[Federal Register: June 4, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 106)]
[Page 26883-26886]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2009-N0061; 40136-1265-0000-S3]

Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Lanier County, GA

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 of a draft comprehensive conservation plan and 
environmental assessment (Draft CCP/EA) for Banks Lake National 
Wildlife Refuge (NWR) for public review and comment. In this Draft CCP/
EA, we describe the alternative we propose to use to manage this refuge 
for the 15 years following approval of the final CCP.

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your written comments 
by July 6, 2009.

ADDRESSES: Send comments, questions, and requests for information to: 
Ms. Laura Housh, Refuge Planner, Okefenokee NWR, Route 2, Box 3330, 
Folkston, GA 31537. The Draft CCP/EA is available on compact disk or in 
hard copy. The Draft CCP/EA may also be accessed and downloaded from 
the Service's Internet Site: http://southeast.fws.gov/planning.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Laura Housh; telephone: 912/496-
7366, ext. 244; fax: 912/496-3322; e-mail: laura_housh@fws.gov.



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Banks Lake NWR. 
We started this process through a notice in the Federal Register on 
December 6, 2007 (72 FR 68892).


    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 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 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 every 15 years in accordance with 
the Improvement Act.
    Banks Lake NWR is managed by staff of the Okefenokee NWR. The 
refuge, which is part of a larger blackwater system, was established in 
1985 for the protection and conservation of this unique environment, as 
well as for migratory and resident wildlife. It totals approximately 
3,559 acres.
    Development of the CCP began in October 2007, with preplanning 
activities such as gathering data and information, meeting with 
Okefenokee NWR staff, and preparing for the public scoping phase of the 
planning process. A public scoping meeting was held on January 24, 
2008, in Lakeland, Georgia. The following issues were identified by the 
public, intergovernmental partners, and the Service: (1) Threats to 
biodiversity, listed species, and migratory birds; (2) need for data 
and comprehensive habitat management; (3) impacts to water quantity and 
quality; (4) need for an updated acquisition boundary; (5) future land 
acquisition needs; (6) drainage easement protection; (7) lack of 
information on refuge cultural resources; (8) need for increased law 
enforcement; (9) need for increased public use opportunities; and (10) 
need for adequate resources.

CCP Alternatives, Including Our Proposed Alternative

    We developed three alternatives for managing the refuge and chose 
Alternative B as the proposed alternative. A full description is in the 
Draft CCP/EA. We summarize each alternative below.

Alternative A--No Action Alternative

    Federal- and State-listed species, incidental sightings of wood 
storks, and

[[Page 26884]]

round-tailed muskrats would continue to be recorded. The refuge would 
respond to nuisance alligators, and bald eagle nests would be 
protected. There would be no management for listed plants.
    Management for migratory birds would remain minimal, with 
incidental sightings recorded. Aerial surveys would continue to be 
conducted by partners over refuge and adjacent lands with regard to the 
bird-aircraft strike program at Moody Air Force Base (MAFB).
    With regard to nonnative and nuisance species, the refuge would 
continue to control water hyacinths through herbicidal applications, 
while submerged aquatic vegetation would be managed via periodic lake 
drawdowns. For aquatic wildlife, the refuge would organize apple snail 
surveys. There would be no management for terrestrial nonnative 
    Apart from aerial mapping conducted as part of The Nature 
Conservancy's 2003 Grand Bay-Banks Lake Ecosystem Plan, there would be 
no habitat management for the refuge's marshes, scrub/shrub, Carolina 
bays, or pine flatwoods. Management of native fishes would include 
surveys every other year and periodic mercury and lead surveys 
conducted by the State. Management for reptiles and amphibians would be 
minimal, consisting of incidental sightings reporting and occasional 
frog malformation surveys.
    Management of water resources on the refuge would include water-
quality monitoring during fish surveys. The refuge would continue to 
work with county governments and landowners to connect private systems 
to the city sewage utility, minimizing water quality degradation. The 
refuge would continue collaborative efforts with the city of Lakeland 
to facilitate running drawdown waters through Lake Irma. In addition, 
the refuge would protect, as necessary, its water rights from 
unauthorized private diversions.
    Under this alternative, the refuge would not collect data to 
monitor the potential effects of climate change on its resources.
    Approximately one-third of the refuge boundary (north and portion 
of east side) has been surveyed and signed. The lack of a complete 
boundary survey has prevented any potential land acquisition 
opportunities. The refuge would manage potential encroachment issues by 
working with adjacent landowners to remove any unauthorized structures 
or water diversion equipment. The refuge has a flowage easement to 
drain water via a creek through Lake Irma to the Alapaha River. The 
Georgia Department of Transportation has a 1,100-acre wetland 
mitigation area that lies adjacent to the refuge. No cooperative 
management agreement would be developed for that land. Archaeological 
and historical resources management would be minimal under the current 
alternative, with surveys having been conducted at the old mill and dam 
sites. Law enforcement would consist of an intermittent presence of 
refuge staff, as well as county and city officers.
    The refuge currently does not collect an entrance fee. Visitor 
welcome and orientation information is provided by an onsite kiosk, 
while the concession operation also provides information to visitors. 
State directional signs are in place. The refuge has onsite volunteers 
for a majority of the year. Outreach efforts consist of periodic 
articles submitted to the local media and public notices issued for 
proposed actions.
    Hunting is currently not permitted on the refuge, and under this 
alternative this activity would not be evaluated for potential 
authorization. The refuge is open year-round, both day and night, for 
fishing. There is an access area and well-established fishing pier at 
the entrance area. In addition, an annual kids' fishing day is held in 
collaboration with partners. Periodic drawdowns are conducted to 
enhance fisheries. Under this alternative, fishing opportunities would 
likely remain unchanged. Wildlife observation and photography 
opportunities are relatively limited and would not increase appreciably 
under this alternative. The concession offers canoe and kayak rentals, 
while a boat ramp allows the launching of private watercraft. The 
fishing pier offers limited wildlife observation and photography 
opportunities. The refuge does not offer any other recreational 
opportunities, and camping is not permitted.
    In the absence of a friends group, the Okefenokee Wildlife League 
provides assistance at Banks Lake NWR. Generally, a volunteer is 
stationed at the refuge year-round, with travel trailer and hook-up 
    Since no staff is permanently assigned to the refuge, volunteers 
and Okefenokee NWR staff provide the majority of the management. Some 
duties are also contracted out to the concessionaire. Staffing is not 
expected to change under this alternative. Refuge infrastructure (e.g., 
concession, access area, water control structure, restrooms, sewage 
system, city water, piers, walkways, boat ramp, hiking trail, volunteer 
housing and recreational vehicle pad, parking lot, boat storage area, 
and entrance sign) would be repaired as needed under this alternative. 
With regard to intergovernmental coordination, the refuge would 
continue to meet periodically with a number of Federal, State, and 
local entities to update them on refuge programs and planned 

Alternative B--Expanded Management by the Service (Proposed 

    Management would include monitoring efforts to determine trends 
(relative numbers and use patterns) for wood storks and round-tailed 
muskrats. Management for bald eagles would remain at current levels. 
The refuge would continue to ban alligator hunting until population 
data are available. It would increase public awareness of the dangers 
of feeding alligators. In addition, the refuge would work with the 
State to respond appropriately to nuisance alligator complaints and to 
monitor alligator populations. The refuge would coordinate surveys for 
listed plant species.
    For migratory birds, the refuge would determine trends in relative 
numbers and use patterns through monitoring of waterfowl, wading birds, 
marshbirds, and raptors. The refuge would conduct breeding bird surveys 
for neotropical migratory birds. With regard to bird-aircraft collision 
minimization efforts carried out by MAFB, the refuge would increase 
surveys and data-sharing regarding wildlife services.
    Management of nonnative and nuisance species would increase. The 
refuge would establish boat and trailer cleaning stations. An annual 
weed control program would be developed, with a goal of keeping area 
coverage of water hyacinths to less than 20 percent. It would expand 
survey efforts for nonnative aquatic wildlife species of regional 
concern and increase public awareness to promote early detection. The 
refuge would survey lands for nonnative species on a 3-year cycle, and 
work with partners to identify, locate, control, and eliminate (where 
possible) exotic species.
    Under this alternative, habitat management would be expanded. For 
Banks Lake NWR, the refuge would identify benchmarks for initiating 
drawdowns. In addition, the refuge would map and classify vegetation 
communities sufficient to manage habitat to achieve the refuge mission 
and the goals recommended in the Grand Bay-Banks Lake Habitat Site 
Conservation Plan.
    For native fishes, the refuge would expand Alternative A with a 
creel survey. It would also work with the State to develop a trophy 
largemouth bass sports fishery. With respect to

[[Page 26885]]

reptiles and amphibians, the refuge would obtain baseline information 
and determine population trends through increased monitoring.
    The management of refuge water resources would increase under this 
alternative. The refuge would establish a permanent water quality 
monitoring system. In addition, a contaminants monitoring regime for 
septic, non-point source pollution, and urban/agricultural runoff would 
be established. Water quantity would be managed the same as under 
Alternative A. Furthermore, the refuge would establish water budgets, 
fill drain curves, and other important hydrological parameters for 
Banks Lake. It would also collaborate with downstream landowners to 
maximize drawdown capabilities.
    The refuge would institute management activities to address the 
impacts of climate change on refuge resources. The refuge would 
coordinate with researchers and partners to identify climate change 
research needs for the refuge, investigating the impacts of climate 
change on fish and wildlife, listed species, vegetative communities, 
water quality and quantity, and other important resources.
    Management of the refuge would focus on the lands and waters where 
the Service is confident that it has jurisdiction. Additional title 
work and a complete survey of the boundary would be required to settle 
any issue regarding the refuge boundary. The refuge would establish an 
acquisition boundary and purchase land from willing sellers as funding 
becomes available. It would identify potential threats early in the 
planning process and work cooperatively with local planning departments 
and elected officials to protect the refuge from the impacts of 
urbanization. The refuge would establish formal cooperative agreements 
with adjacent landowners to maintain the Banks Lake flowage easement. 
It would also negotiate a long-term management agreement with the State 
to manage the wetland mitigation area as part of the refuge. The refuge 
would conduct a cultural resource survey of remaining uplands. The law 
enforcement presence on the refuge would be increased as the public use 
program expanded.
    Under this alternative, the refuge would evaluate the potential for 
an entrance fee program. The refuge would create a refuge brochure with 
map. Regular information would be provided to the public, with updates 
on refuge activities and wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities.
    A compatibility determination for hunting would be carried out, and 
hunting could be authorized under this alternative if adequate 
opportunities and resources are determined to be available. The refuge 
would also develop trophy warm-water fishing opportunities through the 
use of slot and bag limits.
    For wildlife viewing and photography opportunities, the refuge 
would develop a bird list and provide programs that help the public 
develop wildlife viewing and photography skills. In addition, marked 
boat trail(s) would be established in the deeper water channels of the 
lake to provide access to fishing and wildlife viewing areas. The 
refuge would also evaluate a new canoe trail.
    To expand environmental education and interpretation, the refuge 
would establish a formal program with local schools and Grand Bay 
Environmental Center to facilitate these programs on the refuge. It 
would also add infrastructure to assist in these efforts.
    Other recreational opportunities would be the same as under 
Alternative A. In addition to Alternative A, the refuge would encourage 
commercial visitor services appropriate with the priority public uses 
as defined in the Improvement Act.
    The refuge would also develop a friends group. It would expand 
Alternative A by developing an active local volunteer group.
    Under Alternative B, the following permanent, full-time staff would 
be assigned to the refuge: Refuge Operations Specialist, Wildlife 
Biologist, Maintenance worker, and Park Ranger. In addition, a shared 
Fisheries Biologist would work at the refuge on a part-time basis. With 
regard to infrastructure, the refuge would add an office and workspace 
in the visitor contact area to accommodate any staff permanently 
assigned to the refuge. It would work with State and local authorities 
to place refuge information signs on Interstate 75. Intergovernmental 
coordination and partnerships would remain the same as under 
Alternative A.

Alternative C--Cooperative Administration With State Natural Resource 

    Under this alternative, management of woodstorks and bald eagles 
would include obtaining population trend data. Additionally, nesting 
platforms would be constructed to increase breeding opportunities on 
the refuge, with the added benefit of increasing photography and 
observation opportunities if these efforts were successful. For 
alligators, the refuge would work with the State to determine 
population trends. In addition, educational programs would be developed 
to help minimize alligator-human conflicts. Management of round-tailed 
muskrats and State-listed plants would be the same as under Alternative 
B. Management of migratory birds would be similar to that under 
Alternative B, with the exception that photo blinds would be 
constructed to provide more birding opportunities. Management of native 
fishes would be increased by working with the State to develop a 
stocking program, as warranted. For herpetological and nonnative 
species, habitats, water resources, and climate change management would 
be the same as under Alternative B.
    Management of the refuge boundary and cultural resources would be 
the same as under Alternative B. The refuge would support land 
acquisition by partners to develop public State lands adjacent to the 
refuge. It would also develop a long-term management agreement with 
State natural resource agencies to manage current refuge access and the 
concession area. Under this alternative, these State entities would 
provide additional law enforcement on the refuge, and the State lands 
would provide additional access points to the public. Law enforcement 
would be shared between the State and the Service.
    Under this alternative, the refuge would coordinate the potential 
for an entrance fee program with the State. The State would also be the 
primary information provider to the public. Hunting and fishing 
opportunities would be the same as under Alternative B.
    The State would be responsible for developing wildlife observation 
and photography opportunities on the refuge, including adding new 
trails (e.g., land or boat). The State would also be responsible for 
all environmental education and interpretation opportunities on the 
    The State entities would develop nearby camping and other 
recreational opportunities on their land. Meanwhile, the refuge would 
continue to issue special use permits for commercial visitor services 
on refuge lands and waters.
    The State entities and refuge would seek to establish a friends 
group and volunteer program to support both units.
    Under this alternative, the refuge would establish the following 
permanent, full-time positions: Refuge Operations Specialist and 
Wildlife Biologist. A shared Fisheries Biologist would work part-time 
on the refuge. Any other positions would be provided

[[Page 26886]]

by the State. The operation and maintenance of the current facilities 
would become the responsibility of the State entities. In addition to 
the intergovernmental coordination required under Alternative A, a 
long-term management agreement with the State natural resource agencies 
would be needed for them to administer the current recreation area and 
facility. Partnerships would remain as under Alternative A.

Next Step

    After the comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment, including your personal identifying 
information, may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.

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

    Dated: April 21, 2009.
Jacquelyn B. Parrish,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. E9-13036 Filed 6-3-09; 8:45 am]