[Federal Register: March 30, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 60)]
[Page 15721-15723]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R5-R-2008-N0242; BAC-4311-K9-S3]

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, City of Virginia Beach, VA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

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


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces the 
availability of the draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and 
draft environmental assessment (EA) for Back Bay 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 A in the 
draft CCP/EA.

DATES: To ensure our consideration of your written comments, we must 
receive them by April 29, 2010. We will also hold public meetings in 
Virginia Beach, 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, http://
www.fws.gov/northeast/planning/back bay/ccphome.html.

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 Back Bay NWR, 4005 Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
    U.S. Postal Service: Thomas Bonetti, Natural Resource Planner, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, 
Massachusetts 01035.
    Facsimile: Attention: Thomas Bonetti, 413-253-8307.
    Electronic mail: northeastplanning@fws.gov. Include ``Back Bay 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: Jared Brandwein, Project Leader, Back 
Bay NWR, 4005 Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23456-4325; 757-721-
2412 (phone); 757-721-6141 (facsimile).



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Back Bay NWR. We 
started the CCP process by publishing a notice in the Federal Register 
(67 FR 30950) on May 8, 2002, and then updating that notice (72 FR 
8196) on February 23, 2007. We prepared the draft CCP in compliance 
with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321-
4347, as amended) (NEPA) and the National Wildlife Refuge System 
Administration Act of 1966, as amended by the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Improvement Act of 1997 (Improvement Act).
    Back Bay NWR, currently 9,035 acres, was established in 1938 by 
Executive Order 7907 ``* * * as a Refuge and breeding ground 
for migratory birds and other wildlife.'' Another of the refuge's 
primary purposes (for lands acquired under the Migratory Bird 
Conservation Act) is ``* * * use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any 
other management purpose, for migratory birds.'' The Emergency Wetlands 
Resources Act of 1986 also authorizes purchase of wetlands for the 
purpose of ``* * * the conservation of the wetlands of the Nation in 
order to maintain the public benefits they provide and to help fulfill 
international obligations contained in various migratory bird treaties 
and conventions * * *,'' using money from the Land and Water 
Conservation Fund. In 1939, 4,600 acres of open bay waters within the 
refuge boundary were closed to the taking of migratory birds by 
Presidential proclamation.
    The refuge includes five miles of oceanfront beach, a 900-acre 
freshwater impoundment complex, numerous bay islands, bottomland mixed 
forests, old fields, and freshwater wetlands adjacent to Back Bay and 
its tributary shorelines. The Back Bay NWR Station Management Plan in 
1993 expanded the role of the refuge to include management emphases on 
other migratory bird groups, including threatened and endangered 
species, shorebirds, wading birds, marsh birds and songbirds/land 
    Although wildlife and habitat conservation come first on the 
refuge, the public can enjoy excellent opportunities to observe and 
photograph wildlife, fish, hunt, or participate in environmental 
education and interpretation. Current visitor facilities are primarily 
located in the eastern, barrier island portion of the refuge, where 
annual visitation is greater than 100,000. Back Bay NWR provides scenic 
trails, a visitor contact station, and, with advance scheduling, group 
educational opportunities. Outdoor facilities are open daily dawn to 


The CCP Process

    The Improvement Act 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 (NWRS), 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 Act.

Public Outreach

    In conjunction with our Federal Register notice announcing our 
intent to begin the CCP process, open houses and public information 
meetings were held throughout the Virginia Beach area at three 
different locations during January 2002. Meetings were advertised 
locally through news releases, paid

[[Page 15722]]

advertisements, and our mailing list. Participants were encouraged to 
actively express their opinions and suggestions. The public meetings 
allowed us to gather information and ideas from local residents, 
adjacent landowners, and various organizations and agencies.
    An ``Issues Workbook'' was developed to encourage written comments 
on topics such as wildlife habitats, nuisance species, and public 
access to the refuge. These workbooks were mailed to a diverse group of 
over 1,500 people on our mailing list, given to people who attended a 
public meeting, and distributed to anyone who requested one. More than 
100 people returned completed workbooks.
    Throughout the process, we have conducted additional outreach via 
newsletters and participation in meetings, and continued to request 
public input on refuge management and programs. Some of the comments we 
received pertained to issues that included managing various invasive 
and pest species, providing access to and through the refuge, providing 
desired facilities and activities, and searching for ways to improve 
opportunities for public use while ensuring the restoration and 
protection of priority resources. We considered and evaluated all of 
those comments, and incorporated many of them into the varied 
alternatives in the draft CCP/EA.

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 cultural resources, developing step-down management 
plans, encouraging research that benefits our resource decisions, 
maintaining a proactive law enforcement program, continuing to acquire 
land from willing sellers within our approved refuge boundary, and 
distributing refuge revenue sharing payments to Virginia Beach.
    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, as required by 
NEPA. Alternative A defines our current management activities, and 
serves as the baseline against which to compare the other alternatives. 
A selection of this alternative would maintain the status quo in 
managing the refuge for the next 15 years. No major changes would be 
made to current management practices. This alternative provides a basis 
for comparing the other two alternatives.
    Under current management, we manage a series of wetland and moist-
soil impoundments, forested and shrub-scrub habitats, and coastal beach 
and dune habitats. Under Alternative A, we would continue to conduct 
land bird, marsh bird, and migratory waterfowl surveys, continue to 
conduct nesting and stranded sea turtle patrols, and continue current 
methods of nuisance and non-native species control. We would maintain 
existing opportunities for visitors to engage in wildlife observation, 
photography, and environmental education and interpretation, as well as 
maintain existing hunting and fishing opportunities on the refuge. We 
would maintain existing infrastructure and buildings, and maintain 
current staffing levels.

Alternative B (Service-Preferred Alternative)

    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.
    This alternative focuses on enhancing the conservation of wildlife 
through habitat management, as well as providing additional visitor 
opportunities on the refuge. Alternative B incorporates existing 
management activities and/or provides new initiatives or actions, aimed 
at improving efficiency and progress towards refuge goals and 
objectives. Some of the major strategies proposed include: Opening up 
forest canopy by selectively removing loblolly pine, sweetgum, and red 
maple; withdrawing the 1974 wilderness designation proposal for Long 
Island, Green Hills, and Landing Cove (2,165 acres); developing a 
canoe/kayak trail on the west side of Back Bay NWR; expanding the deer 
hunt and developing new hiking trails; and developing and designing a 
new headquarters/visitor contact station. We would also expand 
opportunities for the six priority public uses of the NWRS, and 
emphasize wildlife observation and photography, and interpretation.
    The expansion of visitor facilities and services, as well as the 
projected increase in visitation, would require additional staffing 
support to meet public expectations, and provide for public safety, 
convenience, and a high quality experience for refuge visitors. 
Partnering, interagency agreements, service contracting, internships, 
and volunteer opportunities would increase in order to help provide 
this staffing support.
    We would also continue our monitoring and inventory program, and 
regularly evaluate the results to help us better understand the 
implications of our management actions and identify ways to improve 
their effectiveness.

Alternative C (Improved Biological Integrity)

    Alternative C prominently features additional management that aims 
to restore (or mimic) natural ecosystem processes or functions to 
achieve refuge purposes.
    Alternative C focuses on using management techniques that would 
encourage forest growth and includes an increased focus toward the 
previously proposed wilderness areas. Some of the major strategies 
proposed include: Developing an interagency agreement that would allow 
the 1974 proposed wilderness areas at Long Island, Green Hills, and 
Landing Cove (2,165 acres) to again meet minimum criteria, and then 
manage accordingly; and, creating conditions that allow us to shift 
more resources from intensive management of the refuge impoundment 
system to the restoration of Back Bay-Currituck Sound. In addition, we 
propose to continue enhancing visitor services by: Developing a hiking 
trail along Nanney's Creek; initiating actions to open the Colchester 
impoundment for fishing opportunities; considering additional waterfowl 
hunting areas; developing and designing a new headquarters/visitor 
contact station that provides more office space than proposed for 
Alternative B; and working with partners to provide a shuttle (for a 
fee) service from the new headquarters site to the barrier spit.

Public Meetings

    We will give the public opportunities to provide input at two 
public meetings in Virginia Beach, Virginia. You can obtain the 
schedule from the project leader or natural resource planner (see 
submit comments at any time during the planning process by any means 
shown in the ADDRESSES section.

[[Page 15723]]

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 comments to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.

     Dated: March 2, 2010.
Wendi Weber,
Acting Regional Director, Northeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
[FR Doc. 2010-7058 Filed 3-29-10; 8:45 am]