[Federal Register: November 19, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 224)]
[Page 69673-69674]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2008-N0216; 40136-1265-0000-S3]

Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Jackson County, MS, and 
Mobile County, AL

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 Grand Bay National 
Wildlife Refuge (NWR). In the final CCP, we describe how we will manage 
this refuge for the next 15 years.

ADDRESSES: A copy of the CCP may be obtained by writing to: Mr. Lloyd 
Culp, Manager, Gulf Coast NWR Complex, 7200 Crane Lane, Gautier, MS 
39553. The CCP may also be accessed and downloaded from the Service's 
Web site: http://southeast.fws.gov/planning.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Mike Dawson, Refuge Planner, 
Jackson, MS; Telephone: 601/965-4903 ext. 20; fax: 601/965-4010; e-
mail: mike_dawson@fws.gov.



    With this notice, we finalize the CCP process for Grand Bay NWR. We 
started this process through a notice in the Federal Register on 
December 29, 2005 (70 FR 77176). For more about the process, see that 
    Grand Bay NWR was established in 1992 with an acquisition boundary 
of 12,100 acres. The main purpose of the refuge is to protect one of 
the largest expanses of Gulf coast savanna remaining in a relatively 
undisturbed state. In 1997, a 2,700-acre expansion was approved to 
bring under management a section of the scenic Escatawpa River. In 
2003, another expansion was approved to include a string of nearshore 
barrier islands just south of the refuge (660 acres) and a 5-acre tract 
on the north side of Independence Road, which forms part of the 
refuge's northern boundary. To date, the Service has acquired 
approximately 10,188 acres within the acquisition boundary. The refuge 
was established under the authority of the Emergency Wetlands Resources 
Act of 1986.
    Grand Bay NWR is located in the coastal zone of Jackson County, 
Mississippi, and Mobile County, Alabama, approximately 10 miles east of 
Pascagoula, Mississippi, and about 20 miles west of Mobile, Alabama. It 
forms part of the Gulf Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which 
also includes Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR to the west and Bon Secour 
NWR to the east.
    Habitats encompassed by the refuge include a riverine area on the 
west side containing a section of the Escatawpa River and a tributary, 
Black Creek; an area of coastal savanna in the central part of the 
refuge; and a large gopher tortoise colony at the northeast corner of 
the refuge.
    Grand Bay NWR's cypress-tupelo swamps provide ideal habitat for 
wood ducks, other migratory birds, and many resident wildlife species, 
including white-tailed deer and wild turkey. The refuge's salt flats, 
tidal creeks, and brackish marshes are used extensively by wading 
birds, shorebirds, and waterfowl, including the mottled duck, a species 
of concern in both Alabama and Mississippi. About 20 percent of the 
coastal waterfowl in Alabama and Mississippi winter in this area, the 
most prevalent duck species being lesser scaup, redhead, ring-necked, 
mallard, and American wigeon.
    Other species that use the refuge's estuarine habitats include bald 
eagles, peregrine falcons, clapper rails, black rails, Gulf salt marsh 
water snakes, and Mississippi diamondback terrapins.
    The fishery of the Escatawpa River system and its associated 
sloughs and lakes contain populations of species such as largemouth 
bass, bream, crappie, and catfish. Public fishing is popular along the 
river. More than 80 species of fish have been reported from the 
estuarine habitats of Grand Bay NWR, including Atlantic croaker, spot, 
menhaden, spotted sea trout, flounder,

[[Page 69674]]

red drum, oysters, and several species of shrimp.
    Grand Bay NWR provides a wide variety of habitats for migratory 
species. The northern portion of the refuge is composed of a palustrine 
forested habitat, with mixed hardwoods and slash/loblolly pine as the 
most prevalent species types. This habitat supports a broad variety of 
neotropical migratory birds, as well as several species of waterfowl.
    Further south within the refuge, a palustrine emergent ecosystem 
becomes more common, with increasing shrubs and bottomland hardwood 
stands. At the true coastal interface, the habitat transitions into a 
broad floodplain swamp ecosystem. The southernmost portions open to 
marine intertidal, estuarine subtidal, and estuarine intertidal 
emergents, and finally to palustrine unconsolidated shore. This portion 
supports various species of sandpipers, terns, and kites.
    Threatened and endangered species that occur or visit the refuge 
include the threatened gopher tortoise and the endangered red-cockaded 
    Popular recreation uses at Grand Bay NWR include hunting, fishing, 
wildlife observation, wildlife photography, and boating. Wildlife 
viewing and photography programs, as well as environmental education 
and interpretation, are also being developed on the refuge, especially 
in conjunction with a visitor center now under construction.
    We announce our decision and the availability of the Final CCP and 
FONSI for Grand Bay NWR 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 
    The compatibility determinations for (1) Hunting; (2) fishing; (3) 
wildlife observation and photography; and (4) environmental education 
and interpretation are also available within the final 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-
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 every15 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 April 16, 2008 (73 FR 20704). Only one public comment was received.

Selected Alternative

    We have selected Alternative C for implementation as it is judged 
to be the most effective management action for meeting the purposes of 
the refuge. Alternative C will optimize habitat management and visitor 
services throughout the refuge. Over the life of the plan, Grand Bay 
NWR will support the annual population objective of the North American 
Waterfowl Management Plan by contributing 20 percent (3,600 ducks) of a 
midwinter population of approximately 18,000 ducks in the Coastal 
Mississippi Wetlands Initiative Area. For all other migratory birds, 
the refuge will provide habitats sufficient to meet population goals of 
regional and national bird conservation plans.
    The refuge will create and enhance favorable conditions for gopher 
tortoises (200 acres) and for the possible reintroduction of 12-15 
Mississippi sandhill cranes (5-7 nesting pairs) and the gopher frog 
(creating two ponds). Grand Bay NWR will also develop and maintain 
inventories for small mammals, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, and 
possibly other taxa.
    The refuge will restore 2,500 acres of wet pine savanna habitat, 
supporting primarily grassy-herbaceous dominated conditions to benefit 
grassland birds. Grand Bay NWR will also aim to restore forest 
structure to promote super-emergent trees, cavities, and understory 
structure on approximately 2,000 acres to benefit migratory land birds. 
The refuge will utilize prescribed fire to manage habitat and reduce 
hazardous fuels on approximately 5,000 acres, with goals to set 
prescribed fires on a 2-3 year rotation with 50 percent of burns 
occurring during the growing season, and to suppress wildfires.
    In partnership with Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve 
(NERR), the refuge will annually control 50 acres of cogongrass and 
Chinese tallow, while controlling other invasive flora 
    Under Alternative C, Grand Bay NWR will aim to acquire 100 percent 
of all lands within the approved acquisition boundary within 15 years 
of CCP approval. The refuge will develop and begin to implement a 
Cultural Resources Management Plan that will be used to provide overall 
management direction for cultural resources at Grand Bay NWR. In order 
to protect its resources, the refuge will provide two full-time law 
enforcement officers.
    In partnership with NERR, the refuge will operate a new joint 
research, office, education facility/visitor center to provide benefits 
to visitors. The refuge will also continue to allow fishing and provide 
hunting for deer, squirrel, and waterfowl, consistent with state 
regulations and seasons. With limited refuge support, NERR will 
continue environmental education and interpretation at current levels, 
including participation in community events, on- and off-site 
environmental education, guided tours, and interpretive trails. In 
partnership with NERR, Grand Bay NWR will maintain current wildlife 
observation and photography programs and facilities.
    In cooperation with NERR, the refuge will provide sufficient 
resources to implement a comprehensive refuge management program to 
protect and manage the natural and cultural values of the refuge's 
habitats and fulfill the refuge's purposes and goals.
    Under Alternative C, in terms of staffing, Grand Bay NWR will 
supplement the existing staff of two with one biologist, one park 
ranger, one biological technician, one equipment operator, and one law 
enforcement officer.

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

    Dated: September 17, 2008.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. E8-27452 Filed 11-18-08; 8:45 am]