[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 50 (Tuesday, March 15, 2011)]
[Pages 14042-14044]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-5924]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-R-2011-N014]; 60138-1265-6CCP-S3]

San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Alamosa, CO; 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), intend to 
prepare a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and an Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS) for the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge 
Complex (Complex) in Alamosa, Colorado. The Complex comprises Baca, 
Monte Vista, and Alamosa National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs).We provide 
this notice in compliance with our CCP policy to advise other Federal 
and State agencies, Tribes, and the public of our intentions, and to 
obtain suggestions and information on the scope of issues to consider 
in the planning process.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
April 29, 2011. Submit comments by one of the methods under ADDRESSES. 
We will

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announce opportunities for public input in local news media throughout 
the CCP process.

ADDRESSES: Send your comments or requests for more information by any 
of the following methods.
    E-mail: SLVrefuges@fws.gov. Include ``San Luis Valley National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex CCP'' in the subject line of the message.
    Fax: Attn: Laurie Shannon, Planning Team Leader, 303/236-4792.
    U.S. Mail: Laurie Shannon, Planning Team Leader, Division of Refuge 
Planning, P.O. Box 25486, Denver, CO 80225-0486.
    In-Person Drop-off: You may drop off comments during regular 
business hours at the above address, or at the San Luis Valley National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex administrative office located at 8249 Emperius 
Road, Alamosa, CO 81101.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laurie Shannon, 303/236-4317 (phone) 
or laurie_shannon@fws.gov (e-mail); or David C. Lucas, Chief, Division 
of Planning, 303/236-4366 (phone), P.O. Box 25486, Denver Federal 
Center, Denver, CO 80225-0486.



    With this notice, we initiate our process for developing a CCP for 
the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Alamosa, CO. 
This notice complies with our CCP policy to (1) advise other Federal 
and State agencies, Tribes, and the public of our intention to conduct 
detailed planning on this refuge and (2) to obtain suggestions and 
information on the scope of issues to consider in the environmental 
document and during development of the CCP.


The CCP Process

    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (Administration Act) 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 (NWRS), 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, where appropriate, 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.
    Each unit of the NWRS was established for specific purposes. We use 
these purposes as the foundation for developing and prioritizing the 
management goals and objectives for each refuge within the NWRS and to 
determine how the public can use each refuge. The planning process is a 
way for us and the public to evaluate management goals and objectives 
that will ensure the best possible approach to wildlife, plant, and 
habitat conservation, while providing for wildlife-dependent recreation 
opportunities that are compatible with each refuge's establishing 
purposes and the mission of the NWRS.
    Our CCP process provides participation opportunities for Tribal, 
State, and local governments; agencies; organizations; and the public. 
At this time we encourage input in the form of issues, concerns, ideas, 
and suggestions for the future management of the San Luis Valley 
National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
    We will conduct the environmental review of this project and 
develop an EIS in accordance with the requirements of the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321 et 
seq.); NEPA regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508 and 43 CFR part 46); 
other appropriate Federal laws and regulations; and our policies and 
procedures for compliance with those laws and regulations.

San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex

    The San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex is composed of 
three national wildlife refuges (NWRs): Monte Vista, Alamosa, and Baca. 
These NWRs are located in the San Luis Valley, a high mountain basin 
located in Rio Grande, Alamosa, and Saguache Counties, Colorado. Monte 
Vista NWR, authorized in 1952, and Alamosa NWR, authorized in 1962, 
were set aside under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. 
715D) for ``use as inviolate sanctuaries, or for any other management 
purpose, for migratory birds.'' Baca NWR was authorized in 2000 with 
passage of Public Law 106-530, also known as the ``Great Sand Dunes 
National Park and Preserve Act of 2000.'' In 2008, Congress amended the 
act and established the purposes of the Baca NWR to ``restore, enhance, 
and maintain wetland, upland, riparian, and other habitats for native 
wildlife, plant, and fish species in the San Luis Valley.'' In 
administering the Baca NWR, the Service is required to the maximum 
extent practicable to emphasize migratory bird conservation; take into 
consideration the role of the refuge in broader landscape conservation 
efforts; and, subject to any other agreement or the purposes of the 
refuge, use decreed water rights on the refuge in approximately the 
same manner that the water rights have been used historically.
    A wide variety of habitats are found across the three refuges, 
including wet meadows, playa wetlands, riparian areas within the flood 
plain of the Rio Grande, desert shrublands and grasslands, and 
croplands. Totaling about 106,000 acres, the refuges are an important 
stopover for numerous migratory birds. The refuges support many groups 
of nesting, migrating, and wintering birds, including grebes, herons, 
ibis, ducks, geese, hawks, eagles, falcons, shorebirds, owls, 
songbirds, and others. Nearly 20,000 sandhill cranes spend several 
weeks in the San Luis Valley during the spring and fall migrations, 
feeding and resting to replace critical fat reserves. Among the cranes 
that make a stopover are about 95 percent of the Rocky Mountain 
population of greater sandhill cranes and a portion of the midcontinent 
population of sandhill cranes. The Federally endangered southwestern 
willow flycatcher, a small neo-tropical bird species, is found fairly 
frequently in the willow-cottonwood corridor along the Rio Grande on 
Alamosa NWR. Additionally, there are several other Federal and State 
species of concern, including the Rio Grande sucker, Rio Grande chub, 
the Northern leopard frog, and other species that are found within or 
adjacent to the refuges. Many species of mammals also use the refuges, 
including elk, deer, coyote, porcupine, and other small mammals.

Scoping: Preliminary Issues, Concerns, and Opportunities

    There are a number of issues, concerns, and opportunities for the 
San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex. A few of these are 
briefly described.
    Although Congress significantly expanded the Service's acquisition 
authority and subsequent management responsibilities in the San Luis 
Valley, to date, funding for operation of the Baca NWR has been 
limited. This has posed a number of challenges for the refuge staff in 
the management of refuge operations across the complex. The

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Service will identify ways to increase management efficiencies, 
prioritize, and look for creative solutions during the planning 
    Since the late 1980s, increasing numbers of elk have been using 
Monte Vista and Alamosa NWRs during the fall and winter months. 
Similarly, elk numbers on the Baca NWR and adjacent Federal and private 
lands have been an ongoing concern in the valley. The Colorado Division 
of Wildlife estimates the elk population in game management unit 82 to 
be about 5,000 elk. Generally this population travels between Baca NWR, 
neighboring National Park Service lands, and The Nature Conservancy 
lands, both inside and outside the authorized boundary of Baca NWR, 
along with other surrounding private lands and Federal lands. Although 
it is unclear to what extent biological carrying capacities are being 
reached or exceeded, there has been substantial impact occurring on 
riparian areas along with crop depredation on private lands. Many 
stakeholders agree that a coordinated approach is needed for elk 
    There has also been interest in the reintroduction of bison on Baca 
NWR. Whether the refuge could support free-roaming bison without 
negatively affecting other species will need to be evaluated and 
determined during the CCP process.
    All the refuges were set aside largely for the protection of 
migratory birds; therefore water management has been an important tool 
in providing food and cover for birds. Climate change data is showing a 
pattern of decreasing precipitation and increasing temperatures in the 
San Luis Valley. This pattern may shift habitats, requiring greater 
flexibility in future land management of the refuges. Water management, 
including quantity, quality, and movement of water, is a complex issue 
that needs to be addressed.
    The Service is also proposing to study the potential for a 
landscape-level strategic habitat conservation initiative within the 
Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative, a network of 
partnerships working in unison to ensure the sustainability of 
America's land, water, wildlife and cultural resources. The study would 
analyze the potential protection of about 430,000 acres primarily 
through conservation easements and limited fee-title acquisition in the 
San Luis Valley.
    We request input on these issues and other concerns affecting 
refuge management or public use during the planning process. We are 
especially interested in receiving public input in the following areas:
    (a) What suggestions do you have for managing migratory birds on 
the refuges in the face of climate change and declining precipitation?
    (b) What ideas do you have regarding visitor services and wildlife-
dependent public uses on the refuges, particularly Baca NWR, which is 
currently closed to any public use?
    (c) What changes, if any, would you like to see in the management 
of Alamosa and Monte Vista NWRs?
    (d) What concerns do you have regarding the additional protection 
of wildlife and wetland habitat in the San Luis Valley? Can the use of 
conservation easements protect important wildlife resources in the 
    (e) What concerns do you have regarding ungulate management on the 
refuges or the reintroduction of species such as bison?
    We provide the above questions for your optional use. We have no 
requirement that you provide information; however, any comments the 
planning team receives will be used as part of the planning process.

Public Meetings

    We will give the public an opportunity to provide input at a public 
meeting. You can obtain the schedule from the planning team leader (see 
ADDRESSES). We will announce opportunities for public input in local 
news media throughout the CCP process. You may also send comments 
anytime during the planning process by U.S. mail, e-mail, or fax (see 
ADDRESSES). There will be additional opportunities to provide public 
input once we have prepared a draft CCP.

Public Availability of Comments

    Any comments we receive will become part of the administrative 
record and may be available to the public. Before submitting comments 
that include your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other 
personal identifying information, you should be aware that your entire 
comment, including your personal identifying information, may be made 
publicly available at any time. While you may 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: February 15, 2011.
Noreen E. Walsh,
Deputy Regional Director, Mountain-Prairie Region, Denver, CO.
[FR Doc. 2011-5924 Filed 3-14-11; 8:45 am]