[Federal Register: April 15, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 72)]
[Page 18255-18258]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Decision and Availability of the Record of Decision for 
the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Stillwater National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Boundary 
Revision, Churchill and Washoe Counties, NV

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of Decision and Availability of the Record of Decision 
for the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Stillwater 
National Wildlife Refuge Complex Comprehensive Conservation Plan and 
Boundary Revision.


SUMMARY: This is a notice of decision and availability of the Record of 
Decision (ROD) for the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the 
Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Boundary Revision (Final CCP EIS), Churchill and Washoe 
Counties, Nevada. Pursuant to the Council on Environmental Quality 
regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 
40 CFR 1505.2) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan policy, the Service issues this ROD 
upon consideration of the Final CCP EIS prepared for the proposed 
action to develop and implement a comprehensive conservation plan for 
the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Final CCP EIS was 
released to the public on May 29, 2002. A Notice of Availability of the 
Final CCP EIS was published in the Federal Register on May 31, 2002 (67 
FR 38142). The ROD, which documents the selection of the Preferred 
Alternative as presented in the Final CCP EIS, was signed by U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service California/Nevada Office Manager Steve Thompson, 
on April 2003. The determination was based on a thorough analysis of 
the environmental, social, and economic considerations presented in the 
Final CCP EIS.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Project Leader, Stillwater National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex, 1000 Auction Road, Fallon, Nevada 89406, (775) 
423-5128. A copy of the ROD or Final CCP EIS may be obtained from the 
above address or by download from: http://pacific.fws.gov/planning/.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The following is a summary of the Record of 
Decision for the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the 
Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Boundary Revision.
    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) began developing a 
comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) for the Stillwater National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex (NWRC) in early 1997. The Final Environmental 
Impact Statement for the Stillwater NWRC Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Boundary Revision (Final CCP EIS) identifies and evaluates 
five alternatives for managing the Stillwater NWRC for the next 15 
years. Each alternative consists of two main parts: (1) A boundary 
revision for Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), and (2) the 
framework of a CCP, including refuge goals, objectives, and strategies, 
for achieving the purposes for which each refuge was established and 
for contributing toward the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge 
System. The Stillwater NWRC currently includes Stillwater NWR, 
Stillwater Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Fallon NWR, and Anaho Island 
NWR, which are located in west-central Nevada.
    The Record of Decision (ROD) is a statement of the decision made, 
including how the decision responds to primary issues, other 
alternatives considered, public involvement in the decision making 
process, and the basis for the decision.


    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will implement Alternative E for 
the Stillwater NWRC, which was identified in the Final CCP EIS as the 
alternative that provides the best balance between satisfying the 
National Wildlife Refuge System and Service missions and purposes of 
Stillwater NWR and Anaho Island NWR and providing opportunities for 
compatible refuge uses. Alternative E also recognizes the need to 
protect cultural resources. Some guidelines and actions in Alternative 
E remain consistent with those presented in Alternative C of the Draft 
CCP EIS. Others were modified in the Final CCP EIS to respond to public 
comments and concerns. Alternative E, which is supported by the 
majority of the commenting public and endorsed by the Nevada Division 
of Wildlife and the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners, represents 
the CCP which will guide Stillwater NWR and Anaho Island NWR management 
for the next 15 years.
    Alternative E focuses on approximating natural habitat conditions 
as the primary means to conserve and manage the refuges' wildlife, 
restore their natural biological diversity, and fulfill international 
treaty obligations with respect to fish and wildlife, with the 
understanding that events occurring over the past 100 years have 
substantially altered habitat conditions. The needs of particular 
species, including species highlighted in regional conservation plans, 
may be used to adjust management practices where this is deemed 
necessary and within the general framework established by Alternative 
E. The following is a brief summary of key components.
    Contingent on approval of the Stillwater NWRC Land Protection Plan 
proposed in the Final CCP EIS, Alternative E would expand the approved 
boundary of Stillwater NWR to include a majority of the lands that are 
now inside the Stillwater WMA and portions of Fallon NWR, as well as 

[[Page 18256]]

sections of land along the lower Carson River and 26 sections north of 
the existing Stillwater NWR. Major habitats proposed to be added to 
Stillwater NWR would be the lower Carson River and its delta marsh, the 
sand dunes along the southern edge of the Carson Sink, and the 
stabilized dunes and salt desert shrub habitat between the Carson River 
and Stillwater Marsh. The revised boundary of Stillwater NWR would 
exclude the northern portions of Fallon NWR and the western portions of 
the Stillwater WMA. Stillwater WMA would no longer be managed by the 
Service under an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation. Although the 
size of Stillwater NWR would increase, the acreage of Federal lands 
managed primarily for wildlife in the Lahontan Valley would decline by 
about 25,517 acres. The most important lands with respect to refuge 
purposes and wetlands protection would be retained. Under this 
proposal, the approved boundary of Stillwater NWR would include about 
172,254 acres, of which about 137,504 acres would be Federal. The 
acreage of non-Federal inholdings within the boundaries of Federal 
wildlife areas in the Lahontan Valley would decline by about 40 
    Some of these boundary revisions cannot be accomplished without 
Congressional action. Consistent with Public Law 101-618, the Service 
intends to recommend that Congress, through special legislation: (1) 
Revoke the wildlife reservation on Bureau of Reclamation lands known as 
Fallon NWR; (2) abolish the name Fallon NWR; and (3) establish primary 
Service jurisdiction on those portions of Stillwater WMA and the former 
Fallon NWR which the Service proposes to include in the revised 
Stillwater NWR boundary.
    Anaho Island NWR will be managed as it has in the past, with no 
intent to conduct active habitat management. Habitat management on 
Stillwater NWR will focus on providing a variety of native wetland, 
riparian, and upland plant communities through the use of water 
management, integrated pest management, prescribed fire, and other 
tools described in the Final CCP EIS. A Habitat Management Plan will be 
developed concurrent with initial implementation of the CCP. A draft 
Integrated Pest Management Plan and an approved Fire Management Plan 
have already been prepared.
    Water management on Stillwater NWR will focus on providing spring 
migration and breeding habitat. However, up to 25% of the refuge's 
acquired water rights will be reserved for fall delivery (October-
November) to provide habitat for fall waterbird migration and for 
wildlife dependent recreational uses. A primary objective of water 
management will be to reduce salinity in wetland units located at 
higher elevations or in specified flow corridors to provide conditions 
suitable for native plant restoration.
    Livestock grazing and muskrat trapping will no longer be allowed as 
commercial uses but can be used as habitat management tools to meet 
specific habitat objectives. Livestock grazing will no longer be 
allowed in uplands, which should aid native vegetation establishment in 
upland habitats. Farming will be allowed on up to 300 acres, but will 
require water from other sources to facilitate agricultural production. 
Compatibility determinations have been prepared that describe the 
stipulations associated with implementation of these management 
    Priority wildlife dependent recreational uses found compatible on 
Stillwater NWR include hunting, wildlife observation and photography, 
and environmental education and interpretation. Additionally, horseback 
riding was found to be compatible. Anaho Island NWR will remain closed 
to all public access.
    Hunting will be allowed on Stillwater NWR during all State of 
Nevada designated seasons for big game, upland game, and migratory 
birds. All wetland units historically open to waterfowl hunting will 
remain open. Boat access options will vary depending on wetland unit, 
but will include areas designated for non-motorized boats, motorized 
boats, or air-thrust boats, as well as areas designated for no boat 
    Options for wildlife observation and photography at Stillwater NWR 
will be enhanced through development of a ten-mile auto tour loop 
within the existing sanctuary, and trails at Stillwater Point 
Reservoir, Timber Lakes, and the lower Carson River. Outdoor education 
and interpretation will be promoted through development of a visitor 
center and outdoor education site along the ten-mile tour loop. A sign 
plan is currently being developed to evaluate interpretive 
opportunities along refuge roads and trails.
    Alternative E, selected for implementation, represents the best 
balance between refuge purposes, resource conservation, and compatible 
wildlife dependent public use.

Other Alternatives Considered

    The Draft CCP EIS and Final CCP EIS evaluated four other 
alternatives for the management of Stillwater NWRC. Under all 
alternatives, Anaho Island NWR would continue to be managed much as it 
has in the past for the protection of colonial nesting birds. The No 
Action Alternative (Alternative A) would retain the existing Stillwater 
NWR boundaries and baseline management as outlined in the 1987 
Management Plan for Stillwater WMA and modified by the Service's water 
rights acquisition program. Alternative B would result in the lands 
within Stillwater WMA reverting back to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation 
management or other public land status. Management would focus on 
providing fall and winter habitat for waterfowl and opportunities for 
waterfowl hunting on Stillwater NWR, and breeding habitat for 
waterbirds on Fallon NWR. Under Alternative C, the Service would seek 
legislation to expand the Stillwater NWR boundary to include much of 
Stillwater WMA and Fallon NWR to conserve additional riparian and dune 
habitat. This alternative would emphasize the approximation of natural 
biological diversity with adjustments to enhance breeding habitat for 
waterbirds and fall and winter habitat for waterfowl, and would provide 
enhanced opportunities for wildlife observation and environmental 
education. Under Alternative D, legislation would also be sought to 
expand the Stillwater NWR boundary to include much of Stillwater WMA 
and Fallon NWR to conserve additional riparian and sand dune habitat. 
Management of Stillwater NWR would focus on restoring natural 
hydrologic patterns and other ecological processes. Visitor services 
management would focus on providing opportunities for wildlife 
observation and environmental education. These alternatives were not 
selected for implementation because they did not balance resource 
conservation goals with compatible public use as well as the selected 

Public Involvement and Comments Received

    Prior to release of the Final CCP EIS, the Service met with a 
variety of Federal agencies, the Nevada Division of Wildlife, local 
Native American Tribes, municipal governments, and several interest 
groups on a number of occasions, and held open houses to receive public 
comment. Seven planning updates were sent out to all on the mailing 
list. Fifty-four contributors provided 1,004 comments on the Draft CCP 
EIS. A complete history of the public involvement, comment period, and 
Service responses to comments are included in the Final CCP EIS.
    The Service received only two comments following the distribution 

[[Page 18257]]

the Final CCP EIS. Mr. John T. Moran, Jr., Chairman of the State of 
Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners (Commission), sent a letter 
confirming the Commission's unanimous decision to support the Service's 
selection and adoption of preferred Alternative E in the Final CCP EIS, 
provided no administrative changes to the intent of Alternative E as 
written were made. Comments on the Draft CCP EIS submitted by the 
Nevada Division of Wildlife sponsored working group were considered 
during development of the preferred Alternative E in the Final CCP EIS, 
and were incorporated into the Service's revised position as presented 
in Planning Update 7 (July 2001) for public review. No 
substantive changes were made from the information presented in the 
update, and this information was used to develop the visitor services, 
habitat management, and wildlife management options presented in 
Alternative E.
    Ms. Lisa B. Hanf, Manager of the Federal Activities Office, U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Region IX, submitted comments in 
support of the Service's decision to select preferred Alternative E for 
implementation and expressed appreciation for the Service's response to 
their comments regarding the Draft CCP EIS. Ms. Hanf further noted that 
EPA was currently working with the Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and 
the University of Nevada, Reno to identify measures that will reduce 
mercury transport to the wetlands, and appreciated the Service's 
attempts to identify potential mitigation strategies to improve the 
quality of water entering the wetlands. The Service is committed to 
improving the quality of water entering the wetlands and, as noted, has 
identified a number of mitigation strategies which could be used. The 
Service appreciates the opportunity to continue working closely with 
EPA and other entities actively involved in restoring the environmental 
health of wetland habitats at Stillwater NWR.
    Churchill County Chair Gwen Washburn submitted comments reiterating 
the County's opposition to the refuge's proposed water management 
program and the proposed boundary revisions due to perceived impacts to 
the local economy, County and private inholdings and ground water 
resources. The County provided similar comments on the draft CCP/EIS 
and the Service provided detailed responses to the County's comments in 
the Final CCP/EIS. The Service has provided clarifications in response 
to Churchill County comments on the Final CCP/EIS under separate 
letter. No new information was received that would alter the 
conclusions contained in the Final CCP/EIS.

Environmentally Preferable Alternative

    The alternative which causes the least damage to the biological and 
physical environment and best protects, preserves, and enhances 
historic, cultural, and natural resources is Alternative C, Option 1.
    The focus of Alternative C, Option 1, was to manage the Stillwater 
NWR by using water management to simulate natural hydrologic processes 
to restore and maintain natural biological diversity. Another primary 
element was to increase the balance between the needs of wildlife 
resources and the recreational needs of a rapidly expanding local and 
regional population base, while providing equal emphasis to priority 
wildlife-dependent recreational uses. Additional sanctuary would have 
been provided in the area currently open to public use and access would 
have been restricted to open roads with vehicle pullouts. Boat access 
during waterfowl hunting season would have been restricted to 15 
horsepower outboard motor boats with a 5 miles per hour restriction on 
speed, and a no boating designation would have been applied to some 
wetland units. Alternative C, Option 1, did not represent the best 
balance between resource conservation and public use when compared to 
Alternative E.

Findings and Basis for Decision

    Based upon review and careful consideration of the impacts 
identified in the Final CCP EIS; results of the various studies and 
surveys conducted in conjunction with the Draft and Final CCP EIS; 
public comments received throughout the process including comments on 
the Draft and Final CCP EIS; and other relevant factors, including the 
purposes for each refuge established pursuant to Public Law 101-618 
(104 Stat. 3289), and other statutory and regulatory guidance; the 
Service finds that:
    (1) Alternative E consists of the components, programs, and 
facilities described above.
    (2) Alternative E, as it is described in the Final CCP EIS for the 
Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge Complex, provides the best balance 
between accomplishing the purposes for which Stillwater NWR and Anaho 
Island NWR and statutory mission of the Service to provide long-term 
protection of the Refuges' resources and allowing for appropriate 
levels of visitor use and appropriate means of visitor enjoyment. 
Alternative E accomplishes identified management goals and desired 
future conditions.
    (3) Alternative E represents the best balance between provision of 
habitat restoration, public access and recreation, and other programs, 
and public and agency concerns identified during the public 
participation process.
    (4) Based on an Intra-Service Section 7 evaluation, no state or 
federally listed endangered or threatened species or their critical 
habitats are known to be adversely affected by Alternative E. 
Implementation of the decision will avoid significant adverse impacts 
on wetlands and is not likely to adversely affect any endangered or 
threatened species, or result in destruction or adverse modification of 
critical habitat of such species. The Service has determined that 
implementation of Alternative E will result in a beneficial effect to 
bald eagle, and is not likely to adversely affect threatened Lahontan 
cutthroat trout or endangered cui-ui.
    (5) No historic properties listed in or eligible for listing in the 
National Register of Historic Places are known to be affected by the 
    (6) The requirements of NEPA and the implementing regulations (40 
CFR Parts 1500-1508) have been satisfied.

Measures To Minimize Environmental Harm

    Public concerns, potential impacts, and methods or stipulations to 
mitigate those impacts are addressed in the Final CCP EIS. All 
practicable measures to avoid or minimize environmental impacts that 
could result from implementation of the selected action have been 
identified and incorporated into the selected action. Implementation of 
the selected action will avoid any adverse impacts on wetlands and any 
endangered or threatened species, and will not result in the 
destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat of such 
species. Mitigation measures, called stipulations, that will be 
followed are documented in Appendix O, Compatibility Determinations, in 
the Final CCP EIS. These stipulations make public and other uses 
compatible with the purpose for which the refuge was established. The 
referenced compatibility stipulations ensure that all practical means 
to avoid or minimize environmental harm from implementation of 
Alternative E have been adopted.
    The Service has considered the environmental and relevant concerns 
presented by agencies, organizations and individuals on the proposed 
action to develop and implement a comprehensive conservation plan and 
boundary revision for the Stillwater

[[Page 18258]]

National Wildlife Refuge Complex. I have decided to implement 
Alternative E, the Service's preferred alternative. The ROD documents 
the written facts and conclusions relied upon in reaching this 

    Dated: April 7, 2003.
Steve Thompson,
Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 03-9110 Filed 4-14-03; 8:45 am]