[Federal Register: August 20, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 161)]
[Page 51706-51707]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment for Steigerwald Lake National 
Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Franz Lake NWR, and Pierce NWR for Review and 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces that a 
Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment 
(Draft CCP/EA) for Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Franz 
Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and Pierce National Wildlife Refuge, 
hereafter collectively called the Gorge Refuges, is available for 
review and comment. The Gorge Refuges are located on the Washington 
side of the Columbia River Gorge area. This Draft CCP/EA, prepared 
pursuant to the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, as 
amended, and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 
describes the Service's proposal for management of the Gorge Refuges 
over the next 15 years.
    Also available for review with the Draft CCP/EA are draft 
compatibility determinations for several Refuge uses and a draft Fire 
Management Plan.

DATES: Written comments must be received at the address below by 
September 20, 2004.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the Draft CCP/EA should be addressed to: Project 
Leader, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex, P.O. Box 457, 
Ridgefield, Washington 98642.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Project Leader, Ridgefield National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex, P.O. Box 457, Ridgefield, Washington, 98642, 
phone (360) 887-4106.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Copies of the Draft CCP/EA may be obtained 
by writing to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: Glenn Frederick, 
Pacific Northwest Planning Team, 16507 Roy Rogers Road, Sherwood, 
Oregon, 97140.
    Copies of the Draft CCP/EA may be viewed at this address or at 
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 301 North Third Avenue, 
Ridgefield, Washington.
    Printed documents will also be available for review at the 
following libraries: Washougal Community Library, 1661 C Street, 
Washougal, WA 98671; Stevenson Community Library, 120 NW., Vancouver 
Ave., Stevenson, WA 98648; and Fort Vancouver Regional Library, 1007 
East Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver, WA 98663.


    The Gorge Refuges are located in Skamania and Clark Counties, 
Washington, in the Columbia River Gorge downstream of Bonneville Dam. 
The administrative center for the Gorge Refuges is the Ridgefield 
National Wildlife Refuge Complex, located in Ridgefield, Washington, 
approximately 25 miles northwest of Steigerwald Lake Refuge. Planning 
for the three Gorge Refuges occurred simultaneously for the purposes of 
this CCP because: The Refuges are located close to one another in the 
Columbia River floodplain; many of the same issues and management 
opportunities occur at all three Refuges, and they are part of the same 
lower Columbia River ecosystem.
    The Gorge Refuges are part of the National Wildlife Refuge System 
administered by the Service. Wildlife conservation is the priority of 
National Wildlife Refuge System lands. The Gorge Refuges contribute to 
the conservation of fish, wildlife, plants, and native habitats of the 
lower Columbia River. Franz Lake Refuge contains the largest, most 
intact freshwater marsh remaining downstream of the Bonneville Dam. 
Steigerwald Lake Refuge provides habitat for migratory birds and other 
wildlife as mitigation for impacts resulting from the construction and 
generation of Federally funded and operated hydroelectric projects on 
the Columbia River and its tributaries. All three of the Refuges 
provide important spawning and rearing habitat for anadromous fish, 
including several species that are listed under or are candidates for 
listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Proposed Action

    The Proposed Action is to adopt and implement a Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan that will provide the Refuge Manager with a 15-year 
management plan for the conservation of fish, wildlife, and plant 
resources and their related habitats, while providing opportunities for 
compatible wildlife-dependent recreational uses. While the Gorge 
Refuges are not currently open to the public, they have the potential 
to provide high-quality, compatible public uses in support of Refuge 
purposes and goals.


    The Draft CCP/EA identifies and evaluates three alternatives for 
managing the Gorge Refuges over 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 Service prefers Alternative B because it best achieves 
Refuge purposes, vision, and goals; contributes to the Refuge System 
mission; addresses the substantive issues and relevant mandates; and is 
consistent with principles of sound fish and wildlife management. The 
alternatives are briefly described below, followed by a description of 
actions common to all of the alternatives.
    Under Alternative A, the no action alternative, the Service would 
continue to protect, maintain, and, where feasible, restore habitat for 
priority species, including Canada geese, waterfowl, and Federal and 
State listed species. However, at current levels of funding and staff, 
these efforts would be inadequate to fulfill Refuge purposes and 
achieve Refuge goals. Under this alternative, as in Alternatives B and 
C, subject to the availability of appropriated funds, within the next 
15 years the Gateway Center and interpretive trail at Steigerwald Lake 
Refuge, approved by the Service in 1999 but currently unfunded, would 
be constructed and opened to the public. In addition, the Service would 
implement its earlier decision to prohibit horseback riding, dog-
walking, jogging and bicycling on the 0.6-mile section of the Columbia 
Dike Trail at Stiegerwald Lake Refuge. Opportunities for the public to 
attend special events and staff-led tours of the Refuges would 
continue. Pierce Refuge would continue to be available to local school 
groups for environmental education.
    Alternative B, the preferred alternative, would focus refuge 
management on restoring and maintaining biological diversity with 
particular emphasis on the conservation targets identified in the CCP. 
Inventory, monitoring, and research would increase. Working with 
partners, the Service would seek to remove blockages to fish passage 
within the Gibbons Creek, Indian Mary Creek and Hardy Creek watersheds. 
The Service would participate in ongoing efforts to cleanup Gibbons 
Creek and to eliminate the threat of contaminated groundwater and 
stormwater runoff from entering Steigerwald Lake Refuge. Substantially

[[Page 51707]]

more acres would be targeted for restoration under this Alternative 
than under Alternative A. Opportunities for wildlife viewing and 
photography and environmental education and interpretation would be 
increased. In addition to the current wildlife-dependent public uses of 
the Columbia Dike Trail, the Service would officially open the portion 
of the trail on Steigerwald Lake Refuge to horseback riding, jogging, 
bicycling, and leashed pets. The Refuge would increase the number of 
staff-led tours of the Refuges. We would partner with the city of North 
Bonneville to promote wildlife viewing from an existing public trail 
adjacent to Pierce Refuge. Environmental education would be enhanced 
through coordination with local school teachers and classroom visits.
    Alternative C has many features in common with Alternative B. The 
primary difference is that under Alternative C, the Service would seek 
to restore more of the historic (pre-Bonneville Dam) vegetation cover. 
At Pierce Refuge, artificially created wetlands and open water habitat 
would be reduced and pastures eliminated. The amount of pasture at 
Steigerwald Lake Refuge would be reduced to the minimum needed to 
support wintering Canada geese. The maximum amount of oak restoration 
would occur under Alternative C. Partnerships would be developed to 
monitor water quality, remove or modify fish barriers, and control or 
eliminate noxious weed populations. A Research Natural Area would be 
established at Franz Lake Refuge. Public uses would be similar to those 
proposed in Alternative B, with the exceptions of the classroom visits, 
teacher workshops, and the wildlife viewing trail adjacent to Pierce 
Refuge. These public uses would not be developed under Alternative C.

Actions Common to All Alternatives

    The following components are proposed to be continued or 
implemented under all three alternatives.
    Steigerwald Lake NWR Gateway Center and Interpretive Trail. Subject 
to availability of appropriated funding, the Service would construct a 
Gateway Center and interpretive trail at Steigerwald Lake NWR, as 
described in the Service's EA and Finding of No Significant Impact 
signed in 1999. These facilities would serve an estimated 125,000 
visitors annually.
    Steigerwald Lake Feasibility Study. Acting under authority of 
Section 1135 of the Water Resources Act of 1986, the U.S. Army Corps of 
Engineers will direct the feasibility study phase of a project to 
reestablish hydrologic connections between the historic Steigerwald 
Lake, Columbia River, and Gibbons Creek.
    Western Pond Turtle Program. The Washington Department of Fish and 
Wildlife will continue to release and monitor Western pond turtles on 
Pierce Refuge, and will also investigate the feasibility of introducing 
turtles to Steigerwald Lake Refuge.
    Mosquito Management. The Service will consult and coordinate with 
local mosquito control districts to implement mosquito management on 
the Gorge Refuges. The objective will be to conduct a biologically 
sound program that maintains the ecological integrity of the Refuges 
while addressing legitimate human and fish and wildlife health concerns 
and complying with Service regulations and policy. The Skamania County 
Mosquito Control District will be allowed to monitor and treat 
mosquitoes at Franz Lake Refuge pursuant to the phased approach 
stipulated in the approved Compatibility Determination.

Public Comments

    Public comments are requested, considered, and incorporated 
throughout the planning process in numerous ways. Public outreach has 
included public meetings with affected agencies and groups, planning 
update mailings, and Federal Register notices. After the review and 
comment period ends for this Draft CCP/EA, comments will be analyzed by 
the Service and addressed in revised planning documents.
    All comments received from individuals, including names and 
addresses, 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: August 10, 2004.
William F. Shake,
Acting Regional Director, Region 1, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 04-19112 Filed 8-19-04; 8:45 am]