Environmental Assessment for the
Comprehensive Management Plan
Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge
San Diego County, California
Chapter 1. PURPOSE OF AND NEED FOR ACTION
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has prepared a Comprehensive Management Plan for the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge). The purpose of the Comprehensive Management Plan is to guide management decisions and to identify strategies to meet the goals and objectives of the Tijuana Slough Refuge and the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Comprehensive Management Plan describes the following: (1) the purpose of the Tijuana Slough Refuge; (2) the fish, wildlife and plant populations, their habitats, and the archaeological and cultural values found on the Refuge; (3) significant problems that may adversely affect wildlife populations and habitats and ways to correct or mitigate those problems; (4) areas suitable for administrative sites or visitor facilities; and (5) opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation. The Comprehensive Management Plan would fulfill the need for the Service to have a long-term management plan to address the numerous and complex challenges in managing the Tijuana Slough Refuge.
This Environmental Assessment evaluates the alternatives and environmental effects of implementing the Comprehensive Management Plan for the Tijuana Slough Refuge. The Service will use this Environmental Assessment to facilitate public involvement in the Refuge planning process and to determine whether the adoption and implementation of the Refuge Comprehensive Management Plan would have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment. This Environmental Assessment will aid the Service's decision-making process in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
1.1 Proposed Action
The Service proposes to adopt and implement the Comprehensive Management Plan for the
Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. The Comprehensive Management Plan would function
as the long-term management plan for the Tijuana Slough Refuge.
1.2 Purpose of and Need for the Proposed Action
The Secretary of the Interior issued a directive titled "National Wildlife Refuge System, Guiding Principles for Management and Use" on December 15, 1995. This Secretarial directive called upon the Service to accelerate Refuge comprehensive management planning. On March 25, 1996, President William Clinton signed Executive Order No. 12996 titled "Management and General Public Use of the National Wildlife Refuge System." Executive Order 12996 stressed the need for public involvement in Refuge planning and management activities. The "National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997" was enacted on October 9, 1997. This new law directs the Secretary of the Interior to prepare a comprehensive conservation plan for each national wildlife refuge. The comprehensive conservation plan must identify and describe (1) the purpose of the refuge; (2) the fish, wildlife, and plant populations; (3) significant problems that may adversely affect wildlife populations and habitats; (4) areas suitable for administrative sites or visitor facilities; and
(5) opportunities for fish-dependent and wildlife-dependent recreation. As a result of the Secretarial directive, Executive Order 12996, and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, the Service initiated Refuge comprehensive management planning throughout the Nation. The completion of the Comprehensive Management Plan would fulfill the statutory requirements for long-term management planning at the Tijuana Slough Refuge pursuant to the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997.
1.3 Project Area
The 1,022.50-acre Tijuana Slough Refuge is located southwest of the City of Imperial
Beach, California (Figure 1). The Refuge includes 406.08 acres of lands under the primary
administration of the Service and 616.42 acres under an overlay Refuge agreement with the
U.S. Navy. The Service also has a lease with the State Lands Commission for State-owned
tidelands in the Tijuana Slough Refuge. The Tijuana Slough Refuge occupies the northern
end of the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.
1.4 Decisions To Be Made
Based on the analysis documented in this Environmental Assessment, the Service's California/Nevada Operations Manager will make the following decisions:
1.5 Issues Identified and Selected for Analysis
The Refuge Comprehensive Management Plan was prepared using a consensus-based planning process that involved numerous agencies and community groups. Major topics identified in the planning process are described and discussed in the Comprehensive Management Plan (January 1999). The following major issues, identified during the development of the Refuge Comprehensive Management Plan and at the December 1997 public workshop, are addressed in this Environmental Assessment:
1.6 Issues Not Selected For Detailed Analysis
The following areas of concern have been noted by the Service. Because the implementation of the Refuge Comprehensive Management Plan would have slight to no impact on these issues, the following topics are not evaluated further in this Environmental Assessment.
Flood control in the Tijuana River Valley is a complex problem. Identifying specific flood control projects for the Tijuana River Valley is beyond the scope of this Comprehensive Management Plan. A Goat Canyon Watershed Management Plan is in the early stages of development and the environmental impacts of this proposal are likewise beyond the scope of this document.
The use of prescribed burning in habitat management and fuel load reduction would be addressed specifically in prescribed burn plans written for each project on the Tijuana Slough Refuge. A Refuge Fire Management Plan is being prepared for the Tijuana Slough Refuge. The analysis of the environmental impacts of prescribed burns within the Tijuana Slough Refuge is beyond the scope of this Environmental Assessment.
Mosquito abatement efforts would continue under any project alternative. The existing Refuge mosquito management plan is scheduled to be updated.
National Environmental Policy Act compliance for the Tijuana Estuary Tidal Restoration Program was completed by the California Coastal Conservancy and the Service in 1993.
Measures to address sewage spills and sewage treatment in the Tijuana River Valley are being implemented by the City of San Diego, International Boundary and Water Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other agencies.
Beyond the 1998 to 2003 planning period, the Comprehensive Management Plan has identified a need for an expansion of the public meeting area at the Visitor Center (either by extending the existing concrete patio or constructing an amphitheater in the southwest area of the Visitor Center), installation of an observation deck on the roof of the Visitor Center, and construction of temporary housing for interns and volunteers.
The following proposals would need separate National Environmental Policy Act compliance documents to identify potential sites and to evaluate environmental impacts.
No new roads are proposed for the Tijuana Slough Refuge under Alternatives A and B. Evaluation of any new roads in the Tijuana Slough Refuge would be subject to a new analysis pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act.
Research activities within the Tijuana Slough Refuge would continue to be regulated through the issuance of a Special Use Permit by the Service or through the issuance of a joint research permit coordinated between the Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
1.7 Other Related Agency Actions
The Comprehensive Management Plan also serves as the update for the 1986 Tijuana River National Estuarine Sanctuary Management Plan (California Coastal Commission, U.S. Department of Commerce, and Tijuana River National Estuarine Sanctuary Management Authority 1986). The Refuge Comprehensive Management Plan and the update of the Tijuana River Estuarine Reserve Management Plan have been integrated into a single document. Thus, the Comprehensive Management Plan serves as a joint management plan for the Tijuana Slough Refuge and the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.
The first public comment period on the Comprehensive Management Plan opened from December 8, 1997 and closed on January 26, 1998. A public meeting to discuss and receive comments on the Comprehensive Management Plan was held on December 9, 1997 in the City of Imperial Beach. Approximately 22 members of the public attended the December 1997 workshop.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prepared a Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Tijuana River National Estuarine Sanctuary (U.S. Department of Commerce and California Coastal Commission 1981). The Tijuana River National Estuarine Sanctuary Management Plan, completed in 1986, was prepared with extensive public participation by agencies, community groups, and citizens (California Coastal Commission, U.S. Department of Commerce, and Tijuana River National Estuarine Sanctuary Management Authority 1986).
A Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement for the Tijuana Estuary Tidal Restoration Program was completed in 1993 (California Coastal Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993). The Restoration Program identifies numerous action items to restore and stabilize the ecological integrity of the Tijuana Estuary.
A Final Environmental Impact Statement for Endangered Species Management and Protection Plan for the Naval Weapons Station-Seal Beach and Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge was completed in 1990 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Navy 1990). The Endangered Species Management Plan included the predator management plan for the Seal Beach Refuge. The Environmental Impact Statement and Endangered Species Management plan for the Seal Beach Refuge were used in developing the Environmental Assessment for the Comprehensive Management Plan for the Tijuana Slough Refuge.
1.8 National Wildlife Refuge System and Authorities
1.8.1 Mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Wildlife Refuge System
The mission of the Service is to conserve, protect, and enhance the Nation's fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service is the primary Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing migratory birds, anadromous fishes, certain marine mammals, and endangered plants and animals and their habitats within the United States. This responsibility to conserve our Nation's wildlife resources is shared with other Federal, State, Tribal, local, and private entities.
As part of this responsibility, the Service manages the National Wildlife Refuge System. The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
1.8.2 Purpose of the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge
The Tijuana Slough Refuge was established on December 24, 1980 under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The purpose of the Tijuana Slough Refuge is to conserve endangered and threatened species in accordance with the Endangered Species Act.
1.8.3 Goals of the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge
The goals of the Tijuana Slough Refuge reflect the core mission of the Service to protect and manage fish and wildlife resources of national importance while providing compatible wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities for the public to appreciate and enjoy the natural heritage of the San Diego region.
1.8.4 Determining Compatible Uses of the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge
Unlike other Federal lands that are managed under a multiple-use mandate (e.g., national forests administered by the U.S. Forest Service and public lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management), units of the National Wildlife Refuge System are managed as primary use areas. That is, they are managed primarily for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and their habitats, and secondarily for other uses. In addition, refuges are closed to other uses unless specifically and formally opened.
Before uses are allowed on national wildlife refuges, Federal law requires that the proposed use be formally determined to be "compatible" with the purpose for which the refuge was established and with the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Refuge Manager also evaluates the availability of adequate resources including financial, personnel, law enforcement, and infrastructure as part of the overall compatibility process.
A refuge purpose may be specified in or derived from Federal law, proclamation, executive order, agreement, public land order, donation document, or administrative memorandum. In addition to providing a basis for making compatibility determinations, a refuge's purpose also serves as a vision or mission statement for refuge management. It provides a broad, long-term statement of management direction and priorities.
A compatible use is a use on a refuge that, in the sound professional judgement of the Refuge Manager, will not materially interfere with or detract from the fulfillment of the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System or the purpose(s) for which the refuge was established. Some compatible uses may be supportive of refuge purposes, while others may be of a nonconflicting nature. All public uses, such as the public use of trails for observing wildlife, must be compatible with the purposes of the national wildlife refuge.
If the proposed use is found compatible, the use may be authorized by the Refuge Manager if management funds are available and other laws and regulations are satisfied. Compatibility determinations ensure that the wildlife resources are protected while providing for uses on the refuges that are consistent with wildlife conservation purposes. A list of compatibility determinations completed and in preparation for the Tijuana Slough Refuge is included in Appendix 1 of the Comprehensive Management Plan (January 1999).
1.8.5 Refuge Operating Needs System (RONS)
The Refuge Operating Needs System (RONS) is a planning, budgeting, and communication tool used by the Service to identify funding and staffing needs for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Using the RONS, each Refuge identifies projects, funding, and staffing requirements to meets its purposes, goals, and objectives. For the Tijuana Slough Refuge, 12 RONS projects have been identified (see Appendix 2 of the Comprehensive Management Plan).