[Federal Register: December 20, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 245)]
[Page 78009-78011]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of the Draft Environmental Impact 
Statement and Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Nisqually 
National Wildlife Refuge for Review and Comment, and Notice of Public 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and notice of public meetings.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces that a 
Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan (Draft EIS/CCP) for Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) is 
available for review and comment. This Draft EIS/CCP, prepared pursuant 
to the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, as amended 
and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, describes the 
Service's proposal for management of the Refuge for the next 15 years. 
Proposed changes to the Refuge being considered include the restoration 
of historic estuarine habitat and dike removal; a proposed expansion of 
the approved Refuge boundary; changes to the trail system; opening the 
Refuge to waterfowl hunting; and establishing a speed limit of 5 miles 
per hour in Refuge waters for all water craft. Also available for 
review with the Draft EIS/CCP, are draft compatibility determinations 
for waterfowl hunting; recreational fishing; boating; environmental 
education; wildlife observation, photography and interpretation; 
research; and haying.

DATES: Written comments must be received at the address below by 
February 18, 2003. Public meetings will be held on:
    1. Wednesday, January 15, 2003, 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Olympia, WA.
    2. Thursday, January 16, 2003, 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Tacoma, WA.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the Draft EIS/CCP should be addressed to: Jean 
Takekawa, Refuge Manager, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 
100 Brown Farm Road, Olympia, Washington 98516. Comments may also be 
submitted at the public meetings or via electronic mail to 
FW1PlanningComments@fws.gov. Please type ``Nisqually NWR'' in the 
subject line. The public meeting locations are:
    1. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, 100 Brown Farm Road, 
Olympia, WA.
    2. Tacoma Public Library, 1102 Tacoma Avenue S., Tacoma, WA.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Refuge Manager, Nisqually National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex, 100 Brown Farm Road, Olympia, Washington 
98516, (360) 753-9467, or Michael Marxen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Pacific Northwest Planning Team, 16507 Roy Rogers Road, 
Sherwood, Oregon 97140, (503) 590-6596.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Copies of the Draft EIS/CCP may be obtained 
by writing to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: Michael Marxen, 
Pacific Northwest Planning Team, 16507 Roy Rogers Road, Sherwood, 
Oregon, 97140. Copies of the Draft EIS/CCP may be viewed at this 
address or at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 100 Brown 
Farm Road, Olympia, Washington 98516. The Draft EIS/CCP will also be 
available for viewing and downloading online at http://pacific.fws.gov/planning.
 Printed documents will also be available for review at the 
following libraries: Timberland Community Library in Olympia; Tacoma 
Public Library; University of Washington--Suzallo Library; William J. 
Reed Library in Shelton, WA; and the Evergreen State College Library.


    Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located in western Washington 
at the southern end of Puget Sound in Thurston and Pierce counties. The 
Refuge is one of nearly 540 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge 
System managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wildlife 
conservation is the priority of National Wildlife Refuge System lands. 
Nisqually Refuge contributes substantially to the conservation of fish, 
wildlife, and native habitats of the Puget Sound region. The Refuge 
protects one of the few relatively undeveloped large estuaries 
remaining in Puget Sound. It provides crucial habitat for migratory 
birds of the Pacific Flyway, including many waterfowl, shorebirds, 
waterbirds, and seabirds. The Refuge also contains regionally important 
migration and rearing habitat for salmon, particularly the threatened 
fall chinook salmon. Each year, more than 100,000 visitors come to view 
wildlife and enjoy and learn about Refuge habitats and the wildlife 
they support.

Proposed Action

    The Proposed Action is to adopt and implement a Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Nisqually Refuge that best achieves the 
Refuge's purpose, vision, and goals; contributes to the National 
Wildlife Refuge System mission; addresses the

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significant issues and relevant mandates; and is consistent with 
principles of sound fish and wildlife management. The Service analyzed 
four alternatives for future management of the Refuge; of these, it is 
proposed that Alternative D would best achieve all of these elements, 
and it has, therefore, been identified as the Preferred Alternative.

Purpose and Need for Action

    A CCP is needed to guide the long term management of the highest 
priority natural resource needs at Nisqually Refuge. The Refuge is 
currently managed under an outdated 1978 Conceptual Management Plan. 
The purpose of the CCP is to provide management guidance for the Refuge 
including guidance for land protection, habitat restoration, fish and 
wildlife conservation, and visitor services to more effectively achieve 
Refuge goals and purposes. Implementing the CCP will provide the Refuge 
with an opportunity to enhance its critical role in the conservation 
and management of the fish and wildlife resources of Nisqually River 
delta and lower watershed and continue developing high quality 
environmental education and wildlife interpretation for Refuge 
    Eighty percent of estuarine habitat has been lost in Puget Sound in 
the last 150 years, contributing to the decline of many fish and 
wildlife species that depend on estuaries, including several salmon 
species. The Refuge's diked freshwater wetlands were historically 
estuarine and habitat quality has declined. The south Puget Sound 
region is undergoing dramatic changes in population and landscape, as 
it becomes more urban. As Refuge visitor use has increased, so have 
conflicts among visitors and concerns over meeting the needs of fish 
and wildlife. In response to these changes and management issues the 
CCP needs to consider increased land protection, restoration of the 
historic estuarine system, improved wildlife protection, enhanced 
environmental education and compatibility of wildlife-dependent 
recreation activities.


    This Draft EIS/CCP identifies and evaluates four alternatives for 
managing Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge for the next 15 years. Each 
alternative describes a combination of habitat and public use 
management prescriptions designed to achieve the Refuge purposes, 
goals, and vision. The four alternatives are briefly described below, 
followed by additional features common to some or all of the 
    Alternative A, the ``No Action'' alternative assumes no change from 
past management programs and is considered the baseline from which to 
compare the other alternatives. As funding becomes available, the 
Refuge would continue to seek acquisition of interests in the remaining 
1,011 acres within the current approved Refuge boundary (3,936 acres) 
as lands become available from willing sellers, but no expansion beyond 
the current approved Refuge boundary would occur. There would be no 
major changes in habitat management or public use programs. The 
environmental education program would continue to serve approximately 
5,000 students per year. A new education facility would be required to 
ensure a safe, high quality experience under all alternatives. No new 
internal dikes or impoundments would be created, but external dikes 
(28,000 linear feet) would need extensive repairs and continued 
    Alternative B would provide for moderate expansion of the approved 
Refuge boundary (a 2,407-acre addition for a total of 6,343 acres). It 
places new management emphasis on the restoration of estuarine habitat 
and improved freshwater wetland management. Approximately 318 acres 
(30%) of the diked interior would be restored to muted estuarine 
habitat by creating bridged breaches and retaining dikes. Approximately 
140 acres (15%) of diked habitat would be restored to fully functional 
estuarine habitat in the northern half of the Shannon Slough system 
along McAllister Creek, requiring only limited dike removal. All 
remaining exterior dikes would require extensive repairs to prevent 
seepage and failure. Management of 542 acres of freshwater and 
grassland habitats would be improved in the remaining diked area by 
converting some grasslands to seasonal freshwater wetlands and ponds, 
and constructing five internal management units with new interior 
dikes, creating a higher proportion of freshwater habitat. The current 
environmental education program would be improved and expanded to the 
largest degree of all action alternatives, serving 20,000 students per 
year. There would be fewer changes to the public wildlife observation 
trail system than in other action alternatives, and Refuge lands would 
remain closed to waterfowl hunting, with the closure posted and 
enforced to eliminate unauthorized hunting on the Refuge. Hunting would 
still occur on Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) lands; 
therefore, a portion of the wildlife observation trail would continue 
to be closed during hunting season to avoid conflicts with hunters.
    Alternative C would provide for the same expansion of the Refuge 
boundary as in Alternative B (a 2,407-acre addition). However, it 
places a stronger emphasis on the restoration of estuarine habitat, 
while improving freshwater wetland and riparian habitats. This 
alternative would restore approximately 515 acres (50%) of the diked 
interior to estuarine habitat. This alternative would retain the 
Shannon Slough system along McAllister Creek as diked freshwater 
habitat. Exterior dikes would be removed in the northern half of the 
1,000-acre diked area, and all remaining exterior dikes would require 
extensive repairs to prevent seepage and failure. Riparian habitat 
would be enhanced along the Nisqually River by restoring forested, 
surge plain habitat on 38 acres north of the Twin Barns. Management of 
the remaining 447 acres of freshwater and grassland habitats would be 
improved, with a higher proportion of freshwater habitat created by 
converting some grasslands to seasonal freshwater wetlands and ponds as 
well as constructing five internal management units with new interior 
dikes. The environmental education program would be improved and 
expanded to serve 15,000 students, fewer than in Alternative B, to 
provide sufficient staff time to operate a waterfowl hunt program. 
Moderate changes would occur in the trail system, reducing the 5.5-mile 
loop to 3.75 miles; a new trail would be developed on Tribal and Refuge 
properties east of the Nisqually River. Approximately 713 acres of 
Refuge land would be opened to waterfowl hunting limited to 3 days per 
week and consolidated in a block with WDFW lands (totaling 1,170 
acres). This would require an agreement with WDFW to limit hunting on 
their lands in McAllister Creek. New fishing opportunities would be 
provided including bank fishing on the east side of the Nisqually 
River, improved bank fishing at Trotter's Woods south of I-5, and 
disabled access fishing at Luhr Beach, if acquired.
    Alternative D would provide a larger approved Refuge boundary 
expansion (a 3,479-acre addition for a total of 7,415 acres). It also 
increases estuarine restoration while improving freshwater wetland and 
riparian habitats on the Refuge. Under Alternative D, 699 acres (70%) 
of the diked area would be converted to estuarine habitat, resulting in 
removal of a large part of the exterior dike. Management of the 
remaining 263-acre area within the dike would be greatly improved as 
freshwater wetland

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and riparian habitats and five internal management units would be 
constructed with new interior dikes. As in Alternative C, 38 acres of 
forested, surge plain habitat would be restored to increase the acreage 
of this important habitat along the Nisqually River. The environmental 
education program would be improved and expanded (15,000 students per 
year), although not to the extent of Alternative B, to provide 
sufficient staff time to operate a waterfowl hunt program. The greatest 
changes would occur in the wildlife observation trail system of any 
alternative, reducing the 5.5-mile loop to a 3.5-mile round trip trail 
no longer in a loop configuration; a new trail would be developed on 
Tribal and Refuge properties east of the river. A smaller portion of 
Refuge lands (191 acres) would be opened to hunting 7 days per week, 
with no changes to hunting on WDFW lands; however, a portion of the 
main trail would be seasonally closed. Bank fishing on McAllister Creek 
would no longer be offered due to dike removal, but new fishing 
opportunities could be provided in the future, if appropriate lands 
were acquired along McAllister Creek south of I-5, as well as those 
described under Alternative C.

Actions Common to All Action Alternatives

    In addition, the following components are proposed to be 
implemented under alternatives B, C, and D. Walk-in waterfowl hunting 
opportunities would be considered if sufficient lands were acquired 
south of I-5, which would provide adequate wildlife sanctuary and 
minimal conflict with other priority uses. A speed limit of 5 mph for 
all water craft would be established in all Refuge waters to provide 
wildlife and habitat protection and reduce conflicts with other 
visitors. Service policies prohibiting consumptive uses in the Research 
Natural Area (RNA) in the northeast part of the Refuge would be 
enforced, including fishing, shell fishing, and waterfowl hunting. The 
RNA would be closed to all boating from October 1 to March 31 to 
provide a seasonal sanctuary for migratory birds and other wildlife.
    Public comments are requested, considered, and incorporated 
throughout the planning process in numerous ways. Public outreach has 
included open houses, public meetings, technical workgroups, planning 
update mailings, and Federal Register notices. Two previous notices 
were published in the Federal Register concerning this Draft EIS/CCP 
(October 9, 1997 and February 9, 2000). After the review and comment 
period ends for this Draft EIS/CCP, comments will be analyzed and 
considered by the Service. A Final EIS will then be prepared and 
published which will include substantive comments received and provide 
the Service's responses. Changes made to the selected alternative will 
also be identified in the Final EIS. A Record of Decision and final CCP 
will then be published.
    All comments received from individuals on environmental impact 
statements become part of the official public record. Requests for such 
comments will be handled in accordance with the Freedom of Information 
Act, the Council on Environmental Quality's NEPA regulations (40 CFR 
1506.6(f)) and other Service and Departmental policies and procedures.

    Dated: November 13, 2002.
Rowan W. Gould,
Acting Regional Director, Region 1, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 02-32046 Filed 12-19-02; 8:45 am]