo 
snake. These species require hammocks in order to survive. 
Unfortunately, most of the hammocks in Key Largo have been eliminated 
by development, which has lead to considerable population declines in 
these already imperiled species.

    Authority: This notice is published under the authority of the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1977, Public Law 

    Dated: June 17, 2005.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 05-16171 Filed 8-15-05; 8:45 am]