[Federal Register: April 5, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 64)]
[Page 17253-17255]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment for Lake Ophelia National Wildlife 
Refuge in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service announces that a Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for Lake 
Ophelia 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 and photography, and environmental education and 
interpretation. 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; land acquisition; and forest and fragmentation. The 
Service developed four alternatives for managing the refuge and chose 
Alternative 2 as the preferred alternative.

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    Alternative 1 represents no change from current management of the 
refuge. Under this alternative, 17,525 acres of refuge land would be 
protected, maintained, restored, and enhanced for resident wildlife, 
waterfowl, migratory nongame birds, and threatened and endangered 
species. Refuge management programs would continue to be developed and 
implemented with little baseline biological information. All refuge 
management actions would be directed toward achieving the primary 
purposes (preserving wintering habitat for mallards, pintails, and wood 
ducks; providing production habitat for wood ducks; and helping to meet 
the habitat conservation goals of the North Avenue Waterfowl Management 
Plan), while contributing to other national, regional, and state goals 
to protect and restore shorebird, neotropial breeding bird, woodcock, 
and Louisiana black bear populations. Cooperative farming would 
continue to be used to manage and maintain approximately 3,700 acres of 
cropland and moist-soil habitats. No active forest management (other 
than reforestation of previously planted, but failed, sites) would 
occur. The current level of a wildlife-dependent recreation activities 
(hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, and 
environmental education and interpretation) opportunities would be 
maintained. Under the alternative, the refuge would continue to seek 
acquisition of all willing seller properties within the present 
acquisition boundary.
    The preferred alternative, Alternative 2, is considered to be the 
most effective management action for meeting the purposes of the refuge 
by conserving wetlands and migratory waterfowl, while reducing forest 
fragmentation, identifying lands of conservation priority, and working 
with partners to contribute to the 100,000-acre forest block objective 
for the Red River/Three Rivers Conservation Area, and contributing to a 
sustainable ecosystem. The preferred alternative seeks to conduct 
extensive wildlife population monitoring/surveying in order to assess 
population status, trends, wildlife habitat associations, and 
population responses to habitat management. The intensive management of 
habitats is expected to provide a wide variety of habitat elements that 
will, in turn, sustain a richer variety of flora and fauna through 
their life cycles. This proposed management will benefit not only 
waterfowl, but also shorebirds, enotropical migratory and upland birds, 
fishery resources, reptiles, amphibians, threatened and endangered 
species, especially the Louisiana black bear, and resident wildlife 
species. The preferred alternative also calls for intensive efforts to 
forge partnerships to attain refuge goals, as well as to promote 
wildlife-dependent public uses. The six priority wildlife-dependent 
public uses will continue to be supported and in some cases will be 
expanded throughout the refuge under the preferred alternative. This 
alternative will also strengthen the close working relationship in 
existence between the Service, the local community, conservation 
organizations, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and 
other state and federal agencies.
    The primary focus under Alternative 3 would be to add more staff, 
equipment, and facilities in order to maximize bottomland hardwood 
forest restoration in support of migratory birds and other wildlife. 
Under this alternative, 17,525 acres of refuge lands would be 
protected, maintained, restored, and enhanced for resident wildlife, 
waterfowl, migratory nongame birds, and threatened and endangered 
species. Additionally, the acquisition boundary would be expanded 
(77,000 acres) to create forested linkages with the State of 
Louisiana's Spring Bayou and Grassy Lake Wildlife Management Areas. The 
primary purpose for this expansion would be to provide a bottomland 
forest system of sufficient size and carrying capacity to reach 
regional objectives associated with area-sensitive neotropical 
migratory birds, Louisiana black bear, forest-associated waterfowl, 
woodcook, and wetland forest landscapes. Extensive wildlife and plant 
censuses and inventory activities would be initiated to obtain the 
biological information needed to implement management programs on the 
refuge. Most refuge management actions would be directed toward 
creating and managing the largest possible amount of interior and 
corridor forest habitat (for Louisiana blackbear, neotropical migratory 
songbirds, and other interior forest wildlife) and reducing forest 
fragmentation, while supporting the refuge's primary purpose; and help 
meet the habitat conservation goals of the North American Waterfowl 
Management Plan) with the smallest possible commitment in land 
resources. Cooperative farming would be eliminated. Agricultural 
acreage would be reduced to 240 acres; all farming would be conducted 
by refuge staff. A forest management plan, designed to address this 
alternative's primary goals by creating spatially and specifically 
diverse woodlands, would be developed and implemented. High quality 
wildlife-dependent activities (hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, 
wildlife photography, and environmental education and interpretation) 
opportunities would increase.
    The primary focus under Alternative 4 would be to add more staff, 
equipment, and facilities in order to restore the refuge's wetland 
hydrology in support of migratory birds, particularly waterfowl and 
shorebirds. Cooperative farming would be increased to provide more 
waterfowl habitat. A forest management plan, designed to address this 
alternative's forest management goals of creating spatially and 
specifically diverse woodlands (with no negative effect on waterfowl 
obligations) would be developed and implemented. High quality wildlife-
dependent recreation activities would be provided and increased. Under 
this alternative, the refuge would continue to seek acquisition of all 
willing seller properties within the present acquisition boundary. 
Lands acquired as part of the refuge would be made available for 
compatible wildlife-dependent public recreation and environmental 
education opportunities.

DATES: A meeting will be held to present the plan to the public. 
Mailings, newspaper articles, and postings on the refuge Web site 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 Lake Ophelia 
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 the Central 
Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 401 Island Road, 
Marksville, Louisana 71351; Telephone 381/253-4238. 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 tina_chouinard@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.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge in 
north Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, is about 15 miles northeast of the 
city of Marksville and 30 miles southeast of the city of Alexandria. 
The refuge covers a total of 17,525 acres and lies approximately 8 
miles northwest of where the Red River empties into the Atchafalaya 
River. This region is part of the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial 
Plain. The integration of bottomland hardwood forests and open wetland 
systems, long growing season, abundant rainfall, and geographical 
proximity to the Mississippi River provide habitat for a diversity of 
species including waterfowl, neotropical migratory birds, resident 
wildlife, and Louisiana black bear.
    The refuge was established in 1988 to provide wintering habitat for 
mallards, northern pintails, and wood ducks, as well as breeding and 
nesting habitat for wood ducks, and to assist in meeting the goals of 
the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. The refuge is also being 
managed to provide habitat for a natural diversity of plants and 
animals, and to provide opportunities for compatible wildlife-dependent 
recreation, including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife 
photography, and environmental education and interpretation.

    Authority: This notice is published under the authority of the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, Pub. L. 

    Dated: January 19, 2005.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 05-6680 Filed 4-4-05; 8:45 am]