[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 191 (Tuesday, October 2, 2012)]
[Pages 60135-60137]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-24272]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2012-N067; FXRS12650400000S3-123-FF04R02000]

St. Johns National Wildlife Refuge, FL; Final Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan and Finding of No Significant Impact for the 
Environmental Assessment

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of the final comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and 
finding of no significant impact for the environmental assessment for 
St. Johns National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Brevard County, Florida. In 
the final CCP, we describe how we will manage this refuge for the next 
15 years.

ADDRESSES: You may obtain a copy of the CCP by writing to: Ms. Layne 
Hamilton, c/o Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, P.O. Box 
2683, Titusville, FL 32781. Alternatively, you may download the 
document from our Internet Site: http://southeast.fws.gov/planning 
under ``Final Documents.''

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Layne Hamilton, at 321/861-0667 



    With this notice, we finalize the CCP process for St. Johns NWR. We 
started the process through a notice in the Federal Register on 
December 14, 2009 (74 FR 66147). For more about the process, see that 
    St. Johns NWR is a unit of and administered through the Merritt 
Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
    St. Johns NWR was established in August 1971, to provide protection 
for threatened and endangered species and to enhance native diversity. 
The refuge contains two units totaling approximately 6,422 acres. The 
southern or Bee Line Unit occurs about a mile west of Port St. John, 
Florida, while the northern or State Road 50 Unit occurs about 5 miles 
to the north, roughly 5 miles west of Titusville, Florida. St. Johns 
NWR is closed to public use, except for those uses permitted through 
the special use permit process. St. Johns NWR contains some of the last 
vestiges of inland salt pan habitat known in Florida--a habitat 
dominated by cordgrass, but disconnected from tidewaters. Saltwater 
upwellings, along with periodic fires and floods, maintain this unique 
habitat, which exists as part of a network of preserves within the 
Upper St. Johns River Basin, including natural areas managed by the 
State of Florida and Brevard County.
    The refuge was home to the last remaining families of the dusky 
seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens), a species that 
despite Federal protection and the best efforts of a consortium of 
partners was declared extinct in 1990. Today, the refuge is home to 
four federally listed species, including the wood stork (Mycteria 
americana), the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi), the crested 
caracara (Caracara cheriway), and the American alligator (Alligator 
mississippiensis). As a result of the refuge's importance to resident 
and migratory birds, seven species of birds have been designated 
species of management concern, including the black rail (Laterallus 
jamaicensis) and the eastern meadowlark (Sturnella

[[Page 60136]]

magna). The refuge is also home to a host of State-listed species and 
offers refugia and prey opportunities for wading birds, including the 
little blue heron (Egretta caerulea), snowy egret (Egretta thula), and 
tri-colored heron (Egretta tricolor).
    We announce our decision and the availability of the final CCP and 
FONSI for St. Johns NWR in accordance with the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA) (40 CFR 1506.6(b)) requirements. We completed a 
thorough analysis of impacts on the human environment, which we 
included in the draft comprehensive conservation plan and environmental 
assessment (Draft CCP/EA).
    The CCP will guide us in managing and administering St. Johns NWR 
for the next 15 years. Alternative C is the foundation for the CCP.
    The compatibility determinations for research, environmental 
education and interpretation, wildlife observation and photography, 
bicycling, commercial photography, and commercial tours and guiding are 
included in the CCP.


The CCP Process

    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 (16 
U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (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, wildlife photography, and 
environmental education and interpretation. We will review and update 
the CCP at least every 15 years in accordance with the Administration 


    We made copies of the Draft CCP/EA available for a 30-day public 
review and comment period via a Federal Register notice on July 7, 2011 
(76 FR 39890). We provided more than 60 copies of the Draft CCP/EA to 
those individuals or organizations that requested a copy. A total of 
ten individuals, organizations, and government agencies provided 
comments on the Draft CCP/EA by U.S. mail or email. Comments were 
received from the St. Johns River Water Management District, Brevard 
County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Florida Fish and 
Wildlife Conservation Commission, Defenders of Wildlife, Space Coast 
Audubon, Modern, Inc., and local citizens.

Selected Alternative

    After considering the comments we received and based on our 
professional judgment, we selected Alternative C for implementation. 
This alternative will focus on enhancing all native wildlife and 
habitat diversity on the refuge. We will determine our role in regional 
and national species conservation plans. Concerning the suite of 
residing, wintering, and summering birds on the refuge, Alternative C 
will represent an expansion of management. Through prescribed burning 
and utilizing ecological indicators, we will promote an ecologically 
based fire return interval to maintain early successional ecological 
stages of all fire-maintained habitats. In addition, the hydrologic 
setting will be restored to as close to pre-drainage conditions as 
possible to benefit refuge wildlife. Under Alternative C, we will 
expand management of wood storks and State-listed wading birds. In 
conjunction with State-listed wading bird nesting surveys, we will 
opportunistically remove fill and dike features from peninsulas in the 
State Road 50 Unit borrow ponds, to provide additional artificial 
islands. On behalf of the northern crested caracara, Alternative C will 
maintain open habitat with a minimum of woody vegetation. We will also 
evaluate the use of mowing, grazing, and/or other forms of vegetation 
control to help maintain open prairie for crested caracara at the Bee 
Line Unit, while minimizing impacts to secretive marsh birds. Through 
discussions with the State, we will stay abreast of Cape Sable seaside 
sparrow reintroduction.
    Under Alternative C, management of hydrology, including 
groundwater, surface water, and water quality, will be expanded. We 
will coordinate with the St. Johns River Water Management District 
(SJRWMD) to develop a better understanding of the hydrology of the 
refuge. To help fill in the information gaps, and by utilizing experts, 
we will develop a hydrologic study to understand the relationships of 
water quality, water quantity, and timing of flows within and across 
the refuge. We will increase control of invasive/feral animals and will 
reduce invasive plants to a maintenance level. We will coordinate with 
local cooperative invasive species management areas to develop an early 
detection and alert network to help control invasive animals. We will 
use permittees and partners for the feral hog control effort, but may 
also use public hunts if, after evaluation, hunting is determined to be 
an effective tool to control feral hog populations. Under Alternative 
C, management of all vegetation communities on the refuge will expand. 
We will focus habitat management on maintaining and supporting a wide 
array of native wildlife using the refuge. Overall, however, in 
Alternative C, the relative percentages and composition of major 
habitat types on the refuge will not change; the aim will be to 
increase the quality rather than quantity of the various habitat types. 
Management of mammals will expand. We will strive to maintain emergent 
marsh and open waters for a diversity of mammals, such as white-tailed 
deer and round-tailed muskrat. We will also conduct a mammal inventory 
during the 15-year life of the CCP.
    With regard to climate change, we will partner with SJRWMD in 
adaptive management efforts to manage habitats, ecosystems, and 
wildlife affected by climate change. We will investigate opportunities 
to participate in regional climate change initiatives to better 
understand the role climate change may have on refuge resources, and 
will adapt management based on discovery of climate change-related 
    Under the preferred alternative, we will work with partners to 
consolidate and secure ownership in the checkerboard area of the Bee 
Line Unit to create functional management areas. We will consider fee-
title acquisitions based on a willing-seller approach, land swaps, 
management agreements, and conservation easements to protect these 
sites. We will work with Brevard County to vacate or abandon rights-of-
way, as well as add right-of-way access to accommodate public use. 
Additionally, the preferred alternative identifies a minor expansion 
proposal of less than 10 percent (625 acres) of the refuge's approved 
acquisition boundary, to connect lands and develop natural-area 
corridors to the State Road 50 Unit. We will increase our law 
enforcement staff and coordinate with governmental partners and 
landowners to increase the number of patrols to deter and prevent 
destructive illegal activities. With regard to cultural, historical, 
and archaeological resources, we will continue to implement Section 106 
of the National Historic Preservation Act to provide protection for 
these resources. In addition, we will complete and begin

[[Page 60137]]

to implement a Cultural Resources Management Plan within the 15-year 
period of the CCP.
    One of the centerpieces of the preferred alternative includes 
expanding visitor services and public use. To expand opportunities for 
interpretation, we will work with partners to evaluate a range of 
access alternatives for the refuge. Working with Brevard County, we 
will seek to develop facilities such as a trailhead and kiosk from the 
county's Fay Lake Park to our Bee Line Unit, and will consider 
developing an interpretive trail and kiosk on the State Road 50 Unit. 
We will explore opportunities, based on potential and varied 
acquisition opportunities from willing sellers, to provide public 
access to the State Road 50 Unit from the county's Fox Lake Park 
Sanctuary through the Fox Lake tract. In conducting outreach, this 
alternative will expand with a wildlife and habitat diversity focus and 
will include messaging that targets ethical behavior. Alternative C 
will expand environmental education efforts. We will work with partners 
to develop curriculum-based environmental education programs related to 
wildlife and climate change. We will also work with local schools to 
conduct on-site environmental education. In addition, we will open the 
refuge to wildlife observation and photography, and will provide 
facilities to enhance the visitor experience (e.g., marked foot trails, 
kiosks at trailheads, and a safe parking area). We will establish foot 
traffic on existing dikes and roads and will evaluate potential 
connectivity to regional trail networks. The refuge and any future 
trails will remain subject to closure for administrative purposes. 
Commercial photography and tours/guides will be available on a case-by-
case basis, permitted through the special use permit process. Access 
for uses determined to be appropriate and compatible will be by 
walking, hiking, and bicycling. Bicycling that does not support 
appropriate and compatible uses, such as mountain biking and off-trail 
biking, will not be considered an appropriate form of access. Staff 
will work with partners to evaluate the potential for a primitive 
weapons' hunt (e.g., bow and muzzle-loader) and for a youth hunt. 
Species to be considered for hunts will include white-tailed deer and 
feral hogs.
    Administration will expand under the preferred alternative. When 
the preferred alternative is fully implemented, it will provide for new 
shared positions with Merritt Island NWR, including a law enforcement 
officer, maintenance worker, and a ranger. A full-time biological 
technician will be hired, for a total of 2.5 new positions. The 
volunteer program will expand as we will utilize volunteers for 
environmental education and interpretation activities and programs, 
trail maintenance, outreach, wildlife surveys, expanded exotic control, 
and cleanups. Facilities and equipment will be added and we will 
consider developing kiosks, trails, and associated parking to provide 
safe and secure access from existing county parks to refuge lands. We 
will also add one or two vehicles and more equipment for exotic plant 
control activities.


    This notice is published under the authority of the National 
Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (16 U.S.C. 668dd et 

    Dated: June 22, 2012.
Mark J. Musaus,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 2012-24272 Filed 10-1-12; 8:45 am]