|Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge|
Table of Contents
|Responses to Comments
Review of, and the Service's Response to, Public Comments Received on the Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment (CCP/EA) for Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge
We reviewed and considered all letters received during the public comment period for Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment (CCP/EA). 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. 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 described in the discussion below. We will also issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). The FONSI establishes that our decision will not significantly affect the quality of the human environment and does not require preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.
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 discussion, we identify the issues raised and our response to those issues.
We also held four public meetings to solicit additional comments as follows:
The following is a list of agencies and groups who submitted comments:
All comments, and our subsequent responses, are listed below. We have arranged comments into the category or issue it primarily applied to, followed by our response to each comment. We have listed comment categories in the following order: trapping; fishing; hunting; boating; invasive and exotic species; erosion, sedimentation and water quality; environmental education, interpretation, and outreach; wildlife populations and management; land acquisition and protection; habitat management; public access and uses; coordination with states, and planning process; and other.
18. COMMENT. Regulated trapping should be considered a wildlife-dependent recreational activity on the refuge. Requiring a permit is a sound management decision, but WV DNR is concerned that trapping may not be permitted annually (WV DNR). RESPONSE. While trapping may be biologically sound in many cases (and can provide a recreational activity for some), it is not one of the six priority public uses identified in the Refuge Improvement Act. Under the Preferred Alternative, trapping will be conducted for management purposes when a need is determined by the Refuge based on habitat and wildlife monitoring data, and additional data from state resource agencies and health departments.
19. Raccoons are prevalent on islands (e.g., Blennerhassett). Strongly requests trapping permitted each year under state regulations (WV DNR). Blennerhassett Island is very different from Refuge islands. Part of the island is operated as a park, with associated dumpsters, garbage, and public disturbances. Trapping can still be conducted under state regulations on non-Refuge lands, which includes approximately 99% of available lands along the Ohio River. When the need for trapping arises on Refuge islands, trapping will be conducted on a permit basis as a management activity within state regulations. The refuge will coordinate with state resource agencies and health departments in determining the need.
47. Trapping as a population management tool is inhumane, ineffective, and unnecessary (API). Trapping is one method of population management, and can be effective when administered correctly.
48. Strongly oppose Service reliance on trapping as a means of protecting facilities and managing habitat, and request Service to explore alternative non-lethal methods of resolving problems (API). The Service considers trapping to be a viable option for population management if and when a need arises. We will also explore alternative non-lethal methods where appropriate.
72. Trapping is an important tool for reducing predation of various birds, so does not meet the test of logic to eliminate this activity on the refuge (WMI). The Service has not eliminated trapping from the Refuge, and will permit trapping to occur for management purposes if and when the need arises. Determination of compatibility is set forth is Service regulations. Please see response to comment #37 also.
79. Sportsmen concentrate their efforts in areas of plentiful populations, to increase their chances of success. Thus, allowing these [consumptive] activities provide the population controls necessary to preserve habitat, while providing adequate populations for non-consumptive users (OSTA). Management trapping will be permitted based on habitat and population monitoring data.
80. Hunting and fishing should continue on refuge lands unless they are shown to be incompatible, as codified in the Refuge Improvement Act. Also, the definition of hunting includes trapping (WLFA). We agree that hunting and fishing should continue on Refuge lands, in accordance with an approved management plan. The Service, and the Refuge Improvement Act, does not define hunting to include trapping.
87. To wait until damage from furbearers is noticeable is too late. Furbearers utilize their habitat and environment as other species do, and thus play a role in their ecosystem. Trapping will be utilized as a management activity to control overpopulation or to address problems such as disease. This will be done when appropriate, as determined by the Refuge, in consultation with state resource agencies and public health officials.
92. Did the Service take into consideration the impact that the significant number of beavers on the two Pennsylvania islands would have on hardwood plantings? The Service did take into consideration the impact beavers could have on hardwood plantings, and we will continue to monitor the beavers and the success or failure of reforestation efforts. Erosion and exotic species have more impact, and thus pose a greater threat, to hardwood plantings than the natural predation of beavers.
96. As trappers, they question how the Service differentiates between hunting and trapping. Both control overpopulation, but the Service only considers hunting as a sport too. Congress determined with the Refuge Improvement Act that hunting is a priority public use, but trapping is not.
97. Trappers cannot use the refuge, but will be the first ones called when overpopulation occurs. Overpopulation would be one less problem to worry about if trapping was allowed on these lands. The general public is invited to use the refuge for enjoying a variety of compatible public uses. We agree trapping can be effective as one management tool to control overpopulation. The Refuge anticipates developing a Furbearer Management plan, with state natural resource agency input, by 2004.
5. Fish consumption advisory. Refuge should work with state agencies to inform public of risks (EPA). The Refuge has, and will continue to, refer the public to the appropriate state agency for the area they inquire about. Consumption advisories vary from state to state.
23. 24-hour angler access to bank and boat fishing should be available on all refuge property (WV DNR). Fishing is permitted on all refuge property, and current regulations allow fishing (and all priority public uses) one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. We will look at additional opportunities for fishing as embayment areas and wetlands are eventually acquired. Furthermore, we will begin review and update of the existing fishing plan in consultation with state resource agencies, anglers and other members of the public in 2003. The plan update 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 or stipulations that are necessary to keep such fishing activities and programs compatible with Refuge purposes and the System.
25. Because of open nature of river, and the river Fish Management Team establishing consistent regulations, setting of regulations by Service is not warranted and oversteps Service authority. State agencies, not federal agencies, are responsible for fishing regulations (WV DNR). 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 hours, no woodcutting, and no fires). We have revised the plan to clarify that the Refuge does not, and will not, set "fishing" regulations.
39. Eliminating night uses unnecessarily impacts legitimate activities such as night fishing, which has historically been a popular activity on the river (ODOW). Please see response to comment #23.
86. Concerns of losing black bass habitat. The Service believes that the embayments are not lifeless, and that they, like every ecosystem, will change over time. The fact that the river and embayments are altered ecosystems makes them even more complex, and solutions to habitat degradation require a watershed approach. Not all bass numbers have declined along the Ohio River and embayments -- for example, smallmouth and spotted bass populations are increasing in the middle and upper Ohio River (ORSANCO data, 1958-2000). As for issues with dredging, please see response to comment #93.
88. Tournament fishing should not be prohibited on Refuge lands. All activities on refuges are subject to certain criteria that ensures that the use will not materially interfere with or detract from the Refuge System mission or purposes of the refuge. Like other aspects of the fishing program, tournament fishing will be considered in the step-down plan discussed in response to comment #23.
94. Fishing (tournament and recreational) has a great economical impact to local communities. Eliminating or restricting fishing would negatively impact many people and businesses. The Service agrees that fishing has a positive economical impact to local communities. The Service has not proposed eliminating fishing in our plan.
21. Requests refuge remain open during hunting season. Restricting access to one hour before sunrise seems capricious and arbitrary (WV DNR). The Refuge is open during hunting season. Expanding refuge open hours to begin one hour before sunrise accommodates hunters who would like to set up before daylight (deer and waterfowl hunters, primarily). Refuge hours are for everybody -- night hour restrictions apply to all Refuge users, not just hunters, and are established primarily to provide undisturbed night time resting habitat for refuge wildlife.
26. Significant point of contention with curtailment of hounds to hunt, and prohibition of firearms for deer. Service uses poorly interpreted scientific studies (WV DNR). We have not seen any research that clearly demonstrates that use of pursuit hounds is compatible with the purposes of the Refuge and the fundamental wildlife conservation mission of the Refuge System. All of the studies cited 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. 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 the 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.
As for use of firearms to harvest deer, we are aware there are other options available to control deer populations if the need arises (such as hunting with primitive firearms), and we have not precluded any of them to date. Consideration will be given to permitting primitive weapon hunting where appropriate, and we are willing to coordinate with biological staffs of the state resource agencies to discuss logistics of an expanded deer hunting program (i.e., safety issues, hunter density, permit system, geographic limitations, sign needs, enforcement, etc.).
27. Dispute that pursuit dogs would disturb migrating and wintering birds on the refuge with the claim that the Refuge is not in a major flyway, and that many waterfowl avoid the area (WV DNR). The Ohio River Valley has in fact been recognized as important for waterfowl by the West Virginia DNR, identified as one of the state's four waterfowl focus areas for the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Tens of thousands of waterfowl migrate through and/or winter throughout the Ohio River Valley each year, as evidenced by the Winter Waterfowl Surveys of the surrounding states and refuge data. The Ohio River corridor has been greatly modified over the past 50 - 100 years, creating impounded waters and altered land use which favors waterfowl in numbers over historic levels. Besides waterfowl, the Ohio River Valley is an even more important corridor for migrating neotropical land birds, providing feeding and resting habitat along their route (Russ McClain, TNC, personal communication).
28. WV DNR states that hunting will not conflict with other user groups (WV DNR). The Service stands by its assertion that in the specific case of the Ohio River Islands Refuge, it is likely that conflicts between user groups would occur without certain restrictions in place. The small land base of each island would attract and intensify any conflict between users. (For instance, duck hunters could easily be disturbed by hounds. On Middle Island, the huge majority of users are there for wildlife observation, with a number of commenters noting that they enjoy the relative solitude of the island.)
29. There is a need to harvest more deer. Archery hunting is ineffective, and rifles are safer than the Service assumes (WV DNR). To date, the archery hunt on Refuge islands has been sufficient to control deer on the Refuge, as measured by the impacts of deer on Refuge vegetation and reforestation efforts. Additional data will be collected as part of the step-down plans for habitat management and wildlife inventory. The Refuge also complies with state laws by not allowing firearms to be discharged within 500' of any occupied dwelling. As noted in response to comment #26, we will consider expanding deer hunting opportunities and methods in consultation with resource agency staff. Furthermore, we would consider the harvesting of does before bucks to be a potentially viable option.
30. Service policy states that hunting regulations, to the extent practicable, be consistent with State fish and wildlife laws. Recommend revision of Alternative B to permit hunting of resident wildlife on Refuge consistent with State laws (PGC). The Refuge Improvement Act states that to the extent practicable, the Service should seek opportunities to coordinate management of the Refuge with management of fish and wildlife resources generally by the State or States in which the Refuge is located. The Refuge regulations proposed do not expand or diminish the States' authority to control fish and resident wildlife under State laws and regulations.
58. No legitimate reason for not allowing pursuit dogs during hunting seasons has been offered. The reason to protect ground-nesting birds is ludicrous as birds do not nest during hunting season (NTA). Protection of ground nesting birds is not used in the plan as justification for restrictions pertaining to pursuit dogs. See response to question #26.
62. Why is the Service insistent in enforcing more severe hunting restrictions (page 4-10) if hunting would not greatly affect populations? (NTA). The Refuge is working to provide all of the priority public uses. This necessitates time and space restrictions to accommodate various user groups.
66. The Service appears to have developed a preferred alternative that is philosophically opposed to hunting on the refuge. The Service purposely developed an alternative to diminish habitat for species that rely on early stages of succession (WMI). Our proposal for habitat management is focused on benefitting Service trust resources. The Service and the Refuge is not opposed to hunting - in fact, hunting is identified as a priority public use in Service policy as well as the Refuge CCP. Choosing to manage for a particular habitat will by necessity reduce the amount of another habitat type. Biologically sound choices are made based on which habitat makes the best contribution towards conserving federal trust resources - on this Refuge, more federal trust resources benefit from bottomland hardwood forest than old fields. However, there will always be natural openings of early successional habitat interspersed in the floodplain forest, and other non-Refuge lands in the watershed provide greater habitat for species that rely on early successional stages .
69. Deer and Canada goose populations are thriving in the area. WMI foresees need to have substantial control over deer densities (WMI). We agree that management of crop fields and food plots should not be a priority. Also, we agree that deer densities should be controlled.
70. WMI finds no credible evidence that pursuit hounds are injurious to wildlife populations. WMI does not extend argument to year-round training however. Also, WMI would support regulations to avoid disturbances if there are documented significant instances of pursuit dogs disturbing migrating birds (WMI). Please see the response to # 26. It is the sound professional judgement of the Refuge Manager and Refuge staff that use of dogs to chase small game mammals would add to the disturbance of non-target species, and could conflict with deer hunters, waterfowl hunters and other public users on the Refuge and its neighbors. The Service finds no credible evidence to support the contention that allowing use of pursuit dogs is compatible with the wildlife conservation purpose of the Refuge System or this Refuge. Furthermore, there are superior opportunities for sportsmen to hunt with pursuit dogs on non-Refuge lands that provide better and more appropriate habitat and structure for rabbit, squirrel, and raccoon hunting.
71. CCP fails to establish credible reason for deviating from state hunting, fishing and trapping regulations. The actions of Alternative B do not meet the standards of the Refuge Improvement Act concerning working with the states (WMI). Working in partnership with four states does not mean that all parties will always agree on everything. Focusing on the short list of items upon which we may disagree does a great disservice to those habitat, wildlife and public use goals upon which we all do agree. The Service has met and coordinated with the four states to address hunting, fishing and trapping issues on the Refuge. The Service and the states substantially agree on the vast majority of issues and management approaches. Due to the fact that the Refuge System is national in scope and serves a diverse public, our implementation of specific management techniques and public uses may vary from a state or other land manager. The Refuge Improvement Act does not mandate the Service to endorse and mirror all state hunting and fishing regulations - in fact, the Act specifically states that in administering the Refuge System, the Service shall "... complement efforts of States ... to conserve fish and wildlife and their habitats...."
At the present time, West Virginia has 1.3 million acres managed by the State's Wildlife Resources Section for public wildlife-associated recreation, representing eight percent of the state's total land area. Any differences from state regulations that occur on Refuge lands and waters comprise less than 0.02% of any of the states, and would not affect any state from managing, controlling or regulating any resident species.
73. WMI supports promotion of women's hunting programs, and would like to see expanded opportunities for minorities and other under-served publics. Also, youth hunt can be accomplished before 2003 (WMI). We agree that hunting opportunities should be promoted for women, minorities, and other under-served publics. Such programs would be contingent upon sufficient staffing and funding. We stand ready to work with WMI and the states to provide additional opportunities.
111. Will islands be marked during hunting season? Many assume 'refuge' means a place of no hunting. The Refuge will achieve outreach through appropriate news releases, and will post notices on Middle Island, where a majority of public uses occur on the Refuge. The Refuge will not specifically mark all islands to notify that hunting is occurring.
2. Additional hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities may increase number of boaters (USACE). There is a small 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.
3. Address boating safety with education (USACE). We agree that promotion of boating safety is commendable. We will refer people to the appropriate state agency regarding boating safety when asked.
10. EPA supports Refuge plans to minimize fuel emissions from gas powered motors, but recreational use of waters account for greater threat to water quality (EPA). We agree.
11. Increased recreation will increase number of boaters. Address potential impact to wildlife and aquatic life (US EPA). Impacts to wildlife from boaters was addressed in the Environmental Consequences section of the Draft EA. Please see response to comment #2 for additional information on potential boating increases.
43. Boat club members are concerned about potential for losing current public access. They agree that integrity of islands should be maintained for wildlife and the public good, and does not need to be a restricted zone (MBC). Restriction toward illegal night mooring on Refuge islands will continue to be administered. Acquisition of existing private islands will actually increase legal public use. Camping is not allowed or proposed on the Refuge, but additional trail development is part of the Preferred Alternative.
102. Avid boaters would not like to see restriction for boating or access in the Worthington marina area (RM 331). We have removed acquisition of embayments and wetlands from the Final CCP at this time, and will analyze expansion of the acquisition boundary for the Refuge in a subsequent Land Protection Plan (LPP).
INVASIVE AND EXOTIC SPECIES
8. Plan addresses invasive species. Aspects of project that cause or promote spread of invasives should not be authorized (EPA). We concur. Measures are currently in place, and will continue, to help prevent the spread and introduction of invasive species.
9. Service should add Executive Order 13112 on Invasive Species to Appendix. Add Migratory Bird Treaty Act to Appendix (EPA). We concur. The final plan will be revised to include the documents you have noted.
17. WV DNR supports elimination of exotic plant species, but questions the time frame. Suggests a schedule developed that is prioritized by areas with greatest risk (WV DNR). Invasive plant removal is a time-consuming activity, with many logistical constraints. Areas will be prioritized in greater detail in the step-down Habitat Management Plan.
53. Requests an explanation of definition of "native species" (e.g., "are you considering species that existed when deer, elk, bear and buffalo could mostly wade the river, or after settlement and installation of navigational locks and dams?") (NTA). "Native species" is defined in a recent Service draft policy as "With respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem."
108. Agree that Alternative B is the preferred plan. Reforestation with native hardwoods and exotic plant control should be maximized to offset losses. Comment has been noted.
112. Why is silver maple not on tree planting list? And, use one small island with mostly intact riparian community and no major erosion and invasives to be a "control". You are correct in that silver maple establishes itself with little help. No existing island meets the criteria that you mention.
EROSION, SEDIMENTATION, WATER QUALITY
1. Coordination with Corps necessary for placement of material in river. Submit application at appropriate times (USACE). We agree.
6. Refuge needs to stay aware of states and EPA efforts with Total Maximum Daily Loads in regards to water quality (EPA). We will make every effort to coordinate.
7. EPA supports Service efforts to benefit water quality through education (EPA). Comment has been noted.
38. The historic and ongoing degradation that the Service identified is erroneous (ODOW). Habitat and aquatic resources within the Ohio River have declined from historic (i.e., pre-navigation dam) conditions. In the past twenty years, we agree that water quality has markedly improved and fish and mussel populations have rebounded, but not to the diversity and abundance of the pre-dam era.
68. Habitat management activities on the refuge only will contribute to decreased water quality if they are misapplied by Service personnel (WMI). We agree, and will implement all best management practices.
74. WMI recommends working with dredgers to cooperatively develop best management practices (WMI). We agree. The Refuge is actively coordinating with the Corps on maintenance dredging programs, and commercial sand and gravel dredgers, to protect sensitive resource areas.
93. Fisherman is concerned about silting in of backwaters, and the repercussions it would have on fish, and then wildlife. Although dredging is expensive, it may be the direction to go to preserve the lands and habitat. The Service is committed to working in the watershed to reduce sediment loading into embayments and backwaters. Water level management as discussed in the EA could help to consolidate sediments, and other actions in the plan will help reduce siltation too. Dredging is, at best, a short-term measure and not a long-term solution to siltation (same response to #86).
114. There should be on-going efforts to control erosion. There are efforts currently underway designed to help control erosion. These efforts will continue.
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION, INTERPRETATION, AND OUTREACH
91. The ability to educate about modern conservation techniques and habitat management is vitally important. We agree that many areas of environmental education are very important.
103. Alternative B is the best way to preserve and protect embayments and islands from urban sprawl and fragmentation. Environmental education and outreach programs are critical to preserve these special places. We agree that outreach is critical to protect the special natural resources of the Ohio River.
119. Produce a pamphlet for each island to inform people of special zones and rules for each island. A zone permit could allow swimming and rope swings in certain areas. It is cost prohibitive to produce a pamphlet for each island, but we will post appropriate signs as use and need indicate. Rope swings are inappropriate for National Wildlife Refuges, demonstrated as unsafe to people, and is not a wildlife-dependent activity.
WILDLIFE POPULATIONS AND MANAGEMENT
16. Re-introduction of extirpated species should be coordinated with state. Extirpated fish species should be given higher priority in plan (WV DNR). We agree to continue coordination with the states to restore native fish and mussel species to the river. The plan will be updated to reflect the suggestion.
20. Requests furbearers be monitored annually. Plan places little emphasis on data collection coordination with state agency (WV DNR). Furbearer monitoring is covered in the plan (within mammals), and will be an important part of the step-down Furbearer Management Plan. Once management trapping occurs, the Refuge will use trappers' data to help provide basic survey information. Refuge staff will continue to collect data on sightings of mammals, including furbearers. The Refuge staff will continue to share native mussel information with our partners, and look forward to exchanging and coordinating fish and wildlife data with the four state resource agencies.
45. There is a lack of wildlife population data in the Draft CCP, as required by the Refuge Improvement Act (API). Species list are included in the appendix. Additional data collection will be implemented as part of the step-down Wildlife Inventory Plan for the Refuge.
51. Disturbed that in Alternative C, an increase in habitat diversity is looked upon as favorable towards game species. Service should focus on wildlife species of the region, regardless of their anthropomorphic tags (DU). The terms "game" and "non-game" are commonly used and understood by our state partners. The Service will focus on priority wildlife species found in the floodplain Alternative C is more favorable towards maximizing diversity of game species across multiple habitat types. We also stated in the Draft EA that many "...non-game species will likely benefit from the various management and protection practices that are primarily geared toward game and sportfish populations..." within Alternative C. Please see response to comment #89 for additional information regarding "game" and "non-game" species.
LAND ACQUISITION AND PROTECTION
* We have removed acquisition of embayments and wetlands from the Final CCP at this time, and will analyze expansion of the acquisition boundary for the Refuge in a subsequent Land Protection Plan (LPP) and Environmental Assessment. The LPP will undergo a public review and will be reviewed by our Director. The LPP is anticipated to be a detailed refinement of the land acquisition component presented in Alternative B of the December 2000 Draft CCP/EA, and will consider all public and partner comments and recent changes in land status. It will identify the specific parcels proposed for Service acquisition, their priority, and the protection options recommended. The Service still hopes to add strategically located lands and waters to the Refuge System until, in partnership with others, it represents America's diverse ecosystems and sustains the nation's fish, wildlife, and plant resources.
The following comments received that pertain to land acquisition of embayments and wetlands will be considered in development of the forthcoming LPP.
32. ODOW takes exception to printed claim that they do not support refuge acquisition of embayments and other mainland property (ODOW).
35. ODOW would like to see a blend that allows for ecosystem management, providing as much wildlife-dependent recreation as possible. If the Service insists on limiting opportunities, ODOW recommends limiting effort in Ohio to conservation easements only (ODOW).
56. Object to Service acquiring embayments and wetlands. All four states and the local community are overwhelmingly against mainland expansion (NTA).
60. NTA endorses Alternative C, but still objects to mainland acquisitions (NTA).
75. WMI supports acquisition efforts, including embayments. WMI believes opposition of states is due to philosophical positioning (WMI).
82. The plan should be in line with management strategies of the states. Also, WLFA opposes expansion of the refuge if unable to work with states, and hopes available lands can be channeled to the states (WLFA).
83. Concerns with the proposed Pond Run embayment and the location of the nearby airport. Increasing wildlife could cause problems with aircraft.
84. Uhlands Run (RM 332.8) would seem to make a better acquisition site than Pond Run.
85. Concerns with closures or affects to marinas. Requests that locations at RM 330 and 333 are better than those locations at RM 331 and 339.
95. As landowners, they oppose acquisition of property in the area (Lee Creek, WV). What is the Service's acquisition strategy? Will the Service buy from willing sellers at this moment, then seek to acquire more later, or will the Service canvas the area to see if enough landowners would even be willing to sell before targeting for acquisition?
106. In favor of Alternative D, because if federal government does not preserve some national and international wildlife and habitat resources, who will?
109. Prompt acquisition as sites become available is vital, as development will always continue. Also urges easements and cooperative agreements if necessary to revegetate and protect riparian strips.
15. Plant more mast-bearing trees, as opposed to silver maple, sycamore, and cottonwood (WV DNR). In addition to the three tree species mentioned in the comment (which were planted on one island in 1995 to test different reforestation techniques), the Refuge has already planted an additional 24 different native species of trees, including many mast-bearing species appropriate for the floodplain (butternut, black walnut, pin oak, shumard oak, swamp white oak, buckeye, American chestnut, shagbark and pignut hickory, pawpaw, spicebush, silky dogwood, black cherry, American plum, and persimmon). Other floodplain trees are appropriate and desirable even if they are not mast producing but because they produce good wildlife cavities (for owls, wood ducks, flying squirrels, etc.), rough or peeling bark (for bats), or have good horizontal branching for large nesting birds (such as great blue heron, osprey, and bald eagles). The Refuge will strive to restore the full complement of native floodplain trees to benefit a diversity of wildlife species.
63. Most of the refuge is in West Virginia, which is 80 percent covered with hardwoods. Management of 3,200 acres over 400 miles will not help or hurt any listed species (NTA). Although a majority of West Virginia may indeed be covered with upland hardwood forest, the Ohio River Valley has lost at least 65% of the forested floodplain habitat. Many state or federal species of concern depend on the forested floodplain habitat - thus, a principal management focus of the Refuge will be to provide appropriate habitat for these species.
65. The Partners-in-Flight plan for the area highlights species dependent on mature deciduous forest, but also prioritizes conservation for species dependent upon early successional shrub habitats. From a landscape perspective, the islands are too small, linear, and fragmented to meet needs of forest interior species. Few of the islands are configured to produce adequate areas of interior forest. WMI also note that early succesional species (e.g., Bewick's Wren, Golden-winged warbler) have importance and may be helped through habitat management. The Ohio Hills Bird Conservation Area Plan also identifies 6 mature deciduous forest birds which do use the Refuge and would benefit from proposed habitat management goals. The WV Partners in Flight Team has developed locally relevant lists of Priority Species, and management guidelines to help maintain or enhance their habitat. Of the 20 priority WV species, only 4 are early successional species (blue-winged warbler, golden-winged warbler, prairie warbler, and loggerhead shrike). The Bewick's wren is not a priority species in WV because it is nearly extirpated from the state and little can be done to improve its status here (Buckelew and Hall 1994). In addition, the Bewick's wren is mostly a species of dry open country (Hall 1983), not typical of Ohio River floodplain habitats. The golden-winged warbler is uncommon in the Ohio River valley and is absent as a breeder because it is replaced in the western part of the state by blue-winged warbler (Hall 1983), which does nest on the refuge. The Refuge will always have shrub layers and openings in the forest. The Refuge may not be able to help the Bewick's Wren or golden-winged warbler in the Ohio River Valley, but we can help 16 of the 20 bird species of concern in the area.
As to the comment that the refuge islands and mainland corridors are too small to be of value to birds, on the contrary, even small or linear patches of habitat are of immense value to migrating birds as feeding and stopover habitat during their long journeys between summer and winter habitats (J. Marinelli, Audubon 103(5): 96-101 (2001)). A 300' buffer is an acceptable guideline when possible, and hopefully future acquisitions added to the Refuge will be able to include at least such a buffer. Most of the islands are in fact 300' wide. Thus, the Refuge looks to serve as an "anchor" in working with other landowners to help the wildlife of the area. We believe that the Refuge is part of the solution, but not the whole solution. As stated by one program of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (Division of Natural Areas and Preserves) one of the primary emphasis of their program is:
67. Loss of early successional forest habitat is the primary cause of American woodcock population declines, and Region 5 also has a Woodcock Plan, yet the declining species is not mentioned nor prioritized in the CCP (WMI). While Region 5 has published an American Woodcock Management Plan, the Ohio River floodplain is relatively insignificant in contributing to overall woodcock populations. Woodcock were never very abundant in WV before pioneer times, and their best habitat in the state is found in the high elevations of Canaan Valley (Proceedings of the 9th American Woodcock Symposium, 2000). Woodcock do use refuge habitats during migration (primarily under the bottomland trees), but they are not usual nesters, nor year-round species. The Refuge cannot make its best contribution to the Refuge System by providing potential nesting habitat and management for a few woodcock to the detriment of other species that we can benefit.
89. In discussion of habitat management, it appears within the plan that managing to benefit game species is always detrimental to other species. We agree that appropriate habitat management can benefit a multitude of species, both game and non-game. However, since the Refuge is relatively small and finite, certain choices must be made as to what is the most appropriate habitat for species of concern in the area. In the specific case of the Ohio River Islands, a focus towards management for species in an early successional habitat would come at the expense of managing for species dependent on the floodplain forest. The Refuge does not propose to manage "for" or "against" game or non-game species separately, but rather to manage for the full complement of species that would benefit from a particular habitat management goal, i.e., floodplain forest conservation.
90. For diversity of wildlife, you need diversity of habitat. There is a shortage of all types of habitat, not just mature hardwoods. Existing lands and new lands should be evaluated to determine which type of habitat is most suitable, thus providing the greatest benefit to the most species, and provide visitors with year round diversity of watchable wildlife. When evaluating the appropriate management direction for refuges, refuge managers must consider their refuges' contribution to biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health at multiple landscape scales according to new Service policy. We favor management that restores or mimics natural ecosystem processes or functions to achieve refuge purposes. Maintaining or restoring biological integrity is not the same as maximizing biological diversity. Maintaining biological integrity may entail managing for a single species or community at some refuges and combinations of species or communities at other refuges. For example, the Ohio River Islands contain habitats that is important for neotropical migratory birds. Maintaining that habitat (and, therefore, those species), even though it may reduce biological diversity at the refuge scale, helps maintain biological integrity and diversity at the ecosystem and national landscape scales.
We must ensure that our proposed management activities result in establishment of a community that fits within what we reasonably believe to have been the natural ecological setting, unless doing so conflicts with accomplishing refuge purposes.
101. Marietta/ Washington County League of Women Voters is in favor of Alternative B. They also support restoration and maintenance of native riparian and riverine habitat with a focus on wildlife conservation, limited controlled human impact including wake control, and the plan for education and awareness. The proposed action received support from many reviewers. Wildlife conservation remains as the fundamental mission of the entire National Wildlife Refuge System, and as the primary focus of the Refuge.
107. Most sportsmen probably do not understand it is counter-productive to hunt and fish is some places at any time. Many breeding areas, nursery areas, migratory stopping and feeding areas, rare or specialized habitat are places that should be protected at all times. All lands that the Service maintains are subject to compatibility. The Refuge must review all public uses prior to allowing them to occur in any area of the Refuge.
120. People around Paden and Williamson Islands may be willing to plow sections of the islands and plants fields of corn for wildlife. The Refuge appreciates the public support it receives from the community, and will always welcome additional volunteers. However, the Refuge does not consider cornfield to be a primary habitat for key species of the floodplain, and not in agreement with Refuge objectives.
PUBLIC ACCESS AND USES
22. Increasing hours will not result in conflicts - it is not a problem on state wildlife management areas (WV DNR). The Service recognizes the assertion that conflicts of use has not been a problem on state wildlife management areas. The Refuge has already proposed to increase hours to accommodate sportsmen/women and other legitimate users. Our regulations are developed to conserve wildlife and their habitat, and not to "penalize" people. National Wildlife Refuges, as part of a System, attract a diverse public. The System must ensure that facilitation of the priority public uses remains appropriate and compatible with the Refuge System mission and the Refuge purpose - hence, some controls are required.
24. Agree that more trails are likely needed, but wonders why this type of disturbance is not approached with same caution as hunting (WV DNR). The Refuge conducts compatibility determinations on trails the same as for hunting. We recognize that hunting is an appropriate use on Refuge lands - thus, hunting is offered and promoted on the Refuge.
33. Numerous prohibitions and limitations on recreation is disturbing, and reflects Service's resistance to input from constituents (ODOW). The restrictions the Service has in place are to protect visitors and conserve wildlife and habitat. The Service has accepted input from all affected constituents and user groups throughout the planning process, and incorporated many suggestions and comments into the Preferred Alternative. Please see response to comment #22 also.
34. The six priority public uses are contravened by allowing Refuge Manager to determine what uses will be allowed or compatible. It is apparent that public meetings and comments are held to simply comply with requirements of law (ODOW). All six priority public uses are offered as part of the Preferred Alternative. Compatibility is confirmed by the Refuge Improvement Act, and is in place to ensure that wildlife and wildlife conservation comes first on National Wildlife Refuges.
36. Overtone of [internal review draft] plan related to consumptive recreational activities was negative. Service assumed that these activities would impact all other refuge users. Consumptive and non-consumptive uses are not mutually exclusive, especially when pressure is light (ODOW). The Draft CCP/EA was modified from the internal review draft. The Service offers and promotes consumptive recreational opportunities that are compatible with Refuge purposes and the mission of the Refuge System. We seek to accommodate all wildlife-dependent uses as appropriate and compatible.
37. Refuge Manager seems to have dictatorial authority to decide what constitutes compatible uses (ODOW). The Refuge Manager's authority is discussed in length in Parts 25, 26 and 29 of Title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations that describe the process for determining whether or not a use of a National Wildlife Refuge is a compatible use. The Refuge Improvement Act required, among other things, that we designate the refuge official responsible for making compatibility determinations. The refuge manager was designated to be that person because he/she is in the best position to make an informed decision based on the site-specific nature of compatibility. To ensure consistency nationwide, concurrence from their Regional Chief on all compatibility determinations is built within that policy. We follow the same compatibility process throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System When making a compatibility determination, refuge managers consider all information provided during the public review and comment period. In addition, anyone, at any time, may present relevant information on an existing, proposed, or denied use to the Refuge Manager, and this information may cause us to re-evaluate a use for compatibility.
59. The Service proposes building a fishing pier, but deny the public the opportunity to tie a rope to a tree for a swing (NTA). A rope swing is not an appropriate use of a National Wildlife Refuge. Please also see response to comment #119.
61. Alternative D is completely out of bounds. When the refuge was brought into being, it was specifically stated that traditional uses would continue (NTA). The Service is required to evaluate a reasonable range of actions, such as Alternative D, in the environmental assessment. The enabling legislation of the Refuge, in a 1989 EA, stated that all public uses (including traditional uses) would be evaluated to ensure that the use is compatible.
77. Concern that the plan will be a tool to exclude public from having access to islands and embayments (OSTA). We disagree. Future Refuge acquisitions will actually increase legal public use and access. The Refuge is open every day to the public, one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
98. Questions the statement on Page 3-18 concerning decreasing beach use on Paden and Williamson Islands the last 5 years, and feel that in the future beach use will be even higher for many reasons. We will revise the text to state that illegal uses have decreased, and that future use on Paden and Williamson Islands may increase, due to the reasons you cite.
99. Current beach use may be affected by the signage, as they are intimidating and negative. We use approved National Wildlife Refuge boundary signs. The comment will be forwarded to the Regional Sign Coordinator.
110. A new facility is appropriate, and will create a presence. We agree that a new office and visitor contact station is appropriate, and will help create a positive presence in the area.
117. Wildlife is more likely to be disturbed by people carrying photo blinds or bird watchers. Consequently, daytime use inland on islands can disturb nocturnal wildlife as well. The document recognizes that disturbance may occur from any public use. The key is to balance priority public uses with wildlife conservation.
COORDINATION WITH STATES, AND PLANNING PROCESS
12. WV DNR pleased to see some earlier concerns and comments addressed, but disappointed that comments regarding hunting restrictions were not incorporated (WV DNR). We appreciate acknowledgment that the planning team has listened to your concerns, and have adopted many changes to address those concerns (such as expanded use hours, consideration of additional deer hunt methods, refinement of the definition of trapping for management purposes, and re-evaluation of the fishing plan).
31. Ohio DOW claim their previous efforts resulted in no substantive changes, and therefore they have intentionally minimized their comments here. They resubmitted earlier comments (ODOW). Careful reading of the draft plan with earlier versions not available to the public demonstrates the Service's willingness to coordinate, consult with, and consider state agency comments. Many changes have been made.
40. DOW understands need for certain restrictions for safety reasons, or to minimize user conflicts, but it appears Service has made no effort to address state concerns (ODOW). The Service appreciates the state's understanding of the need for certain restrictions for safety reasons and to minimize user conflicts. Please see responses to comments #12 and #31 for additional information regarding Service efforts to address state concerns.
42. Refuge should bring regulations into alignment with states (ODOW). The four states all have differing regulations, but all uses on Refuge lands are still subject to evaluation for compatibility.
52. Plan should be as accommodating to the total community of outdoor sportsmen as possible (i.e., not instituting any restrictions on any outdoor pursuits that are permitted as lawful activities by the various wildlife agencies in whose jurisdiction the refuge resides (DU). The Refuge plan must accommodate more than just sportsmen. The Refuge Improvement Act states that all priority public uses should be facilitated if found to be compatible. Please see response to comment #22 also.
55. Concerns with issues raised within planning process (NTA). Issues discussed in the Draft EA/CCP were brought forth by the general public during the extensive scoping process in developing the plan.
57. The Service has refused to use input from state partners and local individuals (NTA). Trapping for management is included as part of the Preferred Alternative. The Service considers all state agency concerns, but failure to adopt every state's suggestion does not translate to a refusal to listen by the Service. Please see response to comment #71 also.
78. Concern that the opinions of the state agencies appear to have been ignored (OSTA). State opinions and concerns are always considered, but sometimes they are not all adopted into our selected management strategy. Please see response to comment #57 also.
81. Congressional intent [of the Act] consistently encouraged a partnership between refuge managers and state agencies, yet all (three) agencies feel ignored (WLFA). The Service does recognize the importance of state input into all of our plans. Within this planning effort, we have communicated, coordinated, and listened, and have adopted many suggestions. The Service looks forward to working with the state agencies as allies in cooperating with each other to best conserve wildlife. The Northeast Region of the Service has recently instituted regular meetings with state resource agency directors to support this commitment.
104. Strongly in favor of Alternative D, but also highly cynical of the planning process. Your comment is acknowledged.
105. Even if the majority of the responding public vote in favor of another alternative, what difference would that make? The Service has already said it prefers Alternative B, and this is what probably will be finalized. Where is the plan that takes into account an anti-environment administration, budget cuts, a declining economy, increased pressures on all resources, public apathy, public greed, and public ignorance? The Service considers all comments. The eventual decision lies with the Regional Director.
4. Port of Pittsburgh is a busy shipping port (USACE). We will revise the text accordingly in the Final CCP.
13. Vision Statement. Suggest "conservation" replace "preservation" in wording (WV DNR). We will add the word conservation to the vision statement.
14. WV DNR would prefer a combination of Alternatives B and C (WV DNR). The WV DNR's preference for a combination of Alternatives B and C is duly acknowledged.
41. DOW disagrees with inference that Service authority extends beyond protection of trust species (ODOW). Service trust resources include National Wildlife Refuge lands.
44. Supports Alternative D (except for provision that allows trapping (API). The comment is noted.
46. The majority of Americans oppose recreational and commercial killing of wildlife on National Wildlife Refuges (API). Hunting and fishing are considered appropriate and legitimate uses of National Wildlife Refuges.
49. Since the plan lacks vital biological data, API requests Service produce another CCP (API). Additional data will be included in future step-down management plans.
50. Disappointed the plan was not available on the Internet (DU). Although the plan was made available in many places (although not online), future plans will likely be available via the Internet.
54. Object to Goal 5 - appears like agency has an agenda it will promote, which is lobbying and illegal (NTA). The development and intention of Goal 5 in the CCP is primarily to identify the staffing and equipment necessary for implementation of proposed actions and future management of the Refuge.
64. WMI does not support that Alternative B is the best strategy. None of the alternatives is satisfactory. All of the alternatives are constrained artificially to represent extremities in the conservation spectrum, and are based more on philosophical dogma than conservation needs (WMI). The Service evaluated a range of alternatives. The preferred alternative will be the one that best achieves the purposes of the refuge and helps fulfill the Refuge System mission. According to Service policy, the Regional Director's selected alternative could be the no action alternative, the proposed action, or a combination of alternatives presented. Consideration of all public comments is incorporated into the final plan.
76. WMI offers new alternative [a blend of Alternatives B and C] (WMI). The Service appreciates every practical suggestion to help conserve wildlife.
100. Would like to see Buffington Island preserved because of its historical values. Requests that the island be fixed up for future generations, with some recommendations. We are actively seeking assistance for bank stabilization and erosion control for all islands, including Buffington Island. We recognize the historical importance of Buffington Island, and the opportunity to educate the public to the natural and cultural values associated with the Refuge islands.
113. Recommend Alternative A. Also, recommend more law enforcement for trespassers and poachers. The comment is noted. Additional law enforcement is included as part of the Preferred Alternative.
115. Additional data is necessary to determine actual usage of islands. Refuge staff continues to monitor the islands, including weekends. With additional staffing as identified in the Preferred Alternative, we may be able to gather additional data to better assess actual usage.
116. Littering can be a problem by people staying overnight, but Federal and State agencies don't close down other areas due to littering, they try to zone, fine or educate. National Wildlife Refuges have a focus toward wildlife and wildlife conservation. Thus, Refuge lands are not administered the same as other parks and public lands (where the focus is often on providing maximum opportunities for recreation). Littering is not the primary reason for curtailing night time use of the Refuge.
118. Zoning is a good idea. The Service could zone for allowing small campfires with dead driftwood on some islands. Zoning is used in some cases to minimize conflicts among users. Small portable grills are allowed, but campfires are not allowed because of the habitat destruction caused (removal of available driftwood and cutting down of trees when driftwood is gone) and the fact that the refuge is closed at night to all uses.
FINDING OF NO SIGNIFICANT IMPACT
Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment
The Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) is composed of all or part of 21 islands covering over 3,200 acres. The Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Refuge (December 2000) (CCP/EA) evaluated four management alternatives, carefully considering their impacts on the environment, their potential contribution to the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and refuge purposes and goals. A brief summary of the four alternatives follows.
The Draft CCP/EA also included 10 Appendices which provided additional information supporting our analysis.
Based on the analysis provided in the Environmental Assessment and the comments received from the public, I have selected Alternative B (the Service's Proposed Action in the Draft CCP/EA), with the following modifications:
I have selected Alternative B as modified because it helps fulfill the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System; best achieves Refuge purposes, vision and goals; maintains and, where appropriate, restores the ecological integrity of the Refuge; addresses the significant issues identified during the planning process; and is consistent with principles of sound fish and wildlife management.
I find that the implementation of Alternative B, with the modifications noted above, will not have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment in accordance with Section 102 (2) (c) of the National Environmental Policy Act. As such, I have concluded that an Environmental Impact Statement is not required, and this Finding of No Significant Impact is appropriate.
Dr. Mamie A. Parker
Regional Director, Region 5 Date
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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