[Federal Register: November 3, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 212)]
[Page 66845-66847]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment for St. Catherine Creek National 
Wildlife Refuge in Adams and Wilkinson Counties, Mississippi.


SUMMARY: This notice announces that a Draft Comprehensive conservation 
Plan and environmental Assessment for St. Catherine Creek National 
Wildlife Refuge is 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: A meeting will be held to present the plan to the public. 
Mailings, newspaper articles, and posters will be the avenues to inform 
the public of the date and time for the meeting. Individuals wishing to 
comment on the Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental 
Assessment for St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge should do 
so within 45 days following the date of this notice.

ADDRESSES: Requests for copies of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment should be addressed to St. Catherine 
Creek National Wildlife Refuge, 76 Pintail Lane, Natchez, Mississippi 
39120; Telephone 601/442-6696. The plan and environmental assessment 
may also be accessed and downloaded from the Service's Internet Web 
site http://southeast.fws.gov/planning/. Comments on the draft plan may 

be submitted to the above address or via electronic mail to 
mike_dawson@fws.gov. Please include 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 
withhold their home addresses from the record, which we will honor to 
the extent allowable by law. Anonymous comments will not be considered.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Significant issues addressed in the draft 
plan include: Threatened and endangered species; waterfowl management; 
neotropical migratory birds; bottomland hardwood restoration; 
agriculture; visitor services (hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, 
wildlife photography, and environmental education and interpretation); 
funding and staffing; cultural resources; and land acquisition.
    The Service developed four alternatives for managing the refuge and 
chose Alternative D as the preferred alternative.


    The Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental 
Assessment evaluates the four alternatives for managing the refuge over 
the next 15 years. These alternatives are briefly described as follows:
    Alternative A. Existing refuge management and public outreach 
practices would be favored under this alternative. All refuge 
management actions would be directed towards achieving the primary 
purposes including (1) preserving wintering waterfowl habitat (e.g., 
croplands, moist-soil management units, green-tree reservoirs, and 
permanent water); (2) providing production habitat for wood ducks; and 
(3) meeting the habitat conservation goals of the North American 
Waterfowl Management Plan, all the while contributing to other 
national, regional, and state goals to protect and restore habitat for 
shorebirds, wading birds, neotropical breeding birds, woodcock, and 
threatened and endangered species. Refuge management programs would 
continue to be developed and implemented with little baseline 
biological information. Active habitat management would continue to be 
implemented through water level manipulations, moist-soil and cropland 
management, and forest management designed to provide a diverse complex 
of habitats that meet the foraging, resting, and breeding requirements 
for a variety of species. A summary of the current acreages by habitat 
type can be found in Table 2, Chapter II, of the Draft Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan. Refuge staff would continue to manage existing 
bottomland hardwood and upland hardwood forested and reforested areas, 
open water and impoundments, croplands, and moist-soil units.
    Land would be acquired from willing sellers within the current 
acquisition boundary. The refuge would continue to emphasize land 
exchanges of isolated refuge tracts for inholdings within the 
acquisition boundary.
    Hunting and fishing would continue to be the major focuses of the 
refuge public use program, with no expansion of current opportunities. 
Current restrictions or prohibitions would remain. While no new trails 
would be developed, refuge staff would continue to maintain existing 
trails. Environmental education, wildlife observation, and wildlife 
photography would be accommodated on a case-by-case basis. Plans would 
continue to request funding for the construction of a refuge 
headquarters office/visitor contact area on the Sibley Unit and for the 
rehabilitation of existing facilities.
    Alternative B. Under this alternative, the emphasis would be on 
improving refuge resources for wildlife, while still maintaining those 
public use opportunities that presently exist. Primary management 
efforts would focus on restoring and enhancing habitats and associated 
plant communities for the benefit of migratory birds, threatened and 
endangered species, and other federal trust species.

[[Page 66846]]

Forest habitat would be managed to develop and enhance vertical 
structure by manipulating existing timber stands through both 
commercial and non-commercial harvest methods, and by incorporating 
greater native tree species in any future reforestation efforts. 
Conservation and protection efforts would also focus on unique loess 
bluff habitats by establishing buffer zones around spring seep wetlands 
at the bottom ridges.
    The refuge would continue to administer the cooperative farming 
program and improve impoundments for moist-soils units for the 
increased benefit to waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. Baseline 
data would be collected, standardized surveys implemented, and 
populations monitored.
    The refuge would inventory and more aggressively monitor, control, 
and where possible, eliminate invasive plants, with particular 
attention to those having the greatest negative impacts on native 
habitat and wildlife. Population trend information for nutria, wild 
hogs, raccoon, and beaver will be developed to better control the 
detrimental effects of nuisance animals on habitat and wildlife.
    Additional staff would include a wildlife biologist and a 
biological technician to accomplish objectives for establishing 
baseline data on refuge resources and managing habitats.
    The refuge would work closely with partners to identify and acquire 
land from willing sellers within the current acquisition boundary, with 
emphasis on those lands that can provide additional habitat for trust 
species. Non-traditional land protection methods would be developed and 
employed, including land exchanges of isolated refuge tracts for 
inholdings within the acquisition boundary.
    Public uses would include hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, 
wildlife photography, and limited interpretation. Under this 
alternative, outreach and environmental education would occur only as 
time permits. Hunting and fishing would continue to be the major 
focuses of the refuge public use program, with no expansion or 
enhancement of current opportunities. While no new trails would be 
developed, the refuge staff would continue to maintain the existing 
trails. All new funding would support wildlife and habitat management 
programs, with annual maintenance funding to support upkeep of existing 
public use facilities. This alternative does not address the increased 
visitation, which has occurred in the past five years and is predicted 
to continue into the future.
    Alternative C. This approach would maintain the current wildlife 
and habitat management activities, while allowing for significantly 
more public recreational uses. The refuge would allocate a greater 
share of the budget to public use. Wildlife-dependent recreation uses, 
such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, 
and environmental education and interpretation, would remain priority 
uses and would be increased whenever compatible and appropriate. 
Increased opportunities to hunt waterfowl, mourning doves, deer, and 
feral hogs would be developed.
    Outreach opportunities would be designed to increase public 
understanding and enjoyment of fish and wildlife and their habitats. 
Efforts would include increased participation in the local tourism 
program and in meetings with city, county, and state officials.
    Environmental education and interpretation program, both on and off 
the refuge, would be expanded. Some of these would include 
environmental internships for local high school students, as well as 
bird banding demonstrations. Existing interpretive trails would be 
lengthened, improved, and provided with trail guides. New trails and 
observation towers would be added. Orientation and information signs 
would be established at all major refuge entrances, check stations, 
boat ramps, and parking lots. Public use facilities, such as boat 
launches and piers, would be added for the disabled.
    A new visitor center, with state-of-the-art interactive displays 
and classrooms, would be needed to accomplish the goals and objectives 
associated with this alternative. To improve the quality of the visitor 
experience, the refuge would work with the state and county to widen 
York Road from U.S. Highway 61 to the refuge. Additional staff needed 
to implement this alternative includes an outdoor recreation planner, a 
law enforcement officer, and a seasonal maintenance worker. Additional 
staff would be used for developing and presenting both on- and off-site 
outreach and interpretation programs.
    Land acquisition within the current acquisition boundary would 
continue with emphasis on those lands that can provide additional 
public use opportunities and access.
    Alternative D. The Service planning team has identified Alternative 
D as the preferred alternative. This alternative was developed based on 
public input and the best professional judgment of the planning team. 
Strategies presented in the Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan were 
developed as a direct result of the selection of Alternative D.
    Alternative D represents a combination and/or compromise between 
Alternative B (Habitat Management Emphasis) and Alternative C (Public 
Use Emphasis). Whereas these two alternatives seek to maximize either 
expanded wildlife habitat management or expanded public use 
opportunities, Alternative D seeks to optimize the benefits of the 
refuge to wildlife and people, recognizing that tradeoffs may preclude 
maximizing benefits to both simultaneously. By seeking the best of both 
Alternatives B and C, Alternative D would promote greater protection of 
fish, wildlife, and their habitats and more evenly balanced 
recreational and educational programs for visitors.
    Under Alternative D, refuge lands would be more intensely managed 
than at present to provide high quality habitat for wildlife, 
particularly migratory birds. This would include creating and 
maintaining additional moist-soil units for an annual goal of 1,800 
acres of quality moist-soil habitat to meet the goals established in 
the Biological Review, as well as developing methods to maximize use of 
Mississippi River overflow events to provide water for moist-soil 
units. The refuge would establish a banding quota for wood ducks to 
support the objectives of the Mississippi Flyway Council and provide 
and enhance habitat for woodcock populations to contribute to the 
objectives of the American Woodcock Management Plan. In addition, the 
refuge would implement step-down objectives for non-game migratory land 
birds, as well as for shorebirds and wading birds, to support the goals 
of the Partners-in-Flight Plan.
    Fisheries would be emphasized and, where appropriate, restored for 
native diversity within the floodplain. Refuge habitats would be 
managed and restored for natural diversity in support of national and 
regional plans. Forest management would address the need to enhance and 
develop vertical structure to provide habitat for a diversity of 
species, particularly priority migratory birds. Any future 
reforestation efforts would incorporate greater native species 
    This alternative would encourage more public recreational and 
educational uses, where feasible, while intensifying current habitat 
management. Hunting and fishing would continue with greater emphasis on 
the quality of the experience and with more diverse opportunities, 
including those for youth and disabled hunters/anglers. Education and

[[Page 66847]]

interpretation would be promoted by providing programs and partnerships 
with local schools. Wildlife observation and photography opportunities 
would be expanded, including construction of photo blinds and 
observation towers. Information guides and signage that highlight 
refuge management programs, as well as unique wildlife habitats, would 
also be developed. The refuge would also undertake efforts to improve 
road maintenance in order to provide better visitor access.
    A visitor center and headquarters office would be constructed on 
the refuge, with space for interpretation, environmental education, and 
    Research studies on the refuge would continue to be fostered and 
partnerships developed with universities and other agencies, with the 
refuge providing needed resources and study sites. Research on the 
refuge would also provide benefits to conservation efforts throughout 
the Lower Mississippi River Valley to preserve, enhance, restore, and 
manage bottomland hardwood habitat. Inventorying and monitoring of 
birds, freshwater mussels, reptiles, and amphibians would be continued 
and expanded in order to assess population trends, correlate with 
environmental pressures, and provide baseline data to be used in 
development of appropriate management strategies.
    Providing additional staff (e.g., wildlife biologist, biological 
technician, outdoor recreation planner, seasonal maintenance worker, 
and full-time law enforcement officer) would enable the Service to 
fully develop and manage fish and wildlife resources and habitats, an 
offer environmental educational programs that promote a greater 
understanding of both natural and cultural resources.
    Under this alternative, the refuge would continue to acquire lands 
within the present acquisition boundary for compatible wildlife-
dependent public recreation and environmental education opportunities.
    Tracts that provide better-quality habitat and connectivity to 
existing refuge lands would receive higher priority for acquisition. 
The refuge would use other important acquisition tools, including land 
exchanges, partnerships with conservation organizations, conservation 
easements with adjacent landowners, and leases/cooperative agreements.

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

    Dated: April 29, 2005.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.

    Editorial Note: This document was received at the Office of the 
Federal Register October 31, 2005.
[FR Doc. 05-21906 Filed 11-2-05; 8:45 am]