[Federal Register: May 3, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 84)]
[Page 22897-22898]
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 the Chesapeake Marshlands 
National Wildlife Refuge Complex

AGENCY: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces that 
the Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and Environmental 
Assessment (EA) for the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge 
(NWR) Complex are now available for public review and comment. The CCP 
identifies the purposes for which the refuges in the refuge complex 
were established, and the roles they will play in fulfilling the 
mission of the Service and the mission and goals of the National 
Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS). The EA identifies three alternatives for 
managing the refuge complex, and discusses how each of them will affect 
its physical, archaeological, historical, and socioeconomic 
    The draft states the desired future conditions for habitat, 
wildlife, people, and facilities on the refuge complex; ensures that 
the management of the refuge complex reflects the mission, goals, 
mandates, and policies of the NWRS; ensures that its present and future 
wildlife-dependent recreational uses are compatible with the purposes 
for which each of its refuges was established; provides long-term 
continuity in its management direction; provides a basis for developing 
its refuge budgets; outlines a plan for conserving habitat and 
identifies land for future protection; and, provides an understanding 
of its proposed management to refuge neighbors, visitors, and local 
officials (see SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION below).
    We will develop the final CCP for the refuge complex after 
carefully reviewing all of the comments we receive on its draft. For 
details on how to submit your comments, see DATES and ADDRESSES below.

DATES: We must receive your comments on or before July 5, 2005.

ADDRESSES: You may obtain a copy of the draft in print or on compact 
disc by writing or visiting the Chesapeake Marshlands NWR Complex, 2145 
Key Wallace Drive, Cambridge, Maryland, 21613-9536. You may also obtain 
an electronic copy from the http://library.fws.gov/ccps.htm Web site at 

the National Conservation Training Center Library.
    We cordially invite you to comment in person at our public meetings 
soon to be held in Cambridge, Salisbury, and Crisfield, Maryland. As 
soon as we have scheduled them, we will publish their dates and 
addresses in the media.
    You can comment by writing to the refuge complex at the address 
above or to the attention of Gib Chase, Senior Refuge Planner/
Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NWRS, Division of 
Conservation Planning and Policy, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, 
Massachusetts 01035-9589.
    If you prefer to comment by electronic mail, please use the words 
``Chesapeake Marshlands'' in its subject line, and address it to 
northeastplanning@fws.gov (no terminal period). Our e-mail security 

program may strip attachments or graphics from your message. Please 
insert your comments as plain text in the body of your message; 
otherwise, they may be lost.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Gib Chase at 413-253-8525, or Glenn 
Carowan at 410-228-2692, extension 101.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The National Wildlife Refuge System 
Improvement Act of 1997, which amends the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Administration Act of 1966, requires the Service to develop a 
CCP for each national wildlife refuge. Our purpose in developing a CCP 
is to provide each refuge manager broad management direction over a 15-
year period for achieving refuge purposes and contributing to the 
mission of the NWRS in ways that are consistent with the sound 
principles of fish, wildlife, plant and habitat management and 
conservation, Federal laws, and Service policies. A CCP also identifies 
wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities available to the public, 
especially the ``Big 6'' of the Improvement Act: Hunting, fishing, 
wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and 
interpretation. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 requires 
that we prepare an EA for this plan and gather public input during our 

What refuges compose the refuge complex?

    On December 3, 1931, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission 
authorized the establishment of the first refuge in Region 5, the 
Blackwater Migratory Bird Refuge. We acquired its first parcel of land 
in 1933, and added tracts in 1942 and 1945. We acquired the Susquehanna 
NWR in 1940, and purchased Martin NWR in a two-step process in 1954 and 
1955. In the 1990s, we added Barren Island, Watts Island and Bishops 
Head. The refuge complex now comprises the Blackwater, Eastern Neck 
NWRs, and the Chesapeake Island Unit, consisting of Martin and 
Susquehanna NWRs, and the Barren Island, Watts Island, Spring Island, 
and Bishops Head Divisions. This draft treats all of those units except 
the Eastern Neck NWR. We will draft a CCP for that refuge later.

What major issues or concerns did the public identify during the 
planning process?

    During our public scoping process, the public identified four major 
concerns listed below, which we considered as we developed our 
alternatives and evaluated their environmental impacts.
     Potential effects of an expanding human population and 
changing demographics on Service trust resources from urbanization, 
vessel traffic and waterborne activities on the Blackwater and 
Nanticoke rivers, and changing public attitudes and demands;
     Potential effects of refuge expansion and land 
     Potential effects of habitat changes: The loss of wetlands 
or marshes; the loss of islands to erosion; the

[[Page 22898]]

degradation of water quality; the loss and degradation of riparian 
buffer; and the fragmentation of forest through the lack of management 
for health and good species composition and;
     Potential effects on populations of flora and fauna by 
injurious, exotic, or invasive species; the lack of scientific data; 
and the lack of management for rare, threatened, or endangered species 
and waterfowl.

What are the important problems affecting fish and wildlife?

    The most serious impacts on the refuge complex and the Chesapeake 
Bay surrounding it arise from the fragmentation of habitats by 
urbanization, timbering, and agriculture; the lack of forest 
management; the erosion of Bay islands; the loss and degradation of 
wetlands and emergent and submergent aquatic vegetation; the 
proliferation of injurious, invasive, or exotic species; the lack of 
scientific data on wildlife populations, habitats, and the 
effectiveness of management actions; and the inadequacy of the refuge 
complex land base for ensuring its long-term health and ecological 
integrity and the diversity of Federal trust species.

How will our preferred management actions benefit fish, wildlife, and 

    We believe that our preferred management Alternative B, 
Conservation Biology for Diversity of Trust Species, best fulfills our 
statutory mission, responsibilities, and refuge purposes, while 
considering economic, environmental, technical and other factors. It 
proposes to increase protection for more than 270 species of rare, 
threatened, or endangered species; to significantly contribute to 
delisting the Delmarva fox squirrel from endangered species status; to 
provide habitat necessary to sustain 10 percent of Maryland's wintering 
Atlantic population of Canada geese, lesser snow geese, and dabbling 
ducks; to restore 10,000 acres of emergent marsh to 1933 conditions; to 
provide high quality forest habitat for 22 species of globally 
significant forest interior dwelling species of migratory birds; to 
control or eradicate injurious, invasive, and exotic species; to 
increase waterfowl and songbird utilization and production; to enhance 
habitat and improve resident populations of waterfowl; to restore 
wetlands and hydrology; to expand opportunities for research; to 
provide additional, wildlife-dependent recreation, particularly the Big 
6 mentioned above; to improve significant facilities and add staff; to 
protect additional, adjoining land by easement, agreement, or fee title 
acquisition; to restore Atlantic white cedar forest; and to improve 
public understanding of the dynamics of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem 
and the interactions among all its populations.

How do our draft management alternatives differ?

    Alternative A, Species-specific Management (No Action Alternative), 
represents traditional, single-species management. It focuses on 
providing for the habitat needs of key wildlife trust species and 
groups of species. It proposes to provide habitat for wintering and 
nesting waterfowl, for nesting colonial waterbirds, for endangered 
species such as the Delmarva fox squirrel, and for species of special 
emphasis such as Canada geese and lesser snow geese, wintering dabbling 
ducks, nesting black ducks, wood ducks, tundra swans, ospreys, bald 
eagles, peregrine falcons, and colonial bird species such as great blue 
herons, great egrets, least terns, and black skimmers. It proposes 
generally to follow the goals, objectives, and strategies of the 
Station Management Plan of 1991.
    Alternative B, Conservation Biology for Trust Species Diversity 
(our Preferred Alternative), represents adaptive management based on 
the results of scientific survey and monitoring programs. It focuses on 
restoring, enhancing, and maintaining ecological processes and natural 
biological communities and biodiversity. It emphasizes managing the 
refuge complex for the benefit of all migratory bird species; 
maintaining and recovering endangered or threatened species; restoring 
submerged aquatic vegetation and wetlands; reducing or eliminating 
invasive plant and animal species; and adding research and inventories, 
including butterflies, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
    Our preferred alternative also proposes to expand the boundary of 
Blackwater NWR, primarily through partnerships and easements, in two 
areas: 15,300 acres surrounding the refuge; and 16,000 acres east of 
the refuge along the Nanticoke River. All of that acreage contains low-
lying forest and marsh habitats.
    Finally, our preferred alternative improves our ability to provide 
opportunities for compatible, wildlife-dependent recreation, by 
proposing a new, accessible fishing pier and parking area at Key 
Wallace Bridge, new hiking and canoe trails, a canoe access ramp and 
wetland observation deck; and, by rebuilding the wildlife observation 
tower, remodeling and expanding the visitor center, updating the 
exhibits at the center, enhancing signage, providing new hunting 
opportunities (turkeys, resident Canada geese, and waterfowl), and 
providing many more outreach and environmental education programs.
    Alternative C, Maximum Public Use with No Habitat Management, 
represents reduced management of wildlife and resources, but the 
maximum compatible recreational use of the refuge complex: All of the 
use proposed in alternative B; plus, expanding the hours of guided 
tours, offering more education programs, constructing more trails, 
piers, and kiosks, and opening more islands to bank fishing. However, 
its much-reduced scope of wildlife and resource management would 
address only those mandates by Federal law and executive directive, 
with no habitat restoration or manipulation, only intervention to avert 
catastrophic emergencies. It would not address the rise in sea level, 
impacts on water quality, or other known or suspected impacts. We would 
burn prescribed fires periodically, but only as a safety precaution to 
reduce fuel load. This alternative would not counteract natural forces 
or human activities that may impact the ecological communities, 
habitats, and species of the refuge complex.
    Please send us your comments in the manner described above, or join 
us at our public meetings soon to be scheduled in Cambridge, Salisbury, 
and Crisfield, Maryland.

    Dated: February 18, 2005.
Richard O. Bennett,
Acting Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hadley, 
Massachusetts 01035-9589.
[FR Doc. 05-8763 Filed 5-2-05; 8:45 am]