[Federal Register: March 28, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 60)]
[Page 15221-15224]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan 
and Environmental Assessment for the Alamosa and Monte Vista National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex, Alamosa, CO

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces that a Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment (CCP/EA) 
for the Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge Complex is 
available for review and comment. This CCP/EA, prepared pursuant to the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 and the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, describes how the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service intends to manage the Complex for the next 15 
years. Also available is a Spanish version Summary of the Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment.

DATES: Please submit comments on the Draft CCP/EA on or before April 
28, 2003.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the Draft CCP/EA should be addressed to: Adam 
Misztal, Planning Team Leader, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 
25486, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225-0486. Comments may also 
be submitted via electronic mail to: adam_misztal@fws.gov.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Adam Misztal, Planning Team Leader, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 25486, Denver Federal Center, 
Denver, CO 80225-0486; (303) 236-8145 ext.

[[Page 15222]]

607; fax (303) 236-4792 or Mike Blenden, Complex Manager, Alamosa/Monte 
Vista National Wildlife Refuge Complex, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
Admin. Building, 9383 El Rancho Lane, Alamosa, CO 81101; (719) 589-
4021; fax (719) 587-0595.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Availability of Documents: Copies of the 
Draft CCP/EA or Spanish version Summary may be obtained by writing to: 
Adam Misztal, Planning Team Leader, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
P.O. Box 25486, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225-0486. The Draft 
CCP/EA will also be available for viewing and downloading online at 
    Background: Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges were 
established under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act 
``* * * for use as inviolate sanctuaries, or for any other management 
purpose, for migratory birds.'' The purpose for managing habitats on 
the Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge (the Complex) is 
to provide a biologically diverse area that complements the San Luis 
Valley (SLV) ecosystem.
    Ten different plant communities/habitat types exist on the Complex: 
upland shrub, tall-emergent, short-emergent, saltgrass, short grass, 
shallow seasonal wetland, semipermanent wetland, riparian, riverine, 
and agriculture. These habitats support a variety of mammals, reptiles, 
amphibians, and birds. Mammals include coyote, red fox, black bear, 
mountain lion, bobcat, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, raccoon, mink, 
American badger, and other small mammals. Birds commonly seen on these 
Refuges include numerous waterfowl species, including 10 that nest on 
the Complex: mallard, gadwall, cinnamon, green-winged and blue-winged 
teal, northern pintail, northern shoveler, American wigeon, redheads, 
and ruddy ducks, and one species of goose (Canada). The Monte Vista NWR 
(MVNWR) has one of the highest densities of nesting waterfowl in the 
continent (Gilbert et al. 1996). On average, 15,000 ducks are produced 
on MVNWR annually, which constitutes a major contribution to the 
State's population and, subsequently, to the Central Flyway's duck 
    Other birds using the Complex include great blue heron, little blue 
heron, snowy and cattle egret, sandhill crane, northern harrier, 
Swainson's hawk, ring-necked pheasant, Ross' goose, black-bellied 
plover, greater yellowlegs, willet, and Wilson's phalarope. Two 
endangered species, the whooping crane and southwestern willow 
flycatcher, and one threatened species, the bald eagle, utilize the 
Complex. In addition, five species of management concern to the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service's National Migratory Bird Office also use the 
Complex: American bittern, black tern, burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, 
and white-faced ibis.
    The Draft CCP/EA identifies and evaluates two alternatives for 
managing the Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges in the 
San Luis Valley of southwestern Colorado. The alternatives are compared 
by describing how the habitat management tools, water management, rest, 
prescribed burning, prescribed grazing, farming, and habitat protection 
would be used under each alternative. Also described under each 
alternative are the management of public use, cultural resources, and 
    Under the No Action (Current management) Alternative the Refuges 
would continue to be managed as it has been in the recent past:
    Water Management: The Complex would continue to use its irrigation 
systems much like the private landowners who preceded it to produce wet 
meadow habitat to support wetland-dependent wildlife species. Also 
water management, on certain portions of the Refuges, would accommodate 
various situations; for example, to meet the needs of certain species, 
compliance with State water law, control of noxious weeds, maintenance 
of water control infrastructure, and specific experiments to alter 
    Rest: Availability of dense stands of wetland vegetation during the 
early spring months is an important component of waterbird production 
on both Refuges. Successful production of waterbirds is primarily 
reliant upon stands of vegetation largely excluded from harvest. 
Because of this, both Refuges are important islands of nesting cover 
within the Valley and the Flyway. Stands of dense vegetation are 
achieved through careful water manipulation and rest from management 
practices that result in defoliation, such as grazing, fire, herbicide, 
and mowing. Although the use of rest has tremendous benefits for a wide 
variety of birds, it is not feasible nor desirable to maintain all of 
the Complex's wetlands in a constant densely vegetated state.
    Prescribed Burning: Burning is primarily used to set back plant 
succession in wetlands and uplands and to provide a mosaic of 
vegetation composition and structure for wildlife species with a wide 
array of nesting and feeding requirements. Habitats are periodically 
burned to remove excessive litter buildup, stimulate vegetation growth, 
enhance nutrient cycling, increase soil temperatures, and control 
weeds. Prescribed burning is also used in some cases to reduce 
extremely dense or weedy vegetation so that other management tools can 
be used in that area.
    Prescribed Grazing: From 1996 until present, cattle grazing has 
only occurred on the Complex to meet the needs of research. Grazing 
occurs during the growing season and animals are moved every 1 to 6 
days to a new site. A grazed site is then rested from 25 to 35 days 
before it is grazed again. Sites may be grazed two to three times 
during May 15 to September 1.
    Farming: The farming program on the Monte Vista NWR is primarily 
used to provide high energy food for migrating cranes and waterfowl. 
However, the food and cover provided by farm fields also benefit 
resident wildlife such as deer, rodents and pheasants. No farming is 
conducted at Alamosa NWR due to a lack of suitable soils.
    Habitat Protection: Acquisition of four inholdings would continue 
to be pursued as opportunities arise. Easements and fee-title 
acquisitions would continue to be acquired to prevent uses that degrade 
wildlife habitat and buffer critical habitats on the Refuge. These 
efforts would continue as opportunities arise and be concentrated on 
lands within one-half mile of the current boundaries of the Refuges in 
order to protect them from the adverse impacts of housing development.
    Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an active partner 
in the Colorado Wetlands Initiative. It is a large Statewide 
partnership with the goal of protecting, restoring, and enhancing 
wetland habitat. This initiative is a voluntary approach to wetland 
conservation. It is aimed at conserving all biologically significant 
wetlands of Colorado and associated wildlife including birds, mammals, 
reptiles, and amphibians.
    The Complex staff would continue to assist private landowners to 
create, protect, and enhance wetlands throughout the SLV through the 
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (PFW). Partnerships would 
continue to be developed with entities such as the Colorado Division of 
Wildlife and Ducks Unlimited to supplement Service funding of the 
    Public Use: Public access to the Refuges is provided and would 
continue. Monte Vista NWR has a larger network of roads open to the 
public, including several county roads which

[[Page 15223]]

bisect the Refuge, and a 2.5-mile auto tour route. Alamosa NWR is a 
larger contiguous land base with fewer public accessible roadways, 
having only a 3-mile auto tour route and a spur off a county road to 
the Hansen Bluff overlook. Both auto tour routes are near areas 
regularly used by waterbirds and other wildlife. Two hiking trails also 
exist on the Alamosa Refuge; a 2-mile (one way) trail along the Rio 
Grande and a 1-mile walk along wetland edges near the Bluff Overlook. 
Visitor numbers are directly related to wildlife activities such as 
courtship behaviors, crane staging, etc. Uses that are not wildlife-
dependent are discouraged or even prohibited.
    Hunting: Waterfowl and small game hunting would continue to be 
supported and encouraged. Camping areas for hunters would be provided. 
Hunter numbers are not regulated except during the first split of the 
waterfowl season.
    Due to safety concerns, public elk hunting opportunities are 
managed. An elk hunt coordinator, under contract with the Colorado 
Division Of Wildlife (CDOW), accompanies the hunter to ensure safety. 
The hunter is selected from a public list maintained by CDOW. All 
applicants, for this hunt, must demonstrate a high degree of firearm 
proficiency and must be available on 24 hours notice.
    Fishing: The shallow water in Refuge wetlands does not support a 
viable fishery. Wetlands either dry up or freeze solid annually which 
eliminates all fish that have entered the system. Therefore, fishing is 
not allowed on the Refuges. Creation and management of a viable fishery 
on the portions of the Rio Grande flowing through the Alamosa NWR will 
not be pursued for a variety of reasons. The major limiting factor is 
the inability of this stretch of river to support native fish species 
due to its ephemeral flows; it is often extremely low to dry during 
summer months.
    Wildlife Observation: The Refuge staff is an active participant in 
the Monte Vista Crane Festival; providing technical support, as well as 
providing viewing areas, conducting special tours and assisting in 
setting a direction for the Festival. The Crane Festival is the largest 
wildlife related public event in Colorado (estimated 10,000 visitors in 
    Wildlife Photography: Photography would continue to be allowed, 
with no additional Refuge support provided to photographers.
    Interpretation: A visitor contact station is part of the Complex's 
main office at the Alamosa NWR and is usually staffed daily. At Monte 
Vista NWR, the visitor contact station is only open seasonally and 
operated by the Friends of the San Luis Valley National Wildlife 
Refuges or by volunteers. Self-guided auto-tour routes with 
interpretive signs are available to visitors on both Refuges. 
Additionally, on the Alamosa NWR, there is a drive to the panoramic 
``Bluff Overlook'' which affords a magnificent view of Refuge wetlands, 
the Rio Grande, and the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east.
    Environmental Education: Volunteer and/or contractor led 
environmental education programs for local schools are provided, both 
as Refuge field trips and classroom presentations.
    Universal Access and Design: Although efforts have been undertaken 
to make the Refuges accessible to all users, the Refuges are still 
short of this goal. Accessibility issues and needs will be addressed on 
a project-by-project basis as funding allows.
    Cultural Resources: Humans have used the land we now call Alamosa 
and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges for approximately 11,000 
years. Fourteen documented prehistoric and historic archaeological 
sites occur on Monte Vista NWR and eleven on Alamosa NWR. All but four 
sites (three on Monte Vista and one on Alamosa) have been determined as 
non-eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic 
Places. The remaining four sites require further investigation and data 
collection before eligibility can be determined. These sites are being 
protected in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 
1996. Extensive archaeological sites exist in the headwaters of Spring 
Creek on Monte Vista Refuge and along Hansen's Bluff on Alamosa Refuge.
    Elk Management: Elk on the Refuge present several problems: Elk 
trails and bedding areas have an impact on vegetation that could be 
used, or is being used, by ground-nesting birds; although the elk are 
easily seen from roads, they are very difficult to harvest in a safe 
manner; they damage fences and take livestock forage on neighboring, 
private lands; their movement onto and off the Refuge have resulted in 
collisions with vehicles on the adjacent public highways.
    Current elk management, through a managed public hunt, is conducted 
in accordance with Colorado Division of Wildlife regulations. Hunts are 
generally initiated once transient elk numbers exceed 100 on the west 
end of Monte Vista NWR. The hunts are conducted from August 15 to 
February 28 and include only cow elk. Hunters are selected from a list 
of applicants who have demonstrated a high degree of firearm 
proficiency and are available on 24 hours notice.

Proposed Alternative

    Water Management: Under this Alternative, Refuge staff would 
continue to utilize surface and well water to create wetland habitat on 
both Refuges as described under the No Action Alternative. Additional 
efforts would focus on improving efficiency of surface water 
application, monitoring of water usage, better understanding of water 
rights, historical processes, subsurface and surface interactions, and 
improving knowledge of groundwater and its role in maintaining 
wetlands. Better methods and capabilities for monitoring habitat 
responses to water application would be developed to facilitate an 
adaptive habitat management program.
    Efforts will be taken to restore meandering streambeds and their 
associated hydrology and riparian habitats on Refuge lands. Although 
such actions will not have major impacts on either the unconfined or 
confined aquifers of the Valley, they can positively impact localized 
groundwater tables and artesian wells, and increase efficiency of 
irrigation during the following season.
    Under this Alternative, irrigation systems in all Refuge units 
would be upgraded as funding allows to enact more precise and efficient 
management of irrigation water. Currently, wetland vegetation is 
maintained using flood irrigation practices where water is applied at 
the highest elevation of a unit from a supply ditch or well head and is 
allowed to flow across the unit to lower elevations.
    Rest: Under this Alternative, irrigation systems in all Refuge 
units would be upgraded as funding allows to enact more precise and 
efficient management of irrigation water. Currently, wetland vegetation 
is maintained using flood irrigation practices where water is applied 
at the highest elevation of a unit from a supply ditch or well head and 
is allowed to flow across the unit to lower elevations.
    Prescribed Burning: In addition to that described under the No 
Action Alternative, management would implement two new initiatives. 
First, formation of an interagency fire team would be pursued. This 
idea has been discussed among the various State and Federal land 
management agencies, but no action has been taken. This team would be 
responsible for conducting prescribed burns and suppressing wildfires 
on member agency lands. Second, Refuge management would pursue the 
hiring of additional staff to develop a burn monitoring program and

[[Page 15224]]

detailed burn criteria in an effort to better understand the impacts of 
prescribed burning and to better implement its use in meeting 
management objectives.
    Prescribed Grazing: Future use of prescribed grazing on the Refuges 
will be largely dictated by the results of research currently being 
conducted. In the future, if and when grazing is used, prescriptions 
will delineate the location of the site to be grazed and specific 
objectives and purposes of the tool such as to control weeds, increase 
new growth, and provide a competitive advantage to certain vegetation. 
This site-by-site evaluation and planning will allow for maximum 
control and flexibility of this tool as well as ensuring that only 
delineated sites are affected by the tool and that all factors and 
interests are considered.
    Farming: Under this Alternative, migrating birds would be provided 
with the same amount of small grain food from crops currently provided. 
The existing mixed organic/non-organic farming program operated by 
Refuge staff would be converted to a cooperative farming program. 
Farming would continue but Refuge staff would only be responsible for 
irrigation of the crops. The cooperating farmer would continue the crop 
rotation of two years of small grains followed by two years of alfalfa 
and then one year fallow. The cooperating farmer would be allowed to 
keep all or a portion of the alfalfa crop based on yields of the small 
grain crops.
    Refuge staff would also augment the farming program with a moist 
soil plant management program to diversify the types of feed available 
to the birds. The farming and moist soil plant programs would be 
monitored and managed through the adaptive management concept. Research 
would be encouraged to help identify the amount and kinds of high 
energy food sources the Refuge could and should be providing for 
migrating and wintering avian species.
    Habitat Protection: Under the proposed Alternative, current support 
for the Service's Partners for Wildlife program would continue in order 
to ensure the program's growth and success. The Refuge would also 
continue to be an active partner in Colorado Wetlands Initiative Legacy 
project led by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
    Public Use: Under this Alternative, educating the public as to the 
nature and value of wetlands will focus on contrasting the intensely 
managed wetlands of Monte Vista NWR with the more natural aspects on 
the Alamosa NWR wetlands. To assure compliance with public use minimum 
standards, money will be targeted for projects through RONS and MMS. 
Currently, funding proposals are developed for projects that will 
improve the quality of visitor experiences.
    Hunting: Current waterfowl and small game hunting would continue to 
be supported and encouraged. To the extent feasible, the hunting 
experience would be further tailored to meet the desires of hunters 
using the Refuges based on periodic questioning of waterfowl hunters 
and other public input.
    Fishing: Same as that described under the No Action Alternative.
    Wildlife Observation: Support for the Crane Festival would continue 
as described under the No Action Alternative. Under this Alternative, 
on the Monte Vista NWR, public and scientific input would be sought 
regarding the seasonal expansion of the auto tour route, development of 
wildlife observation sites at Parker Pond, and development of wildlife 
observation decks along County Road 3E. Opinion and information would 
also be sought regarding the development of an observation deck 
adjacent to the Refuge Headquarters at the Alamosa NWR and near the 
proposed visitor center and education facility at the Monte Vista NWR.
    Wildlife Photography: Same as that described under the No Action 
    Interpretation: A multi-purpose education and visitor center 
facility on the Monte Vista NWR is the highest educational priority for 
the Complex. Also under this Alternative, the Refuge staff would 
implement an interpretation program centered around the cultural 
resources found on the Complex and around the Valley. Interpretation of 
past human use would focus on the theme that humans have always, and 
still depend upon natural resources for survival.
    Environmental Education: Environmental education goals and programs 
would be the same as those under No Action.
    Universal Access and Design: Efforts in this area would be the same 
as that described under the No Action Alternative with a few additional 
efforts. Developments would include new rest room facilities and 
wildlife observation blinds and/or platforms. Universally accessible 
hunting blinds would be built on both Refuges. All of these projects 
will follow the Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines.
    Cultural Resources: Archaeological work on the Complex will be 
expanded to include work needed to determine the eligibility of four 
documented sites for nomination to the National Register of Historic 
Places. Management under this Alternative would also include a sample 
archaeological inventory of Refuge lands over a 15-year period.
    Elk Management: Under this Alternative, the resident elk would be 
managed to discourage their use of Monte Vista NWR in large numbers 
with the intent to prevent habitat degradation.

    Dated: November 25, 2002.
John A. Blankenship,
Acting Regional Director, Region 6, Denver, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 03-7453 Filed 3-27-03; 8:45 am]