[Federal Register: October 13, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 197)]
[Page 59764-59766]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of Availability of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Theodore Roosevelt National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex, which consists of five national wildlife 
refuges--Yazoo, Panther Swamp, Hillside, Morgan Brake, and Mathews 
Brake--as well as a number of smaller fee title properties and 
floodplain and conservation easements in the Mississippi Delta.


SUMMARY: This notice announces that a Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Theodore Roosevelt National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex are available for review and comment. The 
National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as amended 
by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, 
requires the Service to develop a comprehensive conservation plan for 
each national wildlife refuge. The purpose in developing a 
comprehensive conservation plan is to provide refuge managers with a 
15-year strategy for achieving refuge purposes and contributing toward 
the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System, consistent with 
sound principles of fish and wildlife management, conservation, legal 
mandates, and Service policies. In addition to outlining broad 
management direction on conserving wildlife and their habitats, the 
plan identifies wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities available 
to the public, including opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife 
observation, wildlife photography, and environmental education and 

DATES: A meeting will be held to present the plan to the public. 
Mailings, newspaper articles, and posters will be the avenues to inform 
the public of the date and time for the meting. Individuals wishing to 
comment on the Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental 
Assessment for the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex 
should do so within 45 days following the date of this notice.

ADDRESSES: Request for copies of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment should be addressed to the Theodore 
Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 728 Yazoo Refuge Road, 
Hollandale, Mississippi 38748; Telephone 662/839-2638. The plan and 
environmental assessment may also be accessed and downloaded from the 
Service's Internet Web site http://southeast.fws.gov/planning/. 

Comments on the draft plan may be submitted to the above address or via 
electronic mail to mike_dawson@fws.gov. Please include your name and 
return address in your Internet message. Our practice is to make 
comments, including names and home addresses of respondents, available 
for public review during regular business hours. Individual respondents 
may request that we withhold their home addresses from the record, 
which we will honor to the extent allowable by law.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Significant issues addressed in the draft 
plan include: threatened and endangered species, waterfowl management, 
neotropical migratory birds, bottomland hardwood restoration, 
agriculture, visitor services, funding and staffing, cultural 
resources, land acquisition, and forest fragmentation.
    The Service developed four alternatives for managing the refuge 
complex and chose Alternative B as the preferred alternative.


Alternative A. No Action (Current Situation)

    Existing Complex management and public outreach practices would be 
favored under this alternative. All refuge management actions would be 
directed toward achieving the Complex's primary purposes including (1) 
preserving wintering waterfowl habitat; (2) providing production 
habitat for wood ducks; and (3) meeting the habitat conservation goals 
of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, all the while 
contributing to other national, regional, and state goals to protect 
and restore shorebirds, neotropical migratory breeding birds, 
woodcocks, and threatened and endangered species. Refuge management 
programs would continue to be developed and implemented with little 
baseline biological information. Active habitat management would be 
implemented through water level manipulations, moist-soil and cropland 
management, and reforestation designed to provide a diverse complex of 
habitats that meet the foraging, resting, and breeding requirements for 
a variety of species. Complex staff would continue to restore and 
maintain existing wetlands, open waters, grasslands, and bottomland 
hardwood forest habitats.

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    Land would be acquired from willing sellers within the current 
acquisition boundaries totaling 113,060 acres.
    Hunting and fishing would continue to be the major focuses of the 
Complex public use program, with no expansion of current opportunities. 
Current restrictions or prohibitions would remain. All-terrain vehicle 
use would continue at its current level, with little maintenance to 
existing trails. Environmental education and wildlife observation and 
photography would be accommodated on a case-by-case basis. Funding 
requests would continue in order to construct a Complex headquarters 
office/visitor contact area on Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge and to 
rehabilitate other existing facilities.

Alternative B. Balanced Habitat and Public Use Emphasis (Preferred 

    The Service planning team has identified Alternative B as the 
preferred alternative. This alternative was developed based on public 
input and the best judgement of the planning team. The strategies 
presented in the draft comprehensive conservation plan were developed 
as a direct result of the selection of Alternative B.
    This alternative would promote a greater understanding of, and 
protection for, the fish, wildlife, and habitats of the Complex. It 
would promote quality and more evenly balanced recreational and 
educational programs for visitors. Hunting and fishing would continue 
with greater emphasis on the quality of the experience with more 
diverse opportunities, including those for youth and disabled hunters/
anglers. Education and interpretation would be promoted through regular 
programs and partnerships with local schools. Wildlife observation and 
photography opportunities would be expanded, including trails, auto 
tours, photo blinds, and observation towers, highlighting refuge 
management programs and unique wildlife and habitats. All-terrain 
vehicle use for wildlife-dependent creation (e.g., hunting and fishing) 
would continue to provide access to remote portions of certain refuges. 
Trails to accommodate these vehicles would be evaluated for retention 
based on impacts to refuge resources, access, duplication, and other 
means of access. If possible, trails removed for these reasons would be 
rerouted if needed for hunter dispersal. A user fee and permit would be 
required for all-terrain vehicles to provide additional funds needed 
for the trail maintenance program.
    A visitor center and headquarters office would be constructed at 
Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge. Two new subheadquarters and visitor 
contact stations would be constructed at Panther Swamp and Morgan Brake 
National Wildlife Refuges. The new subheadquarters at Panther Swamp 
Refuge would be relocated off either Highway 49 or River Road, to 
provide greater visibility and access to the public.
    Reforestation efforts would focus on creating buffers along field 
edges to protect waterfowl and other waterbirds from disturbance, and 
define boundaries along adjacent private lands. As lands are acquired, 
they would be evaluated for their ability to contribute to step-down 
habitat objectives (e.g., moist soil) and to interior forest habitat.
    Research studies on bottomland hardwood forest restorations would 
be fostered and partnerships developed with universities and other 
agencies, providing needed resources and experiment sites while meeting 
the needs of the complex's reforestation programs. Research would also 
benefit efforts throughout the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley 
to reforest large tracts of lands to meet the objectives set by the 
Lower Mississippi Joint Venture office to address the fulfillment of 
the Partners-in-Flight Plan.
    Additional staff and facilities would be added to accomplish 
objectives for establishing baseline data on refuge resources, managing 
habitats, providing opportunities and facilities for wildlife 
observation and photography, and providing educational programs that 
promote a greater understanding of the Complex's purposes, issues, and 
resources, as well as the unique value of the Lower Mississippi River 
Alluvial Valley.
    Under this alternative, 125,511 acres of Complex lands (including 
refuges and Farmers Home Administration properties) would be protected, 
maintained, restored, and enhanced for resident wildlife, waterfowl, 
migratory nongame birds, and threatened and endangered species. A 
``Conservation Partners Focus Area'' would be established to not only 
concentrate off-refuge resources, but for partnership opportunities and 
future boundary expansion studies to meet regional and national 
objectives. Extensive wildlife and plant censuses and inventory 
activities would be initiated to obtain the biological information 
needed to implement and monitor management programs on the Complex. All 
management actions would be directed toward achieving each refuge's 
primary purposes, while contributing to other national, regional, and 
state goals. Active habitat management programs would include water 
level manipulations, moist-soil and cropland management, reforestation, 
and existing forest management, all designed to meet the foraging, 
resting, and breeding requirements for a variety of species, 
particularly migratory birds. An extensive system of levees, water 
control structures, and wells would be maintained and developed in an 
effort to mimic historic flooding regimes.
    As funding becomes available to either contract or conduct farming 
operations with Complex equipment and staff, acres in agricultural 
production would be reduced by at least half, depending upon the level 
of funding and yield. The majority of the acres would be converted to 
moist soil to meet habitat objectives and needs of wintering waterfowl 
and other waterbirds, and scrub/shrub and grassland habitats for 
neotropical migratory birds, woodcock, and upland game birds. 
Additional lands would be reforested, but due to the size and 
distribution of sites, would not be sufficient to meet any interior 
forest objectives. An assortment of step-down management plans would be 
created or updated to provide the specifics for the individual refuge 
    Under this alternative, the Complex would continue to seek, from 
willing sellers, acquisition of all inholdings within the present 
acquisition boundaries. Top priority would be lands which, if acquired, 
would address some critical issues related to habitat protection, 
access, and off-refuge impacts. Lands acquired as part of the Complex 
would be made available for compatible wildlife-dependent public 
recreation and environmental education opportunities. Equally important 
options to be used include: Corps of Engineers' mitigation program; 
outreach and partnerships with adjacent landowners; hunt clubs; and the 
Natural Resources Conservation Service to use conservation easements, 
cooperative agreements, and federal programs, such as the Wetland 
Reserve Program, to link bottomland hardwood forest tracts and 
contribute to overall wildlife, soil, and water conservation benefits 
within the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley.

Alternative C. Public Use Emphasis

    This approach would place less emphasis on managing habitats, while 
allowing for significantly more public recreational uses. Any 
additional staff and resources would be directed towards allowing for 
more compatible public activities in all areas of the Complex. 
Additional moist soil, scrub/

[[Page 59766]]

shrub, forested lands, and grasslands would not be restored and 
managed. Moist-soil impoundments, currently managed for waterfowl and 
shorebirds, would be converted to fishing ponds for public use. Hunting 
seasons would be aligned with state regulations to allow for maximum 
use. All-terrain vehicle use would continue to disperse hunters, with 
additional funding used to maintain the maximum number of trails and 
roads for access.
    Auto tours, canoe trails, foot trails, and observation towers would 
be added for environmental education and watchable wildlife programs. 
Additional staff would be used for developing and presenting both on- 
and off-site outreach and interpretation programs.
    A visitor center and headquarters office would be constructed at 
Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge. Two new subheadquarters and visitor 
contact stations would be constructed at Panther Swamp and Morgan Brake 
Refuges. The new subheadquarters at Panther Swamp Refuge would be 
relocated off either Highway 49 or River Road, to provide greater 
visibility and access to the public.
    Land acquisition within the current acquisition boundary would 
continue with emphasis on those lands that could provide additional 
public use opportunities and greater access to current refuge lands by 
the public.

Alternative D. Interior Forest Habitat Emphasis

    Under this alternative, all suitable Complex lands would be 
reforested in support of migratory birds and other wildlife dependent 
on interior forest habitats. Most refuge management actions would be 
directed toward creating and managing the largest amount of interior 
and corridor forest habitat (for Louisiana black bear, neotropical 
migratory songbirds, and other interior forest wildlife) and reducing 
forest fragmentation, while supporting the overall primary purposes for 
the Complex of preserving wintering habitat for mallards, pintails, and 
wood ducks, and providing production habitat for wood ducks and other 
migratory birds dependent on forested habitats. Other national, 
regional, and state goals to protect and restore shorebird, grassland, 
and scrub/shrub bird populations would be supported secondarily in 
habitats that were not suitable for reforestation. Step-down waterfowl 
objectives, established by the Lower Mississippi Joint Venture, in 
support of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, for 
unharvested crops and moist soil would not be met. However, wintering 
waterfowl would potentially benefit from additional flooded timber 
habitat, including mast and invertebrate production.
    Open habitat for geese would not be maintained on Yazoo National 
Wildlife Refuge and farming would be eliminated throughout the Complex. 
Eliminating farming would eliminate goose use, maximize the amount of 
forests and forested corridor habitats, and minimize forest 
fragmentation. A forest management plan, designed to address this 
alternative's primary goals by creating spatially and specifically 
diverse woodlands, would be developed and implemented. Quality 
wildlife-dependent recreation activities (e.g., hunting, fishing, 
wildlife observation, and environmental education and interpretation) 
would be provided. An environmental education plan, incorporating 
aggressive and proactive promotion of on- and off-site programs, would 
be developed and implemented. Improvements would be made to interior 
and exterior roads to provide all-weather vehicular access to a broad 
segment of the public; however, existing and proposed roads and trails 
would be evaluated for their impacts on forest fragmentation. Wildlife 
observation sites/platforms; interpretive trails, boardwalks, and 
kiosks; and restrooms would be provided at specific sites to allow for 
fully accessible interpretation and environmental education programs. 
Fishing would be provided on Panther Swamp, Hillside, Morgan Brake, and 
Mathews Brake National Wildlife Refuges.
    Under this alternative, the complex would continue to seek, from 
willing sellers, acquisition of all inholdings within the present 
acquisition boundary. Highest priority would be given to those lands 
that may be reforested to contribute to the interior forest objectives. 
Lands would be made available for compatible wildlife-dependent public 
recreation and environmental education opportunities. Additionally, the 
Complex would concentrate on all future off-refuge programs and 
partnerships within the ``Conservation Partners Focus Area,'' with an 
emphasis on contributing to interior forest habitat.

    Authority: This notice is published under the authority of the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, Public Law 

    Dated: April 7, 2005.
Jacquelyn B. Parrish,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 05-20491 Filed 10-12-05; 8:45 am]