[Federal Register: July 23, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 140)]
[Page 36500-36502]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R5-R-2008-N0189; BAC-4311-K9-S3]

Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Caroline, 
Essex, King George, Lancaster, Middlesex, Richmond, and Westmoreland 
Counties, VA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

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


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of the draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and 
draft environmental assessment (EA) for Rappahannock River Valley 
National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) for a 30-day public review and comment 
period. In this draft CCP/EA, we describe three alternatives, including 
our Service-preferred Alternative B, for managing this refuge for the 
next 15 years. Also available for public review and comment are the 
draft compatibility determinations, which are included as Appendix B in 
the draft CCP/EA.

DATES: To ensure our consideration of your written comments, we must 
receive them by August 24, 2009. We will also hold public meetings in 
Warsaw and Richmond, Virginia, during the 30-day review period to 
receive comments and provide information on the draft plan. We will 
announce and post details about public meetings in local news media, 
via our project mailing list, and on our regional planning Web site, 

ADDRESSES: Send your comments or requests for copies of the draft CCP/
EA by any of the following methods. You may also drop off comments in 
person at Rappahannock River Valley NWR headquarters, located at 336 
Wilna Road in Warsaw, Virginia.
    U.S. Mail: Nancy McGarigal, Natural Resource Planner, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, Massachusetts 
    Fax: Attention: Nancy McGarigal, 413-253-8468.
    E-mail: northeastplanning@fws.gov. Include ``Rappahannock NWR CCP'' 
in the subject line of your e-mail.
    Agency Web site: View or download the draft document at http://

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Joseph McCauley, Project Leader, 
Eastern Virginia Rivers NWR Complex, 336 Wilna Road, P.O. Box 1030, 
Warsaw, VA 22572-1030; (804) 333-1470 (phone); 804-333-3396 (fax); 
fw5rw_evrnwr@fws.gov (e-mail).



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Rappahannock 
River Valley NWR, which was started with the notice of intent we 
published in the Federal Register (70 FR 65931) on November 1, 2005. We 
prepared the draft CCP 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. This refuge is the newest of the four 
refuges that comprise the Eastern Virginia Rivers NWR Complex. The 
other three are the James River, Plum Tree Island, and Presquile NWRs.
    Rappahannock River Valley NWR, currently 7,711 acres, was 
established in 1996 to conserve and protect fish and wildlife 
resources, including endangered and threatened species, and wetlands. 
Refuge habitats include freshwater tidal marsh, forested swamp, upland 
deciduous forest, mixed pine forest, and managed grassland. Two 
Federally listed species are found on the refuge, the endangered 
shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) and threatened Sensitive 
joint-vetch (Aeschynomene virginica). The State of Virginia's largest 
wintering population of bald eagles is located within the refuge 
boundary. Neotropical migratory songbirds, shorebirds, raptors, and 
marsh birds also rely on the Rappahannock River corridor during

[[Page 36501]]

their spring and fall migrations. With help from partners and 
volunteers, we are restoring native grasslands and riparian forests 
along the river and its tributary streams to provide additional habitat 
for these important species.
    Although wildlife and habitat conservation is the refuge's first 
priority, the public can observe and photograph wildlife, fish, hunt, 
or participate in environmental education and interpretation on several 
units of the refuge. The refuge contains three sites on the Virginia 
Birding and Wildlife Trail. The Wilna Unit, located in Richmond County, 
offers accessible fishing, excellent wildlife observation 
opportunities, and accessible nature trails. Other units of the refuge 
are open for visits by reservation.


The CCP Process

    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 CCPs is to provide refuge managers with 15-year plans for 
achieving refuge purposes and the mission of the National Wildlife 
Refuge System, in conformance 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 and photography, and 
environmental education and interpretation. We will review and update 
each CCP at least every 15 years, in accordance with the Improvement 

Public Outreach

    In conjunction with our November 2005, Federal Register notice 
announcing our intent to begin the CCP process, we distributed a 
newsletter to more than 300 State agencies, organizations, and 
individuals on our project mailing list, asking about their interest in 
the refuge and whether they had issues or concerns they would like us 
to address. We distributed another newsletter in December 2005, 
providing more detailed information on the refuge and the planning 
process. In that newsletter, we also asked people to share their vision 
for the future of the refuge and provide us with feedback or comments 
on its management. Also in December 2005, we held three public scoping 
meetings, in Richmond, Port Royal, and Warsaw, Virginia. We asked those 
who attended to identify issues and concerns they would like us to 
address and to comment on the draft vision, goals and objectives we had 
at that time. Forty-five people attended those meetings. In 2006, we 
sponsored a survey of 1,200 local residents, randomly selected, asking 
specific questions about their recreation on the Rappahannock River, 
their preferences for future wildlife-dependent recreation on the 
refuge, and whether they knew about refuge opportunities. Throughout 
the process, we have conducted additional outreach via newsletters and 
participation in meetings, community events and other public forums, 
and continued to request public input on refuge management and 
    Some of the key issues identified include the amount of grassland 
to manage, other priority habitat types to conserve, land protection 
and conservation priorities, improving the visibility of the Service 
and refuge, providing desired facilities and activities, and ways to 
improve opportunities for public use while ensuring the restoration and 
protection of priority resources.

CCP Actions We Are Considering, Including the Service-Preferred 

    We developed three management alternatives based on the purposes 
for establishing the refuge, its vision and goals, and the issues and 
concerns the public, State agencies, and the Service identified during 
the planning process. The alternatives have some actions in common, 
such as protecting and monitoring Federally listed species and the 
regionally significant bald eagle population, controlling invasive 
plants and wildlife diseases, encouraging research that benefits our 
resource decisions, protecting cultural resources, continuing to 
acquire land from willing sellers within our approved refuge boundary, 
and distributing refuge revenue sharing payments to counties.
    Other actions distinguish the alternatives. The draft CCP/EA 
describes the alternatives in detail, and relates them to the issues 
and concerns we identified. Highlights follow.

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, and 
serves as the baseline against which to compare the other alternatives. 
Our habitat management focus on the 700 acres of grasslands and old 
fields would continue, and we would continue to use tools such as 
prescribed fire, mowing, herbicides and disking to keep them in an 
early stage of succession and increase plant diversity. We intend to 
phase out our cooperative farming program on another 200 acres over the 
next 5 years and convert to grasslands. We would continue to monitor 
our forests and wetlands for invasive plants and disease, and treat 
them if we have available funding and staffing. Our biological 
monitoring and inventory program would continue at its current levels, 
focusing on surveys of breeding and wintering birds.
    Our visitor services programs would not change; we would conduct 
most of the activities on the Wilna Unit. The Wilna Unit is the only 
refuge unit open 7 days a week, from sunrise to sunset. The other units 
are open by reservation only. Wildlife observation and photography, 
white-tailed deer hunting, and fishing are the most popular activities. 
Our staffing and facilities would remain the same. Seven staff 
positions for the refuge complex would remain in place, and the 
headquarters would remain at the historic Wilna House.

Alternative B (Enhanced Habitat Diversity and the Service-Preferred 

    This alternative is the one we propose as the best way to manage 
this refuge over the next 15 years. It includes an array of management 
actions that, in our professional judgment, works best toward achieving 
the refuge purposes, our vision and goals, and the goals of other State 
and regional conservation plans. We also believe it most effectively 
addresses the key issues raised during the planning process.
    Our habitat management program would expand to include up to 1,200 
acres of managed grasslands and old fields, primarily through new 
acquisitions from willing sellers within our approved refuge boundary. 
We would use all the tools identified under Alternative A. We would 
also phase out our cooperative farming program within 5 years and 
convert it to grasslands, although we may maintain a minimal number of 
acres if we determine it would be useful in our interpretation program, 
or would provide benefits for other programs. We would manage our 
existing planted pine stands through thinning, to facilitate their 
growth into a healthy, mature, mixed forest. As in Alternative A, we 
would continue to

[[Page 36502]]

monitor our forests and wetlands for invasive plants and disease, and 
treat them to the extent our funding allows. Protecting and enhancing 
riparian and wetlands habitat would be a priority. We would also 
continue our monitoring and inventory program, but regularly evaluate 
the results to help us better understand the implications of our 
management actions and identify ways to improve their effectiveness.
    We would expand opportunities for all six priority public uses. We 
would seek partnerships to help us achieve any new or expanded 
programs, including interpretive trails construction, adding a self-
guided canoe trail, and leading environmental education programs using 
the refuge as a living laboratory. We plan to further evaluate 
opportunities for waterfowl and turkey hunting. We would also improve 
and expand access for freshwater fishing. If we can secure permanent 
funding, we would fill up to four new staff positions to provide depth 
to our programs and achieve our goals and objectives. We also propose 
to construct a new, Service-standard small refuge headquarters and 
visitor contact facility on the Hutchinson tract to increase our 
visibility and improve public access to refuge land.

Alternative C (Forest Management Emphasis)

    This alternative resembles Alternative B in its refuge 
administration, facilities, and visitor services programs, but differs 
in its habitat management.
    Under Alternative C, we would allow grasslands, old fields, and 
croplands to revert to shrub and forest, supplementing that process 
with such activities as plantings, applying herbicides, and cutting or 
brush-hogging (mowing) as necessary to achieve the desired results. As 
in Alternative B, we would protect and enhance riparian and wetlands 
habitats as a priority. We also propose to manage our existing planted 
pine stands as in Alternative B, and continue to monitor our forests 
and wetlands for invasive plants and disease and treat them to the 
extent funding allows. Protecting and enhancing riparian and wetland 
habitats would also be a priority. Compared to Alternative B, we would 
conduct a more intensive, focused monitoring and inventory program 
designed to address more specific questions about habitat quality and 
the response of wildlife populations. In the near term, monitoring 
would be aimed specifically at documenting the transition from 
grasslands, old fields, and croplands to shrub and young forest. Under 
Alternative C, our public use programs would be similar to those 
proposed under Alternative B, including our plans to pursue a new 
headquarters and visitor contact facility.

Public Meetings

    We will give the public opportunities to provide input at two 
public meetings in Warsaw and Richmond, Virginia. You can obtain the 
schedule from the project leader or natural resource planner (see 
addresses or FOr Further Information CONTACT, above). You may also 
submit comments at any time during the planning process by any means 
shown in the ADDRESSES section.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comments, 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.

    Dated: May 8, 2009.
Wendi Weber,
Acting Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hadley, MA 
[FR Doc. E9-17546 Filed 7-22-09; 8:45 am]