[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 120 (Wednesday, June 22, 2011)]
[Pages 36571-36573]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-15551]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-R-2010-N194; 60138-1265-6CCP-S3]

Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Malta, MT; 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce 
that our draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and environmental 
assessment (EA) for Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge Complex is 
available. This draft CCP/EA describes how the Service intends to 
manage this refuge complex for the next 15 years.

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your written comments 
on the draft CCP/EA by July 25, 2011. Submit comments by one of the 
methods under ADDRESSES.

ADDRESSES: Send your comments or requests for more information by any 
of the following methods.
    E-mail: bowdoin@fws.gov. Include ``Bowdoin NWR Complex'' in the 
subject line of the message.
    Fax: Attn: Laura King, Planning Team Leader, 406-644-2661.
    U.S. Mail: Laura King, Planning Team Leader, c/o National Bison 
Range, 58355 Bison Range Road, Moiese, MT 59824.
    Information Request: A copy of the CCP/EA may be obtained by 
writing to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Refuge Planning, 
134 Union Boulevard, Suite 300, Lakewood, Colorado 80228; or by 
download from http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/planning.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura King, 406-644-2211, ext. 210 
(phone); 406-644-2661 (fax); or laura_king@fws.gov (e-mail); or David 
C. Lucas, 303-236-4366 (phone): 303-236-4792 (fax): or david_c_lucas@fws.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The 85,713-acre Bowdoin National Wildlife 
Refuge Complex (refuge complex) is part of the National Wildlife Refuge 
System. It is located in the mixed-grass prairie region of north-
central Montana, within an area known as the prairie pothole region. 
The refuge complex oversees management of five national wildlife 
refuges: Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge and four unstaffed satellite 
refuges--Black Coulee, Creedman Coulee, Hewitt Lake, and Lake Thibadeau 
National Wildlife Refuges. In addition, the refuge complex also manages 
the four-county Bowdoin Wetland Management District (district), which 
has nine waterfowl production areas in Blaine, Hill, Phillips, and 
Valley Counties along with conservation easements that protect 
approximately 40,159 acres of wetlands and grasslands. While the five 
national wildlife refuges and the wetland management district were 
established under different authorities, the primary purpose is to 
provide migration, nesting, resting, and feeding habitat for migratory 
birds in their wetlands and uplands. Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge 
has been designated as an important bird area through a program 
administered by the National Audubon Society. The four satellite 
refuges have both fee title and private lands within their boundaries. 
These lands are encumbered by refuge and flowage easements giving the 
Service the right to impound water, control the uses that occur on that 
water, and control any hunting and trapping. Access to these privately 
owned areas is by landowner permission only.
    The refuge complex provides opportunities for the public to enjoy 
compatible wildlife-dependent public use activities including hunting, 
limited fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental 
education, and interpretation. A full-time staff of five employees and 
various summer temporaries manage and study the refuge habitats and 
maintain visitor facilities. Domestic livestock grazing, prescribed 
fire, and haying are the primary management tools used to maintain and 
enhance upland habitats. Water level manipulation is used to improve 
wetland habitats. Invasive and

[[Page 36572]]

nonnative plant species are controlled and eradicated. Large, intact, 
native prairie communities can still be found throughout the refuge 
complex providing nesting habitat for over 29 species of resident and 
migratory birds. Native grazers such as pronghorn, white-tailed deer, 
and mule deer browse and graze the uplands. Four wetland classes are 
found on the refuge complex: Temporary, seasonal, semipermanent, and 
permanent and include both freshwater and saline wetlands. There are 
more than 10,000 acres of wetlands in the refuge complex. These 
wetlands have a diverse distribution of sizes, types, locations, and 
associations. The chemistry of surface waters in these wetlands tends 
to be dynamic because of interactions among numerous factors, such as 
the position of the wetland in relation to ground water flow systems, 
chemical composition of ground water, surrounding land uses, and 
climate. As part of the central flyway, this concentration of wetlands 
attracts thousands of migrating shorebirds and waterfowl to the refuge 
    Approximately 25,000 people visit the refuge annually. A 15-mile 
interpreted auto tour route and nature trail on the Bowdoin National 
Wildlife Refuge account for the majority of visitor use. Fishing is 
only open on McNeil Slough and Beaver Creek WPAs. The remaining complex 
waters do not support a sport fishery due to high salinity levels or 
shallow water depth. Excluding Holm WPA, the remaining complex is open 
to limited hunting of waterfowl and upland game birds. The four 
satellite refuges (with landowner permission) and the remaining eight 
WPAs are also open to big game hunting, according to state regulations 
and seasons.
    This draft CCP/EA includes the analyses of three different sets of 
alternatives including three alternatives for managing the refuge 
complex, two alternatives to evaluate the divestiture of Lake 
Thibadeau, and five alternatives for addressing the salinity and 
blowing salts issue on Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge.

Alternatives for the Overall Management of the Refuge Complex

    Alternative A, Current Management (No Action). Funding, staff 
levels, and management activities at the refuge complex would not 
change. The current staff of five Service employees would continue to 
manage Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge Complex primarily for migratory 
birds. The Service would continue to manipulate native grasslands using 
various management techniques including prescribed fire, haying, and 
grazing. Approximately 10 percent of the uplands would be grazed 
annually, and there would be minimal monitoring of response. As 
resources become available, cropland on waterfowl production areas 
would be restored to native grasses and forbs; however, dense nesting 
cover would continue to be seeded on highly erodible lands in the 
wetland management district. The Service would continue to use 
mechanical and chemical methods to control existing and new 
infestations of Russian olive. Larger infestations of invasive species 
such as crested wheatgrass would continue to be given little to no 
attention due to the extent of infestation and the lack of resources 
and staff.
    The Service would continue to attempt to mimic natural conditions 
on managed wetlands to meet the needs of migratory waterbirds. The 19 
ground water wells on and around Bowdoin Refuge would be monitored to 
collect water quality data for the refuge and the Beaver Creek 
Waterfowl Production Area. Lake Bowdoin and Dry Lake would continue to 
be managed as closed basins. Visitor services programs including 
hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental 
education, and interpretation would remain at current levels.
    Alternative B, the Proposed Action. The Service would conserve 
natural resources by restoring, protecting, and enhancing native mixed-
grass prairie and maintaining high-quality wetland habitat for target 
migratory and resident birds within the Bowdoin National Wildlife 
Refuge Complex. Invasive and nonnative plants that are causing habitat 
losses and fragmentation would be controlled or eradicated. Research 
would be conducted to control crested wheatgrass and restore treated 
areas. Enhanced wetlands would be managed to mimic natural conditions 
for wetland-dependent migratory birds during spring and fall migrations 
and during the breeding and nesting season.
    Visitor services programs would be enhanced, providing additional 
opportunities for staff- and volunteer-led programs to provide a 
greater understanding of the purposes of the refuge complex, importance 
of conserving migratory birds and the unique mixed-grass prairie and 
wetlands, and an awareness of the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System. A sanctuary area would 
be created for waterfowl on the east 60 percent of the Bowdoin National 
Wildlife Refuge during the hunting season, closing this to all foot 
traffic. A new wildlife observation site would be added on the auto 
tour route. The Service would investigate the need and consequences of 
offering a big game hunt at Bowdoin Refuge. The success of these 
additional efforts and programs would depend on added staff, research, 
and monitoring programs, including additional operations funding, 
infrastructure, and new and expanded partnerships.
    Alternative C. This alternative includes most of the elements in 
Alternative B. In addition, the Service would increase the water 
management infrastructure (for example, water delivery systems, dikes, 
and levees to manipulate individual wetlands) to create a more diverse 
and productive wetland complex. Biological staff would monitor the 
level of sedimentation occurring in natural wetlands and plan for its 
removal to restore the biological integrity of these wetlands. Through 
partnerships, the Service would increase the acres of invasive species 
treated annually with an emphasis on preventing further encroachment of 
crested wheatgrass and Russian olive trees into native grassland. The 
Service would investigate the feasibility of offering a limited, 
archery-only, big game hunt at Bowdoin Refuge. The refuge complex would 
serve as a conservation learning center for the area. Public access 
would be improved to Creedman Coulee Refuge.

Alternatives for Lake Thibadeau National Wildlife Refuge

    Using a divestiture model, developed by the Mountain-Prairie Region 
of the Service, the habitat quality and ability of Lake Thibadeau 
National Wildlife Refuge to meet its purposes and support the goals of 
the National Wildlife Refuge System, were evaluated. The Service owns 
less than 1 percent of the lands within the 3,868-acre approved 
acquisition boundary; the remaining area is private lands encumbered by 
refuge and flowage easements. These easements give the Service the 
right to manage the impoundments and the uses that occur on that water 
and to control hunting and trapping, but these easements do not 
prohibit development, grazing, or agricultural uses. Due to upstream 
development in the watershed, the impoundments do not receive adequate 
water supplies and are often dry enough to be farmed; the surrounding 
upland areas are also farmed or heavily grazed. This loss or lack of 
habitat has resulted in the Service's proposed action to divest this 
refuge. The Service completed an environmental analysis of two 
alternatives to address the situation at the Lake Thibadeau Refuge:

[[Page 36573]]

    (1) Lake Thibadeau Refuge Alternative 1--Current management (no 
    (2) Lake Thibadeau Refuge Alternative 2--Divestiture (proposed 

Alternatives for Salinity and Blowing Salts on Bowdoin National 
Wildlife Refuge

    The principle sources of water for the Bowdoin National Wildlife 
Refuge are precipitation, floodwater from Beaver Creek, ground-water 
seepage, water deliveries from the Milk River Project, and irrigation 
return flows. The last three sources of water add dissolved solids 
(salinity) to the refuge waters, particularly Lake Bowdoin, a closed 
basin. In addition, the refuge and adjoining lands are underlain by 
glacial till and shale containing high concentrations of soluble salts. 
The Milk River Project water rights for Bowdoin refuge are limited and 
insufficient to improve wetland water quality. As water evaporates from 
Lake Bowdoin, salts have become concentrated and water salinity has 
increased. Historically, two methods have been used to improve Lake 
Bowdoin's water quality and reduce salinity levels: (1) Discharges of 
saline water into Beaver Creek; and (2) managing Dry Lake as an 
evaporation basin for Lake Bowdoin's water. Neither of these methods is 
acceptable due to impacts from windblown salts and saline water 
discharge. As a consequence, evaporation has continued to increase 
salinity levels in Lake Bowdoin to levels that will eventually 
negatively impact the diversity of aquatic vegetation and 
invertebrates. Waterfowl production will also be negatively affected, 
particularly if more suitable freshwater areas are not available or 
significantly reduced during the breeding season.
    The Service hopes to address the salinity and blowing salts issue 
by developing a water management system on Bowdoin National Wildlife 
Refuge Complex that would protect the environment and mitigate current 
and future salt-dust-blowing concerns for neighboring properties, while 
providing quality water and wildlife habitat for migratory birds. A 
benchmark for achieving this goal would be to meet the Service's 
salinity objective of sustaining a brackish water quality level of 
approximately 7,000 mg/L of total dissolved solids (salts) in Lake 
Bowdoin. The Service developed and analyzed five alternatives to 
address the salinity and blowing salts issue for Lake Bowdoin in the 
Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge including (1) current management (no 
action), (2) Evaporation ponds and removal of salt residue, (3) 
Flushing by Beaver Creek, (4) Underground injection and flushing by 
Beaver Creek (proposed action), and (5) Pumping to the Milk River. The 
Service has identified salinity and blowing salts alternative 4 as the 
best option (proposed action) for addressing this issue based on the 
effectiveness of treatment, environmental and social consequences, and 

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.
    The environmental review of this project will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.); NEPA 
Regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508); other appropriate Federal laws 
and regulations; Executive Order 12996; the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Improvement Act of 1997; and Service policies and procedures for 
compliance with those laws and regulations.

    Dated: August 25, 2010.
Hugh Morrison,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 2011-15551 Filed 6-21-11; 8:45 am]