[Federal Register: October 5, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 192)]
[Page 58232-58234]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan 
for the 39 North Dakota Limited-Interest National Wildlife Refuges

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces that a 
combined Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and Environmental 
Assessment (EA) for the 39 North Dakota Limited-Interest National 
Wildlife Refuges (Refuges) is available. This CCP, prepared pursuant to 
the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 
(Improvement Act) and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 
describes how the Service intends to manage these Limited-Interest 
Refuges for the next 15 years.

DATES: Written comments must be received at the postal or electronic 
address listed below on or before December 5, 2005.

ADDRESSES: Please provide written comments to Laura King, Planning Team 
Leader, Division of Refuge Planning, Branch of Comprehensive 
Conservation Planning, c/o Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge, 9754 
143\1/2\ Avenue, SE., Cayuga, ND 58013, or electronically to 
laura_king@fws.gov. A copy of the Draft CCP and EA may be obtained by writing 

to Linda Kelly, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Refuge 
Planning, Box 25486, Denver, Colorado 80225-0486; or downloaded from 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura King, Planning Team Leader, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, c/o Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge, 9754 
143\1/2\ Avenue, SE., Cayuga, ND 58013; telephone: 701-724-3598, 
extension 14; fax: 701-724-3683; or e-mail: laura_king@fws.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Refuges encompass 47,296 limited-
interest acres within the boundaries of 39 individual National Wildlife 
Refuges (NWR). These refuges include: Appert Lake; Ardoch; Bone Hill; 
Brumba; Buffalo Lake; Camp Lake; Canfield Lake; Cottonwood; Dakota 
Lake; Half Way Lake; Hiddenwood; Hobart Lake; Hutchinson Lake; Johnson 
Lake; Lake George; Lake Otis; Lake Patricia; Lambs Lake; Little Goose; 
Lords Lake; Lost Lake; Maple River; Pleasant Lake; Pretty Rock; Rabb 
Lake; Rock Lake; Rose Lake; School Section Lake; Sheyenne Lake; Sibley 
Lake; Silver Lake; Snyder Lake; Springwater; Stoney Slough; Sunburst 
Lake; Tomahawk; Willow Lake; Wintering River; and Wood Lake.
    These Refuges range in size from 160 acres (Half Way Lake NWR) to 
5,506 acres (Rock Lake NWR). The approved acquisition boundaries for 
these Refuges, established in the 1930s and 1940s under the authority 
of Executive Orders and other conservation laws, total 54,140 acres. 
Six different North Dakota Managing Stations are responsible for these 
Refuges, including Arrowwood NWR Complex, Audubon NWR Complex District, 
Devils Lake WMD, J. Clark Salyer NWR Complex, Kulm WMD, and Long Lake 
NWR Complex. Most of these Refuges, except for two, Lake Patricia NWR 
and Pretty Rock NWR, are located east of the Missouri River. All 
Refuges have an overriding purpose of providing habitat for migratory 
birds, particularly waterfowl. No staff or funding is dedicated to 
these Refuges. Historically, management has been incidental to the 
Managing Station's other funded programs.
    Limited-Interest Refuges began in the 1930s, in response to the 
crises of that time including drought, depression, and

[[Page 58233]]

declining waterfowl populations. Beginning in 1935, dozens of refuge 
and/or flowage easements were signed by the State and private 
landowners. These Limited-Interest Refuges, most perpetual, were 
established for the purposes of (1) water conservation, (2) drought 
relief, and (3) migratory bird and wildlife conservation purposes.
    Funds poured into the surrounding communities as people went back 
to work, through the Work Progress/Project Administration (WPA) and 
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), building the structures needed to 
impound and control water levels. This reliable water source was not 
only critical to wildlife, but to the livelihood of the landowners and 
their farming operations.
    Although most were perpetually protected, a new status was given to 
these lands in the late 1930s and 1940s. Lands in close proximity were 
combined, establishing an approved acquisition boundary, and designated 
as Migratory Bird Sanctuaries (later changed to National Wildlife 
Refuge) under the authorities of Executive Orders and various 
conservation laws. To this day, 93 percent of the lands covered by 
these Limited-Interest Refuges remain in private ownership, while 99 
percent of the lands within the approved acquisition boundary are 
privately owned. This fact makes these Refuges unique among the more 
than 545 NWRs.
    The habitat and value of these Refuges vary, but most have a water 
feature, such as a lake, impoundment, or river, associated with the 
Refuge, over which the Service holds a senior water right. Many have 
been developed, some extensively, and most are used for farming and/or 
    Many of these Limited-Interest Refuges have played a vital role in 
the recovery and protection of water resources and the waterfowl and 
other wildlife that depend on these areas. However, each Refuge needed 
to be re-evaluated to determine which can truly function as a NWR, as 
prescribed in the Improvement Act.
    One of the first steps in this planning process was defining which 
rights the Service acquired through these agreements. To accomplish 
this, each agreement and dozens of historical records, including 
correspondence, news releases, and published reports, were reviewed by 
the planning team. From this documentation, it was determined that the 
Service has the right to regulate hunting and trapping, and the uses 
and management of the main body of water over which the Service has a 
water right. These uses would include, but are not limited to: fishing, 
boating, swimming, and water skiing. The Service will not regulate 
access to these private lands, upland development, and uses of 
naturally occurring wetlands. Even though these areas are valuable for 
wildlife, there is no evidence the Service intended to regulate these 
uses. Many of these Refuges had extensive developments on them before 
they were established. Again, these Limited-Interest Refuges were 
established for economic and preservation reasons.
    No approved guidelines have ever been developed for managing these 
Refuges. This combined with the limited management options, as 
described in the previous paragraph, led the Service to develop a more 
programmatic plan, rather than a plan for each Refuge. These factors 
also resulted in the evaluation of only two alternatives, the No Action 
(Current Management) and the Proposed Action (Enhance the Program). 
Alternative A, the No Action alternative, proposes continuation of 
current management programs. Alternative B (Proposed Action) emphasizes 
replacement or maintenance of water management structures, within the 
guidelines of the agreement and water rights. It also emphasizes 
developing a strong partnership with the landowners, through the 
development of a structured program that would ensure an open dialogue 
necessary to address landowner issues, while providing them information 
on the program. In particular, they would receive updated information 
on Service programs that may provide them additional compensation for 
added habitat protections. Landowners would be given full control over 
whether they choose to participate in these programs.
    Landowners have a right to refuse access to the general public. 
Although there are a few Refuges where Service-managed visitor services 
programs occur, most of these Refuges have remained closed for 70 
years. Under this alternative, current visitor services programs would 
continue, if they remain compatible and there is a continued demand. 
The Service will also work with the State and interested landowners to 
develop additional recreational opportunities on the remaining Refuges. 
These opportunities may include wildlife observation and photography, 
environmental education and interpretation, hunting, and fishing. 
Again, the landowners would have the right to refuse access; however, 
if a program is acceptable to the landowners and found compatible, it 
must be made available to the general public. There may be limitations 
placed on this use, such as limited seasons and number of users, but no 
person may be denied the opportunity to participate. Although these are 
private lands, they are NWRs and subject to the same rules contained in 
the Code of Federal Regulations for visitor services programs.
    A significant part of this process was determining the value of 
each Refuge to wildlife and its ability to function as a NWR as defined 
in the Improvement Act. From this process, six Refuges are being 
proposed for consideration for divestiture including: Bone Hill, Camp 
Lake, Cottonwood Lake, Lake Patricia, Sheyenne Lake, and School Section 
Lake. Factors considered included the level of development for 
recreation and commercial uses and resulting loss of biodiversity and 
land ownership patterns. It was determined that these Refuges no longer 
fulfill the purpose for which they were established. For example, Camp 
Lake currently has 238 cabins surrounding the lake, while Bone Hill has 
extensive farming and commercial uses occurring, including an elk farm 
and fertilizer plant. Cottonwood Lake has also seen extensive 
development and significant loss of biodiversity. Lake Patricia, 
Sheyenne Lake, and School Section Lake were once covered by easements 
signed by the State. These easements were unique in that they were 
revocable. The State has since exercised this option and has assumed 
management of these lands and waters. In some cases, the Service only 
controls parts of the main body of water. All surrounding lands are 
managed by the State for wildlife habitat. The State would assume 
management of these waters as well, should the Service divest these 
Refuges. The actual divestiture process for all six Refuges would be 
carried out once this plan is approved.
    The Proposed Action for the remaining 33 Refuges would be addressed 
as a program. The six Managing Stations would evaluate and prioritize 
their Refuges, using primarily Habitat and Population Evaluation Team 
data resources, for added habitat protections. Highest priority would 
be given to those Refuges that contain native prairie habitat. 
Landowners would be provided informational newsletters about 
compensated habitat protection programs available. Participation in 
these programs would be voluntary and future opportunities would be 
provided at least annually thereafter. The Service would also cooperate 
with other conservation partners to develop programs that would meet 
common goals that support and enhance this program.

[[Page 58234]]

    The Proposed Action was selected because it best meets the purposes 
and goals of these Refuges, as well as the goals of the National 
Wildlife Refuge System. It also ensures the landowners' rights are 
protected while giving them opportunities for added compensation. The 
Proposed Action will benefit federally listed species, shore birds, 
migrating and nesting waterfowl, and neotropical migrants, along with 
improving water habitat management and preservation. Compatible 
recreational opportunities may be provided if access is granted by 
willing landowners, and the resources are available to manage that use. 
This will result in widespread educational opportunities to teach the 
public, students, and future partners about the values, benefits, and 
goals of the National Wildlife Refuge System in North Dakota and the 

    Dated: June 22, 2005.
Mary G. Henry,
Acting Regional Director, Region 6, Denver, CO.
[FR Doc. 05-19937 Filed 10-4-05; 8:45 am]