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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

Appendices


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Comprehensive Conservation Plan

Management Direction

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.

Goal 1: Preserve and restore wetland, riverine and riparian habitat in order to maintain a natural abundance and diversity of native species which are endemic to the Ohio River floodplain (with emphasis on trust resources, endangered and threatened species, and other species of concern).

Discussion

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.

  1. Restore an average of 50 acres annually of floodplain forest through plantings of native bottomland hardwoods.
  2. Control or eradicate an average of 30 acres of invasive plant species annually through mechanical, chemical, and biological techniques and evaluate their effectiveness.
  3. Between 2001 and 2010, acquire or protect (through fee title purchase, donation, or easement) 2,537 acres of remaining islands - Fish Creek, Eightmile, Mustapha, Gallipolis, Brush Creek, Neal, Newberry, Halfway, Lower Sister, Manchester Island in-holdings, Blennerhassett, and possibly portions of Eureka and Brown.
  4. Continue mussel quarantine and support captive rearing program.
  5. In coordination with state resource agencies, re-introduce fish and mussel species which have been extirpated from the Refuge.
  6. Install, monitor and maintain 80 prothonotary warbler nest boxes, 60 wood duck nest boxes, and 10 butterfly and bat boxes, and evaluate their effectiveness.
  7. Install an average of 1 linear mile annually of longitudinal dikes and/or vegetative waddles for shoreline stabilization and re-vegetation.
  8. Re-vegetate/restore an average of 2 acres per year of wetland habitat (riverine aquatic bed, riverine emergent and/or palustrine emergent).
  9. Where feasible, manage water levels on Refuge wetlands to mimic natural fluctuations, and promote aquatic and wetland vegetation.
  10. Using a watershed approach, restore the habitat of selected areas with willing partners, including applicable state, local, and federal agencies.
  11. Work with the Corps of Engineers to provide erosion protection and rehabilitation of islands.

Goal 2: Collect sufficient biological data so that informed management decisions may be made for enhancing or controlling priority wildlife or plant populations.

Discussion

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.

  1. Continue baseline surveys of new acquisitions, and monitor populations of native mollusks every five years.
  2. Annually track the status (e.g., distribution and densities) of zebra mussels and their impact on native freshwater mussels at 10 sites.
  3. Survey Refuge properties for the presence of endangered Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) during the summertime.
  4. Implement species surveys and inventories for plants, fish, insects, mammals, invertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians on Refuge properties.
  5. Conduct cover-type mapping for all Refuge properties prior to the year 2003, and incorporate data into a GIS system.
  6. Monitor vegetation response to habitat management.
  7. Conduct baseline breeding bird surveys of migratory land birds of concern to determine species richness, relative abundance, and average population densities, and monitor every 5 years thereafter.
  8. Track annual changes in migratory bird populations and species composition in response to management actions and natural succession by employing breeding bird survey techniques.
  9. Conduct annual mid-winter bald eagle survey (29-mile route in Willow Island Pool).
  10. Monitor osprey nests on the Refuge annually.
  11. Monitor the status of heron rookeries on Refuge properties annually.
  12. Implement annual wood duck banding program (in coordination with applicable state agencies) with a minimum target of 100 birds each year.
  13. Implement a semi-monthly winter waterbird survey.
  14. Document causes and trends of Refuge island erosion.

Goal 3: Promote and support priority compatible fish and wildlife-dependent uses while maintaining the long-term health of the ecosystem and Service trust resources.

Discussion

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:

"Refuge hunting programs should be planned, supervised, conducted, and evaluated to promote positive hunting values and hunter ethics such as fair chase and sportsmanship. In general, hunting on Refuge lands should be superior to that available on other public or private lands and should provide participants with reasonable harvest opportunities, uncrowded conditions, few conflicts between hunters, relatively undisturbed wildlife, and limited interference from or dependence on mechanized aspects of the sport. This may require zoning the hunt unit and limiting the number of participants. Good planning will minimize the controls and regimentation needed to achieve hunting objectives."

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.

General

  1. Open Refuge for public use from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset daily (generally all of Refuge, exclusions as needed).
  2. Distribute annually 9,000 Refuge primary brochures and fact sheets containing information about priority public uses and Refuge lands available for those uses.
  3. Through an Internet web site, provide information about Refuge priority public uses by 2002.
  4. As part of all land acquisitions, distribute news releases to local media highlighting priority public use opportunities available to visitors.
  5. Maintain seven on-site Refuge informational kiosks at locations with high public use and install at least one additional kiosk per year, depending on land acquisitions.
  6. In cooperation with partners, install eight strategically located Refuge informational kiosks at off-Refuge locations such as boat ramps.
  7. Offer and promote at least six special events annually targeting Refuge priority recreation (e.g. International Migratory Bird Day, 4th of July Butterfly Count, nature photography workshop).
  8. Coordinate with local ferry service to provide access to Buckley Island during summer months.
  9. Provide carry down boat access at 2 to 3 locations.

Hunting

  1. Promote hunting on Refuge for deer, migratory game birds, rabbit, and squirrel, with special Refuge regulations in effect. 2. Distribute annually 1,500 Refuge hunt brochures providing information about deer hunting, waterfowl and other migratory birds, rabbit, and squirrel hunting opportunities on the Refuge.
  2. Annually announce through news releases to local media information about hunting opportunities and season openings on Refuge property.
  3. As part of all land acquisitions, provide through news releases information about hunting opportunities specific to each acquisition.
  4. Offer an accessible deer hunting opportunity on Middle Island by 2003, and evaluate mainland properties for other accessible hunting opportunities (e.g. waterfowl).
  5. Develop and promote youth deer and waterfowl hunts by 2003.
  6. By 2003, install a barrier-free hunter access blind on Refuge property.
  7. Provide hunting information through posted notices and news releases identifying Refuge hunting and non-hunting areas to reduce potential user conflicts.
  8. Work with state departments of natural resources to promote hunting programs for women and youth.

Fishing

  1. Develop and distribute 5,000 Refuge fishing guides (with state agency input) by 2003.
  2. Design and construct one accessible fishing pier on the Refuge by 2003.
  3. Participate annually in National Fishing Week activities in cooperation with other state and federal agencies.
  4. In consultation with state resource agencies, anglers and other members of the public, initiate review and update of the existing fishing plan in 2003. This will be accomplished upon completion of the Land Protection Plan (LPP), and with consideration and analysis of the demands and impacts of additional access points, bank fishing at night on refuge lands, opportunities for expanded fishing in acquired embayments and on islands.

Environmental Education

  1. Work with local educators to develop and provide a curriculum of Refuge-based activities targeting students in grades 3-12 by the year 2003.
  2. Provide an annual teachers workshop by 2004.
  3. Provide two outdoor education sites designed to compliment Refuge-based environmental education activities by 2004 (at Middle and Buckley Islands).
  4. Coordinate with local commercial ferry service and educators to provide access to Buckley Island for teacher-led environmental education activities (outside of hunting seasons).

Interpretation

  1. By 2010, provide three on-site interpretive trails at locations targeted to meet the demands of population concentrations near the Refuge (such as Middle Island, Buckley Island, Wheeling Island, etc.)
  2. Implement a self-guided wildlife boat tour at Muskingum Island by 2002, and another in the Willow Island Pool by 2005.
  3. Maintain interpretive auto tour on Middle Island, and implement another in a road-accessible embayment by 2010.

Wildlife Observation and Photography

  1. Install a wildlife observation blind with barrier-free access on Middle Island by 2002 and an additional 1-2 blinds or platforms at other Refuge locations by 2010.
  2. Provide annual wildlife photography workshops.
  3. Offer an annual Friends Group-sponsored wildlife photography contest by 2003.
  4. Provide a portable wildlife viewing blind for Refuge visitor loan through a Refuge Friends group by 2003.

Goal 4: Raise public awareness of the values of the islands, embayments, and wetlands of the Ohio River.

Discussion

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.

  1. Provide presentations to civic, professional, and other groups highlighting the values of and issues concerning the habitats and wildlife resources associated with the Ohio River's floodplain (approximately 20 - 25 per year).
  2. Provide information about the values of the islands, embayments, and wetlands of the Ohio River on the Internet through a Refuge web site by 2002.
  3. Solicit local media coverage of Refuge activities concerning habitat restoration and improvement projects (approximately two television interviews, two radio interviews, five newspaper articles and one magazine article per year).
  4. Participate in off-Refuge special events (approximately five per year such as WV DNR Non-Game Wildlife Day, National Fishing Week) with exhibits highlighting Refuge wildlife resources.
  5. Provide assistance for off-site environmental education when requested (approximately once a year).
  6. Develop a wildlife interpretive sign (similar to one developed in partnership with the Marietta Natural History Society) for placement at a non-Refuge site along the Ohio River by 2005.
  7. Promote Refuge volunteerism through active solicitation of 2-3 student interns per year and outreach to groups and individuals (approximately 300 volunteers/2,000 hours per year).
  8. Develop a mobile Refuge education/outreach unit for use on and off the Refuge.

Goal 5: Support the needs and staff of the Ohio River Islands NWR with sufficient staff, facilities, and equipment to fulfill the station's approved plan.

Discussion

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.

  1. Establish a Refuge "Friends Group" by 2003.
  2. Construct a visitor contact station/education wing with a new Refuge headquarters by the year 2006.
  3. Maintain boats, automobiles, and farm equipment to the highest standards to effectively fulfill the mission of the Refuge.
  4. Secure temporary quarters for volunteers and seasonal staff.
  5. Foster partnerships with state agencies and local law enforcement personnel for monitoring and protecting Refuge properties.
  6. Utilize the following staff to fulfill the mission of the Refuge:
    • Refuge Manager
    • Deputy Refuge Manager
    • Administrative Support Assistant
    • Office Clerk
    • Refuge Biologists (2)
    • Biological Technicians (1)
    • Outdoor Recreation Planners (2)
    • Maintenance Workers (2)
    • Park Rangers with law enforcement capabilities (2)

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

Refuge Goals and Activities Current Management Preferred Alternative
Goal 1 - Habitat

reforestation with native hardwoods

.

20 acres per year

.

50 acres per year

mowing, cutting, burning, and planting none none
exotic plant control 5 acres per year 30 acres per year
mussel quarantine and captive holding X X
wood duck nest boxes

prothonotary warbler boxes

bat and butterfly boxes

60

50

10

60

80

10

erosion protection X X
water level management advocate natural cycles manage refuge wetlands to mimic natural cycles
restore wetlands 1 acre per year 2 acres per year
longitudinal dikes/waddles for shoreline stabilization none 1 mile per year
create snag habitat none X
trapping trapping by permit trapping by permit
acquire and/or protect additional habitat
8 islands (951 acres) 14 islands (2554acres)

   
Goal 2 - Biological Monitoring

surveys and inventories

migratory birds and mussels migratory birds, mussels, Indiana bat, fish, insects, mammals, plants, and cover type mapping
zebra mussel monitoring 6 sites annually 10 sites annually
waterfowl banding none 100 ducks annually
historic species re-introductions none fish and mussels
     
Goal 3 - Priority Public Uses

Refuge public use hours

refuge open from sunrise to sunset daily refuge open 1 hr. before sunrise - 1 hr. after sunset
"carry-down" boat access locations 0 2-3
Refuge recreation information

general brochures

refuge Internet site

on-refuge info. kiosks

off-refuge info. kiosks

.

3000

X

5

0

.

9000

X

7

8

Annual special events 4 6+
Interpretation

trails

1.5 miles - Middle Island (Including accessible portion) 1.5 - 3.0 miles at Middle Is. + trails at two other sites
boat tour routes

auto tour routes

1

1

2

2

Wildlife Observation

wildlife viewing blinds

.

1

.

2

Wildlife Photography nothing annual photography workshop and contest
Hunting

special hunts

hunting allowed for archery deer, migratory game birds, rabbit and squirrel; special refuge regs. apply

none

hunting allowed for archery deer, migratory game birds, rabbit and squirrel; special refuge regs. apply

sponsor accessible hunt

Environmental Education

teacher workshops

develop refuge curriculum & activity guide

outdoor education sites

.

assist with teacher workshops

none

none

.

sponsor teacher workshop

X

2

Fishing

develop fishing guide

accessible fishing pier

.

none

none

.

X

1

     
Goal 4 - Raise Public Awareness Outreach - public presentations
10-15 annually

20-25 annually
Refuge Internet website X X
Off-refuge interpretive signs 1 2
Participate in off-refuge special events 3 5
Mobile outreach unit none X
Annual medial goals 1 t.v., 1 radio, 3 newspaper 2 t.v., 2 radio, 5 newspaper, 1 magazine
Refuge "Friends" group none X
Volunteers 200 individuals, 1-2 interns

1500 hours

300 individuals, 2-3 interns,

2000+ hours

"Naturalist Aboard Sternwheeler" Program none X
Goal 5 - Staff and Facilities

Staffing Level

.

6

.

13

Refuge Headquarters existing GSA rental new facility
Visitor Contact/E.E. wing none X
Quarters for Volunteers and Temporary Staff none X

X

     

Figure 5 Summary of Potential Impacts

  Current Management Preferred Alternative
Primary Issues

(Chapter 2, pages 15 to 17)

   
1 - Does the alternative curb erosion of islands and banks?

Does the alternative decrease the sedimentation and siltation of shallow water embayment areas and the river?

Yes, the alternative will have a neutral to slightly positive effect on erosion. Reforestation, wetland revegetation and working in conjunction with the Corps will help, but not to the extent of the Preferred Alternative.

Not likely. Habitat activities would help retain soil in place, but this would likely have very little effect on the river.

Yes, the alternative will have a slightly positive effect on erosion. Reforestation, wetland revegetation, installation of longitudinal banks, land acquisition and working in conjunction with the Corps will help hold soils in place.

Slightly. Protection of these critical areas would help to decrease sedimentation and siltation by preventing shoreline disturbance and development, and additional habitat measures in watersheds of the embayments themselves is part of the solution.

2 - Does the alternative acquire or protect important fish and wildlife habitat in the area from impacts of development?

Does the alternative stem the continuing and future loss of habitat?

Net benefit by proposing to protect eight more islands.

Overall net benefit by restoring 20 acres annually of native floodplain forest, restoring one acre per year of wetland habitat, and decreasing turbidity and sedimentation.

Yes, by proposing to protect an additional 14 islands.

Yes, by restoring 50 acres annually of floodplain forest, restoring two acres per year of wetland habitat and installing one mile of longitudinal banks per year.

3 - Does the alternative control or eradicate the introduction and spread of invasive plants and aquatic species on Refuge lands and in the Ohio River? Slightly. Control or eradicate about five acres of invasive plants per year and annually track the impact of zebra mussels on native freshwater mussels. Yes. Control or eradicate about 30 acres of invasive plants per year, annually track the impact of zebra mussels on native freshwater mussels at 10 sites, and reintroduce fish and mussel species that have been extirpated from the Refuge.
4 - Does the alternative improve access to the river and islands for the general public?

Does the alternative increase Refuge opportunities for people without boats?

No.

Slightly, by construction of a .2-mile interpretive trail on Middle Island, the maintenance of an interpretive auto tour on Middle Island and offering four special events per year. Refuge hours are sunrise to sunset.

Yes. The Preferred Alternative proposes to coordinate with the local ferry service to provide access to Buckley Island during summer months.

Yes, by maintaining the interpretive auto tour on Middle Island and potentially implementing another in a road-accessible embayment by 2010, and offering about six special events per year. Refuge is open one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.

5 - Does the alternative expand hunting opportunities? No; hunting opportunities stay the same: archery deer, migratory birds, rabbit and squirrel. Special regulations limit dog use to retrieval purposes, limit species taken moreso than state laws, prohibit baiting for deer or organized drives for deer. Land acquisition would increase hunting opportunities. Refuge hours are sunrise to sunset. Yes, mostly because Refuge is open from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. Many of the same conditions as current management, but opportunities would increase as more islands are acquired. Programs available for youth, women, and hunters with disabilities.
6 - Does the alternative improve and advance environmental education in the Ohio River area for schoolchildren and the public? No. Environmental education continues on an as-requested basis. Provide one interpretive trail, one self-guided boat tour, and one self-guided auto tour. Assist with on- and off-refuge teacher workshops but do not initiate a curriculum of activities. Yes. Develop curriculum and activity guide with two outdoor education sites and an annual teachers workshop. Offer teacher-led environmental education activities on Buckley Island. Provide three interpretive trails, two self-guided boat tours, and two self-guided auto tours. Participate in off-refuge teacher workshops.
7 -Does the alternative make the general public more familiar with the Refuge's existence, regulations, mission, goals and the resources that need protection? Yes, but not to the extent of the preferred alternative. Yes.
8 - Does the alternative improve staffing and facilities to adequately meet the present and anticipated future needs of the Refuge? No. Staffing would remain unchanged, and a headquarters/visitor contact station is not proposed. Yes. Staffing would be increased to handle additional duties, and a headquarters and visitor contact station is proposed.
9 - Does the alternative address trapping as a use on Refuge lands? Trapping would be allowed for management purposes per Refuge permits and regulations. Yes. Trapping would be allowed for management purposes per Refuge permits and regulations.




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