[Federal Register: September 7, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 172)]
[Page 54381-54384]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-R-2010-N078; 60138-1261-6CCP-S3]

Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and UL Bend National 
Wildlife Refuge, MT

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability: Draft comprehensive conservation plan 
and draft environmental impact statement; announcement of public 
meetings; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and draft 
environmental impact statement (DEIS) for Charles M. Russell and UL 
Bend National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs, Refuges) in Montana for public 
review and comment. In these documents, we describe alternatives, 
including our proposed action, to manage these refuges for the 15 years 
following approval of the final CCP.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
November 8, 2010. We will announce upcoming public meetings in local 
news media, on our Web site, and by mail.

ADDRESSES: You may submit your comments or a request for copies (hard 
copies or a CD-ROM) or more information by any of the following 
    Agency Web site: Download a copy of the documents at http://
    E-mail: cmrplanning@fws.gov. Include ``Request copy of Charles M. 
Russell NWR Draft CCP/EIS'' in the subject line of the message.
    Mail: Charles M. Russell NWR CCP/EIS, P.O. Box 110, Lewistown, MT 
    In-Person Viewing or Pickup: Call (406) 538-8706 to make an 
appointment during regular business hours at Charles M. Russell NWR 
Headquarters, Airport Road, Lewistown, MT 59457.
    Local Library or Libraries: The draft documents are available for 
review at the libraries listed under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Barron Crawford, Project Leader, at 
(406) 538-8706, or Laurie Shannon, Planning Team Leader, (303) 236-
4317; laurie_shannon@fws.gov (e-mail).



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Charles M. 
Russell and UL Bend NWRs. We started this process through a notice in 
the Federal Register (72 FR 68174, December 4, 2007).
    Charles M. Russell and UL Bend NWRs encompass nearly 1.1 million 
acres, including Fort Peck Reservoir in north central Montana. The 
Refuges extend about 125 air miles west from Fort Peck Dam to the 
western edge at the boundary of the Upper Missouri Breaks National 
Monument. UL Bend NWR lies within Charles M. Russell NWR. In essence, 
UL Bend is a refuge within a refuge, and the two refuges are managed as 
one unit and referred to as Charles M. Russell NWR. Refuge habitat 
includes native prairie, forested coulees, river bottoms, and badlands. 
Wildlife is as diverse as the topography and includes Rocky Mountain 
elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, Rocky Mountain bighorn 
sheep, sharp-tailed grouse, prairie dogs, and more than 236 species of 


The CCP Process

    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 (16 
U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (Administration Act), as amended by the National 
Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, 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, which is 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 and 
photography, and environmental education and interpretation. We will 
review and update the CCP at least every 15 years in accordance with 
the Administration Act.

[[Page 54382]]

Public Outreach

    The formal scoping period began on December 4, 2007, with the 
publication of a notice of intent in the Federal Register. Prior to 
this and early in the preplanning phase, we outlined a process that 
would be inclusive of diverse stakeholder interests and would involve a 
range of activities for keeping the public informed and ensure 
meaningful public input. This process was summarized in a planning 
update titled Public Involvement Summary (October 2007). Soon after, a 
project Web site was created, and since then the Public Involvement 
Summary, four additional planning updates, and other information have 
been posted to the Web site. We have mailed all planning updates to the 
project mailing list.
    We began the process with formal notification to Native American 
Tribes and other Federal and State agencies. Subsequently, there are a 
number of cooperating agencies participating on the planning project, 
including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Bureau of Land Management; 
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks; Montana Department of Natural 
Resources and Conservation; Fergus, Petroleum, Garfield, McCone, 
Valley, and Phillips Counties; and the Missouri River Council of 
Conservation Districts. We also formally consulted with the Fort 
Belknap and Fort Peck Tribes in July 2009 and have encouraged their 
participation in the process.
    During the initial scoping period, we received about 24,000 written 
responses. Hundreds of people attended seven public meetings across 
Montana, providing many verbal comments. Following the comment period, 
we summarized the information we learned and prepared a scoping report, 
which was posted to the project Web site. In the fall of 2008, we again 
reached out to the public and the cooperating agencies and sought 
additional input on four potential draft alternatives prior to fully 
developing and analyzing them. We held seven additional public meetings 
during this time and consequently received hundreds of additional 
written and oral responses.
    We have considered all public comments throughout the process and 
have incorporated them in numerous ways. The significant issues for the 
project include a number of issues related to habitat and wildlife, 
water resources, public use and access, wilderness, socioeconomics, 
partnerships and collaboration, and cultural values, traditions, and 
resources. We have considered and evaluated all of these comments, with 
many incorporated into the various alternatives addressed in the draft 
CCP and draft EIS.

CCP Alternatives We Are Considering

    During the public scoping process with which we started work on 
this draft CCP, we, our cooperating agencies, other governmental 
partners, Tribes, conservation organizations, and the public raised 
several issues. Our draft CCP addresses them. A full description of 
each alternative is in the draft EIS. To address these issues, we 
developed and evaluated four alternatives which are summarized below.
    Alternative A--No Action. Few changes would occur in the management 
of existing wildlife populations and habitat. Wildlife-dependent public 
and economic uses would continue at current levels. Key actions follow:
     There would be continued emphasis on big game management, 
annual livestock grazing, use of fencing for pastures, invasive species 
control, and water development. Habitat would be managed in 65 habitat 
units that were originally established by the Bureau of Land 
Management. Prescriptive grazing would only be implemented when units 
became available.
     We would manage big game to achieve the target levels 
identified in an earlier EIS developed in 1986. There could be more 
restrictive regulations for rifle mule deer harvest on portions of the 
refuge as compared with State regulations.
     Select stock ponds would be maintained and rehabilitated. 
Riparian habitat would be restored where possible.
     The public would continue to access the Refuge on 670 
miles of roads. About 155,288 acres of proposed wilderness within 15 
units of the Charles M. Russell NWR would be managed in accordance with 
Service policy.
    Alternative B--Wildlife Population Emphasis. We would manage the 
landscape, in cooperation with our partners, to emphasize the abundance 
of wildlife populations using balanced natural ecological processes 
such as fire and grazing by wild ungulates and responsible synthetic 
methods such as farming and tree planting. Wildlife-dependent public 
use would be encouraged, and economic uses would be limited when they 
compete for habitat resources. Key actions follow:
     Habitat would be actively managed and manipulated, thus 
creating a diverse plant community of highly productive wildlife food 
and cover plants. The emphasis would be on habitat for targeted species 
of wildlife in separate parts of the Refuge. We would consolidate the 
65 habitat units based on field station boundaries and subsequently 
write new habitat management plans. Former agricultural river bottom 
areas would be aggressively restored, and we would restore the 
functioning condition of riparian areas. Prescriptive livestock grazing 
would be implemented across 75 percent of the Refuge within 4-7 years, 
and interior fencing would be removed, if necessary. We would increase 
the use of prescribed fire to enhance fire-adapted plants. We would 
also implement a number of research projects to respond to climate 
change on the Refuge.
     Additional habitat suitable for Rocky Mountain bighorn 
sheep would be identified, and new populations would be established. 
Wildlife populations would be benefited, and harvest experiences that 
are not always achieved on other public lands would be promoted.
     About 106 miles of roads would be closed. The Service 
would work with partners to develop a travel plan and to secure access 
to the Refuge through other lands.
     The acreage of proposed wilderness would be expanded by 
25,037 acres in 6 existing units.
    Alternative C--Public Use and Economic Uses Emphasis. We would 
manage the landscape, in cooperation with our partners, to emphasize 
and promote the maximum compatible wildlife-dependent public use and 
economic uses while protecting wildlife populations and habitats to the 
extent possible. Damaging effects on wildlife habitat would be 
minimized while using a variety of management tools to enhance and 
diversify public and economic opportunities. Key actions follow:
     In addition to the habitat elements identified in 
Alternative A, habitats would be managed to provide more opportunities 
for wildlife-dependent recreation. This could require a compromise 
between providing wildlife food and cover and livestock forage needs. 
Where needed, fencing and water gaps would be used to manage livestock 
use and prevent further degradation of riparian habitat.
     There would be a gradual move to a prescriptive livestock 
grazing program when current grazing permits become available due to a 
change in ranch ownership. Prescribed fire would be used primarily to 
reduce hazardous fuels. An aggressive initial attack would be used in 
identified habitat units to minimize economic losses from wildfire. 
Research projects would be

[[Page 54383]]

implemented to respond to climate change on the Refuge.
     Natural and constructed water sources would be allowed for 
livestock use, public fishing, and hunting. Future water developments 
would be allowed on a site-specific basis.
     A balance would be maintained between the numbers of big 
game and livestock in order to sustain habitats and populations of big 
game and sharp-tailed grouse. Similar balancing might be needed for 
nongame or migratory birds and livestock needs.
     Hunting opportunities would be expanded and maximized to 
include new species and traditional or niche (primitive weapon) 
hunting, mule deer season, predator hunting, trapping, and 
opportunities for young hunters.
     We would manage Refuge access to benefit public and 
economic uses. Access to boat ramps would be improved, and roads could 
be improved or seasonally closed where needed. Numbers of visitors 
participating in wildlife observation and other activities would be 
increased by a moderate amount through increased programs and 
     The Service would recommend eliminating 4 proposed 
wilderness units for a reduction of 35,881 acres.
    Alternative D--Proposed Action--Ecological Processes Emphasis. In 
cooperation with our partners, we would use natural, dynamic, 
ecological processes and management activities in a balanced, 
responsible manner to restore and maintain the biological diversity, 
biological integrity, and environmental health of the Refuge. Once 
natural processes are restored, a more passive approach (less human 
assistance) would be favored. There would be quality wildlife-dependent 
public uses and experiences. Economic uses would be limited when they 
are injurious to ecological processes. Key actions follow:
     Management practices that mimic and restore natural 
processes, as well as maintain a diversity of plant species in upland 
and riparian areas on the Refuge, will be applied.
     Plant diversity and health would be maintained by using 
natural and prescribed fire in combination with wild ungulate herbivory 
(wildlife feeding on plants) or prescriptive livestock grazing, or 
both, to ensure the viability of sentinel plants (those plants that 
decline first when management practices are injurious). To achieve this 
goal, prescriptive livestock grazing, on up to 75 percent of the Refuge 
within 9 years, would be implemented to reduce the number of habitat 
units, remove unnecessary fencing, and to restore degraded riparian 
areas. The Service would work with partners to combat invasive weeds. 
Research projects would be implemented to respond to climate change on 
the Refuge, and in particular, would focus on the resiliency of plants 
to adapt to climate change.
     The Service would collaborate with Montana Department of 
Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and others, to maintain the health and 
diversity of all species' populations, including game, nongame, and 
migratory bird species. These efforts will focus on restoring and 
maintaining balanced, self-sustaining populations. Limited hunting for 
predators would be considered only after population levels could be 
verified and sustained. The Service would provide for a variety of 
quality hunting opportunities, including those with population 
objectives that have diverse male age structures.
     Refuge access would be managed to benefit natural 
processes and habitat. Permanent and seasonal road closures would be 
implemented on at least 23 miles of roads as needed, to encourage free 
movement of animals, permit prescribed fire activities, harvest 
wildlife ungulates, or allow other activities that contribute to 
ecological health. Numbers of visitors participating in wildlife 
observation and other activities would be increased through increased 
quality programs and facilities.
     The Service would recommend expanding 6 of the proposed 
wilderness units by 18,559 acres and eliminating 3 units, for a 
reduction of 26,744 acres. This would accommodate more access in some 
areas while increasing protection of wilderness values in other areas.

Public Availability of Documents

    You can view or obtain documents at the following locations:
     Our Web site: http://www.fws.gov/cmr/planning.
     The following public libraries:

            Library                     Address           Phone number
Garfield County...............  228 E. Main, Jordan,      (406) 557-2297
                                 MT 59337.
Glasgow.......................  408 3rd Avenue,           (406) 228-2731
                                 Glasgow, MT 59230.
Great Falls...................  301 2nd Avenue, Great     (406) 453-0349
                                 Falls, MT 59401.
Lewistown.....................  701 W. Main,              (406) 538-5212
                                 Lewistown, MT 59457.
McCone County.................  1101 C Avenue, Circle,    (406) 485-2350
                                 MT 59215.
Petroleum County..............  205 S. Broadway,          (406) 429-2451
                                 Winnett, MT 59087.
Phillips County...............  10 S. 4th Street E.,      (406) 542-2407
                                 Malta, MT 59538.
Montana State University-       1500 University Drive,    (406) 657-2011
 Billings.                       Billings, MT 59101.
Montana State University-       Roland R. Renne           (406) 994-3171
 Bozeman.                        Library, Centennial
                                 Mall, Bozeman, MT
Montana State University-Havre  Northern Vande Bogart     (406) 265-3706
                                 Library, Cowan Drive,
                                 Havre, MT 59501.
University of Montana.........  Mansfield Library, 32     (406) 243-6860
                                 Campus Drive,
                                 Missoula, MT 59812.
Colorado State University.....  Morgan Library, 501       (970) 491-1841
                                 University Avenue,
                                 Fort Collins, CO

Public Meetings

    We will hold public meetings that will be announced through the 
local media, on our Web site, and by mailing out a planning update 
prior to the meetings. For more information on the meetings, refer to 

Submitting Comments/Issues for Comment

    We particularly seek comments on the following significant issues:
     Issue 1--Habitat and wildlife management;
     Issue 2--Water resources;
     Issue 3--Public use and access;
     Issue 4--Wilderness management;
     Issue 5--Socioeconomics;
     Issue 6--Partnerships and collaboration; and
     Issue 7--Cultural values, traditions, and resources.
    We consider comments substantive if they:
     Question, with reasonable basis, the accuracy of the 
information in the document;
     Question, with reasonable basis, the adequacy of the 
environmental assessment;

[[Page 54384]]

     Present reasonable alternatives other than those presented 
in the draft EIS; and/or
     Provide new or additional information relevant to the 

Next Steps

    After this comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them in the form of a final CCP and final EIS.

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.

    Dated: August 24, 2010.
Hugh Morrison,
Acting Deputy Director.
[FR Doc. 2010-22160 Filed 9-3-10; 8:45 am]