[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 100 (Tuesday, May 24, 2011)]
[Pages 30190-30192]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-12698]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2011-N054; 40136-1265-0000-S3]

Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, LA; Draft Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; 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 Atchafalaya National 
Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in St. Martin and Iberville Parishes, Louisiana, 
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 June 23, 2011.

ADDRESSES: You may obtain a copy of the Draft CCP/EA by contacting Ms. 
Tina Chouinard, via U.S. mail at Fish and Wildlife Service, 3006 
Dinkins Lane, Paris, TN 38242, or via e-mail at tina_chouinard@fws.gov. Alternatively, you may download the document from 
our Internet Site at http://southeast.fws.gov/planning under ``Draft 
Documents.'' Comments on the Draft CCP/EA may be submitted to the above 
postal address or e-mail address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Tina Chouinard, at 731/432-0981 



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Atchafalaya NWR. 
We started the process through a Federal Register notice on January 9, 
2009 (74 FR 915). For more about the refuge and our CCP process, please 
see that notice.
    Atchafalaya NWR is one of eight refuges managed as part of the 
Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex (Complex). 
Atchafalaya NWR is in the lower Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System in 
Louisiana. Atchafalaya NWR is bounded on the north by U.S. Highway 190, 
on the south by Interstate 10, on the west by the Atchafalaya River, 
and on the east by the East Atchafalaya Basin Protection Levee.
    Atchafalaya NWR was established in 1986, when 15,255 acres were 
purchased from the Iberville Land Company. The Louisiana Department of 
Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 
(USACE) have also purchased fee title lands adjacent to and within the 
Atchafalaya NWR, bringing the total to approximately 44,000 acres. The 
USACE has authority to purchase additional lands within the Atchafalaya 
Basin Floodway System.
    Approximately 12 percent of the refuge is inundated open water, 
with isolated cypress trees and willow stands. Bottomland hardwood 
forest is the primary habitat.


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, 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 Administration 
    Significant issues addressed in this Draft CCP/EA include: (1) 
Forest management; (2) biological inventorying and monitoring; (3) land 
protection; (4) oil and gas operations; (5) enhancing wildlife-
dependent public use; and (6) increasing permanent staff.

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 of each 
alternative is in the Draft CCP/EA. We summarize each alternative 

Alternative A--Current Management (No Action)

    This alternative is required by the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA) and is the ``no-action'' or ``status quo'' alternative, in 
which we would not initiate major management changes. This alternative 
also provides a baseline to compare the current habitat, wildlife, and 
public use management to the two action alternatives.
    Alternative A continues current management strategies, with little 
or no change in budgeting or funding. We would continue to focus on 
maintaining the biological integrity of the refuge's habitats. Under 
this alternative, we would protect and maintain all refuge lands, 
primarily focusing on the needs of threatened and endangered species, 
with additional emphasis on the needs of migratory birds and resident 
    Conservation of federally listed threatened and endangered species 
would be continued through current habitat management and monitoring 
programs, to be accomplished primarily through established partnership 
and research projects.
    Current management of migratory birds would continue to provide 
suitable habitat for waterfowl, contributing to the objective of the 
North American Waterfowl Management Plan. The current levels of 
surveying, monitoring, and managing of migratory and resident birds 
would continue. We would also continue to provide for their basic needs 
of feeding, resting, and breeding.
    Mostly opportunistic monitoring and management of resident wildlife 
would occur under this alternative. Only current refuge wildlife 
management programs would continue to be maintained, and since little 
baseline biological information would be gathered on non-managed 
species or groups of species, new management activities would be 
    The Complex would continue habitat management of existing greentree

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reservoirs, wetlands, open waters, forested habitats, scrub/shrub 
habitats, grasslands, and open lands. All impoundments, levees, moist-
soil units, and water control structures would continue to be 
maintained to provide critical habitat for threatened and endangered 
species, waterfowl, and wetland-dependent birds. Current water quality 
information would be addressed on an as-needed basis and would continue 
to be limited. All other habitat management programs would remain 
    Control of invasive and exotic plant species would continue on an 
opportunistic basis as resources permit. This limited control would be 
performed by chemical and/or mechanical means. Additionally, efforts to 
control/remove invasive, exotic, or nuisance wildlife would continue. 
These species tend to procreate rapidly and can be especially 
destructive to habitats. Control would continue to be implemented by 
the take of these animals as part of the hunting program and on an 
opportunistic basis by staff.
    We would maintain the current levels of wildlife-dependent 
recreation activities (i.e., hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, 
wildlife photography, and environmental education and interpretation) 
and facilities.
    Hunting opportunities on refuge lands are managed by LDWF as part 
of the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and would continue. Due 
to the complex boundaries and multi-ownership, all hunting and fishing 
regulations are set by LDWF as part of a cooperative management 
agreement and fall under the rules and regulations of Sherburne WMA. 
This offers less confusion to the visiting public and also makes it 
easier to enforce laws.
    The refuge is open year round for sport fishing in accordance with 
State fishing regulations. Fishermen frequent Big Alabama Bayou and 
some of the smaller waters of the Complex. Recreational crawfishing is 
allowed on the refuge. The Complex maintains four boat launching 
facilities, with parking areas that provide bayou access. There is also 
a designated pier for fishing.
    Law enforcement would continue at the current level, with emphasis 
on resource protection and public safety. We would continue to share 
five staff members: Refuge manager, forester, biologist, park ranger 
(public use specialist), and law enforcement officer.

Alternative B--Optimize Biological and Visitor Services (Proposed 

    We selected Alternative B as the proposed alternative, because we 
believe it best signifies the vision, goals, and purposes of the 
refuge. Additionally, this alternative was developed based on public 
input and the best professional judgment of the planning team. Under 
Alternative B, our emphasis would be on restoring and improving refuge 
resources needed for wildlife and habitat management and providing 
enhanced appropriate and compatible wildlife-dependent public use 
opportunities, while addressing key issues and refuge mandates.
    This alternative would focus on augmenting wildlife and habitat 
management to identify, conserve, and restore populations of native 
fish and wildlife species, with an emphasis on migratory birds and 
threatened and endangered species. This objective would partially be 
accomplished by increased monitoring of waterfowl, other migratory and 
resident birds, and endemic species, in order to assess and adapt 
management strategies and actions. Additionally, information gaps would 
be addressed by the initiation of baseline surveying, periodic 
monitoring, and, ultimately, the addition of adaptive habitat 
    Habitat management programs for impoundments, greentree reservoirs, 
wetlands, open waters, forested habitats, scrub/shrub habitats, 
grasslands, and open lands would be reevaluated, and step-down 
management plans would be developed to meet the foraging, nesting, and 
breeding requirements of priority species. Additionally, monitoring and 
adaptive habitat management would be implemented to potentially 
counteract the impacts associated with long-term climate change and 
sea-level rise.
    The control of invasive, exotic, and/or nuisance wildlife and plant 
species would be more aggressively managed by implementing a management 
plan, completing a baseline inventory, supporting research, and 
controlling with strategic mechanical and chemical means.
    Alternative B enhances visitor service opportunities by: (1) 
Improving the quality of fishing opportunities; (2) implementing an 
environmental education program component that utilizes volunteers and 
local schools as partners; (3) enhancing wildlife viewing and 
photography opportunities by implementing blinds, a swamp trail 
boardwalk, and additional observational areas; (4) developing and 
implementing a visitor services management plan, working with partners 
to develop a Complex visitor center, including a law enforcement office 
and maintenance facility with an attached visitors' contact station; 
and (5) enhancing personal interpretive and outreach opportunities. 
Volunteer programs and friends groups also would be expanded to enhance 
all aspects of management and to increase resource availability.
    In addition to the enforcement of all Federal and State laws 
applicable to the refuge to protect archaeological and historical 
sites, we would identify and develop a plan to protect all known sites. 
The development of an onsite office for law enforcement officers would 
not only better provide security for these resources, but would also 
ensure visitor safety and public compliance with refuge regulations.
    Land acquisitions within the approved acquisition boundary would be 
based on the importance of the habitat for wildlife, management, and 
access. Administrative plans would stress the need for increased 
maintenance of existing infrastructure and construction of new 
facilities. Funding for new construction projects would be balanced 
between habitat management and public-use needs. Additional staff would 
include: Visitor services specialist, assistant manager, biological 
technician, forestry technician, maintenance worker, and law 
enforcement officer. The increased budget and staff levels would better 
enable us to meet the obligations of wildlife stewardship, habitat 
management, and public use.

Alternative C--Maximize Public Use

    Active management of refuge resources would be employed under this 
alternative to optimize public use opportunities. Staff and resources 
would be dedicated to increasing the public-use activities of hunting, 
fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, and environmental 
education and interpretation. All purposes of the refuge and mandated 
monitoring of Federal trust species and archaeological resources would 
continue, but other wildlife management would be dependent on public 
    We would prioritize habitat management of species of public 
interest. Wetlands, the greentree reservoirs, and moist-soil units 
would be maintained to facilitate public use opportunities, such as 
fishing and canoeing. Forest habitat in high public use areas would be 
managed, while all other areas would have little management 
intervention. Forest opening demonstration sites would be implemented 
to serve as educational opportunities for public and private land 
managers. The control of invasive and exotic plant species would be 
more aggressively managed in public use areas.

[[Page 30192]]

    Increased wildlife observation, wildlife photography, and 
interpretation opportunities would result from the construction of an 
on-site Complex visitor center, boardwalk, canoe and birding tours, 
kiosks, and trail signs. Additionally, waterfowl and wildlife 
monitoring would be conducted periodically to identify areas of high 
use for the visiting public to observe. Environmental education would 
be expanded by addressing a wide range of local environmental concerns 
and would be offered to a broader range of student groups and schools 
through teacher workshops. A new on-site environmental education 
facility would be developed to better facilitate the new programs and 
workshops. New information brochures, tear sheets, and website postings 
would be published to increase public outreach and to promote public 
use and recreational opportunities.
    Land acquisitions within the approved acquisition boundary would be 
based on the importance of the habitat for public use. Administration 
plans would stress the need for increased maintenance of existing 
infrastructure and construction of new facilities that would benefit 
public use activities. Additional funding would be needed to maintain 
the maximum number of trails and roads for access and to provide full-
time staff and new facilities to support expanded public use 

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.


    This notice is published under the authority of the National 
Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, Public Law 105-57.

    Dated: April 6, 2011.
Mark J. Musaus,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 2011-12698 Filed 5-23-11; 8:45 am]