[Federal Register: September 14, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 178)]
[Page 52574-52575]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Complex

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability of the Final Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Finding of No Significant Impact.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service announces that a Final 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI) for the

[[Page 52575]]

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Complex, with refuges in Jackson, 
Lauderdale, Limestone, Madison, and Morgan Counties, Alabama, is 
available for distribution. The CCP was prepared pursuant to the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, and in 
accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and 
describes how the refuge complex will be managed for the next 15 years.

ADDRESSES: A copy of the CCP/FONSI may be obtained by writing to: C. 
Dwight Cooley, Project Leader, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge 
Complex, 2700 Refuge Headquarters Road, Decatur, AL 35603; Telephone: 
256/353-7243; Fax 256/353-9728. The CCP/FONSI may also be accessed and 
downloaded from the Service's Web site: http://southeast.fws.gov/planning/

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: With this notice, we finalize the CCP 
process for the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Complex, begun as 
announced in the Federal Register on July 21, 2005 (70 FR 42084). For 
more about the process, see that notice. We released the Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment (Draft 
CCP/EA) to the public, requesting comments in a notice of availability 
in the Federal Register on April 5, 2007 (72 FR 16811).
    The Draft CCP/EA identified and evaluated four alternatives for 
managing the refuge complex over the next 15 years. Under Alternative 
A, the ``no-action'' alternative, present management would have 
continued. Current approaches to managing migratory birds, threatened 
and endangered species, other wildlife and habitats, and allowing for 
public use would have remained unchanged. Under Alternative B, 
management would have focused on maximizing opportunities for public 
visitation, increasing both facilities and activities. Under 
Alternative C, the refuge complex would have emphasized its biological 
program by applying maximum efforts to enhance habitat conditions and 
increase wildlife populations, particularly migratory birds. The 
visitor services program would have remained as it is at present. We 
chose Alternative D as the preferred alternative. This determination 
was made based on the best professional judgment of the planning team 
and the comments received on the Draft CCP/EA. Under this alternative, 
the refuge complex will strive to optimize both its biological program 
and its visitor services program.
    Over the 15-year life of the plan, the complex staff will increase 
emphasis on environmental education and interpretation to lead to a 
better understanding of the importance of wildlife and habitat 
resources, especially invasive species, endangered species, and 
migratory birds. Research studies on the refuge will be fostered and 
partnerships developed with universities and other agencies, providing 
needed resources and experiment sites, while meeting the needs of each 
refuge's wildlife and habitat management programs. New surveys on 
birds, reptiles, and amphibians will be initiated to develop baseline 
    The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Complex is currently comprised 
of seven national wildlife refuges, spreading across 12,500 square 
miles of northern Alabama. In addition, the Wheeler Complex administers 
five Farm Service Agency conservation easement tracts. The Final CCP/
FONSI covers four of the seven refuges: Wheeler Refuge in Limestone, 
Madison and Morgan Counties; Key Cave Refuge in Lauderdale County; 
Sauta Cave Refuge in Jackson County (formerly known as Blowing Wind 
Cave); and Fern Cave Refuge in Jackson County. The other three refuges 
(Cahaba River, Mountain Longleaf, and Watercress Darter) will be 
addressed at a later date in separate plans.
    Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, consisting of 37,000 acres and 
located among the cities of Athens, Decatur, and Huntsville, was 
established in 1938 by Executive Order 7926 as a refuge and breeding 
ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. Additional purposes were 
added later under the authorities of the Migratory Bird Conservation 
Act of 1929 and the Refuge Recreation Act of 1962. Sauta Cave National 
Wildlife Refuge, known as Blowing Wind Cave National Wildlife Refuge 
until 1999, is located near Scottsboro. It is a 264-acre refuge 
purchased in 1978 to provide protection for the federally endangered 
gray bat (Myotis grisescens) and Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and their 
critical habitat. Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge, located near 
Paint Rock, was purchased in 1981 to provide protection for the 
federally endangered gray and Indiana bats. It consists of 199 acres of 
forested hillside underlain by a massive cave with many stalactite- and 
stalagmite-filled rooms. Key Cave National Wildlife Refuge, located 
about 5 miles southwest of Florence, was established in 1997 to provide 
protection for the endangered Alabama cavefish (Speoplatyrhinus 

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

     Dated: July 24, 2007.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
 [FR Doc. E7-18145 Filed 9-13-07; 8:45 am]