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Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Table of Contents

1. Introduction and Background

  • History of Refuge Establishment, Acquisition and Management
  • Purpose of and Need for Action
  • Refuge Purpose
  • Refuge Vision Statement
  • Legal and Policy Guidance
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its Mission
  • The National Wildlife Refuge System and its Mission
  • Fulfilling the Promise
  • North American Waterfowl Management Plan
  • Partners In Flight
  • Regional Wetlands Concept Plan
  • Ohio River Valley Ecosystem Strategic Plan

2. Planning Process

  • Planning Issues

3. Refuge and Resource Description

  • Physical Environment
  • Water Quality
  • Topography/Soils
  • Geology/Hydrology
  • Air Quality
  • Biological Environment
  • Terrestrial Habitats
  • Wetland Habitats
  • Aquatic Habitats
  • Fish and Wildlife
  • Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Species
  • Socioeconomic Environment
  • History/Archaeology
  • Land Use
  • Recreational Use

4. Management Direction

  • Refuge Management Direction: Goals and Objectives
Goal 1 (Habitat)
Goal 2 (Biological Monitoring)
Goal 3 (Priority Public Uses)
Goal 4 (Raise Public Awareness)
Goal 5 (Staff and Facilities)
  • Alternatives Considered, but eliminated from detailed study
  • Summary of Management Actions and Strategies (Figure 4)
  • Summary of Potential Impacts (Figure 5)

5. Implementation and Monitoring

  • Background
  • Step-Down Management Plans
  • Proposed Staffing Chart (Figure 6)
  • Compatibility Determinations
  • Plan Performance
  • Partnership Opportunities
  • Monitoring and Evaluation


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Comprehensive Conservation Plan

Planning Process

The key to effective conservation begins with effective community involvement. To ensure that future management of the Refuge is reflective of the issues, concerns and opportunities expressed by the public, a variety of public involvement techniques were used.

• Open Houses and Public Information Meetings were held throughout the four states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia) at 18 different locations during the spring and summer of 1998. Meetings were advertised locally through news releases, paid advertisements, radio broadcasts, and through our mailing list. For each town, the "open house" session was planned where people could informally learn of the project, and have their questions or concerns addressed in a "one-on-one" situation. The evening Public Information Meeting sessions usually included a slideshow presentation of the Refuge, a brief review of the Refuge System and the planning process, and a question and answer session. Participants were encouraged to actively express their opinions and suggestions.

• An "Issues Workbook" was developed to encourage written comments on topics such as wildlife habitats, exotic nuisance species, land protection, and public access to Refuge lands. These workbooks were mailed to a diverse group of over 1,200 people on our mailing list, given to people who attended a public meeting, and distributed to anyone who requested one. Through the workbook, we asked for public input on the issues and possible action options, on the things people valued most about the Ohio River, on their vision for the future of the natural resources, and on the Service's role in helping to conserve, protect and enhance fish and wildlife and their habitats.

• An internet site was developed which included an online Issues Workbook and schedule of upcoming meetings.

The Service mailed out and distributed a Planning Update in October 1998 which summarized responses to the Issues Workbook. The update represented the opinions of those who received, completed and returned the workbook. We also briefed local members of Congress on the input we had received.

The planning team held four workshops to identify and discuss management strategies to deal with issues pertaining to fisheries and fishing, public uses, and land protection. The diverse group of individuals and groups participating in the workshops included adjacent landowners, non-governmental organizations such as sportsmens groups and environmental organizations, state fish and wildlife agencies, state legislators, local businesses, and other interested and affected people.

The Draft CCP/EA was made available for public review and comment, providing the public another opportunity to discuss issues and offer solutions. We reviewed and considered all letters received. The Draft CCP/EA was originally released for 46 days of public review from February 13 to March 31, 2001, then extended an additional two weeks to April 13.

We received numerous responses by way of oral testimony at public hearings or through submission of written or electronic documents. Comments were received from Federal and State agencies, local and national conservation and recreation organizations, and local residents. In the following section, we identify the issues raised and our response to those issues.

We also held four public meetings to solicit additional comments as follows:

  • March 20, 2001 Community College of Beaver County, Monaca, PA
  • March 22, 2001 Maysville Community College, Maysville, KY
  • April 3, 2001 Historic Lafayette Hotel, Marietta, OH
  • April 4, 2001 Parkersburg Municipal Building, Parkersburg, WV

Based on the analysis in the Draft CCP/EA, and our review of public comments, the Service has selected a Preferred Alternative. The Preferred Alternative basically includes all of Alternative B, the Proposed Action in the Draft CCP/EA, with a few modifications that are discussed in Chapter 4 of this document, and in our responses to comments. We also issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). The FONSI establishes that our decision will not significantly effect the quality of the human environment and does not require preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.

The CCP must be formally revised within fifteen years (or earlier, if it is determined that conditions affecting the Refuge have changed significantly). The plan will be monitored to ensure that the strategies and decisions noted within are accomplished. Data collected in association with routine inspections or programmatic evaluations will be used to continually update and adjust management activities.

Planning Issues

A number of issues emerged during the planning process noted above. Some of the issues that are very important to people cannot be solved by the Service with this plan. Nevertheless, we have considered them throughout the planning process, and have developed a plan that may not resolve every problem, but would not worsen the problem either. These issues and concerns, voiced by the public during the scoping process, include:

  • There is a perception by the general public of degraded water quality in the Ohio River, and that it therefore has a continuous and negative effect on the resources and use of the Refuge and other important habitat along the river. Some of the various types of pollution identified by the public included chemical/oil spills, untreated sewage discharge, illegal dumping, industrial discharges, and dredging and its associated release of contaminants into the water column. Non-point sources of pollution, including stormwater and agricultural runoffs, are a major concern.
  • Populations and diversity of fish appears to have declined over the last two decades.
  • Increased motorized boating may contribute to shoreline and island erosion, and serve as a source of contaminant and trash pollution. An increased use of jet skis and water skiing also may disturb wildlife.

The following key issues were addressed in the Draft CCP/EA:

Issue 1 - Erosion of islands and banks, and sedimentation and siltation of shallow water embayment areas (specifically) and the river (in general) adversely affect water quality and the general bottom habitat conditions for mussels and other benthic invertebrates and fish populations. Sand and gravel dredging also physically impact island stability, and could damage all culturally important islands.

Issue 2 - Important fish and wildlife habitat in the Refuge area is not being adequately protected from the impacts of development or misuse. To date, the four states, as well as non-governmental organizations, have not shown ample commitment to acquiring these important habitats. The past, continuing and future loss of habitat (such as the removal of trees and vegetative cover along the river shoreline) also enhances erosion.

Issue 3 - The introduction and spread of invasive plants and aquatic species on Refuge lands and in the Ohio River threaten native riparian vegetation and freshwater mussel species. Among the most recognized of these nuisance exotics are the plants "Japanese knotweed" and " mile-a-minute" as well as the zebra mussel. Invasive species cost our Nation's economy an estimated $123 billion annually and are second only to habitat destruction in threatening extinction of native species.

Issue 4 - Public access to the river (and therefore, the islands) is often difficult or inadequate. Loss of river access is due to a number of factors, including the continued development of waterfront facilities, land acquired for commercial, industrial, or residential purposes, barge repairs, and docking areas. There is also a need to increase Refuge opportunities for people without boats.

Issue 5 - The four state resource agencies contend that the current hunt plan is unnecessarily and overly restrictive with regard to hunting methods and species which may be hunted. Although hunting opportunities are currently offered on Refuge lands and throughout the Ohio River Valley, the agencies would prefer the Refuge adopt all State regulations on current and future Refuge properties.

Issue 6 - Environmental education is limited within the Ohio River area. There are significant educational and research opportunities on and around the islands. The opportunity to educate schoolchildren and the public about these interesting habitats should be a primary thrust of the Refuge planning effort.

Issue 7 - Despite current outreach efforts, public awareness of the Refuge is low. Generally, the public (and particularly the non-boating public) is unfamiliar with: the Refuge's existence, regulations, mission and goals; the recreational opportunities it has to offer; and the important resources that are being protected.

Issue 8 - Existing staffing levels and Refuge facilities are inadequate to meet present and anticipated future needs of the Refuge. To effectively serve the public, additional staff and an office/visitor contact station would likely be required.

Issue 9 - The Refuge currently does not have a trapping program. State resource agencies have expressed that they would prefer and advocate the use of trapping as a public use on Refuge lands.

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