[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 105 (Thursday, May 31, 2012)]
[Pages 32131-32132]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-13074]

[[Page 32131]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R5-R-2012-N061; BAC-4311-K9-S3]

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Sussex County, DE; Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement

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 a draft comprehensive conservation plan and draft 
environmental impact statement (draft CCP/EIS) for Prime Hook National 
Wildlife Refuge (NWR), located in Sussex County, Delaware, for public 
review and comment. The draft CCP/EIS describes our proposal for 
managing the refuge for the next 15 years following the approval of the 
final CCP. Also available for public review and comment are: (1) The 
draft findings of appropriateness and draft compatibility 
determinations for uses to be allowed upon initial completion of the 
plan if Service-preferred alternative B is selected, (2) the draft 
habitat management plan, and (3) the draft hunting plan. These are 
included as appendix E, appendix B, and appendix C, respectively, in 
the draft CCP/EIS.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your comments no later than 
August 6, 2012. We will announce upcoming public meetings in local news 
media, via our project mailing list, and on our regional planning Web 
site: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/planning/Prime%20Hook/ccphome.html.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments or requests for copies or more 
information by any of the following methods. You may request hard 
copies or a CD-ROM of the documents.
    Email: northeastplanning@fws.gov. Please include ``Prime Hook NWR 
Draft CCP'' in the subject line of the message.
    Fax: Attn: Thomas Bonetti, 413-253-8468.
    U.S. Mail: Thomas Bonetti, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 
Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA 01035.
    In-Person Drop-off, Viewing, or Pickup: Call 302-684-8419 to make 
an appointment (necessary for view/pickup only) during regular business 
hours at 11978 Turkle Pond Road, Milton, DE 19968. For more information 
on locations for viewing or obtaining documents, see ``Public 
Availability of Documents'' under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Michael Stroeh, Project Leader, 302-
653-9345, or Tom Bonetti, Planning Team Leader, 413-253-8307 (phone); 
northeastplanning@fws.gov (email).



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Prime Hook NWR. 
We started this process through a notice in the Federal Register (70 FR 
60365; October 17, 2005) announcing that we were preparing a CCP and 
environmental assessment (EA). On May 9, 2011, we issued a second 
notice in the Federal Register (76 FR 26751) announcing we were 
preparing an EIS in conjunction with the CCP.
    In 1963, Prime Hook NWR was established under the authority of the 
Migratory Bird Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. 715-715r) for use as an 
inviolate sanctuary, or any other management purpose, expressly for 
migratory birds. Farms and residences were once present on portions of 
what is now the refuge. Established primarily to preserve coastal 
wetlands as wintering and breeding habitat for migratory waterfowl, 
Prime Hook NWR's 10,133 acres stretch along the west shore of Delaware 
Bay, 22 miles southeast of Dover, Delaware. Eighty percent of the 
refuge's vegetation cover types is characterized by tidal and 
freshwater creek drainages that discharge into the Delaware Bay and 
associated coastal marshes. The remaining 20 percent is composed of 
upland habitats. The land uses near the refuge are intensive 
agricultural and developed residential.


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 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

    We started pre-planning for the Prime Hook NWR CCP in September 
2004. In June 2005, we distributed our first newsletter and press 
release announcing our intent to prepare a CCP for the refuge. In 
November 2005, we had a formal public scoping period. The purpose of 
the public scoping period was to solicit comments from the community 
and other interested parties on the issues and impacts that should be 
evaluated in the draft CCP/EA. To help solicit public comments, we held 
three public meetings in Milton, Dover, and Lewes, DE, which 110 
members of the public attended. Throughout the rest of the planning 
process, we have conducted additional outreach by participating in 
community meetings, events, and other public forums, and by requesting 
public input on managing the refuge and its programs.

CCP Alternatives We Are Considering

    During the public scoping process, we, other governmental partners, 
and the public, raised several issues. To address these issues, we 
developed and evaluated three alternatives in the draft CCP/EIS. Here 
we present a brief summary of each of the alternatives; a full 
description of each alternative is in the draft CCP/EIS.

Alternative A (Current Management)

    Alternative A (current management) satisfies the National 
Environmental Policy Act (40 CFR 1506.6(b)) requirement of a ``No 
Action'' alternative, which we define as ``continuing current 
management.'' It primarily describes our existing management priorities 
and activities, and involves no active management of wetlands due to 
recent extensive changes along the refuge shoreline; it also involves 
no active forest management and no agricultural management of upland 
fields. It serves as a baseline for comparing and contrasting 
alternatives B and C. It would maintain our current public use 
programs. Under alternative A, our biological program would continue 
its present priorities: Conserving and enhancing waterfowl and 
shorebird habitats, maintaining habitat for the Delmarva fox squirrel, 
cooperating with State partners in monitoring bald eagles and fox 
squirrels, protecting bald eagle and osprey active nest sites from 
human disturbance on refuge lands, using prescribed fire to reduce fuel 

[[Page 32132]]

near beach communities, simulating natural fire processes on refuge 
habitats, and conducting wildlife and habitat monitoring. We would 
continue to offer hunting and fishing opportunities on refuge lands, 
and respond to requests for interpretive and school programs.

Alternative B (Service-Preferred)

    This alternative is the Service-preferred alternative. It combines 
the actions we believe would most effectively achieve the refuge's 
purposes, vision, and goals and responds to the issues raised during 
the scoping period. Under alternative B, the refuge would actively 
manage habitat to mimic natural processes and restore habitat quality. 
At the same time, the refuge would strategically reduce management 
actions that are contrary to the directions of the biological 
integrity, diversity, and environmental health policy, such as 
artificial maintenance of extensive freshwater wetlands that are 
vulnerable to sea level rise. Alternative B would enhance visitor 
services through a proposed expansion of the hunting program with 
greater administrative efficiency, new hiking trails, and expanded 
fishing opportunities and environmental education programs. Under 
alternative B, we would not reinstate the cooperative farming program; 
instead, we would propose to restore areas previously farmed to native 
forest habitat.

Alternative C (Historic Habitat Management)

    Alternative C emphasizes a return to habitat management programs 
that were conducted on the refuge through most of its existence, but 
were stopped in recent years for a variety of reasons. The historic 
habitat management programs conducted for the benefit of migratory 
birds include the use of cooperative farming in upland refuge fields 
and management of freshwater wetland impoundments. Under this 
alternative, we would conduct necessary infrastructure and duneline 
enhancements to re-establish management of freshwater impoundments. In 
contrast to alternatives A or B, alternative C less effectively 
addresses the refuge's purposes, mission, and Service policies, as it 
is less likely to be naturally sustainable, will require perpetual 
intervention to sustain dunes in their former location, and will be 
more vulnerable to coastal storm events that may overtop an 
artificially maintained barrier and introduce salt water into a managed 
freshwater marsh system. Upland fields previously enrolled in the 
cooperative farming program would once again be managed through farming 
practices with the cooperation of local farmers. Alternative C would 
expand opportunities for hunting and have a greater emphasis on public 
outreach and education. Compared to alternative B, however, alternative 
C would decrease the amount of hunting areas and opportunities. 
Fishing, wildlife observation, and wildlife photography would be 
similar to those in alternative A. Under alternative C, we would 
further enhance local community outreach and partnerships, continue to 
support a friends group, and continue to provide valuable volunteer 
experiences. We would also promote research and the development of 
applied management practices through local universities to sustain and 
enhance natural composition, patterns, and processes within their range 
on the Delmarva Peninsula.

Public Availability of Documents

    In addition to any methods in ADDRESSES, you can view or obtain 
documents on the refuge Web site: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/planning/Prime%20Hook/ccphome.html.

Submitting Comments/Issues for Comment

    We are seeking substantive comments, particularly on the following 
     Issue 1--Climate change, sea-level rise, and marshes;
     Issue 2--Mosquito control;
     Issue 3--Cooperative farming;
     Issue 4--Hunting; and
     Issue 5--Nuisance species
    We consider comments substantive if they:
     Question, with reasonable basis, the accuracy of the 
information in the document;
     Question, with reasonable basis, the adequacy of the EIS;
     Present reasonable alternatives other than those presented 
in the EIS; and/or
     Provide new or additional information relevant to the EIS.

Next Steps

    After this comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them in the form of a final CCP/EIS.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, email 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 2, 2012.
Henry Chang,
Acting Regional Director, Northeast Region.
[FR Doc. 2012-13074 Filed 5-30-12; 8:45 am]