[Federal Register: September 17, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 179)]
[Page 52903-52905]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Washita National Wildlife Refuge, Custer County, OK, and Optima 
National Wildlife Refuge, Texas County, OK

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability: draft comprehensive conservation plan 
and environmental assessment; announcement of public meeting; and 
request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and draft 
environmental assessment (EA) for the Washita and Optima National 
Wildlife Refuges (Refuges, NWRs) for public review and comment. In this 
draft CCP/EA, we describe how we intend to manage these Refuges for the 
15-year period beginning when we make the final version of this CCP/EA 

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your written comments 
by November 1, 2007. We will hold a public meeting to provide 
information about the CCP planning process and solicit comments from 
interested parties; see Public Meeting under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION 
for date, time, and location.

ADDRESSES: Send your comments or requests for more information by any 
of the following methods. You may also view or drop off comments in 
     National Wildlife Refuge System, Southwest Region Planning 
Division Web Site: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/Plan/index.html Download a copy of the document(s) at http://www.fws.gov/.


     E-mail: john_slown@fws.gov. Include ``Washita and Optima 
Draft CCP/EA'' in the subject line of the message. Specify whether you 
want to

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receive a hard copy or CD-ROM by U.S. mail or an electronic copy by e-
     Fax: 505-248-6874.
     U.S. Mail: John Slown, Conservation Planner, USFWS, R-2 
Planning Division, P.O. Box 1306, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103.
     In-Person Drop-off, Viewing, or Pickup: Call 580-664-2205 
to make an appointment during regular business hours at Washita 
National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), 20834 E. 940 Road, Butler, OK 73625.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: John Slown, by telephone at 505-248-
7458 or by e-mail at john_slown@fws.gov, or David Maple, Refuge 
Manager, by telephone at 580-664-2205.



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Washita and 
Optima Refuges, which we started with a notice of intent to prepare a 
CCP that appeared in the November 17, 1999, issue of the Federal 
Register (64 FR 62683). For more about the initiation of this process, 
see that notice. The Washita National Wildlife Refuge was established 
in 1961 by the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (16 
U.S.C. 661-667e) as a management overlay on Bureau of Reclamation lands 
and waters of Foss Reservoir, for conservation of its wildlife 
resource. Approximately 10 acres of land acquired through the use of 
Migratory Bird Conservation Stamp Act funds are to be used as an 
inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory 
birds (16 U.S.C. 715d [Migratory Bird Conservation Act]).
    Comprised of the northern portion of Foss Reservoir, adjacent 
wetlands, uplands, and the Washita River corridor in western Oklahoma, 
the 8,075-acre Refuge is managed to provide habitat and food for 
migrating and wintering populations of geese and ducks in the Central 
Flyway, contributing to conservation of waterfowl resources. The Refuge 
has also been managed to provide a diversity of habitats for a wide 
range of migratory bird species, including the whooping crane 
(Federally listed as threatened and endangered species), neotropical 
migratory birds (i.e., birds that breed in the United States or Canada, 
but migrate to winter ranges in Mexico, Central America, South America, 
or the Caribbean Islands), and shorebirds. Deer, coyote, bobcat, 
badger, opossum, and other resident wildlife species thrive on the 
Refuge as well.
    Management efforts at Washita Refuge focus on enhancing wetlands 
and uplands for migratory birds and other wildlife species.
    The Optima National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1975 under 
the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (16 U.S.C. 661-
667e, as amended), by agreement between the Department of the Interior 
and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While the original purpose of the 
4,333-acre Refuge was provision of wintering and resting habitat for 
migratory waterfowl of the Central Flyway, the Refuge provides little 
habitat for migratory waterfowl due to lower than anticipated water 
impoundment rates in the Optima Reservoir. The Optima Refuge is 
currently managed for resident wildlife and migratory birds. The lack 
of water has reduced the potential for waterfowl management. The Refuge 
provides an island of largely undisturbed habitat for migratory 
songbirds and resident species including white-tailed deer, coyote, Rio 
Grande turkey, and scaled quail.


The CCP Process

    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 us to develop a CCP for each national 
wildlife refuge. The purpose in developing a CCP 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 our 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 interpretation. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 
requires that Federal agencies analyze and report upon the potential 
effects of any major proposed actions and range of reasonable 
alternatives. The draft EA attached to the draft CCP satisfies this 

CCP Alternatives and Our Proposed Action

Priority Issues

    During the public scoping process with which we initiated work on 
this draft CCP, we, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, 
other partners, and the public raised several priority issues, which 
our draft CCP addresses. Priority issues included depredation of crops 
on farms adjacent to Washita Refuge by geese attracted to the Refuge, 
the need for more complete resource inventory of the biological 
resources of both Refuges, public pressure for additional recreational 
opportunities on the Refuges, and the difficulty of managing resources 
on Optima Refuge with no permanent staff on site. To address these 
priority issues, we developed and evaluated the following alternatives 
during the planning process.


    Alternative 1, No Action, is current management, or what would 
occur on the Refuges if no management plans were implemented. Under 
Alternative 2, the Refuges would be operated at a custodial level; 
habitat management programs would cease and public access would be 
closed. Alternative 3 is the proposed action, and includes management 
actions and public uses that are considered to be the best feasible. 
Alternative 4 represents a maximum effort alternative, with intensive 
habitat management actions and maximized public use.
    Habitat management activities: Under Alternative 1 Washita Refuge 
would continue to operate moist soil management areas, prescription 
fires, and farming for wildlife at the current levels. Under 
Alternative 1, habitat management on Optima Refuge would be limited to 
the current level of farming for wildlife and periodic clearing of 
firebreaks along the Refuge boundaries. Under Alternative 2, there 
would be no active habitat management at either Refuge. Under 
Alternative 3, the proposed action, habitat management would include 
development and implementation of an integrated pest management plan at 
both Refuges. Farming for wildlife would be continued at both Refuges, 
but would be comprehensively reviewed for appropriateness and 
effectiveness. Similarly, moist soil management would be continued at 
Washita Refuge. Both Refuges would establish annual goals for prairie 
restoration in areas previously altered by tillage or over-grazing. A 
program of salt cedar eradication and cottonwood establishment would be 
implemented at Optima Refuge. Under Alternative 4, habitat management 
programs at each Refuge would be maximized, and acreage of land farmed 
for wildlife or managed as moist soil units would be increased.
    Public Use Opportunities: Under Alternative 1, No Action, the 

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levels of public use and visitor facility development would remain at 
each Refuge. Washita Refuge would continue to offer waterfowl and deer 
hunts and would maintain the Centennial Trail, and several other 
interpretive signs and visitor access parking areas. Optima Refuge 
would continue to offer upland game and deer archery hunts and passive 
recreation with extremely limited developed facilities. Under 
Alternative 2, both Refuges would be closed to the public. Under 
Alternative 3, the proposed action, Washita Refuge would evaluate 
additional hunt opportunities, develop a primitive hiking trail with 
interpretive signs, develop additional interpretive signage, and 
develop a visitor center on the Refuge administrative site. Optima 
Refuge would develop additional interpretive signage at existing 
parking areas. Curriculum materials and other educational and 
interpretive outreach resources would be developed and distributed to 
schools and other institutions in the towns surrounding each Refuge. 
Under Alternative 4, public use opportunities at both Refuges would be 
maximized. In addition to the programs and features proposed under 
Alternative 3, Washita NWR would develop additional vehicular access 
and parking areas, a canoe trail along the Washita River with parking 
at put-in and take-out points, and 5 miles of interpreted hiking 
trails. Optima NWR would develop two wildlife viewing platforms 
overlooking the Refuge and a marked hiking trail with interpretive 

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, telephone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so. We will make all comments part of the official public 
record. We will handle requests for such comments in accordance with 
the Freedom of Information Act, NEPA, and Service and Departmental 
policies and procedures.

    Dated: July 26, 2007.
Christopher T. Jones,
Acting Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, 
New Mexico.
 [FR Doc. E7-18165 Filed 9-14-07; 8:45 am]