|Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge|
Table of Contents
|Comprehensive Conservation Plan
The Service manages fish and wildlife habitats considering the needs of all resources in decision-making. A requirement of the Refuge Improvement Act is to maintain the ecological health, diversity, and integrity of refuges. The refuge is a vital link in the overall function of the ecosystem. To offset the historic and continuing loss of riparian and forested floodplain habitats within the ecosystem, the refuge helps to provide a biological "safety net" for migratory non-game birds and waterfowl, threatened and endangered species, and other species of concern.
The goals of Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge translate the stated Refuge purpose into management direction. To the extent practicable, each goal is supported by measurable and achievable objectives with strategies needed to accomplish them. Objectives are intended to be accomplished within 15 years, although actual implementation may vary as a result of available funding and staff.
One table at the end of this chapter summarizes the management direction (Figure 4), while another summarizes the potential consequences of implementing it as related to the identified issues (Figure 5).
Refuge Management Direction: Goals and Objectives
This plan combines increased management actions that address habitat, fish and wildlife, and public use needs, and proposes staffing levels and facilities which are adequate to do the job. We have aspired to reflect a balanced approach to management, with greater focus on compatible wildlife-dependent uses, ecosystem priorities, and restoration and conservation of biodiversity.
The major habitat problems which plague the islands are erosion and the invasion and establishment of exotic plants (i.e., Japanese knotweed, sachaline, purple loosestrife, multi-flora rose, garlic mustard, honeysuckle, mile-a-minute, and other exotics). Habitat management on the Refuge will emphasize the diversity and abundance of fish and wildlife species that are characteristic of the Ohio River floodplain. Historic wetlands will be restored on Refuge lands and on adjacent or nearby private lands through willing cooperation with other landowners. Bottomland hardwood forests will be restored through native tree plantings and exotic species control. Tree plantings include native floodplain species such as: pin oak, swamp white oak, black walnut, butternut, buckeye, black willow, shumard oak, American chestnut, hickories, black cherry, American plum, persimmon, cottonwood, hackberry, green ash, and sycamore. In addition, spice bush, pawpaw, dogwood, and other native berried shrubs are being planted to increase habitat and structural diversity. There will also be natural openings in the forest. Eroding shorelines will be stabilized using longitudinal dikes of vegetation or hard material (logs, rock, etc.). Coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be necessary for placement of material in river, and the Refuge will submit pertinent applications at the appropriate time.
Bottomland hardwood forest is the principal habitat targeted for restoration because it is the most important and limited habitat type in the area. Prior to colonial settlement and the westward expansion, the Ohio River was a free-flowing, relatively shallow river with numerous islands, gravel bars, channel wetlands, and adjacent overflow sloughs and oxbows surrounded by bottomland hardwood forests. Much of the floodplain has been settled, cleared, drained, farmed and developed, resulting in the outright loss of habitat and the fragmentation of that which remains. Between 1800 and 1970, approximately 1,235,000 acres or 65% of the forested floodplain habitat was lost or converted to other uses (Ohio River Basin Commission, 1978). These losses have reduced habitat for many species of fish and wildlife, including federally and state listed species which depend on intact floodplain forest. Of the 20 species of birds on the West Virginia Partners in Flight Priority list, 16 of them are birds of principally forested habitats (WV Partners in Flight, 2000), which regularly use the floodplain of the Refuge.
The Ohio River Ecosystem Restoration Study Report identifies a number of restoration strategies and opportunities, including the restoration of 25,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forest and 25,000 acres of wetlands (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2000). All of the resource agencies from states adjacent to the Ohio River participated in development of the resource issues, restoration goals and opportunities. The Refuge is contributing toward riverwide environmental restoration objectives by its active reforestation and wetland restoration efforts.
Most of the targeted wetlands for restoration are riverine wetlands. Restoration of riverine wetlands (submerged and emergent) involves stabilization of shorelines (to catch failed soils and disperse boat wake energy), direct planting of some species and "volunteering" of others where seed or rootstock is already present in the system. While we will not limit ourselves to average only two acres per year, many of these riverine wetlands are narrow, linear features which require much effort to gain two acres overall.
Although the refuge has no direct control of water levels in the river, it will advocate to the Corps of Engineers the resource benefits to be gained by water level management which mimics natural hydrological cycles. In addition, the refuge will cooperate with local landowners and other partners to improve habitat conditions in the watershed, which will benefit the habitat quality of the river and embayments.
While the Refuge will continue to gather data on exotic species on refuge lands, staff estimate 600 acres of invasive plants already on the refuge, and expect control of this important problem on existing properties within 20 years. Exotic plants will be managed through chemical means (direct application of herbicides), repetitive mowing and cutting where applicable, and, if available, biological control.
Wildlife management activities will include re-introduction of species which have been extirpated (provided their habitat requirements are met); supporting captive rearing of endangered or imperilled mussels; and control of animals which are creating habitat or public health problems by hunting, trapping and/or deterrence. The re-introduction of extirpated native fish and mussel species will be coordinated with state resource agencies. The Refuge will cooperate with state resource agencies to evaluate which species might be appropriate, whether habitat conditions can be met, if genetics issues need to be examined, and what funding may be required to implement a re-introduction program.
The Service will allow trapping for management purposes, and the Refuge anticipates developing a Furbearer Management plan by 2004. Trapping is well documented as an effective and accepted practice to protect the health and populations of furbearers, and to control certain populations (such as beaver, muskrat, raccoon, etc.) when they become a problem for habitat, other wildlife, or public health (NFRTC 1996). The trapping program will be similar to those of other refuges. Permits for selected areas will be issued to a limited number of participants to meet both habitat objectives and public health and safety concerns. Trappers may be members of the public, clubs, professionals, or even a youth education program.
The Service will erect nesting boxes as an environmental education activity and as a temporary habitat deficiency measure until mature forest habitat occurs. The majority of boxes will be placed at natural densities on those islands lacking mature bottomland hardwoods which are targeted for reforestation.
Land acquisition and protection is a foundation of our National Wildlife Refuge System. Without the appropriate types and amounts of habitat, the numbers of fish and wildlife species would be greatly reduced. Current Service policy is to acquire land only: 1) from willing sellers, as funds become available; and 2) when other means to achieve program goals are not appropriate or effective. The Service's Land Acquisition Priority System (LAPS) will serve as the principal tool for ranking acquisition proposals. The Service's immediate focus will be on the protection and purchase of the remaining islands of interest. We will detail all future land acquisition strategies in a forthcoming Land Protection Plan (LPP) and Environmental Assessment. The LPP will focus on embayment and wetland areas previously identified in the Draft CCP/EA to be considered to add into the Refuge's boundary.
The principal species of management concern will be migratory birds and endangered species (including mussels). Monitoring studies on the Refuge will concentrate on these groups of wildlife. New surveys will be implemented (if funding and staffing permit) for mammals, reptiles, amphibians, plants, fish, insects and other invertebrates. Habitat conditions will be monitored by interpretation of aerial photography, and "on the ground" monitoring of vegetative responses to management activities. Specific details on the scope of monitoring, techniques to be used, data analysis and reporting will be addressed further in the step-down Wildlife Inventory Plan and Habitat Management Plan. The Refuge will coordinate and share data with state resource agencies, and will welcome receipt of similar data.
One of the major intentions of the Refuge System is to provide Refuge visitors with high-quality, safe, and enjoyable recreational experiences oriented toward wildlife, to the extent these activities are compatible with the purposes for which the Refuge was established. Wildlife conservation is the primary focus of the Refuge - opportunities for compatible recreational uses are important benefits that flow from this focus.
Limited accessibility affects all public uses found on the Refuge. Only certain portions of the Refuge are located on the mainland -- Buffalo Creek, Buckley Mainland and Captina Mainland. Middle Island (near St. Mary's, WV) and Wheeling Island (at Wheeling, WV) are connected to the mainland by bridges. The remaining refuge islands are only accessible by boat. Access to Buckley Island may be available through a sternwheeler company located in Marietta, OH. We will also add carry-down boat access points that could allow visitors to transport canoes or small boats into the river near adjacent refuge islands at two or three locations (e.g. Buffalo Creek, Buckley mainland, Muskingum Island backchannel).
All refuge properties will remain open daily to visitors, free of charge, from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. Wildlife-dependent activities such as fishing, hunting, nature study, photography, environmental education, and wildlife observation will be encouraged.
All Refuge lands and waters will be available to sport fishing. The Service recognizes sport fishing as an acceptable, traditional form of wildlife-dependent recreation. Recreational fishing opportunity on Refuges is also consistent with, and an important implementation tool for, the Service's National Recreational Fisheries Policy. Refuge anglers will be required to comply with all applicable State fishing regulations while fishing Refuge waters, including licensing requirements.
Additional opportunities for fishing will be explored. We will review and update the existing fishing plan in consultation with state resource agencies, anglers and other members of the public. Such a plan would be accomplished with consideration and analysis of the demands and impacts of additional access points, bank fishing at night on refuge lands, and opportunities for expanded fishing in acquired embayments and on islands. Also, we must define the conditions that are necessary to keep such fishing activities and programs compatible with refuge purposes and the System.
A special Refuge fishing brochure will provide anglers with more information about fishing opportunities. The Service does not set fishing regulations (e.g., allowable species, number and size limits, and seasons), and does not propose to do so. The Refuge does set Refuge public use conditions (e.g., Refuge open hours, no woodcutting, and no fires). Thus, the Refuge does not, and will not, set "fishing" regulations.
The Service recognizes hunting as an acceptable and legitimate form of wildlife dependent recreation as well as a management tool to effectively control certain wildlife population levels (e.g. deer). The decision to permit and manage hunting on a National Wildlife Refuge is made on a case-by-case basis by the Refuge Manager, and considers biological soundness, economic feasibility, effects on other Refuge programs, safety and public demand. Current demands and opportunities for the public to hunt in the vicinity of the Refuge are evaluated to determine the impacts a Refuge hunt would have on the overall opportunities in the area. Hunting on the Refuge must be coordinated with other public uses to minimize potential conflicts, and care is taken to ensure that adverse impacts to other wildlife, particularly threatened and endangered species, do not occur.
Refuges use Service administrative procedures and guidelines found in the FWS Refuge Manual to manage hunting programs. Section 8RM 5.5 states:
Although the overall demand for expanded hunting opportunities (above what is currently offered) was found to be low at the majority of public meetings and workshops held in preparation for this plan, the Refuge will offer and promote additional hunting opportunities through land acquisitions. Hunting is permitted on most Refuge properties (87% in 2001), with some special regulations in effect for safety and to ensure compatibility. Refuge hunting will include deer; waterfowl; other migratory game birds including coots, rails, gallinules, snipe, woodcock, and dove; rabbit and squirrel. Deer and waterfowl hunting will receive emphasis, as these uses are of equal or greater demand on Refuge lands than other types of hunting.
Deer hunting on the Refuge remains primarily restricted to archery due to safety considerations. The Refuge will coordinate with biological staffs of state resource agencies to discuss logistics of an expanded deer hunting program (i.e., such as primitive weapon use where appropriate, safety issues, hunter density, permit system, sign needs, enforcement).
Migratory bird, rabbit, and squirrel hunting is restricted to shotgun. Non-toxic shot is required for all shotgun hunting on the Refuge. The possession of lead shot in the field by Refuge hunters is prohibited.
Dogs (e.g. retrievers and pointers) may be used during migratory bird hunting but must be kept under control and leashed when not in use. The use of pursuit dogs for any type of hunting is prohibited. All of the studies reviewed by refuge staff showed that dogs can and do chase deer and other wildlife; pursuit dogs can and do range far on a chase (0.2 - 13.4 miles), and most of the deer chased (>70%) left their home range for a day or more at a time (Progulske and Baskett, 1958) (Sweeney et al. 1971) (Corbett et al. 1971). Regardless of domestication, dogs are predators which maintain basic instincts to chase and hunt, and the predictability of their disturbance is diminished when they are off-leash (Sime 1999). The refuge has documented dogs off-leash killing wildlife on the refuge. Dogs off-leash increase the effective range of human disturbance to wildlife. The presence of sensitive habitats, areas of significant wildlife concentrations, and/or competing public uses would all be subject to disturbance by the use of pursuit dogs. In addition, the effect of free-running dogs on adjacent landowners and neighbors is considered in the compatibility determination. Given that refuge habitats are mostly small in size and close in proximity to wetland and aquatic habitats which support federal trust resources in fall and winter, and deer and waterfowl hunting and wildlife observation are concurrent public uses which would be adversely impacted by free-running dogs, the use of pursuit dogs on this Refuge is incompatible.
Considerable interest and demand has been shown for environmental education, and interpretative programs and activities. This plan calls for the Refuge to include a visitor contact station and environmental education wing with the construction of a new headquarters facility. An annual teachers workshop will be sponsored by the Refuge to familiarize educators with a curriculum and activities pertinent to the Refuge.
Strategies will focus on educating the public about responsible stewardship and threats to river resources. The Refuge will regularly sponsor special events such as guided walks and programs and offer additional sites that provide interpretive signing or brochures (trails, boat route, and auto tour).
With partners, the Refuge will also attempt to enhance public appreciation of Ohio River wildlife resources by installing interpretive signs at other off-Refuge locations.
The Refuge will take an active role in providing and maintaining sites and trails from which the public can view, study and photograph nature. Furthermore, the Refuge will expand public opportunities to enjoy and learn more about the wildlife resources of the Ohio River Valley (and the Refuge) through photography workshops, contests and an additional wildlife viewing blind.
The Service will evaluate all Refuge activities according to Refuge objectives. Wood fires, mowing and tree cutting will not be permitted because of damage to wildlife habitat. Permanent structures such as boat docks, stairways, shelters, rope swings, and water slides will not be allowed. All night uses, including camping and boat mooring, will not be permitted.
There is a possibility that the number of boaters may increase, but not to a significant degree above existing levels. The Service assumes additional use of refuge islands would be redistributed from existing boaters towards Refuge activities. Increases in overall boating activity will likely be associated with non-wildlife dependent activities.
Although uses other than wildlife-dependent recreational activities occur on and near the Refuge, no facilities or programs are provided by the Refuge for their use. Bicycling and jogging on the Middle Island road, and picnicking and recreational boating are among those uses that occur; however, at their present locations and intensity they are not deemed incompatible with Refuge purposes or Service guidelines.
Wildlife Observation and Photography
Public awareness and appreciation of the Ohio River's floodplain habitats is a crucial link in building public support for the Refuge and its activities. Limited public access to refuge islands and other properties increase the need for off-refuge outreach to build this support. The Service has identified communities, conservation organizations, and the media among the key audiences for Refuge outreach efforts.
Community outreach through presentations to civic and other groups will occur more frequently, reflecting the need to reach additional communities. The refuge will increase its participation with conservation organizations and state agencies to offer special events and programs that highlight shared resource concerns. Contacts with the media will expand to include additional media markets. A Refuge Web site is in development and will include information about important habitats.
An active volunteer program is designed to directly involve residents of the local communities with Refuge programs and projects, and will expand. More student interns will also be recruited from local colleges.
The Ohio River Islands NWR office is located at the side of a small shopping mall at 3004 7th Street in Parkersburg, West Virginia, with no visibility from the main highway. The Refuge office is a GSA rental unit. It is neatly kept, and decorated with wildlife-related materials. However, the current office location is not in a natural setting near the Refuge itself. Since its inception, the Refuge has lacked visibility, primarily due to its present location. Thus, it is necessary to construct a new 8,000 square foot Refuge headquarters, which we anticipate to be located on the Buckley Mainland property. (The Buckley mainland site is considered to be a viable option as it is one of the very few Refuge owned properties that is not located within the 100-year floodplain.) The headquarters would include office space for Refuge personnel, a maintenance shop, a storage facility for Refuge vehicles, boats and equipment, and a visitor contact station/educational wing. Additional equipment will be purchased to support an expanded habitat restoration program. The Refuge will secure temporary (or permanent housing) quarters for volunteers and temporary staff.
Additional staff will be hired to carry out expanded plans and goals for habitat restoration, environmental education, outdoor recreation and biological surveys. A total of 13 positions would be funded by the Service to carry out the Refuge mission. The annual Refuge budget will increase to support the Refuge staff, expanded Refuge programs, and involvement in the Ohio River Valley Ecosystem.
Boundary sign maintenance will continue to be a major task. Factors including high water, vandalism, and lush Japanese knotweed growth make periodic inspection, replacement and weed clearing a necessity.
Ohio River Islands NWR will continue to provide technical assistance and cooperation within the Ohio River Valley Ecosystem Team to the extent practicable. Volunteers will continue to be required for assistance in fulfilling the Refuge's mission and goals. Habitat restoration is anticipated to receive the most assistance.
The Service can enter into cooperative partnership agreements with private organizations to carry out restoration habitats for numerous purposes, including the recovery of Federally listed species, water quality improvements, and the enhancement of aquatic habitat and aquatic resources. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife funding will allow non-profit organizations to form additional restoration partnerships with other agencies and local landowners. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act also provides grant funding for land acquisition and restoration. The state resource agencies of Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio will be considered partners, and utilized at every opportunity.
Alternatives Considered, but eliminated from detailed study
Through the public scoping process, the interdisciplinary team arrived at four alternatives that were evaluated in the Draft CCP/EA. Other actions and alternatives were discarded during the analysis process.
Custodial Management. This alternative would minimize Refuge management, providing only those activities mandated by policy or regulation, such as exotic or invasive plant control, providing for public health and safety, or protecting threatened or endangered species. Public use opportunities would be drastically reduced, or eliminated on most Refuge lands, commensurate with reduced staffing and budgets. The Service's presence in the communities would be minimal. Under this alternative, resource issues would not be resolved, nor would Refuge goals and objectives be accomplished.
During our public scoping , a few individuals wanted a much reduced Service presence or no presence at all, primarily because it imposed on their non-wildlife dependent activities. While these comments were noted from only a few individuals, we did not otherwise hear recommendations for a custodial approach to management and, as such, we determined it did not need to be evaluated in detail.
Special Management Designation
A wide variety of special land designations currently overlay national wildlife refuges. For most special management areas, responsibility (for authority for designation) is held by or shared by others. The Wilderness Act of 1964 directs the Secretary of the Interior to review, within ten years, every roadless area of 5,000 acres or more and every roadless island regardless of size within the National Wildlife Refuge System and to recommend suitability of each such area. The Act permits certain activities within designated Wilderness Areas that do not alter natural processes. Wilderness values are preserved through a "minimum tool" management approach which requires refuge managers to use the least intrusive methods, equipment and facilities necessary for administering the areas.
Among the other special management areas found on refuges are Research Natural Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Natural Landmarks, and National Trails.
Ohio River Islands Refuge does not have any properties suitable for Wilderness Designation. There are no tracts of at least 5,000 contiguous acres., and some of the islands do have roads (i.e., Middle, Wheeling). However, while most of the islands are roadless, they do not fit the other criteria. The islands have been logged, farmed, built upon, drilled for oil and gas, and are located in a series of pools artificially impounded for commercial navigation in one of the busiest inner-waterways in the United States. The islands do not always offer opportunities for solitude or primitive unconfined recreation due to the fact that commercial barge traffic, recreational boating and waterskiing occur adjacent to the islands. Many of the islands are located within or immediately adjacent to populated cities (i.e. Parkersburg, Marietta, St. Marys, Wheeling and Williamstown, to name a few).
Figure 4 Summary of Management Actions and Strategies
Figure 5 Summary of Potential Impacts
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