[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 154 (Thursday, August 9, 2012)]
[Pages 47657-47660]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-19497]

[[Page 47657]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R2-R-2012-N130; FXRS12610200000S3-123-FF02R06000]

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Comanche County, OK; 
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 a draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and an 
environmental assessment (EA) for Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge 
(Refuge, WMWR), located approximately 25 miles northwest of Lawton, 
Oklahoma, for public review and comment. The Draft CCP/EA describes our 
proposal for managing the Refuge for the next 15 years.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
September 10, 2012. We will announce upcoming public meetings in local 
news media.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments or requests for copies or more 
information on the Draft CCP/EA by any one of the methods listed below. 
You may request hard copies or a CD-ROM of the documents. Please 
contact Tony Booth, Refuge Manager, or Roxanne Turley, Natural Resource 
    Email: Roxanne_Turley@fws.gov. Include ``Wichita Mountains 
Wildlife Refuge draft CCP and EA'' in the subject line of the message.
    Fax: Attn: Roxanne Turley, 505-248-6803.
    U.S. Mail: Roxanne Turley, Natural Resource Planner, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, NWRS Division of Planning, P.O. Box 1306, 
Albuquerque, NM 87103.
    In-Person Drop-off: You may drop off comments during regular 
business hours (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at 500 Gold Street SW., 4th Floor, 
Room 4342, Albuquerque, NM 87102.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tony Booth, Refuge Manager, Wichita 
Mountains Wildlife Refuge, CCP Project, 32 Refuge Headquarters, 
Indiahoma, OK 73552; phone: (580) 429-3222; fax: (580) 429-9323.



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for the Wichita 
Mountains Wildlife Refuge. We started this process through a notice in 
the Federal Register (73 FR 65872; November 5, 2008).
    The Refuge encompasses 59,020 acres of mixed-grass prairie and 
crosstimbers habitats, with granite rock outcroppings. The Refuge, 
which is a remnant of what was once a much larger natural area, 
consists of lakes, streams, canyons, mountains, woodlands, and 
grasslands, creating an oasis for both wildlife and people in 
southwestern Oklahoma.
    The land was originally established as a Forest Reserve by 
President William McKinley in 1901. By proclamation of President 
Theodore Roosevelt, dated June 2, 1905, and based on a special act of 
Congress approved January 24, 1905, the land was further designated as 
a National Game Preserve ``for the protection of game animals and birds 
and shall be recognized as a breeding place thereof.'' The land was 
administered by the U.S. Forest Service until 1936, when it was 
transferred to the Bureau of Biological Survey, one of the predecessor 
agencies of the present day U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Shortly 
thereafter, the area was renamed the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge 
for administration under the National Wildlife Refuge System.


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 wildlife observation and photography, and 
environmental education and interpretation. We will review and, as 
necessary, update the CCP at least every 15 years in accordance with 
the Refuge Administration Act.

Public Outreach

    Formal scoping began with publication of a notice of intent to 
prepare a comprehensive conservation plan and environmental assessment 
(EA) in the Federal Register on November 5, 2008 (73 FR 65872). The 
Refuge solicited comments on issues and concerns to aid in CCP 
development through four open house meetings held in January and 
February 2009.
    An ecoregion-wide coordination meeting was held at the Refuge 
Environmental Education Center on December 2, 2009, to gain a better 
understanding of the issues within the Central Mixed-Grass Prairie 
ecoregion, where the Refuge is located, and to determine the Refuge's 
role in addressing issues impacting fish, wildlife, and their habitats 
within the larger landscape.
    In February 2010, Refuge staff met with the Oklahoma Department of 
Wildlife Conservation to identify their concerns to address in the CCP. 
Also at that time a letter was sent to local tribes to inform them of 
the planning process and provide information on how to be involved. One 
tribal meeting was scheduled as a result.
    In addition to the scoping meetings, the Refuge held an open house 
at the Refuge Visitor Center on January 25, 2011. The purpose of this 
open house was to introduce the new Refuge Manager and to give the 
public an opportunity to discuss various Refuge projects and programs, 
including the planning process.
    The feedback received at the conclusion of the public involvement 
period identified numerous concerns from a variety of stakeholders. 
These concerns were organized by five broad issue categories and one 
administrative category: Ecoregion, Habitat, Wildlife, Public Use, 
Facilities, and Administrative Areas.

CCP Alternatives We Are Considering

    During the public scoping process multiple issues were raised by 
us, other governmental partners, Tribes, and the public. Our draft CCP 
addresses them. A full description of each alternative is in the EA. To 
address these issues, we developed and evaluated the following 
alternatives, summarized below.

[[Page 47658]]

                                                               Alternative B--proposed
           Issue topic              Alternative A--no action           action                 Alternative C
Issue 1: Ecoregion...............  Improve efficiency of      Same as Alternative A,    Same as Alternative B.
                                    Refuge fleet and           plus:
                                    facilities.               Identify alternative
                                   Minimize or mitigate        energy and water
                                    emissions, smoke, and      sources..
                                    dust and maintain Class   Increase dust abatement
                                    1 Airshed.                 efforts..
                                   Maintain current Refuge    Explore Refuge expansion
                                    boundary..                 opportunities (such as
                                   Monitor and provide         through land
                                    public outreach on water   acquisition,
                                    quality and mercury        conservation easements,
                                    contamination.             or cooperative
                                   Protect riparian areas      agreements)..
                                    through the construction  Expand monitoring of
                                    and/or maintenance of      mercury..
                                    low water crossings or    Pursue park-and-ride
                                    bridges.                   commuting or tours and
                                                               other means to reduce
Issue 2: Habitat Management......  Maintain Special Use Area  Same as Alternative A,    Same as Alternative B,
                                    (SUA) and continue         plus:                     with the exception of
                                    prohibition on            Designate and manage the   the SUA, which would be
                                    unrestricted public        SUA as a Research         managed as in
                                    access and use.            Natural Area (RNA).       Alternative A, but with
                                   Manage lakes at full        Continue public use and   allowance of more
                                    capacity. Conduct          access as in              general, although
                                    occasional draw-downs to   Alternative A with the    controlled, public
                                    control invasive           incorporation of          access and use.
                                    species, manage            adaptive management if/
                                    fisheries, and improve     when resources are at
                                    fishing opportunities.     risk..
                                   Permit grazing on five     Construct a fish passage
                                    small allotments on        on West Cache Creek to
                                    Refuge property located    improve fish crossings..
                                    outside of the Refuge     Phase out and
                                    boundary fence.            discontinue grazing
                                                               permits when fences are
                                                               moved to the true
                                                               Refuge boundaries..
Issue 3: Wildlife Management.....  Manage native fauna (elk,  Manage populations at     Manage native fauna the
                                    deer, and bison) at or     levels targeted to        same as Alternative B,
                                    near carrying capacity.    allow for habitat         plus evaluate the
                                    Hold public auctions       variability.              feasibility of
                                    (bison) and hunts (elk    Evaluate increasing the    pronghorn antelope and
                                    and deer) to manage        bison herd. Evaluate      wolf reintroductions.
                                    population levels.         decreasing longhorn      Manage non-native fauna
                                    Manage black-capped        herd size, or move the    the same as Alternative
                                    vireo according to         herd to alternate         A, except increase the
                                    recovery plan.             location..                longhorn herd size.
                                   Manage non-native fauna    Hold public auctions
                                    (longhorn) at carrying     (bison and longhorn)
                                    capacity. Hold public      and hunts (elk and
                                    auctions to manage         deer) to manage
                                    longhorn population        population levels..
                                    levels..                  Monitor long-term trends
                                   Monitor for zebra mussels   in vegetation and
                                    in Refuge lakes. Manage    animal health and
                                    feral hogs according to    adaptively manage all
                                    the Integrated Pest        native wildlife..
                                    Management (IPM) Plan..   Promote expansion of
                                                               black-capped vireo
                                                               habitat on adjacent
                                                              Consider more aggressive
                                                               and proactive measures
                                                               to avoid zebra mussel
                                                               introduction. Manage
                                                               feral hogs according to
                                                               the IPM Plan..

[[Page 47659]]

Issue 4: Public Use..............  Administer hunts to        Same as Alternative A,    Review and revise
                                    achieve population         plus:                     administration of
                                    management objectives     Improve fishing            hunts. Consider turkey
                                    for white-tailed deer      opportunities through     and feral hog hunts.
                                    and elk.                   signage, facilities,     Manage fishing as in
                                   Allow fishing at 12 lakes   and hardened boat         Alternative B, with the
                                    in the Public Use Area.    ramps. Add youth          exception of evaluating
                                    Stock resident fish        fishing day clinic. Add   the need for additional
                                    species periodically.      fishing piers at Quanah   fishing piers based on
                                   Provide wildlife viewing    Parker, Jed Johnson,      fishing pressure.
                                    and photography            and Crater Lakes..       Allow bicycling as in
                                    opportunities.            Improve wildlife           Alternative B, plus re-
                                   Provide interpretive        observation               open the Burma Road to
                                    talks, nature walks, and   opportunities by          bicycling.
                                    exhibits. Offer            upgrading existing       Manage hiking as in
                                    interpretive tours in      facilities and            Alternative B, plus
                                    the SUA through the        constructing two new      develop additional
                                    Friends of the Wichitas.   viewing blinds. Develop   hiking opportunities in
                                    Conduct only a small       and designate a           the high density use
                                    amount of interpretation   wildlife observation      zone.
                                    in the Wilderness Area.    loop using existing      Manage rocksports as in
                                   Hold Environmental          roads and trails. Offer   Alternative A, except
                                    Education (EE) classes     evening and weekend       that technical (gear
                                    on- and off-Refuge.        photography workshops..   assisted) rock climbing
                                    Partner with Friends      Update exhibits at the     would be eliminated.
                                    group to provide           Visitor Center.
                                    transportation             Construct an
                                    assistance for students.   interpretive nature
                                    Conduct only a small       trail loop around the
                                    amount of EE in the        Visitor Center. Expand
                                    Wilderness Area.           public interpretive
                                   Allow bicycling on paved    workshops. Maintain
                                    roads and on the Mt.       interpretive tours
                                    Scott access road. Pave    provided by the Friends
                                    highway shoulders along    of the Wichitas but
                                    the section of State       move them from the
                                    Highways 115 and 49 that   Special Use Area to the
                                    extend from the Medicine   Public Use Area if
                                    Park gate west and south   necessary to protect
                                    to the Cache gate.         wildlife and habitat..
                                   Allow boating on five      Work to develop EE
                                    lakes. Provide paved and   Center as a training
                                    unhardened boat ramps,     facility. Link EE
                                    interpretive signs, and    programs to the
                                    other facilities.          Oklahoma State
                                   Provide and maintain        Curriculum. Increase
                                    developed camping          emphasis on EE from 6
                                    opportunities at Doris     to 10 percent of annual
                                    and Fawn Creek             school contacts..
                                    Campgrounds. Allow        Create/designate hiking
                                    designated area            and bike routes and
                                    backcountry camping        connect existing
                                    through a permit.          routes. Increase
                                   Allow hiking throughout     quality (linking) of
                                    the Public Use and         routes to/from Lake
                                    Wilderness Areas.          Elmer Thomas Recreation
                                    Maintain nine trails       Area (LETRA), Cache,
                                    totaling about 17 miles    Medicine Park, Meers,
                                    in the Public Use Area     and Lawton via
                                    and in the Wilderness      partnerships. Consider
                                    Area on two designated     a bicycle-share pilot
                                    trails totaling about      program..
                                    three miles.              Improve boating
                                   Provide and maintain four   opportunities through
                                    picnicking areas.          increased interpretive
                                   Allow rock climbing,        signage or educational
                                    rappelling, and            kiosks, increased
                                    bouldering throughout      visitor contacts, and
                                    the Public Use Area.       increased law
                                    Maintain partnership and   enforcement contacts..
                                    collaborative fixed       Increase camping and
                                    anchor evaluation          picnicking
                                    process with Wichita       opportunities by
                                    Mountains Climbing         working with partners
                                    Coalition (WMCC).          to meet the demand in
                                    Implement all anchor       areas adjacent to the
                                    replacements or            Refuge, including
                                    modifications by hand in   pedestrian and bicycle
                                    the Wilderness Area.       connections. Increase
                                   Allow special uses          utilization of less
                                    including monitoring and   visited picnic areas in
                                    research; economic or      the medium density use
                                    commercial special uses    area..
                                    including rocksports      Increase and improve
                                    instruction, auctions,     accessible hiking
                                    and guided interpretive    opportunities..
                                    tours; non-commercial     Permit replacement of
                                    special uses including     fixed anchors for
                                    cultural (e.g. tribal)     rocksports but limit
                                    and religious events       placement of new
                                    (e.g. Holy City) and       anchors..
                                    public events.            Conduct special use
                                   Protect sensitive areas     activities under a
                                    or wildlife through        Special Use Permit
                                    temporary access           (SUP)..
                                    restrictions if           Monitor visitation by
                                    necessary.                 requiring participants
                                   Allow use without group     to register on site at
                                    size restrictions..        trailheads. Manage
                                                               areas to fit high,
                                                               medium, and low density
                                                               use zones. In the low
                                                               density zone groups
                                                               would not exceed 15
                                                               without a SUP. In the
                                                               medium density zone
                                                               groups of up to 30 are
                                                               allowed. In the high
                                                               density zone, groups of
                                                               more than 30 are
                                                               allowed. Improvements
                                                               would be focused in the
                                                               higher density zones..
Issue 5: Facilities..............  Maintain Visitor Center,   Same as Alternative A,    Manage administrative
                                    EE Center, headquarters    plus:                     facilities the same as
                                    building and quarters,    Remodel Visitor Center     Alternative B, plus
                                    roads, trails,             and EE buildings.         install emergency
                                    campgrounds, picnic        Install two wildlife      phones along roadways.
                                    areas, fishing piers,      observation blinds at    Manage public use
                                    boat ramps, dams,          the Visitor Center and    facilities the same as
                                    fences, corrals, etc.      the EE Center. Increase   Alternative A, plus
                                                               trash collection          remodel headquarters
                                                               infrastructure, place     building and enlarge
                                                               additional kiosks, and    corrals.
                                                               improve wayfinding
                                                              Replace headquarters
                                                               building, enlarge
                                                               corrals, and move fence
                                                               to true Refuge
Issue 6: Administrative Areas....  Manage Holy City           Same as Alternative A,    Remove Holy City
                                    according to a 5-year      plus:                     facilities and
                                    SUP to allow for          Monitor use of Holy City   structures.
                                    management and             and effects to Refuge    Relocate the Job Corps
                                    administration of events.  resources. Adapt          center off-Refuge.
                                   Manage Treasure Lake Job    management of
                                    Corps according to a MOA   activities if resources
                                    and easement with the      are being adversely
                                    U.S. Department of Labor   affected..
                                    and U.S. Department of    Consider partnership
                                    Agriculture Forest         opportunities with Job
                                    Service. Administer site   Corps participants to
                                    jointly as an              include increased EE
                                    educational and            and Refuge-specific
                                    vocational training        projects..

[[Page 47660]]

Issue 7: Cultural Resources......  Protect known              Same as Alternative A,    Same as Alternative B,
                                    archaeological sites.      plus:                     plus:
                                    Protect and maintain      Update the 1964-1965      Identify sites in the
                                    designated sites or        archaeological survey     Public Use Area at a
                                    those sites eligible for   by completing             greater risk of
                                    designation to preserve    systematic surveys        disturbance. Nominate
                                    historic character.        Refuge-wide. Increase     additional historic
                                                               monitoring of known       sites for designation.

Public Availability of Documents

    In addition to any methods in ADDRESSES, you can view or obtain 
documents at the following locations:
     Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Headquarters Office, 32 
Refuge Headquarters, Indiahoma, OK 73552 between the hours of 8 a.m. 
and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
     Our Web site: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/Plan/planindex.html.
     At the following public libraries:

                 Library                                Address                          Phone number
Lawton Public Library....................  110 SW 4th Street, Lawton, OK      580-581-3450
Cameron University Library...............  2800 West Gore Blvd., Lawton, OK   580-581-2957
Southern Prairie Library System..........  421 N. Hudson Street, Altus, OK    580-477-2890

Submitting Comments/Issues for Comment

    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 
environmental assessment (EA);
     Present reasonable alternatives other than those presented 
in the EA; and/or
     Provide new or additional information relevant to the 

Next Steps

    After this comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them in the form of a final CCP and finding of no significant 

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: August 3, 2012.
Joy E. Nicholopoulos,
Regional Director, Southwest Region.
[FR Doc. 2012-19497 Filed 8-8-12; 8:45 am]