[Federal Register: November 9, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 217)]
[Page 65832-65833]
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 Lacassine National Wildlife 
Refuge in Cameron and Evangeline Parishes, LA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service announces that a Draft 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for 
Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge is available for distribution. This 
document was prepared pursuant to the National Wildlife Refuge System 
Administration Act of 1966, as amended, and the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969. The draft plan and environmental assessment 
describes the Service's proposal for management of the refuge for 15 

DATES: Written comments must be received at the postal or electronic 
address listed below no later than December 11, 2006.

ADDRESSES: To provide written comments or to obtain a copy of the draft 
plan and environmental assessment, please contact the Project Leader, 
Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 1428 Highway 27, 
Bell City, Louisiana 70630; Telephone: 337-598-2216. Comments may also 
be submitted via electronic mail to judy--
[fxsp0]mcclendon[fxsp0]@fws.gov. The draft plan and environmental 
assessment may be accessed and downloaded from the Service's Internet 
site http://southeast.fws.gov/planning/.

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-66ee), requires the 
Service to develop a comprehensive conservation plan for each refuge. 
The purpose in developing a 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: Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge is one of four 
refuges that makes up the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge 
Complex. It is located at the edge of Grand Lake and 15 miles from the 
Gulf of Mexico in Cameron and Evangeline Parishes in Louisiana. The 
34,724-acre refuge is strategically located on the boundary of coastal 
marsh and agricultural habitats; as well as at the southern terminus of 
the Mississippi and Central Flyways, making the refuge critically 
important to migratory birds, especially wintering waterfowl. Habitat 
types and approximate acreage on the refuge include: 14,700 acres of 
fresh marsh; 16,000 acres of impounded fresh marsh; 1,048 acres of open 
water, 352 acres of forested wetlands, 348 acres of shrub wetlands; 
1,109 acres of croplands (e.g., rice and fallow); 307 acres of early 
successional wetlands; and 334 acres of coastal prairie, plus roads, 
levees, etc. About 3,300 acres are set aside with wilderness 
    Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge was established on December 30, 
1937, as Lacassine Migratory Waterfowl Refuge by the following: (1) 
Executive Order 7780 ``as a Refuge and breeding ground for migratory 
birds and other wildlife,'' and (2) the Migratory Bird Conservation Act 
``for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or any other management purpose, 
for migratory birds'' (16 U.S.C. 715d). Additional lands were added to 
the refuge under the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 ``for the 
development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of 
fish and wildlife resources'' [16 U.S.C. 742f(a)(4)] and ``for the 
benefit of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in performing 
its activities and services'' [16 U.S.C. 742f(b)(1)].
    Significant issues addressed in the draft plan and environmental 
assessment include: Migratory bird management; management for special 
habitats, such as the wilderness area, Lacassine Pool (i.e., freshwater 
impoundment), and prairie habitat; water management; management of oil 
and gas activities; access management for public use activities, 
including recreational freshwater sportfishing, fishing tournaments, 
and hunting; and protection of cultural resources.
    Also included in the draft plan and environmental assessment are 
compatibility determinations for the following: Berry picking 
(collecting berries, fruits, and nuts); environmental education and 
interpretation; recreational freshwater sportfishing; recreational 
freshwater sportfishing tournaments; recreational hunting; research and 
monitoring; wildlife observation and photography; commercial alligator 
harvests; commercial video and photography; commercially guided 
wildlife viewing, photography, environmental education, and 
interpretation; and cooperative farming.
    The Service developed three alternatives for management of the 
refuge and chose Alternative B as the proposed alternative.
    Alternative A represents no change from current management of the 
refuge. Under the ``No Action'' Alternative the refuge will remain at 
34,724 acres in fee title, including Farm Service Agency transfer lands 
and the lease of the 652-acre Cameron Parish school section. With no 
action, marsh loss rates of at least 0.23 percent per year are 
anticipated (low to moderate loss) in the Mermentau River Basin; 
similar rates are expected in other areas of the refuge. The refuge 
will continue to manage impounded freshwater marsh (16,000 acres), 
state-jurisdictional waterways (Lacassine Bayou and Mermentau River), 
ephemeral freshwater marsh (Streeter Canal and Duck Pond), and manage 
upland vegetation to benefit native plants. Acreages of different 
habitats will remain as they are now. About 3,300 acres south of the 
Gulf Intracoastal Waterway will continue to be formally designated as 
wilderness. Management at Lacassine Refuge will focus on biological 
monitoring, wildlife management, invasive plant management, moist-soil 
management, cooperative farming program management, and priority public 
use management, including hunting, fishing and environmental education.
    Alternative B is the Service's proposed action to maximize refuge 
management capabilities in all

[[Page 65833]]

programs. Under the proposed alternative, the refuge would pursue 
acquiring, from willing sellers, lands within its approved acquisition 
boundary. The 3,300-acre Wilderness Area would remain the same size. 
Gross habitat acreages (until approved acquisition boundary expansion 
occurs) would not change appreciably from those under Alternative A, 
but habitats in general would be managed more intensively. The refuge 
would also expand existing wildlife management programs including: 
Focus refuge management on improving and extending the value of 
Lacassine Pool as a waterfowl sanctuary through adaptive management and 
increased emphasis on research; provide additional waterfowl food by 
increasing early successional wetland acreage from 300 to 500 acres and 
expanding the farming program; pursue opportunities to reduce erosion 
to refuge marshes caused by commercial navigation, wind/wave action, 
other natural forces, and oil and gas industry traffic/activities. The 
refuge would evaluate the seasonality and habitat conditions for 
prescribed fire in Lacassine Pool and other refuge marshes to enhance 
habitat for migratory birds, fish, and other wildlife; seek support to 
control invasive plants in the Wilderness Area and refuge-wide using 
approved minimum tools; continue partnerships to manage and protect the 
334-acre coastal prairie on the Duralde Unit; improve quality hunting/
fishing experiences; and manage oil and gas activities in accordance 
with Service policy. Under this alternative, levees would be 
constructed within Lacassine Pool, subdividing it into four units (Unit 
D, plus three additional units). This action would facilitate the 
management of the pool and lengthen its longevity by increasing the 
ability of refuge staff to dewater it, drawing it down to facilitate 
oxidation of accumulating organic sediments and more frequent use of 
prescribed fire. Thus, management could proceed unit-by-unit on a 
regular basis without having to impact the value of the entire pool to 
migratory birds and fisheries all at once. The six priority wildlife-
dependent public uses would continue to be supported and in some cases 
would be expanded. This alternative would also strengthen the close 
working relationship in existence between the Service, the local 
community, conservation organizations, and the Louisiana Department of 
Wildlife and Fisheries.
    Under Alternative C, the refuge would remain at 34,724 acres but 
would refocus management priority to actively investigating and 
extending the life/value of Lacassine Pool as a migratory waterfowl 
sanctuary. Due to sedimentation rates and constraints on water level 
management capabilities, the pool's lifespan is limited and, if nothing 
is done, it would gradually lose its value to both migratory waterfowl 
and fish populations, eventually becoming a wet meadow rather than a 
marshy wetland characterized by a mix of open water and emergent 
vegetation. Other programs dealing either with non-pool areas of the 
refuge or non-habitat aspects of refuge management (i.e., cooperative 
farming, moist-soil management, upland vegetation management, visitor 
services and priority public uses) would be managed at a reduced level 
since refuge resources would be directed to the pool. Under this 
alternative, levees would be constructed within the pool, subdividing 
it into six units over the next 10-15 years. This action would 
facilitate the management of the pool and lengthen its longevity by 
increasing the ability of refuge staff to dewater it, drawing it down 
to facilitate oxidation of accumulating sediments and more beneficial 
use of prescribed fire. Thus, management could proceed unit-by-unit on 
a regular basis without having to impact the value of the entire pool 
to fisheries and migratory birds all at once.
    The Service believes that Alternative B will be the most effective 
one to contribute to the purpose for which the refuge was established 
and to the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System. 
Implementation of the goals, objectives, and strategies of Alternative 
B will allow the refuge to maintain freshwater marsh and upland prairie 
habitat; serve as a critical resting area for waterfowl in a heavily 
hunted area; conserve, restore, and enhance diverse habitats for 
migratory and native wildlife species; maintain healthy and viable 
native fish and wildlife populations; provide opportunities for safe, 
quality, compatible, wildlife-dependent public use and recreation; and 
protect cultural resources.
    After the review and comment period for the draft plan and 
environmental assessment, all comments will be analyzed and considered 
by the Service. All comments received from individuals on the draft 
plan and environmental assessment become part of the official public 
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, Pub. L. 

    Dated: October 6, 2006.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director
[FR Doc. 06-9135 Filed 11-8-06; 8:45 am]