[Federal Register: December 29, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 250)]
[Page 78454-78455]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Final Environmental Impact Statement and Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan for Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability of record of decision.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce our decision 
and the availability of the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Final 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan (CCP) for Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in accordance with 
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements.

ADDRESSES: The ROD and Final EIS/CCP may be viewed at Crab Orchard 
National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in Marion, Illinois. You may 
obtain a copy of the ROD on the planning Web site at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/planning/craborchard
 or by writing to: U.S. Fish 

and Wildlife Service, Division of Conservation Planning, Bishop Henry 
Whipple Federal Building, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, Minnesota 


SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
announce our decision and the availability of the Record of Decision 
(ROD) for the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for Crab Orchard National 
Wildlife Refuge in accordance with NEPA requirements (40 CFR 
1506.6(b)). We completed a thorough analysis of the environmental, 
social, and economic considerations, which we included in the Final 
EIS/CCP. The Final EIS/CCP was released to the public and a notice of 
availability was published in the Federal Register (71 FR 52138-52139, 
September 1, 2006). The ROD was signed by the Regional Director, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest Region, on October 27, 2006, and 
documents the selection of Alternative E, the Preferred Alternative in 
the Final EIS/CCP.
    The CCP for Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) will 
guide the management and administration of the Refuge for the next 15 
years. Alternative E, as described in the Final EIS, is the foundation 
for the CCP.
    Five alternatives and their consequences were developed for the 
Draft EIS and CCP, which was released and a notice was published in the 
Federal Register (70 FR 60364-60365, October 17, 2005).
    Alternative A--Current Management (No Action). The current level of 
effort on fish and wildlife and habitat management would continue. The 
current authorized recreation uses and patterns would continue. Current 
industrial leasing policies would remain in place. The amount of 
agricultural land would remain fairly constant.
    Alternative B--Reduced Habitat Fragmentation: Wildlife-dependent 
Recreation Emphasis with Land Exchange. The Refuge would emphasize the 
reduction of habitat fragmentation by making small changes in the 
current habitat cover to gain larger, unfragmented blocks of both 
forest and grassland habitats. The alternative would offer increased 

[[Page 78455]]

opportunities by exchanging land in the developed northwestern portion 
of the Refuge for undeveloped land at another location. The industrial 
use policy would be updated. The amount of land in row crops would 
decrease slightly, and the Refuge would convert fescue pastures to 
other cool- and warm-season grasses over a period of 15 years.
    Alternative C--Open Land Management: Consolidate and Improve 
Recreation. The Refuge would take advantage of the lands that are 
already open and consolidate existing large blocks of open land for 
grassland dependent species, especially birds. The Refuge would satisfy 
the Refuge's recreation purpose as much as possible within Service 
budget priorities through consolidating and upgrading facilities. If an 
industrial tenant left the Refuge, the Refuge would not seek a new 
tenant for the vacant facility. The amount of land in row crops would 
increase slightly.
    Alternative D--Forest Land Management: Consolidate and Improve 
Recreation. The Refuge would manage two large forest blocks to benefit 
area-sensitive forest birds and maintain some early successional 
habitat. The Refuge would satisfy the Refuge's recreation purpose as 
much as possible within Service budget priorities through consolidating 
and upgrading facilities. If an industrial tenant left the Refuge, the 
Refuge would not seek a new tenant for the vacant facility. The amount 
of land in row crops and hay fields would decrease slightly.
    Alternative E--Reduced Habitat Fragmentation: Consolidate and 
Improve Recreation (Preferred Alternative). The Refuge would emphasize 
the reduction of habitat fragmentation by making small changes in the 
current habitat cover to gain larger, unfragmented blocks of both 
forest and grassland habitats. The Refuge would satisfy the Refuge's 
recreation purpose as much as possible within Service budget priorities 
through consolidating and upgrading facilities. If an industrial tenant 
left the Refuge and their facilities were suitable for occupancy, the 
Refuge would make them available for new tenants. The amount of land in 
row crops would decrease slightly.
    Elements common to all alternatives included: enough food for 6.4 
million goose-use-days for wintering Canada Geese would be provided; 
federal and state listed species would be protected; resident fish and 
wildlife populations would be maintained or enhanced; communication 
between the Refuge and the community would be improved; cultural 
resources would be protected; and the Refuge's Fire Management Plan 
would guide the fire program. In addition the following policies would 
apply under all alternatives: classifying lands for various uses would 
be dropped; the length of stay at campgrounds would be limited to 14 
consecutive nights; group camps would be required to provide 
environmental education; recreational fees would be made consistent 
with the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 2005; small 
competitive fishing events would be limited to three events per year 
per organization; and mowing of pastures and fields would take place 
after August 1 to protect nesting birds.
    The Service's Basis for Decision: All action alternatives (B 
through E) are considered environmentally preferable to Alternative A 
(No Action). Alternative E is the alternative considered to have the 
least adverse effect on the physical and biological environments. The 
rationale for choosing Alternative E as the best alternative for the 
CCP is based on the impact of this alternative on the purposes of the 
Refuge and the issues and needs that surfaced during the planning 
process. Other factors considered in the decision were public and 
resource benefits gained for the cost incurred and the extensive public 
comment. Alternative E is likely to lead to improvements under the 
agricultural, wildlife conservation, and recreation purposes of the 
Refuge. Alternative E is also expected to lead to wider and fairer 
access to public recreational opportunities. Alternative A was not 
selected because it would inadequately address the needs and issues 
that were documented during planning. Alternative B was not selected 
because the land exchange, which was the heart of the alternative, 
could not be accomplished within the authorities of the Department of 
the Interior. Alternatives C and D served to contrast an emphasis on 
grassland birds with an emphasis on forest birds, and we learned that 
only marginal benefits would accrue to either group of birds over the 
reduced habitat fragmentation approach of Alternative B or E.
    Public Comments on Final EIS: During the 30-day waiting period, we 
received 67 written comments. With one exception, the comments did not 
raise any issues not addressed in the Final EIS, and the comments did 
not result in changes to the analysis of environmental consequences or 
affect our response to similar comments in the Final EIS. One comment 
pointed out an inconsistency in the document, which was introduced in 
the final editing, related to the acres of new moist soil impoundments 
in the preferred alternative. The Refuge's intention is, as indicated 
by the response on page 181 of the Final EIS, to develop 150-200 
additional acres of moist soil impoundments. The stand-alone CCP will 
reflect that intention. A new topic raised during the waiting period 
was an advocacy for rock climbing on the Refuge. The Access Fund 
requested that we complete a Compatibility Determination for rock 
climbing and amend the Final EIS/CCP. Other citizens and groups also 
expressed an interest in allowing access for climbing. The Record of 
Decision details Service guidance for determining appropriate and 
compatible uses and the finding by the Refuge Manager that rock 
climbing at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is not appropriate. 
As a result of this finding and according to Service procedure, rock 
climbing on the Refuge has been denied by the Refuge Manager without 
determining compatibility, and the Final EIS has not been amended. All 
written comments received during the waiting period are available for 
review at the Refuge headquarters in Marion, Illinois.
    Measures to Minimize Environmental Harm: Because all practicable 
means to avoid or minimize environmental harm have been incorporated 
into the preferred alternative, no mitigation measures have been 
identified. Means to minimize environmental harm are complemented by a 
Biological Assessment that was prepared to address any impacts to 
federally-listed threatened or endangered species. This assessment 
calls for a tiered approach, whereby impacts and mitigation will be 
handled on a project-specific basis when project scope and design is 
articulated. The Biological Assessment concluded that implementation of 
Alternative E is not likely to adversely affect the Bald Eagle and not 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Indiana bat. In 
addition, compatibility determinations were prepared for all uses 
identified in Alternative E, and these determinations contain 
stipulations to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any environmental impacts 
from these uses and associated facilities.

    Dated: November 20, 2006.
Charles M. Wooley,
Acting Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fort 
Snelling, Minnesota.
[FR Doc. E6-22384 Filed 12-28-06; 8:45 am]