[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 43 (Monday, March 5, 2012)]
[Pages 13139-13141]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-5297]

[[Page 13139]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R1-R-2011-N210; 1265-0000-10137-S3]

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Harney County, OR; Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Draft 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 a draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and draft 
environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Malheur National Wildlife 
Refuge (NWR or refuge), located in Harney County, Oregon, for public 
review and comment. In the draft CCP and EIS, we describe alternatives, 
including our preferred alternative, for managing the refuge for the 15 
years following approval of the final CCP.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
May 4, 2012.

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: FW1PlanningComments@fws.gov. Include ``Malheur NWR DCCP/EA'' 
in the subject line.
    Fax: Attn: Tim Bodeen, Project Leader, (541) 493-2405.
    U.S. Mail: Tim Bodeen, Project Leader, Malheur National Wildlife 
Refuge, 36391 Sodhouse Lane, Princeton, OR 97221.
    Agency Web Site: Download a copy of the document at http://www.fws.gov/pacific/planning.
    In-Person Viewing or Pickup: Call (541) 493-2612 to make an 
appointment (necessary for viewing or pickup only) during regular 
business hours at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 36391 Sodhouse 
Lane, Princeton, OR 97221.
    For more information on locations for viewing the documents, see 
``Public Availability of Documents'' under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tim Bodeen, Project Leader, Malheur 
National Wildlife Refuge, phone (541) 493-2612.



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Malheur NWR. We 
started this process through a notice in the Federal Register (74 FR 
31046; June 29, 2009).
    Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established on August 18, 
1908, by President Theodore Roosevelt as the Lake Malheur Bird 
Reservation. The refuge was originally set aside to prevent plume 
hunters from decimating colonial nesting bird populations. It 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. Refuge 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 over 187,000 acres of open water (marsh, 
river, and stream), wetlands, springs, riparian areas, irrigated 
meadows and grain fields, and shrub-steppe uplands.
    With its abundance of water in an otherwise arid landscape, the 
refuge attracts a significant portion of the Pacific Flyway's bird 
population during spring migration. The refuge is named under several 
flyway and regional bird conservation plans and is designated as an 
Important Bird Area. Populations of breeding waterfowl and waterbirds 
on Malheur Lake and other refuge wetlands have dropped substantially 
compared to historic levels, a decline that is widely attributed to the 
high populations of non-native common carp now living in the lake and 
adjacent water bodies.
    We announce the availability of the Malheur NWR draft CCP/EIS in 
accordance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (40 CFR 
1506.6(b)) requirements. We prepared an environmental analysis of 
impacts, which we included in the draft CCP/EIS.


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 compatible 
wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities available to the public, 
including opportunities for compatible hunting, fishing, wildlife 
observation and photography, 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 We Are Considering

    We are considering three CCP alternatives for managing the refuge. 
The draft CCP/EIS provides a full description of each alternative, 
summarized below.

Alternative 1 (No Action)

    Under Alternative 1, the refuge would continue current practices. 
Malheur, Harney, and Mud Lakes would continue to remain largely 
unmanaged, allowed to flood and retreat according to annual weather 
fluctuations, and subject to degradation caused by large carp 
populations. 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.
    Together with the six dams that assist in water diversions, 
existing fish screens and ladders on the Blitzen River would remain in 
place. Native fish passage structures, maintenance of existing carp 
barriers, and riparian vegetative rehabilitation efforts would 
continue. Additional riverine enhancement would consist of isolated, 
small-scale, in-stream improvements when resources are available. Much 
of the carp control effort would continue to be focused on information 
gathering under this Alternative.
    Habitat management in meadows, marshes, and uplands would continue 
as currently practiced. Current meadow and marsh habitat objectives 
address the needs of various waterbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl by 
providing conditions necessary for nesting, pairing, and migration. 
Flood irrigation with diversions from the river March 1 through July 25 
would continue to be practiced on meadow habitats. Plant litter, which 
becomes detrimental to some wildlife species needs over time, would 
continue to be reduced through the use of prescribed burning, haying on 
or after August 10, and rakebunch grazing occurring on or after 
September 1. Approximately 40 percent of meadows would continue to be 
hayed or grazed annually. The current trend of

[[Page 13140]]

emergent vegetation encroachment into wet meadows would continue due to 
the favorable conditions that extended flood irrigation creates for 
common and hybrid cattails.
    Public uses, including compatible wildlife observation, 
photography, interpretation, environmental education, hunting, and 
fishing would continue with the current facilities and programs in 
place. No new public use facilities would be developed. Areas currently 
closed to public access, which include nearly all areas not on the main 
roads, would remain closed in order to provide sanctuary.
    Cultural resources, specifically archaeological resources, would 
continue to be considered during project planning for all refuge 
programs. 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.

Alternative 2 (Proposed Action)

    Habitat Management: Under Alternative 2, our preferred alternative, 
the primary focus and top priority would be to improve the aquatic 
health of lakes and wetlands, primarily through aggressive control of 
common carp. As turbidity decreases, the submergent vegetation and 
associated invertebrate species become more abundant, benefitting a 
variety of waterbirds, waterfowl, and shorebirds.
    A variety of assessment and control tools may be used with the aid 
of partners to strive to meet a reduced carp population objective of 
100 pounds per acre in Malheur, Harney, and Mud Lakes.
    Under Alternative 2, the refuge would initiate steps toward a 
comprehensive riverine/wetland rehabilitation plan. As funding becomes 
available, the refuge would complete necessary assessments and pilot 
projects. If, during the life of this CCP, our carp threshold objective 
of 100 pounds per acre is met and maintained, more staff time and 
resources would be directed to river rehabilitation efforts.
    Wetlands and terrestrial habitats would be managed for the life 
history needs of focal species (identified in the plan), with a strong 
emphasis on flexibility. Tools would include, but not be limited to, 
late summer haying and autumn/winter rakebunch grazing in order to meet 
the foraging needs of early-arriving wildlife species. In the warm 
growing season, tools would include highly prescriptive grazing, 
mowing, farming, and extended dewatering to reclaim acres lost to 
invasive plants, such as common cattail and reed canarygrass, or to 
rehabilitate communities that have transitioned beyond desired 
    Public Uses: Viewing overlooks, elevated viewing platforms, and 
photography blinds would be upgraded and developed. The refuge would 
maintain and replant cottonwood trees and other trees and shrubs at six 
historic sites for rare and incidental passerine habitat, an important 
part of the viewing experience for advanced birders. Trails would be 
added; several trails would be upgraded or built to promote 
accessibility. Docent-led tours would occur approximately monthly at 
different locations on the refuge, and would include opportunities for 
guided kayak and canoe tours on Malheur Lake. A stronger emphasis would 
be placed on modern media for interpretation. The George Benson 
Memorial Museum would be enhanced, and additional outdoor interpretive 
panels would be developed and sited. Special events and public 
presentations by staff and volunteers would be expanded. An outdoor 
environmental education shelter and learning area at Refuge 
Headquarters would be built.
    Increased vehicle access would be provided under this Alternative. 
Visitors would be permitted to drive year-round to Krumbo Reservoir. Up 
to eight outdoor welcome and orientation panels would be provided to 
guide visitors. Visitor amenities, such as picnic tables, shelters, and 
vault toilets, would be upgraded and provided in new locations. An 
enlarged visitor contact station and gift shop at Headquarters and a 
seasonal contact station at P Ranch would be built to improve contact 
between visitors and refuge staff and volunteers.
    The upland game hunt would open the fourth Saturday of October, 
approximately 3 weeks earlier than the current program. The northern 
part of Malheur Lake and the Buena Vista hunt unit would remain open 
under existing regulations. New waterfowl hunt areas would be provided 
(approximately doubling or tripling the existing hunt area) by opening 
a portion of the south-central area of Malheur Lake, adding a new boat 
launch at headquarters, and by opening the Buena Vista Unit to 
waterfowl hunting. The season for the new waterfowl hunt units would 
extend from the fourth Saturday of October to the end of the State 
waterfowl season. The existing youth hunt would be promoted, and 
improvements would be made to the Saddle Butte access. In partnership 
with potential users, the refuge would also support adding accessible 
facilities for disabled waterfowl hunters in the Buena Vista hunt unit.
    Existing fishing opportunities at Krumbo Reservoir, along the upper 
Blitzen River, the southern portion of East Canal, and Mud and Bridge 
Creeks would continue, and the expanded vehicle access mentioned above 
would provide greater accessibility to fishing sites. In addition, the 
refuge would create a new pedestrian crossing at Bridge Creek and a new 
late summer bank fishing opportunity on the Blitzen River from Sodhouse 
Lane to the bridge on the Boat Landing Road. Orientation and 
information would be added to fishing areas. At Krumbo Reservoir, 
stocking of triploid rainbow trout would continue, and a genetic 
introgression study on redband trout conducted.
    The Service would pursue a land exchange with BLM to help 
consolidate land management between the agencies for areas within and 
immediately adjacent to the Malheur Refuge. The refuge would continue 
to rely heavily on volunteers, with an emphasis on increasing 
recruitment and retention.
    Cultural and Paleontological Resource Management: These programs 
would be strengthened by the development, in cooperation with partners, 
of step-down management plans for historic, archaeological, and 
paleontological resources. Interpretation of historic sites would be 
expanded. Opportunities for Native Americans to collect plant materials 
for traditional uses would be expanded. Monitoring and inventory of 
archaeological resources would increase.
    Sustainable Practices: The refuge would seek to become energy 
independent and carbon neutral, and would continue to emphasize 
partnerships to maximize adaptive management.
    Inventory and Monitoring: Step-down inventory and monitoring plans 
would be developed, emphasizing focal species and national monitoring 
efforts. A geodatabase would be created to track data collected under 
these plans.

Alternative 3

    Habitat Management: Alternative 3 would enact nearly all of the 
same habitat management practices as Alternative 2. The primary 
difference is that the refuge would place a co-equal emphasis on both 
aquatic health (carp control) and completing a comprehensive riverine/
wetland rehabilitation plan. The intended eventual outcomes of the 
riverine plan and implementation actions would be enhanced habitat for 
native fishes, enhanced water quality within the river,

[[Page 13141]]

greater floodplain connectivity, and improved extent and quality of 
riparian habitat. A detailed assessment of the geomorphology, ecology, 
hydrology, and management function of the Blitzen River would occur for 
the first 7 years. The next 5 years would be used for implementing and 
monitoring pilot projects to gain a better understanding of system 
response to enhancement activities. Using results from the pilot 
projects, a comprehensive plan would be crafted to guide river 
rehabilitation efforts. Because the river effort would proceed slowly 
and would likely not be fully implemented until the end of the 15-year 
timeframe, no discernible difference would exist between Alternatives 2 
and 3 with regard to the management of other wetland and terrestrial 
habitats within the Blitzen Valley and Double-O Units.
    Public Uses: Management under Alternative 3 for compatible 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.
    The Blitzen Valley auto tour route (Center Patrol Road) would be 
seasonally 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 year-round 
shorter auto tour routes. Walk-in free-roam access along the closed 
portions of the Center Patrol Road and dike tops in both units would be 
allowed during the periods listed above to provide opportunities for 
self-guided and off-trail experiences. Vehicle access to Krumbo 
Reservoir would be seasonal; walk-in access would be allowed November 1 
to the fourth Friday of April. Year-round vehicle access would be 
allowed on the Boat Landing Road near Refuge Headquarters to the 
Malheur Lake elevated viewing platform. Spur and loop trails of one 
mile or more and a number of specific viewing facilities such as 
overlooks and platforms would be added with limited investment. 
Existing trails would be upgraded to promote accessibility.
    The historic Audubon photography blind at Refuge Headquarters 
Display Pond would be restored. 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 used 
by rare and incidental passerines.
    The upland game and the waterfowl hunts would be managed as under 
Alternative 2, except a Buena Vista waterfowl hunt would not be 
permitted. However, a youth hunt opportunity on the State-designated 
weekend would be explored for the Double-O unit.
    Fishing opportunities and management would be the same as 
Alternative 2, but less vehicle access to fishing areas compared to 
Alternative 2 may limit the number of people engaging in this use.
    Environmental education, interpretation (including docent-led 
tours), volunteer programs, potential land exchange with BLM, cultural 
and paleontological management, energy independence, and inventory and 
monitoring would be managed the same as under Alternative 2.

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, 80 West ``D'' Street, Burns, OR 
     Bend Public Library, 601 NW Wall Street, Bend, OR 97701.

Next Steps

    After this comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them in the final CCP/EIS. A record of decision will follow the 
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 become publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your identifying information from 
public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

    Dated: Nov 8, 2011.
Robyn Thorson,
Regional Director, Pacific Region, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 2012-5297 Filed 3-2-12; 8:45 am]