[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 146 (Friday, July 29, 2011)]
[Pages 45600-45602]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-19200]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R1-R-2011-N088; 1265-0000-10137-S3]

Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Adams and Grant Counties, WA; 
Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of our draft comprehensive conservation plan and 
environmental assessment (Draft CCP/EA) for the Columbia National 
Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) for public review and comment. The Draft CCP/
EA describes our proposal and alternatives for managing the Refuge for 
the next 15 years.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
August 29, 2011.

ADDRESSES: You may download a copy of the Draft CCP/EA from our Web 
site: http://www.fws.gov/columbia/. You may submit comments on the 
Draft CCP/EA or request a copy of it on CD-ROM by any of the following 
methods. A limited number of printed copies are also available.
    E-mail: mcriver@fws.gov. Include ``Columbia Draft CCP/EA'' in the 
subject line of the message.
    Fax: Attn: Kelly Chase, (509) 546-8303.
    U.S. Mail: Kelly Chase, Refuge Manager, Columbia National Wildlife 
Refuge, 64 Maple Street, Burbank, WA 99323.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dan Haas, (509) 546-8333 (phone); or 
daniel_haas@fws.gov (e-mail).



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for the Refuge. The 
Service began this process by publishing a notice of intent in the 
Federal Register (74 FR 25576) on May 28, 2009.
    The Refuge is located in the high desert of central Washington. It 
encompasses 29,656 acres of grassland, shrub-steppe, lake, and wetland 
habitats. The Refuge was established in 1944, in conjunction with the 
Columbia Basin Irrigation Project (CBIP), and has been actively managed 
since 1955. The Refuge's primary purposes are as a refuge and breeding 
ground for

[[Page 45601]]

migratory birds and other wildlife, and for use as an inviolate 
sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds. 
The Refuge was created as a breeding ground for migratory birds; 
however, it is primarily an important stopover during migration.


The CCP Process

    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 (16 
U.S.C. 668dd-668ee), (Refuge 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 that are compatible with a 
refuge's purposes, and 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 Refuge 
Administration Act.

Public Outreach

    The Service began the public scoping phase of the CCP planning 
process by publishing a notice of intent in the Federal Register (74 FR 
25576) on May 28, 2009, announcing our intention to complete a CCP/EA 
for the Refuge, inviting the public to a public open house meeting, and 
requesting public comments. Simultaneously, we distributed Planning 
Update 1 to our mailing list, announcing the beginning of the CCP 
planning process, requesting comments on Refuge management issues, and 
inviting the public to attend a public open house meeting. The public 
meeting was held June 16, 2009, in Othello, Washington.
    In February 2011 we distributed Planning Update 2. The update 
included a summary of the comments we received, and our draft 
management alternatives, goals, and objectives. The public comments we 
received throughout the planning process were considered during 
development of the Draft CCP/EA.

Draft CCP Alternatives We Are Considering

    During the public scoping process we identified a number of issues 
in Planning Update 1, and in the comments we received from the public, 
government agencies, and Tribes. To address these issues, we developed 
and evaluated three alternatives for managing the Refuge. A full 
description of each alternative is in the Draft CCP/EA. All of the 
alternatives will include actions to control invasive species, develop 
or improve partnerships, continue coordination with the Washington 
Department of Fish and Wildlife, develop volunteer opportunities, and 
make restoration of habitats a top priority. A brief summary of each 
alternative follows.

Alternative 1

    Alternative 1 is our no action alternative; under it we would 
continue current management programs. Refuge lands would continue to be 
managed using a mix of natural processes and habitat maintenance 
activities. For example, we allow many wetland areas to follow natural 
succession; however, we conduct noxious weed control, prescribed fire, 
and other maintenance actions within them. Several moist soil 
management areas also require water level manipulation, dike 
maintenance, extensive soil preparation, plantings, and other 
treatments. Several specialized habitats, such as rock outcroppings and 
alkali wetlands, are not actively managed. A cooperative farming 
program is conducted on the Refuge that provides food sources for 
migratory birds and other wildlife. Waterfowl habitat is actively 
managed. Management for State or Federal species of concern, such as 
the Washington ground squirrel, is limited.
    The Refuge's annual Sandhill Crane Festival attracts hundreds of 
people from throughout the Northwest and the rest of the United States. 
Other compatible public uses include hunting, fishing, wildlife 
photography and observation, and environmental education and 
interpretation; however, facilities to accommodate these activities are 
limited. The Refuge stocks sport fish; however, it lacks a fishing 
platform that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act 
(ADA). The Refuge conducts a hunting lottery for a few waterfowl 
blinds, and other hunting occurs in compliance with Refuge-specific 
regulations and law enforcement. A small number of trails are provided 
for hiking and wildlife viewing. A few interpretive signs are provided, 
and environmental education programs are limited and sporadic.

Alternative 2

    Under Alternative 2, Refuge management actions would be similar to 
Alternative 1, with a number of improvements. Approximately 175 acres 
of emergent wetlands in Marsh Unit III would be converted to riparian 
habitat. The Crab Creek channel would be restored. Specialized habitats 
(e.g., rock outcroppings) would be managed. Farming would continue 
using low-impact techniques. Management of State and Federal species of 
concern would be emphasized.
    Visitor use would focus on compatible wildlife observation, 
photography, and interpretation. The Sandhill Crane Festival would 
remain a priority. Camping, horseback riding, and bicycling uses may 
change, or be restricted or eliminated, to enhance various habitats. 
Additional facilities would be developed, including seasonal 
photography blinds and an ADA-compliant fishing area and hunting blind. 
Compatible waterfowl hunting would continue; however, the permanent 
blinds would be removed (excluding the ADA-compliant blinds), and the 
lottery would be eliminated. Morgan Lake Road would be closed to 
overnight travel. Interpretive and educational programs would be 
limited; however, numerous Refuge brochures would be developed to 
enhance recreational use of the Refuge.

Alternative 3

    Refuge management actions under Alternative 3 would be much the 
same as Alternative 2, with a greater emphasis on visitor services. The 
Soda Lake Campground would be converted to day-use facilities, and the 
area around the Bluebird Campground would be available by permit, as a 
day-use educational site. To promote hunting and fishing opportunities, 
ADA-compliant facilities would be developed. Compatible waterfowl and 
big game hunting opportunities would be expanded by opening new areas, 
and implementing additional youth hunt days, areas, and seasons. The 
waterfowl blinds and hunting lottery would be retained. Horseback 
riding and bicycling would continue. Morgan Lake Road would remain open 
for 24-hour use. A new hiking and interpretive trail would be developed 
within the Drumheller Channel National Natural Landmark. Seasonal and 
permanent wildlife observation blinds would be provided. New 
interpretive and educational programs would be developed, and new 
brochures to aid Refuge visitors would

[[Page 45602]]

be developed. The Sandhill Crane Festival would remain a priority. Fish 
stocking would continue in some lakes; however, to support northern 
leopard frog recovery, we would discontinue fish stocking in lakes that 
have the highest likelihood of the species recovery success, as 
determined by an interdisciplinary team of experts.

Public Availability of Documents

    We encourage you to review and comment on the proposals we have 
developed in the Draft CCP/EA. The Draft CCP/EA is available on our Web 
site or by request from the Refuge (see ADDRESSES).

Next Steps

    After this comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them in the final CCP and decision document.

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: May 20, 2011.
Richard Hannan,
Acting Regional Director, Region 1, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 2011-19200 Filed 7-28-11; 8:45 am]