[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 158 (Wednesday, August 15, 2012)]
[Pages 49011-49015]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-19891]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R2-R-2012-N160; FXRS12610200000S3-123-FF02R06000]

Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Brazoria, Fort 
Bend, Matagorda, and Wharton Counties, TX; Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


[[Page 49012]]

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the 
availability of a draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and an 
environmental assessment (EA) for public review and comment. The draft 
CCP/EA describes our proposal for managing the Texas Mid-Coast National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex for the next 15 years. The Complex, which 
includes Brazoria, San Bernard, and Big Boggy National Wildlife Refuges 
(NWRs), is located approximately 50 miles south of Houston, Texas.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
August 15, 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 of the methods listed below. You 
may request hard copies or a CD-ROM of the documents. Please contact 
Jennifer Sanchez, Project Leader, or Carol Torrez, Lead Planner/R2 NWRS 
NEPA Coordinator.
    Email: carol_torrez@fws.gov. Include ``TMC NWR Complex Draft CCP 
and EA'' in the subject line of the message.
    Fax: Attn: Carol Torrez, 505-248-6803.
    U.S. Mail: Carol Torrez, Lead Planner/NWRS NEPA Coordinator, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, NWRS Division of Planning, P.O. Box 1306, 
Albuquerque, NM 87103.
    In-Person Drop-off, Viewing, or Pickup: 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 4336, Albuquerque, NM 87102.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jennifer Sanchez, Project Leader, 
Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, CCP--Project, 5247 CR 
316, Brazoria, TX 77422; phone: 979-964-4011; fax: 979-964-4021.



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for the Texas Mid-
Coast NWR Complex. We started this process through a notice in the 
Federal Register (74 FR 29714; June 23, 2009).
    The Complex is located along the upper Texas Gulf Coast, 
approximately 50 miles south of Houston, Texas. It is comprised of 
three refuges: Brazoria NWR, which was established in 1966, and 
encompasses 44,414 acres; San Bernard NWR, which was established in 
1968, and encompasses 52,400 acres; and Big Boggy NWR, which was 
established in 1983, and encompasses 4,526 acres. These lands provide a 
vital complex of salt and freshwater marshes, sloughs, ponds, coastal 
prairies, and bottomland hardwood forests that provide habitat for a 
wide variety of resident and migratory wildlife.


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 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 June 23, 2009 (74 FR 29714). The Refuge 
solicited comments on issues and concerns to aid in CCP development 
through three open house meetings held in September 2009.
    An ecoregion-wide coordination meeting was held at the Complex's 
Discovery Center on December 2, 2009, to gain a better understanding of 
the issues within the Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes Ecoregion, where 
the Complex is located, and to determine the Complex's role in 
addressing issues impacting fish, wildlife, and their habitats within 
the larger landscape. In February 2010, the Complex met with 
representatives from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to discuss 
their concerns regarding past management, future management, and issues 
common to both agencies.
    Additional public scoping for the Land Protection Planning process 
was conducted in January 2012. Three open house meetings were held to 
provide information on the proposed expansion and respond to questions 
and concerns.
    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, Visitor 
Services, and Facilities/Infrastructure Management.

CCP Alternatives We Are Considering

    During the public scoping process with which we started work on 
this draft CCP, we, other governmental partners, Tribes, and the 
public, raised multiple issues. 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 

                                          Alternative A--no         Alternative B--
             Issue topic                        action              proposed action           Alternative C
Ecoregion Management Issue 1: Climate  Supplement natural       Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative B
 Change.                                forest regeneration      plus increase            plus increase
                                        with restoration         restoration efforts;     restoration efforts
                                        efforts; monitor         utilize exchange of      above described
                                        carbon sequestration;    carbon credits; gather   levels.
                                        conduct education        baseline data on
                                        programs; and use        habitat composition/
                                        ``green'' technologies   wildlife diversity;
                                        and building products    update refuge
                                        on all new               displays; and increase
                                        construction.            use of ``green''
Ecoregion Management Issue 2: Erosion/ Construct/Use a variety  Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative A
 Saltwater Intrusion.                   of structural and some   plus increase the        plus increase the
                                        restoration techniques   types and amounts of     types and amounts of
                                        at various locations.    structural and           structural and
                                                                 restoration techniques   restoration techniques
                                                                 used.                    used.

[[Page 49013]]

Ecoregion Management Issue: 3          Follow direction of      Same as Alternative A..  Same as Alternative A.
 Wildland Fire Use.                     current Fire
                                        Management Plan (FMP).
Ecoregion Management Issue 4:          Work cooperatively with  Same as Alternative A..  Same as Alternative A.
 Petroleum Development.                 companies to minimize
                                        impacts to refuge
Ecoregion Management Issue 5: Land     The Complex will         The Complex will         Same as Alternative B.
 Conservation.                          continue to acquire      acquire lands under
                                        lands under the 1997     the new Land
                                        Austin's Woods           Protection Plan up to
                                        Conservation Plan        70,000 acres.
                                        until the 28,000-acre
                                        cap is reached.
Habitat Management Issue 1: Gulf       Cooperative haying       Same as Alternative A,   Same as Alternative B
 Coast Prairie and Marshes--            conducted; wetland and   plus increase acreage    plus develop seed bank
 Restoration and Management.            farmland                 of haying, and           on prairie restoration
                                        rehabilitation. Native   increase number of       areas.
                                        prairie restoration.     rehabilitation
                                                                 projects. Increase
                                                                 prairie restoration.
Habitat Management Issue 2: Gulf       Mechanical, chemical,    Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative B
 Coast Prairie and Marshes--            and prescribed fire      plus increase the        but diversify the
 Management of Invasive Species         use allowed; grazing     types and amounts of     types of management
 (Flora).                               not allowed.             management               prescriptions used,
                                                                 prescriptions used,      including bison
                                                                 including limited        grazing.
                                                                 livestock grazing.
Habitat Management Issue 3: Gulf       Allowed Complex-wide to  Same as Alternative A..  Same as Alternative A.
 Coast Prairie and Marshes--            improve habitats and
 Prescribed Fire Use.                   reduce hazardous fuels.
Habitat Management Issue 4: Gulf       Cooperative farming and  Same as A, plus          Reduce cooperative
 Coast Prairie and Marshes--Farming     force account farming    incorporate additional   farming acres at
 Program.                               occur on all three       moist soil units into    Brazoria NWR and
                                        refuges.                 farming rotation at      eliminate farming at
                                                                 Brazoria NWR.            Big Boggy and San
                                                                                          Bernard NWRs.
Habitat Management Issue 5: Gulf       Restore prairie pothole  Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative B
 Coast Prairie and Marshes--Water       hydrology as             plus drill additional    plus increase water
 Management.                            opportunity arises;      wells, and develop new/  availability through
                                        use established wells    rehabilitate existing    the development of
                                        to provide freshwater    water control            partnerships and
                                        to moist soil units      structures.              purchase of water
                                        during drought                                    rights; expand
                                        periods; and purchase                             wetlands; and
                                        water from various                                rehabilitate marshes.
                                        water authorities
Habitat Management Issue 6:            Allow natural            Same as Alternative A..  Same as Alternative A.
 Bottomland Hardwood Forest--           regeneration; where
 Restoration.                           appropriate add
                                        supplemental planting
                                        of hardwood species;
                                        treat invasive species.
Habitat Management Issue 7:            Restore previously       Same as Alternative A..  Same as Alternative A.
 Bottomland Hardwood Forest--Water      drained wetlands.
Habitat Management Issue 8: Dune and   Management of beach      Cooperatively work with  Same as Alternative B.
 Beach Management.                      resources has not been   County and General
                                        clearly defined due to   Land Office (GLO) to
                                        recent silting in of     provide additional
                                        Cedar Lakes Cut and      protection on San
                                        trespass across upland   Bernard Beach
                                        vegetation on private    restricting type of
                                        land to access the Cut.  access and activities
                                                                 by visitors that would
                                                                 be compatible with
                                                                 Refuge Purpose.
Wildlife Management Issue 1:           Implement the Sea        Same as A, plus if       Same as Alternative B.
 Threatened and Endangered Species.     Turtle Recovery Plan.    reintroduction of APC
                                                                 and whooping crane
                                                                 occur, implement APC
                                                                 and whooping crane
                                                                 recovery plans.
Wildlife Management Issue 2:           Manage a variety of      Same as Alternative A..  Same as Alternative A.
 Migratory Bird Species and Species     habitats for resting,
 of Special Management Concern.         feeding, and
                                        reproductive purposes.
Wildlife Management Issue 3:           Hunting and trapping     Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative A,
 Management of Invasive Species         used to control feral    plus release natural     but diversify the
 (Fauna).                               hogs. Baiting and        predators to control     types of management
                                        broad scale treatments   ants.                    prescriptions used for
                                        to control ants.                                  each invasive.
Visitor Services Issue 1: Hunting....  Allowed in designated    Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative B
                                        areas for waterfowl,     plus provide a youth     plus provide a
                                        youth deer/feral hog     waterfowl hunt; revise   population reduction
                                        hunt on San Bernard      the hunting schedule     deer hunt.
                                        NWR, and a youth feral   at two locations.
                                        hog hunt. One permit
                                        area and ATV use
                                        allowed in designated
                                        area for disabled
Visitor Services Issue 2: Fishing....  Allowed on all           Same as Alternative A..  Same as Alternative A.
                                        navigable waters and
                                        from designated

[[Page 49014]]

Visitor Services Issue 3: Wildlife     Brazoria and San         Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative B.
 Observation.                           Bernard NWRs open to     plus construct
                                        wildlife observation;    additional photo
                                        visitors directed to     blinds, new trails, a
                                        designated public use    boardwalk, and road
                                        areas.                   pull-offs to provide
                                                                 for additional
Visitor Services Issue 4: Wildlife     Photo blind at Hudson    Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative B.
 Photography.                           Woods.                   plus develop
                                                                 additional photography
Visitor Services Issue 5:              Various programs and     Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative B.
 Environmental Education.               events conducted.        plus increase number
                                                                 of programs conducted
                                                                 and expand programs
                                                                 into additional school
                                                                 districts at San
                                                                 Bernard NWR.
Visitor Services Issue 6:              One annual 3-day event.  Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative B.
 Interpretation.                                                 plus expand organized
                                                                 interpretive programs
                                                                 at a variety of Refuge
                                                                 venues on a monthly
Visitor Services Issue 7:              Historical sites are     Same as Alternative A..  Same as Alternative A.
 Preservation of Historic Sites.        identified and
                                        interpreted in public
                                        use areas when
Visitor Services Issue 8: Entrance     No entrance fee          Require entrance fee...  Provide donation boxes
 Fee.                                   required.                                         at various public use
Facilities Issue 1: Visitor            Visitor contact station  Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative A
 Orientation.                           located at Brazoria      plus additional          plus construct stand-
                                        NWR Discovery Center.    Visitor Contact          alone Visitor Center
                                                                 Station at San Bernard   at San Bernard NWR
                                                                 NWR.                     Field Office.
Facilities Issue 2: Visitor Use--      Hiking trail provided    Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative B.
 Trails.                                at Brazoria and San      plus construct a new
                                        Bernard NWRs.            trail at Brazoria NWR
                                                                 Field Office; provide
                                                                 bicycle access at Dow
                                                                 Woods Unit.
Facilities Issue 3: Visitor--Non-      Canoe/Kayak launches     Same as Alternative A    Same as Alternative B
 Motorized Boat Launches Visitor.       provided at San          plus construct one       plus construct two
                                        Bernard and Brazoria     additional launch.       additional launches.
Facilities Issue 4: Visitor--Signs/    Signs and exhibits at    Construct new exhibits   Same as Alternative B.
 Exhibits.                              Brazoria and San         and signs and improve
                                        Bernard NWRs.            quality and content of
                                                                 existing exhibits and
Facilities Issue 5 Visitor--Roadways.  Vehicular access         Same as Alternative A..  Same as Alternative A.
                                        allowed on designated
                                        refuge roads.
Facilities Issue 6: Administrative--   Recreation vehicle pads  Construct new            Same as A, plus
 Volunteer.                             provided at Brazoria     recreation vehicle       construct additional
                                        and San Bernard NWRs.    site at Brazoria NWR,    facilities at Brazoria
                                                                 and expand recreation    NWR.
                                                                 vehicle sites at San
                                                                 Bernard NWR; include
                                                                 additional facilities
                                                                 at both locations.
Facilities Issue 7: Administrative     A variety of             Construct new            Same as Alternative B.
 Facilities.                            administrative/          administrative/
                                        maintenance facilities   maintenance facilities
                                        available at various     at various refuges.

Public Availability of Documents

    In addition to any methods in ADDRESSES, you can view or obtain 
documents at the following locations:
     Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex 
Headquarters Office, CR 316, Brazoria, TX, 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/plansinprogress.html.
     At the following public libraries:

            Library                      Address             Phone No.
Brazoria County Library City of  250 Circle Way, Lake       979-297-1271
 Lake Jackson Branch.             Jackson, TX 77566.
Brazoria County Library West     518 East Brazos, West      979-345-3394
 Columbia Branch.                 Columbia, TX 77486.
Bay City Public Library........  1100 7th Street, Bay       979-245-6931
                                  City, Texas 77414.

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 

[[Page 49015]]

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: July 26, 2012.
Joy E. Nicholopoulos,
Regional Director, Southwest Region.
[FR Doc. 2012-19891 Filed 8-14-12; 8:45 am]