[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 60 (Wednesday, March 28, 2012)]
[Pages 18852-18853]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-7398]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-R-2012-N058; FF06R06000-FXRS1265066CCP0S2-123]

Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, Stevensville, MT; Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments; announcement of 
public meeting


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and 
Environmental Assessment (EA) for Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, 
Stevensville, MT, for public review and comment. This Draft CCP/EA 
describes our proposal for managing the refuge for the next 15 years.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please submit your written comments by 
April 30, 2012 in person or send them to one of the addresses, 
including email and fax, listed below. We will also be holding a public 
meeting, which will be announced in the statewide news media and on the 
refuge Web site.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments or requests for copies or more 
information by any of the following methods. You may request a hard 
copy of the document or view it on the Service's planning Web site, 
    Email: leemetcalf@fws.gov. Include ``Lee Metcalf Draft CCP and EA'' 
in the subject line of the message.
    Fax: Attn: Laura King, 406-644-2661.
    U.S. Mail: Laura King, National Bison Range, 58355 Bison Range 
Road, Moiese, MT 59824.
    In-Person Drop-off, Viewing, or Pickup: Call (406-777-5552) to make 
an appointment (necessary for view/pickup only) during regular business 
hours at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge headquarters located 
at 4567 Wildfowl Lane, Stevensville, MT.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura King, 406-644-2211, extension 
210 or email at leemetcalf@fws.gov.



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Lee Metcalf 
National Wildlife Refuge. We started this process through a notice in 
the Federal Register (74 FR 50235), on September 30, 2009.
    Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge was established February 4, 
1964, and has two purposes:
    (1) ``[F]or use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other 
management purpose, for migratory birds'' (Migratory Bird Conservation 
Act); and
    (2) ``for (a) incidental fish and wildlife oriented recreational 
development, (b) the protection of natural resources, [and] (c) the 
conservation of endangered species or threatened species'' (Refuge 
Recreation Act).
    This refuge is located in Ravalli County, one of the fastest 
growing counties in the State of Montana, 2 miles north of Stevensville 
and 25 miles south of Missoula. Although it is one of the nation's 
smaller refuges, encompassing 2,800 acres, it is one of the few 
remaining undeveloped areas in the Bitterroot Valley. The refuge lies 
along the meandering Bitterroot River and is comprised of wet meadow 
and gallery and riverfront forest habitats and has created and modified 
wetlands. Riverfront forest includes early succession tree species such 
as black cottonwood and sandbar willow that are present near the active 
channel of the Bitterroot River and next to floodplain drainages. 
Gallery forest is dominated by cottonwood and ponderosa pine and is 
present on higher floodplain elevations along natural levees. Over 
140,000 visitors come to this refuge annually to view and photograph 
wildlife, archery deer hunt, walk the refuge trails, or participate in 
interpretive programs in the indoor and outdoor classrooms. The Refuge 
provides habitat for raptors, including ospreys, and numerous songbird 
and waterbird species.


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

Public Outreach

    The Service has involved the public, agencies, partners, and 
legislators throughout the planning process. At the beginning of the 
planning process, the Service initiated public involvement through a 
Federal Register notice and news releases in the statewide media. For 
initial public scoping, the Service held two open-house meetings, on 
September 29 and October 1, 2009, in Stevensville and Missoula, MT, 
respectively. These open houses were announced in local media and 
through the first planning update which was mailed to over 270 
individuals and organizations. We have considered and evaluated all of 
the comments received, with many were incorporated into the various 
alternatives addressed in the draft CCP and the EA.

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 several issues. Our draft CCP addresses the issues that were 
raised. To address these issues, we developed and evaluated the 
following alternatives, summarized below.

[[Page 18853]]

Alternative A, Current Management (No Action)

    Alternative A is the no-action alternative, which represents the 
current management of the refuge. This alternative provides the 
baseline against which to compare the other alternatives. It also 
fulfills the requirement in the National Environmental Policy Act that 
a no-action alternative be addressed in the analysis process.
    Under alternative A, management activity currently conducted by the 
Service would remain the same. The Service would continue to manage and 
monitor refuge habitats at current levels. The Bitterroot River would 
continue to migrate through the refuge, eroding some levees and trails. 
Invasive species would be treated primarily with mechanical and 
chemical methods as resources become available. Water supply and 
management structures would be inadequate to properly manage many of 
the wetland impoundments. Cattail monocultures would be treated. The 
current staff of five would perform limited, issue-driven research and 
monitor only long-term wildlife and vegetation changes. Visitor 
services programs and facilities would be maintained or expanded as 
resources become available. Funding and staff levels would follow 
annual budget allocations provided for refuge operations on Service 

Alternative B (Proposed Action)

    This alternative focuses on the expansion and restoration of native 
plant communities on the refuge, including grasslands, shrublands, and 
gallery and riverfront forests. Some areas that are currently part of 
wetland impoundments would be restored to native communities, including 
forest and shrubland. A significant focus of restoration proposals 
would be controlling invasive species and preventing further spread. 
Grasses and shrubs native to the uplands, including the alluvial fans, 
would begin to be restored to provide habitat for native wildlife, 
including grassland-dependent migratory birds. Some wetland 
impoundments and Service (nonpublic) roads would be removed or reduced 
in size to allow for river migration and to restore native gallery and 
riverfront forest for riparian-dependent wildlife. The remaining 
impoundments would be managed to mimic natural conditions for wetland-
dependent migratory birds.
    The Service would expand and improve the refuge's compatible 
wildlife-dependent public use programs, in particular the wildlife 
observation, environmental education, and interpretation programs. The 
visitor contact area would be expanded into a visitor center, with new 
displays and a combination conference room and environmental education 
classroom. New displays would be professionally planned and produced. 
The refuge would work with Ravalli County staff to designate the county 
road in the refuge as an auto tour route, which would include pulloffs 
and some form of interpretation. A seasonal hiking trail would be 
added, and current trails would be improved for wildlife observation 
and photography. Interpretation and environmental education programs 
would be expanded, using added staff and volunteers. All public use 
programs would provide visitors a consistent message about the purposes 
and values of the refuge and the mission of the Refuge System. The 
refuge staff would be expanded to include an assistant refuge manager, 
two biological science technicians (one full time and one career 
seasonal), and a visitor services specialist who would serve as a 
visitor center manager and volunteer coordinator.
    Increased research and monitoring, staff, funding, infrastructure, 
and partnerships would be required to accomplish the goals, objectives, 
and strategies associated with this alternative. Additional staff and 
funding would be added depending on the regional priorities for those 
funds allocated to the Service for management of lands and waters 
within the Refuge System.

Alternative C

    Alternative C contains many of the elements found in alternative B 
related to expanding visitor service programs and facilities. However, 
habitat management would be focused on maintaining the wetland 
impoundments and attempting to restrict the movements of the Bitterroot 
River throughout the refuge. Habitat efforts would be primarily focused 
on providing waterfowl and other waterbird habitat.

Public Meeting

    A public meeting, to be held at the refuge headquarters in 
Stevensville, MT, will be announced through the local media and the 
refuge's Web site www.fws.gov/leemetcalf.

Next Steps

    After this comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them in the form of a final CCP and NEPA finding.

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: February 29, 2012.
Matt Hogan,
Acting Deputy Regional Director, Mountain-Prairie Region, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-7398 Filed 3-27-12; 8:45 am]