[Federal Register: September 10, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 176)]
[Page 52670-52671]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2008-N00160; 40136-1265-0000-S3]

Upper Ouachita and Handy Brake National Wildlife Refuges, 
Morehouse, Union, Richland, East Carroll, West Carroll, Natchitoches, 
and Grant Parishes, LA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability: final comprehensive conservation plan 
and finding of no significant impact.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of our final comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and 
finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for Upper Ouachita and Handy 
Brake National Wildlife Refuges. In the final CCP, we describe how we 
will manage these refuges for the next 15 years.

ADDRESSES: A copy of the CCP may be obtained by writing to: North 
Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 11372 Highway 143, 
Farmerville, LA 71241. The CCP may also be accessed and downloaded from 
the Service's Web site: http://southeast.fws.gov/planning/.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. George Chandler; Telephone: 318-
726-4222; Fax: 318-726-4667; e-mail: george_chandler@fws.gov.



    With this notice, we finalize the CCP process for Upper Ouachita 
and Handy Brake National Wildlife Refuges. We started this process 
through a notice in the Federal Register on July 13, 2005 (70 FR 
    The Upper Ouachita and Handy Brake National Wildlife Refuges, 
including 44 Farm Service Agency (FSA) lands, ranging in size from 3 
acres to 1,000 acres, are units of the North Louisiana National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex. Upper Ouachita Refuge is in northeastern 
Louisiana. The northern boundary lies on the Louisiana-Arkansas state 
line. The refuge borders both sides of the Ouachita River, running 
north-south for 13.7 miles, extending 3.3 miles to the east and 16 
miles to the west. The southernmost point on the refuge is 
approximately 20 miles north of Monroe, Louisiana. The current 
acquisition area encompasses 61,633 acres of which 42,594 acres have 
been purchased with 26,304 acres in Union Parish and 16,290 acres in 
Morehouse Parish.
    Upper Ouachita Refuge was established in November 1978. The 
federally legislated purposes are ``for use as an inviolate sanctuary, 
or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds'' (Migratory 
Bird Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. 715d); and for ``* * * the 
conservation of the wetlands of the nation in order to maintain the 
public benefits they provide and to help fulfill international 
obligations contained in various migratory bird treaties and 
conventions * * *'' (16 U.S.C. 3901(b)).
    Upper Ouachita Refuge consists of 4,540 acres of pine and pine/
hardwood forests, 19,767 acres of bottomland hardwood forests, 9,236 
acres of reforested bottomlands, 2,000 acres of scrub/shrub, 1,182 
acres of moist-soil plantings, 2,541 acres of agricultural fields, 418 
acres of fallow agricultural fields, and 2,910 acres of open water.
    The USDA Farm Service Agency units were established in 1990, in 
response to growing Fish and Wildlife Service land-based 
responsibilities off of traditional refuges. The Wetlands Office is 
responsible for the administration of wetland easements and fee title 
land transfers from the Farm Service Agency for conservation purposes 
(Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, 7 U.S.C. 2002) and for 
the benefit of endangered species, resident and migratory waterfowl, 
neotropical migratory birds, and other wildlife. The units also include 
the first fee title tract transfer from the Farm Service Agency to the 
Service, with the establishment of Handy Brake National Wildlife Refuge 
in 1988. The units consist of 36 Farm Service Agency easements, 7 fee 
title tracts, and 1 lease, all concentrated in northeastern Louisiana 
and encompassing 6 parishes. These units are spread across north 
Louisiana, ranging in size from 3 acres to 1,000 acres.
    Handy Brake Refuge is primarily a permanent wetland of excellent 
habitat for wintering waterfowl, wading birds, and many other wetland-
dependent species. A free lease of 35 acres of International Paper 
Company land provides an upland area overlooking the wetland. An 
observation deck in the upland area provides wildlife viewing 
opportunities into the wetlands. Habitat management within these units 
focuses primarily on reforestation of marginal agricultural areas and 
development and maintenance of moist-soil units. These varied habitats 
provide for a diverse array of wildlife. There is no hunting or fishing 
permitted throughout these units.
    We announce our decision and the availability of the final CCP and 
FONSI for Upper Ouachita and Handy Brake National Wildlife Refuges in 
accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (40 CFR 
1506.6(b)) requirements. We completed a thorough analysis of impacts on 
the human environment, which we included in the draft comprehensive 
conservation plan and environmental assessment (Draft CCP/EA). The CCP 
will guide us in managing and administering Upper Ouachita and Handy 
Brake Refuges for the next 15 years. Alternative B is the foundation 
for the CCP.
    The compatibility determinations for (1) wildlife observation and 
photography; (2) environmental education and interpretation; (3) 
fishing; and (4) cooperative farming are also available within the CCP.


    The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (16 
U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (Improvement Act), which amended the National 
Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, requires us to 
develop a CCP for each national wildlife refuge. The purpose for 
developing a CCP is to provide refuge managers with a 15-year plan 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 our 
policies. In addition to outlining broad management direction on 
conserving wildlife and their habitats, CCPs identify wildlife-

[[Page 52671]]

dependent recreational opportunities available to the public, including 
opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife 
photography, and environmental education and interpretation. We will 
review and update the CCP at least every 15 years in accordance with 
the Improvement Act.


    Approximately 100 copies of the Draft CCP/EA were made available 
for a 30-day public review period as announced in the Federal Register 
on March 21, 2008 (73 FR 15186). No comments on the Draft CCP/EA were 
received. The Draft CCP/EA identified and evaluated three alternatives 
for managing the refuge over the next 15 years.

Selected Alternative

    After considering the comments we received and based on the 
professional judgment of the planning team, we selected Alternative B 
for implementation.
    Biological potential of historical habitats will be restored and 
enhanced, with most management actions emphasizing natural ecological 
processes to foster habitat functions and wildlife populations. The 
biological program will be enhanced with inventorying and monitoring so 
that adaptive management can be implemented not only for migratory 
birds, but for other species of wildlife as well. A close evaluation of 
migratory bird use and nesting success on the refuge will be evaluated 
using granting opportunities and partnerships. To determine how forest 
management is affecting wildlife, partnerships will be developed to 
establish scientifically valid protocols and to collaboratively work on 
research projects. Upland forest management will focus on restoring the 
biological integrity of a mixed hardwood/pine forest by promoting 
upland hardwood species and reducing pine basal area. The Red-cockaded 
Woodpecker Habitat Unit will be managed using a more historic fire 
regime while providing red-cockaded woodpecker habitat as required in 
the recovery guidelines. Bottomland hardwood forest management will be 
developed on an inventory defining current condition that could be 
conducted in a logical and feasible manner. Bottoms will have 
management increased to open canopy cover and increase understory 
vegetation. Water control structures and pumping capability will be 
improved to enhance moist-soil and cropland management for the benefit 
of wintering waterfowl. Invasive species will be mapped and protocols 
for control established with the addition of a forester. Partnerships 
will continue to be fostered for several biological programs, hunting 
regulations, law enforcement issues, and research projects.
    Public use will be similar to current management with a few 
improvements based on additional resources. Deer hunting will be 
allowed while monitoring the availability, diversity, and deer use of 
understory woody and herbaceous plants. This will allow refuge 
personnel to better understand the pressure being exerted on the 
habitat, enabling better habitat and harvest recommendations. On Upper 
Ouachita Refuge, youth turkey hunting will be allowed. Fishing events 
and boat launch facilities will be improved. Environmental education, 
wildlife observation, and wildlife photography will be accommodated at 
present levels, with minimal disturbance to wildlife and habitat. An 
enhanced nature trail, interpretive panels, and ``check-out kits'' for 
teachers will be developed. Law enforcement will be increased to gain 
better compliance with refuge regulations. Staffing will increase by 
four positions (e.g., biological technician, forestry technician, 
maintenance worker, and law enforcement officer). This will enable the 
refuges to increase biological inventorying and monitoring, enhance 
forest management, increase invasives control, enhance the public use 
program, and provide safe and compatible wildlife-dependent recreation.

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

    Dated: July 2, 2008.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. E8-20978 Filed 9-9-08; 8:45 am]