[Federal Register: June 16, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 116)]
[Page 34955-34957]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability of the Draft Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan and Environmental Assessment for Grand Cote National Wildlife 
Refuge in Avoyelles Parish, LA


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service announces that a Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment (Draft 
CCP/EA) for Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge is available for public 
review and comment. This Draft CCP/EA was prepared pursuant to the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, as amended, and the 
National Environmental Policy Act. The Draft CCP/EA describes the 
Service's proposal for management of the refuge for 15 years.

DATES: Written comments must be received at the postal or electronic 
addresses listed below no later than July 31, 2006.

ADDRESSES: To provide written comments or to obtain a copy of the Draft 
CCP/EA, please write to Tina Chouinard, National Resource Planner, 
Central Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 401 Island Road,

[[Page 34956]]

Marksville, Louisiana 71351; Telephone: 318/253-4238. Comments may also 
be submitted via electronic mail to tina_chouinard@fws.gov. The Draft 
CCP/EA will also be available for viewing and downloading online at 

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The National Wildlife Refuge System 
Administration Act of 1966, as amended by the National Wildlife Refuge 
System Improvement Act of 1997 (16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee), requires the 
Service to develop a plan for each 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, plans 
identify wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities available to the 
public, including opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife 
observation, wildlife photography, and environmental education and 
    Background: Grand Cote National Wildlife Refuge is in west-central 
Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, about 5 miles west of the city of 
Marksville and 20 miles southeast of the city of Alexandria. The refuge 
is part of the Central Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 
which also includes Lake Ophelia and Cat Island National Wildlife 
Refuges and several fee and easement Farm Service Agency sites. The 
refuge lies within a physiographic region known as the Mississippi 
Alluvial Valley. This valley was at one time a 25-million-acre forested 
wetland complex that extended along both sides of the Mississippi River 
from Illinois to Louisiana. Although the refuge was part of this very 
productive bottomland hardwood ecosystem, most of the forest on and 
around the refuge was cleared in the late 1960s for agricultural 
production. Since this land was cleared, most of what is now the refuge 
had been under intensive rice production, so there is an extensive 
system of man-made levees, irrigation ditches, and water control 
structures. Due to this infrastructure, the refuge is capable of 
providing critical shallow-water habitat for migratory waterfowl and 
    The refuge was established in 1989 to provide wintering habitat for 
mallards, pintails, blue-winged teal, and wood ducks and production 
habitat for wood ducks to meet the goals of the North American 
Waterfowl Management Plan. The refuge is also being managed to provide 
habitat for threatened and endangered species, a natural diversity of 
plants and animals, and opportunities for compatible wildlife-dependent 
    Significant issues addressed in the draft comprehensive 
conservation plan and environmental assessment include: waterfowl 
management, agriculture, cooperative farming, land acquisition, forest 
fragmentation, visitor services, cultural resources, and refuge access. 
The Service developed three alternatives for management of the refuge 
and chose Alternative 2 as the Service's proposed alternative.
    Alternative 1 represents no change from current management of the 
refuge. Under this alternative, 6,075 acres would be protected, 
maintained, restored, and enhanced for resident wildlife, waterfowl, 
and threatened and endangered species. Refuge management programs would 
continue to be developed and implemented with little baseline 
biological information. All management actions would be directed toward 
achieving the refuge's primary purposes (e.g., preserving wintering 
habitat for mallards, pintails, blue-winged teal, and wood duck; 
providing production habitat for wood ducks; and helping to meet the 
habitat conservation goals of the North American Waterfowl Management 
Plan), while contributing to other national, regional, and state goals. 
Cooperative farming would continue to be used to manage and maintain 
approximately 2,400 acres of cropland and moist-soil habitats. The 
current level of wildlife-dependent recreation activities (e.g., 
hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, and 
environmental education and interpretation) would be maintained.
    Alternative 2, the proposed alternative, is considered to be the 
most effective management action for meeting the purposes of the refuge 
by adding more staff, equipment, and facilities in order to manage and 
restore wetland and moist-soil habitats and hydrology in support of 
migratory and resident waterfowl and other wildlife, especially white-
tailed deer and woodcock. The proposed alternative seeks to conduct 
extensive wildlife population monitoring/surveying in order to assess 
population status, trends, wildlife habitat associations, and 
population responses to habitat management. Active habitat management 
would be implemented through water level manipulations, moist-soil and 
cropland management, minimal reforestation, and forest management 
designed to provide a diverse complex of habitats that meets the 
foraging, resting, and breeding requirements for a variety of species. 
Cooperative farming and refuge staff would be used to manage and 
maintain approximately 1,940 acres of existing cropland and moist-soil 
habitats. Under this alternative, the refuge would continue to seek 
acquisition of inholdings from all willing sellers within the present 
acquisition boundary, including 2,500-3,000 acres in the Chatlain Lake 
area to help better meet waterfowl objectives. The six priority 
wildlife-dependent public uses would continue to be supported and in 
some cases they would be expanded throughout the refuge under the 
proposed alternative. This alternative would also strengthen the close 
working relationship in existence between the Service, the local 
community, conservation organizations, the Louisiana Department of 
Wildlife and Fisheries, and other state and federal agencies.
    Alternative 3 would maximize bottomland hardwood forest restoration 
in support of the area's endemic habitat by adding more staff, 
equipment, and facilities. Under this alternative, 6,075 acres of 
refuge lands would be protected, maintained, restored, and enhanced for 
resident wildlife, waterfowl, neotropical migratory birds, and 
threatened and endangered species. Some wildlife and plant censuses and 
inventory activities would be initiated to obtain the biological 
information needed to implement management programs on the refuge, 
especially for forest-dependent species. Most management actions would 
be directed toward creating and managing the bottomland hardwood forest 
habitat for neotropical migratory birds and other forest-dependent 
wildlife, while supporting the refuge's primary purposes. Cooperative 
farming would be eliminated. Agriculture acreage would be reduced to 
500 acres; all farming would be conducted by refuge staff. The refuge 
would maintain 400 acres of moist-soil habitat. Under this alternative, 
the refuge would continue to seek acquisition of inholdings from 
willing sellers within the present acquisition boundary; however, the 
Service would eliminate the Chatlain Lake area from the current 
acquisition boundary. The six priority wildlife-dependent recreation 
opportunities would be provided.
    After the review and comment period for the Draft CCP/EA, all 
comments will be analyzed and considered by the Service. All comments 
received from individuals on the Draft CCP/EA become part of the 
official public

[[Page 34957]]

record. Requests for such comments will be handled in accordance with 
the Freedom of Information Act and other Service and Departmental 
policies and procedures.

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

    Dated: March 21, 2006.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 06-5460 Filed 6-15-05; 8:45 am]