[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 246 (Friday, December 21, 2012)]
[Pages 75644-75646]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-30852]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R1-R-2012-N169; 1265-0000-10137-S3]

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Harney County, OR; Final 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Final Environmental Impact 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of the final comprehensive conservation plan and 
environmental impact statement (CCP/EIS) for the Malheur National 
Wildlife Refuge (Refuge). In the final CCP/EIS, we describe 
alternatives, including our preferred alternative, for managing the 
Refuge for the next 15 years.

DATES: We will sign a record of decision no sooner than 30 days after 
publication of this notice.

ADDRESSES: You may download a copy of the final CCP/EIS, or contact us 
to request a printed or CD-ROM copy of the document, as follows.
    Agency Web Site: Download the final CCP/EIS at www.fws.gov/pacific/planning.
    Email: FW1PlanningComments@fws.gov. Include ``Malheur NWR CCP/EIS'' 
in the subject line of your request for a printed or CD-ROM copy of the 
final CCP/EIS.
    Fax: Attn: Tim Bodeen, Project Leader, (541) 493-2405.
    Mail: Tim Bodeen, Project Leader, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 
36391 Sodhouse Lane, Princeton, OR 97221.
    In-Person Viewing or Pickup: Schedule an appointment with Refuge 
staff to view or obtain a final CCP/EIS during regular business hours 
by calling (541) 493-2612.
    Local Libraries: The final CCP/EIS is available for review at the 
libraries listed under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tim Bodeen, (541) 493-2612.



    With this notice, we announce the availability of the final CCP/EIS 
for the Refuge. We started this process through a notice in the Federal 
Register (74 FR 31046; June 29, 2009). We released the Draft CCP/EIS to 
the public, and requested comments on it in a notice of availability in 
the Federal Register (77 FR 13141, March 5, 2012).
    The Refuge was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 
as the Lake Malheur Bird Reservation, to prevent plume hunters from 
decimating colonial nesting bird populations. The Refuge protected 
unclaimed lands encompassed by Malheur, Mud, and Harney Lakes as a 
preserve and breeding ground for native birds. The Refuge was expanded 
to include the Blitzen Valley in 1935, and the Double-O Unit in 1941. 
The Refuge's establishing purposes include: ``A refuge and breeding 
ground for migratory birds and other wild life'' and ``for use as an 
inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory 
    The Refuge consists of more than 187,000 acres of open water 
(marsh, river, and stream), wetlands, springs, riparian areas, 
irrigated meadows, grain fields, and shrub-steppe uplands. The Refuge's 
abundance of water in an otherwise arid landscape attracts a 
significant portion of the Pacific Flyway's migrating bird population 
during the spring. The large concentration of migrating birds is 
recognized in flyway and regional bird conservation plans, and BirdLife 
International designated the Refuge an Important Bird Area. Populations 
of breeding waterfowl and waterbirds on Malheur Lake and other Refuge 
wetlands have, however, dropped substantially from historic levels. 
This decline is widely attributed to high populations of nonnative 
common carp living in the lake and in adjacent water bodies. The 
bottom-feeding carp impacts bird populations by competing for insect 
and plant food sources, and uprooting vegetation and disturbing silt in 
ponds and lakebeds. The resulting silt plumes degrade aquatic habitat 
and interfere with plant and insect production.
    We announce the availability of the Refuge's final CCP/EIS in 
accordance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 40 CFR 
1506.6(b) requirements. We included a thorough analysis of impacts on 
the human environment in the final CCP/EIS.
    The CCP will guide us in managing and administering the Refuge for 
the next 15 years. Alternative 2, as we described in the final CCP/EIS, 
is our preferred alternative, and the foundation of the CCP.


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 for 
conserving wildlife and

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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.

CCP Alternatives, Including the Preferred Alternative

    We evaluated three alternatives for managing the Refuge for the 
next 15 years in the final CCP/EIS. Based on our analysis, we 
identified Alternative 2 as our preferred alternative; it was modified 
in the final CCP/EIS to address the comments we received on the Draft 
CCP/EIS. Summaries of our alternatives follow.

Alternative 1 (No Action)

    Under Alternative 1, the Refuge would continue current practices. 
Malheur, Harney, and Mud Lakes would remain largely unmanaged, flooding 
and retreating according to annual weather fluctuations, with nonnative 
carp populations continuing to degrade these habitats. Other lake and 
wetland habitats in the Blitzen Valley and Double-O Units would be 
managed using rotational flooding and dewatering, to enhance 
productivity for waterfowl and to control carp. The Blitzen River's six 
dams, fish screens, and ladders would remain in place. Existing river 
conditions would remain. Native fish passage structures, maintenance of 
existing carp barriers, and rehabilitation of riparian vegetation would 
continue. Additional riverine enhancement would consist of small-scale 
in-stream improvements, when resources are available. We would continue 
to focus on information gathering for carp control.
    Current habitat management in meadows, marshes, and uplands would 
continue. We would continue to address the needs of various waterbirds, 
shorebirds, and waterfowl by providing meadow and marsh habitat 
conditions necessary for nesting, pairing, and migration. Flood 
irrigation on meadow habitats with diversions from the Blitzen River 
would continue March 1 through July 25. Plant litter, which becomes 
detrimental to some wildlife species over time, would continue to be 
reduced using prescribed burning, haying (on or after August 10), and 
rakebunch grazing (on or after September 1). Approximately 40 percent 
of Refuge meadows would continue to be hayed or grazed annually. 
Emergent vegetation encroachment into wet meadows would continue, 
because extended flood irrigation creates favorable conditions for 
    Public uses, including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and 
photography, and environmental education and interpretation, would 
continue using the current facilities. No new public use facilities 
would be developed. Areas not on the main roads closed to public access 
would remain closed to provide sanctuary for wildlife.
    Cultural resources, specifically archaeological resources, would 
continue to be considered during Refuge project planning. Historic 
resources would continue to be stabilized and restored as funding 
becomes available. Paleontological resources would continue to be 
protected. Interpretation of archaeological and historic resources 
would remain the same under Alternative 1.

Alternative 2 (Preferred Alternative)

    Under Alternative 2, our preferred alternative, our principal focus 
for habitat management would be to improve the aquatic health of lakes 
and wetlands, primarily by controlling nonnative common carp. As 
turbidity decreases and submergent vegetation and associated 
invertebrate species become more abundant, the productivity of Malheur 
Lake, Boca Lake, Warbler Pond, and other water bodies within the Refuge 
would increase for a variety of waterbirds, waterfowl, and shorebirds.
    Based on site-specific science, a variety of assessment and control 
tools may be used with the aid of partners to reduce carp populations. 
Control strategies would include the application of piscicide, chemo-
attractants, and chemo-repellants; barrier placements; commercial 
harvest; recreational angling; water manipulation; and other control 
methods. The need for continued amendments to and construction of 
strategically placed in-stream structures, such as traps, screens, and 
fish wheels that allow native fish passage and impede carp movement, 
would also be considered. We would initiate necessary assessments and 
actions to develop a riverine strategy as resources become available. 
If aquatic health and carp objectives are met and sustained, more staff 
time would be available for river related issues.
    Wetlands and terrestrial habitats would be managed for the life 
history needs of focal species, with a strong emphasis on flexibility. 
Tools would include, but not be limited to, late summer haying and 
autumn/winter rakebunch grazing to meet the foraging needs of early 
arriving wildlife species. During periods of active plant growth, 
management tools would include highly prescriptive grazing, mowing, 
farming, and extended dewatering, to reclaim acres overrun with 
invasive common cattail and reed canarygrass plants, or to rehabilitate 
plant communities.
    We would upgrade or develop overlooks, elevated viewing platforms, 
and photography blinds. We would maintain and replant cottonwood trees 
and other trees and shrubs at six historic sites, to provide rare and 
incidental passerine habitat and high-quality wildlife viewing 
experiences for birders. Trails would be built or upgraded to provide 
access for visitors with mobility impairments, in compliance with the 
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Docent-led Refuge tours would 
occur approximately monthly at different locations, including guided 
kayak and canoe tours on Malheur Lake.
    We would emphasize modern media for interpretation. The George 
Benson Memorial Museum would be enhanced, and additional outdoor 
interpretive panels would be placed. Special Refuge events and 
presentations would be expanded. Environmental education (EE) would be 
provided, and we would develop an outdoor EE shelter and learning area 
at Refuge Headquarters.
    Increased vehicle access would be provided at three sites year 
round--Boat Landing Road near Refuge Headquarters, Krumbo Lane to 
Krumbo Reservoir, and the southern portion of East Canal Road north to 
the confluence of Bridge Creek. We would provide up to eight outdoor 
welcome and orientation panels to guide visitors. Visitor amenities, 
such as picnic tables, shelters, and vault toilets, would be upgraded 
and provided in new locations. We would develop an expanded visitor 
contact station and gift shop at Refuge Headquarters, and a seasonal 
contact station at the P Ranch Unit, to facilitate contact between 
visitors, Refuge staff, and volunteers.
    The upland game hunt would open approximately three weeks earlier 
than it currently opens. The northern part of Malheur Lake and the 
Buena Vista Unit would remain open under existing regulations. Proposed 
waterfowl hunt areas would more than double the existing hunt area, by 
opening a new access point, a portion of the south-central area of 
Malheur Lake, and the Buena Vista Unit to waterfowl hunting. The 
hunting season in the new areas would begin on the fourth Saturday in 
October, and end on the last day of the State's waterfowl season. The 
existing youth hunt would be promoted, and access improvements would be 
made to Saddle Butte. In partnership with

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potential users, the Refuge would also support adding ADA-compatible 
facilities for waterfowl hunters with mobility impairments in the Buena 
Vista Unit.
    We would pursue a land exchange with BLM, transferring lands within 
the Boundary Unit west of State Highway 205 and other small parcels to 
BLM, in exchange for appropriate BLM lands. The land exchange would not 
affect hunting opportunities.
    Fishing opportunities would continue at Krumbo Reservoir, along the 
upper Blitzen River, at the southern portion of East Canal, and at Mud 
and Bridge Creeks, and vehicle access to fishing sites would expand. In 
addition, the Refuge would develop a new pedestrian crossing at Bridge 
Creek, and provide a new late-summer bank-fishing opportunity on the 
Blitzen River, from Sodhouse Lane to the bridge on Boat Landing Road. 
Orientation and information would be added to fishing areas. Triploid 
rainbow trout stocking would continue at Krumbo Reservoir, and a 
genetic study of redband trout would be conducted.
    Step-down management plans for historic, archaeological, and 
paleontological resources would be developed in cooperation with 
partners. Interpretation of historic sites would be expanded. 
Opportunities for American Indians to collect plant materials for 
traditional uses would be expanded. Monitoring and inventory of 
archaeological resources would increase. Step-down habitat and wildlife 
species inventory and monitoring plans would be developed, emphasizing 
focal species and national monitoring efforts. Plant community 
responses to meadow management strategies would be monitored through a 
third party scientific process. A database would be created to track 
data collected for all monitoring plans. We would continue to emphasize 
partnerships to maximize adaptive management.
    Our volunteer program would continue, with an emphasis on 
increasing recruitment, retention, and return rates. Refuge staff would 
pursue sustainable practices to achieve energy independence and carbon 
negative Refuge management.

Alternative 3

    Under Alternative 3, most of the habitat management practices under 
Alternative 2 would occur. The primary difference is that we would 
place equal emphasis on aquatic health (carp control) and developing a 
comprehensive riverine strategy. A detailed assessment of the 
geomorphology, ecology, hydrology, and management function of the 
Blitzen River would occur for the first 7 years. This site-specific 
scientific information will then form the basis for any needed pilot 
projects and implementation of a comprehensive management strategy.
    Management under Alternative 3 for wildlife viewing, photography, 
and welcome and orientation would be similar to Alternative 2, but 
there would be less emphasis on developed facilities, and more emphasis 
on self-guided and off-trail experiences. To promote this, a variety of 
access changes would occur. The 42-mile Blitzen Valley auto tour route 
(Center Patrol Road) would be closed to vehicle access August 15 to the 
fourth Friday of October in the Buena Vista Unit, and August 15 to 
March 1 in the P Ranch Unit, and would be redesigned into two or three 
shorter, year-round, auto tour routes. Walk-in free-roam access along 
the closed portions of the Center Patrol Road, and on the dike tops in 
the Buena Vista and P Ranch Units, would be allowed during the periods 
listed above to provide opportunities for self-guided and off-trail 
experiences. This would provide 11 weeks of free-roam opportunities in 
the Buena Vista Unit, and 27 weeks in the P Ranch Unit. Vehicle access 
to Krumbo Reservoir would be permitted from the fourth Friday of 
November to April; walk-in access would be allowed at other times of 
the year. The southern portion of East Canal Road to the confluence of 
Bridge Creek at the East Canal would remain open to year-round walk-in 
access. Year-round vehicle access would be allowed on Boat Landing Road 
near Refuge Headquarters, to the Malheur Lake elevated viewing 
platform. Both spur and loop trails a mile or less in length would be 
developed, as would a number of viewing overlooks and platforms. 
Existing trails would be upgraded to ADA standards.
    The historic Audubon photography blind at Refuge Headquarters 
Display Pond would be restored under Alternative 3. In free-roam areas, 
temporary photography blinds would be permitted. The Refuge would 
maintain and replant trees and shrubs at four historic sites to provide 
habitat for and viewing of rare and incidental passerines.
    The upland game and waterfowl hunts would be managed similar to 
Alternative 2, except that a Buena Vista waterfowl hunt would not be 
permitted, and ADA facilities would not be developed. A youth hunt 
would be explored for the Double-O Unit on the State-designated 
    Fishing opportunities and management would be the same as 
Alternative 2, except that vehicle access to fishing areas would be 
less, which could limit the number of people fishing. Volunteer 
programs, EE and interpretation, docent-led tours, the land exchange 
with BLM, cultural and paleontological management, energy independence, 
and inventory and monitoring would be managed the same as under 
Alternative 2.


    We solicited comments on the Draft CCP/EIS from March 5 to May 4, 
2012 (77 FR 13139, March 5, 2012). We received comments from agencies, 
organizations, and individuals. To address the comments, minor changes 
and clarifications were made to the final CCP/EIS, and documented in 
Appendix N.

Public Availability of Documents

    In addition to the information in ADDRESSES, printed copies of the 
document will be available for review at the following libraries: 
Harney County Library at 80 West ``D'' Street, Burns, OR 97720; and 
Bend Public Library, 601 NW., Wall Street, Bend, OR 97701.

    Dated: December 13, 2012.
Hugh Morrison,
Acting Regional Director, Pacific Region, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 2012-30852 Filed 12-20-12; 8:45 am]