[Federal Register: February 4, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 22)]
[Page 6053-6055]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2008-N0299; 40136-1265-0000-S3]

Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, Franklin, Madison, and 
Tensas Parishes, LA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

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


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft comprehensive conservation plan and 
environmental assessment (Draft CCP/EA) for Tensas River 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 March 6, 2009. A meeting will be held to present the Draft CCP/EA to 
the public. Mailings, newspaper articles, and posters will be the 
avenues to inform the public of the date and time for the meeting.

ADDRESSES: Requests for copies of the Draft CCP/EA should be addressed 
to: Tina Chouinard, Refuge Planner, Fish and Wildlife Service, 6772 
Highway 76 South, Stanton, TN 38069. The Draft CCP/EA may be accessed 
and downloaded from the Service's Internet site: http://

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tina Chouinard; Telephone: 731/780-
8208; E-mail: tina_chouinard@fws.gov.



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Tensas River NWR. 
We started the process through a notice in the Federal Register on 
September 08, 2006 (71 FR 53131).
    Tensas River NWR consists of 74,622 acres in fee title and 195 
acres in easement. It is located in the Tensas Basin in northeast 
Louisiana, approximately 60 miles southeast of Monroe, Louisiana, and 
25 miles southwest of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The refuge area 
encompasses portions of Madison, Tensas, and Franklin Parishes. The 
office/visitor center and maintenance facilities on the refuge are 
located approximately 12 miles southwest of Tallulah, Louisiana.
    In an effort to conserve the largest privately owned tract of 
bottomland hardwoods remaining in the Mississippi Delta, Congress 
authorized the Secretary of the Interior to establish the Tensas River 
NWR by Public Law 96-285 on June 28, 1980. Tensas River NWR was 
established for various purposes, including:

     ``For the preservation and development of the 
environmental resources * * * to conserve the diversity of fish and 
wildlife and their habitat * * * for the conservation and 
development of wildlife and natural resources, the development of 
outdoor recreation opportunities, and interpretative education,'' 
and ``to give special consideration to management of the timber on 
the refuge to ensure continued commercial production and harvest 
compatible with the purposes for which the refuge is established and 
the needs of fish and wildlife which depend upon the dynamic and 
diversified hardwood forest'' (94 Stat. 595, dated June 28, 1980);
     ``For the development, advancement, management, 
conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources'' [16 
U.S.C. 742f(a)(4)] ``for the benefit of the United States Fish and 
Wildlife Service, in performing its activities and services. Such 
acceptance may be subject to the terms of any restrictive or 
affirmative covenant, or condition of servitude'' [16 U.S.C. 
742f(b)(1) (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956)];
     ``For conservation purposes'' [7 U.S.C. 2002 
(Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act)];
     ``To conserve (A) fish or wildlife which are listed as 
endangered species or threatened species* * *or (B) plants'' [16 
U.S.C. 1534 (Endangered Species Act of 1973)].

    Tensas River NWR currently provides a mix of various habitat types, 
including bottomland hardwood forests, hardwood reforestation areas, 
open field moist-soil areas, and open field-cropland. There are 
approximately 11,000 acres of forest less than 30 years old; 6,000 
acres of 30- to 60-year old timber, and 53,000 acres of 60-plus year 
old timber. Eighty percent (56,000 acres) of the refuge is composed of 
sweetgum/willow oak/Nuttall oak forest type; 20 percent is sugarberry/
American elm/green ash (12,600 acres); and a small percentage is 
overcup oak/bitter pecan and cypress brake timber types. The majority 
of the refuge is in a closed-canopy condition.
    Because Tensas River NWR is part of the Lower Mississippi River 
Ecosystem, the refuge is a component of many regional and ecosystem 
conservation planning initiatives. The Mississippi Alluvial Valley 
(MAV) is a critical ecoregion for migratory birds in North America. 
Tensas River NWR provides important foraging and resting habitats 
within the MAV for waterfowl, as well as a variety of other migratory 
birds such as woodcock, marshbirds, neotropical migratory birds, 
colonial waterbirds, and wading birds. This area specifically 
contributes important regional resources to an international habitat 
management effort known as the North American Waterfowl Management 
Plan, which seeks to return waterfowl species populations to levels 
observed during the 1970s.

[[Page 6054]]


The CCP Process

    The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (16 
U.S.C. 668dd-668ee), which amended the National Wildlife Refuge System 
Administration Act of 1966, requires us to develop a CCP for each 
national wildlife refuge. The purpose in 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 every 15 
years in accordance with the Improvement Act and NEPA.
    Significant issues addressed in this Draft CCP/EA include: (1) 
Threatened Louisiana black bear, (2) general refuge and visitor center 
access, (3) clear integration of refuge management with regional 
watershed/ecosystem plans, (4) habitat restoration and management, (5) 
bottomland hardwood forest restoration and management, and (6) how to 
improve opportunities for environmental education/interpretation. The 
Service developed three alternatives for management of the refuge 
(Alternatives A, B, and C), with Alternative C as the Service's 
proposed alternative.

CCP Alternatives, Including Our Proposed Alternative

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

Alternative A--No Action Alternative

    Current management and public use would continue under this 
alternative. Refuge management programs would continue to be developed 
and implemented with limited baseline biological information and with 
limited monitoring. Wildlife surveys would still be completed for 
presence and absence of species and to alert refuge staff to large-
scale changes in population trends. Cooperation with partners for 
monitoring waterfowl, eagle, fish, and deer herd health surveys would 
continue. The refuge would continue to provide habitat for and monitor 
the progress on the repatriation of the Louisiana black bear. It would 
also maintain the current habitat mix for the benefit of other 
migratory birds, shorebirds, marshbirds, and landbirds. Staff would 
continue existing surveys to monitor long-term population trends and 
health of resident species.
    Bottomland hardwood forest management would continue at the current 
rate of thinning to maintain a closed canopy forest and retain as much 
water tupelo and bald cypress as possible. The open fields would 
continue with manipulating water levels for the moist-soil and 
cooperative cropland management. Management for invasive species would 
continue with opportunistic treatment and mapping. Partnerships would 
continue with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for 
several biological programs, hunting regulations, and law enforcement 
issues. The refuge partners program would still develop projects with 
interested parties for carbon sequestration projects and for invasive 
    Hunting, fishing, and environmental education programs would 
continue to be the priority focus of public use on Tensas River NWR, 
with no expansion of current opportunities. Current restrictions or 
prohibitions would remain. Environmental education and wildlife 
observation and photography would be accommodated at present levels, 
with a few interpretive sites added. Staffing would remain at current 
level with no new positions added, but current vacancies would be 
advertised and filled.

Alternative B--Custodial Management Approach

    This alternative is driven by reducing costs of funding and 
staffing, with reduced habitat and wildlife management and a reduced 
public use program. The biological information would be modified to 
develop management programs that could be implemented less frequently, 
yet still accomplish the objectives. Extensive baseline inventorying 
and monitoring programs would be conducted with several partners to 
provide a solid foundation of the current condition of refuge habitat 
and wildlife while monitoring for changes in trends.
    Additional research projects would be implemented in this 
alternative, depending on granting opportunities and partnerships with 
other agencies and universities. An intensive bottomland hardwood 
forest inventory would be implemented to define current conditions and 
monitor natural successional changes. Management in the bottomlands 
would be limited so that the forest would go through natural succession 
as defined in a revised Forest Habitat Management Plan. Open fields 
would be allowed to go through natural succession to bottomland 
hardwood forests, and moist-soil units would not be maintained. 
Invasive species management would become a priority to establish 
baseline information on location and density and protocols for control. 
Partnerships would continue to be fostered for several biological 
programs, hunting regulations, law enforcement issues, and research 
    Public use would be limited under this alternative, with custodial-
level maintenance. Public use would be monitored more closely for 
impacts to wildlife, and if negative impacts occurred, new restrictions 
or closures would result. Deer hunting would be allowed when data 
demonstrated that the population had exceeded the habitat carrying 
capacity and a reduction in herd size was deemed necessary. An 
extensive survey for monitoring the deer population and its association 
with habitat conditions would be implemented. Fishing would continue as 
currently managed. Environmental education, wildlife observation, and 
wildlife photography would be accommodated at present levels; but 
access would be limited to July-October and February-April to minimize 
disturbance to migratory birds. Staffing would increase by four 
positions (e.g., biologist, forester, and two maintenance workers) to 
handle the increase in biological inventorying and monitoring, and to 
control invasive species.

Alternative C--``Ecosystem Management'' (Proposed Action)

    Biological potential of historical habitats is restored and 
enhanced, with most management actions emphasizing natural ecological 
processes to foster habitat functions and wildlife populations. The 
biological program would be enhanced with inventorying and monitoring, 
so that adaptive management could be implemented, primarily for 
migratory birds, but other species of wildlife could benefit as well. 
Through the use of grants and partnerships, migratory bird use and 
nesting success on the refuge would be evaluated. Partnerships would be 
developed to establish scientifically valid protocols and to 
collaboratively work on research projects that would provide 
information on how forest management is affecting wildlife.

[[Page 6055]]

    Bottomland hardwood forest management would be developed based on 
an inventory defining current conditions. Bottomlands would have 
management increased to open the canopy cover and increase structural 
and vegetation diversity. Water control structures and pumping 
capability would be improved to enhance moist-soil and cropland 
management for the benefit of wintering waterfowl. Invasive species 
would be mapped and protocols for control established with the addition 
of a forester. Partnerships would continue to be fostered for several 
biological programs, hunting regulations, law enforcement issues, and 
research projects.
    Under Alternative C, land acquisition, reforestation, and resource 
protection at Tensas River NWR would be intensified from the level now 
maintained in the ``No Action'' Alternative. In the refuge's Private 
Lands Program, staff would work with private landowners of adjacent 
tracts to manage and improve habitats. Staff would also explore 
opportunities with partners to protect existing and extend potential 
foraging areas off refuge lands. Alternative C would provide a full-
time law enforcement officer, an equipment operator, a maintenance 
mechanic, and a wildlife technician. The refuge would develop and begin 
to implement a Cultural Resources Management Plan.
    Within 3 years of implementing the CCP, refuge staff would develop 
a Visitor Services Plan for use in expanding public use facilities and 
opportunities on the refuge. This step-down management plan would 
provide overall, long-term direction and guidance in developing and 
running a larger public use program at Tensas River NWR. Alternative C 
would also increase opportunities for visitors by improving and/or 
adding facilities such as photo-blinds, observation sites, and trails.

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: January 28, 2009.
Mike Piccirilli,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. E9-2304 Filed 2-3-09; 8:45 am]