[Federal Register: April 17, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 73)]
[Page 19212-19213]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of a Draft Environmental Assessment for 
the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge Horse and Burro Management Program 
and Announcement of a Public Meeting

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and announcement of a public meeting.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces that a draft 
environmental assessment (EA) for an interim Sheldon National Wildlife 
Refuge (Refuge) Horse and Burro Management Program (Program) is 
available for review and comment. The EA provides a consolidated and 
updated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluation of the 
Sheldon Refuge Program. The EA analyzes the environmental effects of 
various alternatives for managing the Refuge's horses and burros until 
a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Refuge is completed.

DATES: Comments must be received by May 17, 2007 (see addresses). A 
public meeting will be held on May 8, 2007 in Lakeview, Oregon (details 
of the meeting will be posted on Internet).

ADDRESSES: Address comments on the draft EA by e-mail to 
Sheldon-Hart@fws.gov or in writing to: Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. 

Box 111, Lakeview, OR 97630. The EA will be available on the Internet 
at http://www.fws.gov/pacific/news/2006/Sheldon_Horse_EA_draft.pdf.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Paul Steblein, Project Leader, Sheldon 
National Wildlife Refuge, at e-mail Sheldon-Hart@fws.gov, fax (541) 
947-4414, or phone (541) 947-3315.



    The Sheldon Refuge encompasses approximately 572,900 acres of 
semiarid desert in the northwestern corner of Nevada, and approximately 
630 acres across the State line, in Oregon.
    The Sheldon Refuge was established in the 1930's for the 
conservation of antelope (American pronghorn), migratory birds, and 
other species of wildlife. By law, the Service must manage its refuges 
to achieve the purpose(s) of the refuge and accomplish the mission of 
the National Wildlife Refuge System, which focuses on the conservation, 
management, and, where appropriate, restoration of native fish, 
wildlife, plants, and their habitats. The terrain of Sheldon Refuge is 
characterized by flat, open expanses of sagebrush lands, narrow canyons 
that empty into rolling valleys, and broad rimrock tables that end 
abruptly in vertical cliffs. Surface water supplies are severely 
limited. Annual precipitation averages less than 13 inches in the 
western portions of the Refuge, and decreases to 6 inches in the 
easterly parts. With elevations averaging approximately 6,000 feet, the 
area has been appropriately labeled high-desert country.


    The draft EA for Sheldon Refuge's Horse and Burro Management 
Program identifies and describes four

[[Page 19213]]

alternatives. Program objectives for all of the alternatives are based 
on the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge Renewable Natural Resources 
Management Plan (Management Plan) and associated NEPA document 
published in 1980, and include: (1) Maintaining a manageable feral 
horse and burro population (75 to 125 horses, 30 to 60 burros) in 
balance with other wildlife species for the enjoyment of Refuge 
visitors; (2) stopping range deterioration and improving wildlife 
habitat and watershed conditions, and reducing impacts on existing 
water resources; (3) ensuring that the Refuge range provides ample 
forage for all wildlife populations endemic to the area; and (4) 
reducing the spread of feral horses and burros into key wildlife areas. 
Alternative B, the Status Quo Alternative, is the Service's preferred 
alternative. The alternatives are briefly discussed below.
    Alternative A, No Agency Action on Horse and Burro Management. 
Under Alternative A, the Refuge would discontinue the ongoing program 
of horse and burro population management. Program objectives from the 
1980 Management Plan would not be met. Program elements such as 
gathering, providing interim care for and adoptions of the Refuge's 
horses and burros would no longer be conducted. Without any control, 
horse and burro populations on the Refuge could double approximately 
every four years, severely impacting Refuge lands, water sources, 
wildlife habitats and associated fish, wildlife and plant populations, 
and posing a safety risk along major public roads. Implementation of 
this alternative would likely prevent the Refuge from being managed to 
achieve the purposes for which it was established. The environmental 
effects of this alternative contrast with those of the three action-
based alternatives; B, C, and D.
    Alternative B, Status Quo. Under Alternative B, the Refuge's 
current horse and burro management program would continue until a CCP 
has been completed for the Refuge. Implementing this alternative would 
include minor improvements to the program through an adaptive 
management process. This alternative would place horses and burros up 
for adoption through several private adoption agents. Agents are 
screened and certified based on adequate facilities, appropriate 
knowledge on horse care and handling, successful record of prior horse 
adoptions, and interviews with character witnesses and a veterinarian. 
The adoption agents would screen potential homes for the horses and 
burros, care for them in the intervening time, and coordinate 
transportation. The horses and burros would be shipped to the agents 
from the Refuge and then transported to their adopted homes. Refuge 
staff would use three methods to gather horses and burros: (1) Corrals 
set with bait (such as hay) to draw in burros; (2) horseback riders to 
herd horses into corrals; and (3) helicopters to herd horses into 
corrals. Management of horses and burros consumes staff time and 
funding, detracting from the Refuge's ability to conduct other programs 
necessary to achieve Refuge purposes as well as Refuge management 
objectives associated with native wildlife species and wildlife 
dependant public use. However, implementation of Alternative B would 
best accomplish current management objectives for horse and burro 
management and would be the most cost effective program.
    Alternative C, Adoption of Horses and Burros through Individuals. 
Under Alternative C, Refuge staff would: screen individuals and 
organizations for suitability for potential adoption of gathered horses 
and burros; care for them until they are picked up by the adopter; 
coordinate brand inspections; secure health certificates; and 
facilitate transportation. Other aspects of the program would be the 
same as under Alternative B. Refuge staff would use three methods to 
gather horses and burros: (1) Corrals set with bait to draw in burros; 
(2) horseback riders to herd horses into corrals; and (3) helicopters 
to herd horses into corrals. Implementing this Alternative would 
require allocation of more staff time and resources which would detract 
from other Refuge programs, such as facility maintenance, working and 
meeting with the public, wildlife monitoring and studies, range and 
fire management, and law enforcement.
    Alternative D, Conduct Horse and Burro Gathering by Bait and 
Horseback Techniques Only. Under Alternative D, using wranglers on 
horseback only to gather horses and burros is proposed, rather than 
using both helicopters and horseback. In addition, burros would be 
drawn into corrals with bait. An adoption agent would screen and select 
the adopters to ensure good homes, and care for the horses and burros 
in the intervening time. This Alternative, using bait and horseback 
gathering only, would be less efficient and less effective than using 
both helicopters and horseback riders. This approach would delay 
completion of the gather and achievement of other Refuge conservation 
objectives. Selection of this alternative would allow impacts from 
horse and burro populations to continue for longer periods, and reduce 
funds available for other Refuge management and operations.

Public Comments

    Public comments are requested on the draft Environmental Assessment 
for the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge Horse and Burro Management 
Program and its evaluation of the environmental effects of the four 
alternatives. Comments on the draft EA will be analyzed and addressed 
in final documents. All comments received from individuals become part 
of the official public record available for public review. Requests for 
copies of comments will be handled in accordance with the 
Administrative Procedure Act, Freedom of Information Act, NEPA 
regulations, and Service and Department of the Interior policies and 

    Dated: April 11, 2007.
Don Weathers,
Acting Regional Director, Region 1, Portland, Oregon.
 [FR Doc. E7-7243 Filed 4-16-07; 8:45 am]