[Federal Register: February 4, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 23)]
[Page 6522-6524]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R5-R-2008-N0021; 50130-1265-0000-S3; ABC Code: S3]

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, Sussex, NJ

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability: draft comprehensive conservation plan 
and environmental assessment; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability for review of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan 
(CCP) and Environmental Assessment (EA) for Wallkill River National 
Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The Service prepared the Draft CCP/EA in 
compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as amended 
by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997. We 
request public comments.

DATES: The Draft CCP/EA will be available for public review and comment 
until close of business on March 10, 2008.

ADDRESSES: You may obtain copies of the Draft CCP/EA on CD-ROM or in 
print by writing to Beth Goldstein, Refuge Planner, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, Massachusetts 
01035, or by electronic mail at northeastplanning@fws.gov. You may also 
view the draft plan on the Web at: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/planning/Wallkill%20River/ccphome.html.
 We will host public meetings on 

Wednesday, Feb. 20 in Augusta, NJ and Thursday, Feb. 21 in Wantage, NJ 
We will post the details of each meeting 2 weeks in advance, via our 
project mailing list, in local papers, and at the refuge.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For more information, or to get on the 
project mailing list, contact Beth Goldstein, Refuge Planner, at the 
address above, by telephone at 413-253-8564, by fax at 413-253-8468, or 
by electronic mail at Beth_Goldstein@fws.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The National Wildlife Refuge System 
Administration Act of 1966, as amended by the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Improvement Act of 1997 (16 U.S.C. 668dd et seq.), requires the 
Service to develop a CCP for each refuge. The purpose of developing a 
CCP is to

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provide refuge managers with a 15-year strategy for achieving refuge 
purposes and contributing to the mission of the National Wildlife 
Refuge System (NWRS), in conformance with the sound principles of fish 
and wildlife science, natural resources conservation, legal mandates, 
and Service policies. In addition to outlining broad management 
direction on conserving wildlife and habitats, CCPs identify compatible 
wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities available to the public, 
including opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and 
photography, and environmental interpretation and education. The 
Service will review and update each CCP at least once every 15 years.
    Congress established the Wallkill River Refuge by law on November 
16, 1990 (Section 107 of H.R. 3338; Pub. L. 101-593) with the following 
purposes: (1) To preserve and enhance the refuge's lands and waters in 
a manner that will conserve the natural diversity of fish, wildlife, 
plants, and their habitats for present and future generations, (2) to 
conserve and enhance populations of fish, wildlife, and plants within 
the refuge, including populations of black ducks and other waterfowl, 
raptors, passerines, and marsh and water birds, (3) to protect and 
enhance the water quality of aquatic habitats within the refuge, (4) to 
fulfill international treaty obligation of the United States with 
respect to fish and wildlife and their habitats, and (5) to provide 
opportunities for compatible scientific research, environmental 
education, and fish- and wildlife-oriented recreation (104 Stat. 2955).
    The refuge encompasses approximately 5,000 acres, stretching from 
Sussex County, New Jersey to Orange County, New York. It is located 
along a 9-mile stretch of the Wallkill River, and lies in a rolling 
valley within the Appalachian Ridge and Valley physiographic province. 
The region's major wetlands are former glacial lake bottoms, and the 
lake's organic muck soils support extensive bottomland hardwood 
forests, wet meadows, and farm fields. Since establishing the refuge, 
we have focused primarily on conserving, restoring, and enhancing the 
natural diversity of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats along 
the Wallkill River. Management activities include restoring wetlands, 
creating moist soil management units, maintaining grasslands and 
providing wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities.
    The Draft CCP/EA evaluates three alternatives that address nine 
major issues identified during the planning process. Several sources 
generated those issues, including the public, State or Federal 
agencies, other Service programs, and our planning team. The Draft CCP/
EA describes those issues in detail. Highlights of the alternatives 
    Alternative A (Current Management): This alternative is the ``No 
Action'' alternative required by the National Environmental Policy Act 
of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321-4347, as amended). Alternative A defines our 
current management activities, including those planned, funded, or 
under way, and serves as the baseline against which to compare the 
other two action alternatives. It would maintain our present levels of 
approved refuge staffing and the biological and visitor programs. Our 
biological program would continue to use a variety of habitat 
management tools to maintain the refuge's scrub-shrub habitats, non-
forested wetlands, grasslands and forested communities. We would 
continue efforts to protect the federally-threatened bog turtle by 
managing occupied sites on refuge-owned lands and attempting to acquire 
occupied sites within the current acquisition boundary. We would 
continue to offer hunt programs for deer, spring and fall turkey, 
woodcock, resident Canada geese, waterfowl and other migratory birds 
according to New Jersey State seasons. We would maintain current access 
sites for fishing and boating, and current trails for wildlife 
observation and photography. We would continue to offer limited 
environmental education and interpretation programs, as staffing and 
funding allows. Finally, we would continue to pursue the acquisition 
from willing sellers of the remaining 2,021 acres of important wildlife 
habitat that lies within our currently approved acquisition boundary.
    Alternative B (the Service-preferred alternative): This alternative 
represents the combination of actions we believe most effectively 
achieves the purposes and goals of the refuge and addresses the major 
issues. It builds on the programs identified under current management. 
We would conduct field surveys of all suitable bog turtle sites on 
refuge-owned lands and we would develop a site management and 
monitoring plan for occupied and potential sites. We would hire a 
contractor to conduct surveys of Indiana bats (federally listed as 
endangered) and we would determine the feasibility of re-establishing 
dwarf wedgemussel (federally listed as endangered) populations on 
Service-owned lands. We would take a more proactive approach to 
restoring wetlands and establish a 100-meter forested riparian corridor 
along either side of the Wallkill River where it traverses the refuge. 
We would establish three grassland focus areas on the refuge and let 
other small fields revert to scrub-shrub habitat.
    We would open the refuge to bear hunting according to State seasons 
and provide at least one additional fishing access site in the current 
refuge boundary. We would increase access to Service-owned lands within 
the current refuge by opening at least two new trails and extending an 
existing trail. We would also develop new interpretive materials and 
work with partners to expand the refuge's environmental education 
    Alternative B proposes to expand the current approved refuge 
boundary by 9,550 acres through a combination of fee-simple and 
easement acquisition from willing sellers. The proposed expansion 
boundary includes four focus areas, including the 7,079-acre Papakating 
Creek Focus Area, which encompasses a 15-mile tributary of the Wallkill 
River. All four focus areas have tremendous wetland resource values, 
and together they form a key corridor connection between preserved 
habitats on the Kittatinny Ridge to the west and the Hudson Highlands 
to the east. Finally, they would fully complement and enhance the 
Federal, State and private conservation partnerships actively involved 
in protecting this unique ecosystem.
    Alternative C: This alternative proposes to establish and maintain 
the ecological integrity of natural communities on the refuge and 
surrounding landscape without specific emphasis or concern for any 
particular species or species groups. Under this alternative, refuge 
lands would be restored to their historic condition as they existed in 
the Wallkill River Valley during the late 1600s. At this time, the area 
was thought to consist of a forested matrix dominated by floodplain 
forest. A bottomland hardwood forest component would be established on 
more than 70 percent of the current refuge. Sites prone to continuous 
flooding would likely be sustained as emergent marsh and shrublands. 
Upland sites would likely revert to a mixed mid-Atlantic hardwood 
forest association. We would also restore, to the extent practicable, 
the natural hydrologic regimen of the Wallkill River and its 
tributaries by removing man-made impediments to natural flow, such as 
the freshwater impoundments in place to benefit waterfowl.
    Under Alternative C, we would allow hunting for deer and resident 
Canada geese only. Otherwise, public use within the current refuge 

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would remain the same as Alternative A.
    Alternative C proposes a 7,609-acre boundary expansion that 
includes two of the four focus areas proposed in Alternative B. These 
focus areas were chosen because they offer the greatest potential for 
restoring the natural hydrologic regimen of the Wallkill River system. 
As in Alternative B, those expansion lands consist of high-quality, 
important wildlife habitat; occur in an amount and distribution that 
provide us the management flexibility to achieve refuge habitat goals 
and objectives; and fully complement and enhance the land management of 
adjacent conservation partners.
    We plan to announce the availability of our Draft CCP/EA in the 
Federal Register for a 30-day public review and comment period. After 
we evaluate and respond to public comments on the draft document, we 
will prepare a final CCP for review by our Regional Director. We will 
simultaneously submit the Land Protection Plan, outlining our expansion 
proposal, to the Director for his review. The Regional Director will 
evaluate the final CCP for agency compliance requirements, and to 
determine whether it will achieve refuge purposes and help fulfill the 
Refuge System mission. If he approves that document, and the Director 
concurs with the Land Protection Plan, the decision will be documented 
in a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). We can begin 
implementation of the final CCP as soon as our Regional Director issues 
the FONSI.

    Dated: September 26, 2007.
Thomas J. Healy,
Acting Regional Director, Northeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Hadley, Massachusetts.

    Editorial Note: This document was received at the Office of the 
Federal Register on January 30, 2008.
[FR Doc. E8-1936 Filed 2-1-08; 8:45 am]