[Federal Register: January 20, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 13)]
[Page 3317-3319]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment for St. Marks National Wildlife 
Refuge in Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor Counties, FL

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION:  Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service announces that a Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for St. 
Marks 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 photography, and environmental education and 

DATES: Public meetings will be held in each county to present the plan 
to the public. Mailings, media releases, and Web site postings will be 
the avenues to inform the public of the dates and times for the 
meetings. Individuals wishing to comment on the Draft Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for St. Marks National 
Wildlife Refuge should do so no later than March 21, 2006.

ADDRESSES: Requests for copies of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment should be addressed to Mary Morris, 
Natural Resource Planner, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 
68, St. Marks, Florida 32355; Telephone (850) 925-6121. The plan and 
environmental assessment may also be accessed and downloaded from the 
Service's Internet Web site http://southeast.fws.gov/planning/ or the refuge's Web site http://saintmarks.fws.gov. Comments on the draft plan 
may be submitted to the above address (attention: Mary Morris, Natural 
Resource Planner) or via electronic mail to Mary_Morris@fws.gov. 
Please include your name and return address in your Internet message. 
Our practice is to make comments, including names and home addressed of 
respondents, available for pubic 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.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Priority issues addressed in the draft plan 
include: habitat protection and land conservation; migratory birds; 
partnerships; fire and forest management; exotic, invasive and nuisance 
species; wildlife inventory and monitoring; imperiled species 
management; visitor services; funding and staffing; and wilderness and 
cultural resources protection.
    The Service developed three alternatives for managing the refuge 
and chose Alternative 2 as the preferred alternative.


    Alternative 1 represents no change from current management of the 
refuge. The most recent approved acquisition boundary expansion (2000) 
would allow for the acquisition and protection of 3,764 acres of land 
adjacent to the refuge. Habitat planning documents would be revised as 
staff resources allow. Currently, the State of Florida provides funding 
for the majority of exotic plant species control and supplies, but 
staff resources are used for an aggressive control program. Exotic 
animals are removed through the hunt program. A series of impoundments 

[[Page 3318]]

managed for waterfowl and these habitats are dependent on the upper 
basin outside of the refuge, which is experiencing hydrologic change.
    Most research work on the refuge is conducted with outside funding 
and partnering agencies. Monitoring work is focused to the highest 
priority species, such as red-cockaded woodpeckers. The refuge has a 
need for basic inventories of threatened, endangered, and imperiled 
species and plant and animal species. The habitat and life requirement 
needs of many species are unknown and the presence or absence of rare 
or imperiled species has not been fully addressed.
    Visitor services would remain with existing programs, facilities, 
and staff addressing the priority public uses--hunting, fishing, 
wildlife observation, wildlife photography, and environmental education 
and interpretation. Environmental education and interpretation programs 
would continue and be conducted mainly onsite, with staff participation 
in a few offsite outreach festivals yearly.
    Protection of cultural resources would continue to rely on patrols 
by the law enforcement officer. A comprehensive inventory of resources 
is needed. The St. Marks Lighthouse would remain an unimproved 
structure without public access. Maintenance would be performed, as 
required for a national historic site to the extent funding is 
    The Wilderness Area would remain a Class I airshed and monitoring 
of ozone would continue. Patrols in the Wilderness Areas would also 
continue to be performed by the law enforcement officer.
    All refuge functions would be conducted in existing administrative, 
visitor service, fire, and maintenance facilities. The existing staff 
would be maintained.
    The preferred alternative, Alternative 2, is considered the most 
effective management action for meeting the purposes of the refuge. The 
proposed management plan outlines the enhancement of wildlife 
populations and related habitats over the next 15 years. It also 
improves refuge safety and protection of resources, and may provide 
visitors with more opportunities for wildlife viewing and wildlife-
dependent recreation. Environmental education and outreach would be 
expanded under this proposed option.
    In support of habitat and wildlife conservation, the most notable 
proposal is to emphasize and encourage the protection of additional 
conservation lands, outside the current acquisition boundary, that are 
critical to the protection of refuge resources. This conservation focus 
area includes lands south of U.S. Highway 98, southeast of Panacea, 
south of the Ochlockonee river, and the East and Wacissa Rivers 
drainage basins. The State of Florida is actively pursuing the 
acquisition of lands adjacent to the refuge and seeking partnerships 
with the Service for management. A conservation buffer area around the 
refuge would help ensure the integrity of the refuge's land and water 
resources and enhance the connectivity of wildlands critical for 
species, such as the Florida black bear, by providing a conservation 
corridor. Many objectives and strategies focus on maintaining and 
restoring native communities, particularly longleaf pine. The 
development of the refuge as a Land Management Research and 
Demonstration Area would help the refuge to become a leader in longleaf 
pine research and conservation and would enable the sharing of that 
knowledge with other to benefit both private and publicly owned lands. 
Programs to control or eradicate terrestrial and aquatic non-indigenous 
and invasive plants are proposed, as is nuisance animal control. 
Hydrologic studies and land conservation are proposed to maintain the 
integrity of refuge resources and to manage the impoundments to benefit 
migratory birds.
    Many ongoing and proposed programs and effort focus on threatened, 
endangered, rare, and imperiled species of plants and animals. The need 
for extensive inventorying and monitoring for baseline data is 
addressed in this management plan, particularly for red-cockaded 
woodpeckers, bald eagles, wood storks, least terns and flatwood 
    Since a primary purpose for refuge establishment is to provide 
habitat for migratory birds, the improvement of the impoundments to 
provide high quality for waterfowl, shorebirds and marsh birds is 
proposed. So, too, are strategies to improve forested habitat, such as 
pine flatwoods, pine-cabbage palmetto hammocks, mesic and hydric pine 
hardwood, and hardwood hammocks.
    A primary focus of the visitor services program, as proposed, is to 
enhance environmental education and outreach efforts substantially. 
This plan may offer increased opportunity for wildlife-dependent 
recreation, such as photography, hiking and wildlife observation. 
Fishing improvements and angler awareness programs are proposed. The 
feasibility of conducting youth hunt programs and clinics will be 
explored. The restoration of the St. Marks Lighthouse would provide an 
opportunity to present the refuge's rich cultural and historic 
    Sensitive areas and rich resources, such as the refuge's designated 
Wilderness Area and cultural resources, would receive more protection 
through increased law enforcement. A major provision of this 
alternative is a comprehensive study of all refuge archaeological and 
historical resources.
    Meeting basic refuge operation needs has been addressed. Essential 
new office space, staffing, and equipment needs are proposed.
    Alternative 3 incorporates and builds-upon all the habitat 
improvements listed under Alternative 2. Protection of the East River 
drainage basin would occur. Exotic plant and animal species would be 
controlled or eradicated. Hardwood habitat management would be 
    The biological programs of the refuge would be greatly enhanced 
with the addition of three biologist and/or biological technician 
positions to expand the Land Management Research and Demonstration Area 
program, to add additional projects, and to improve outreach and 
coordination with other conservation agencies and the public. 
Monitoring and inventorying of rare and imperiled species would be 
enhanced, especially for reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and those bird 
species not considered highest priority. A herpetologist would be 
employed to study reptiles and amphibians, to conduct literature 
reviews, and to share data with partners. Wood-duck banding would be 
increased. The impoundments would be actively managed for rails, and 
life-history studies would be conducted. Point counts of priority 
species would be undertaken for regional and national trend analysis. 
With additional staff, refuge personnel could more effectively monitor 
and respond to wildlife disturbance and habitat management issues.
    Visitor services would be improved with the addition of a ranger 
position to operate the expanded Visitor Center and to assist with both 
on- and off-site outreach opportunities. Two additional environmental 
education specialists would maintain the environmental education 
classroom, laboratory outdoor classrooms and overnight facility, 
providing maximum opportunity to the public and groups 7 days a week. 
They would assist the lead environmental education specialist in 
program development and training of staff, volunteers, and educators. 
In addition to needed facilities proposed under Alternative 2, a 
research center to house the Land Management Research and

[[Page 3319]]

Demonstration Area program staff would be constructed in order to 
provide laboratory and housing facilities for partnering researchers 
and educators.
    Cultural and wilderness resources would be further protected 
through the addition of a law enforcement officer who would also serve 
as a community police liaison in an effort to educate the public about 
refuge resources and to deter and prevent crime. All step-down plans, 
except for the Land Protection Plan, would be completed within 5 years 
of plan adoption.
    The refuge, established in 1931 as a breeding ground for wild 
animals and birds, is situated along the Gulf coast of northwest 
Florida, about 25 miles south of Tallahassee. It currently covers about 
68,931 acres with an approved acquisition boundary of 74,469 acres. 
Refuge personnel also manage 947 acres of State land and 334 acres of 
USDA Forest Service land within the approved acquisition boundary. The 
Wilderness Act designated 17,446 acres as the St. Marks Wilderness. The 
refuge aims to provide habitat for a natural diversity of plants and 
animals with a primary purpose of wildlife habitat conservation. The 
refuge is also being managed to provide opportunity for compatible 
wildlife-dependent recreation.

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

    Dated: October 31, 2005.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 06-523 Filed 1-19-06; 8:45 am]