[Federal Register: May 4, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 84)]
[Page 20495-20497]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2009-N0042; 40136-1265-0000-S3]

Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge, 
Charleston, Beaufort, Colleton, and Hampton Counties, SC

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

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


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft comprehensive conservation plan and 
environmental assessment (Draft CCP/EA) for Ernest F. Hollings ACE 
Basin National Wildlife Refuge (ACE Basin NWR) for public review and 
comment. In this Draft CCP/EA, we describe the alternative we propose 
to use to manage this refuge for the 15 years following approval of the 
Final CCP.

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your written comments 
by June 3, 2009.

ADDRESSES: Send comments, questions, and requests for information to: 
Mr. Van Fischer, Natural Resource Planner, South Carolina Lowcountry 
Refuge Complex, 5801 Highway 17 North, Awendaw, SC 29429. A copy of the 
Draft CCP/EA is available on both compact disc and hard copy, and it 
may be accessed and downloaded from the Service's Internet site: http:/

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Van Fischer, Natural Resource 
Planner; telephone: 843/928-3264; e-mail: van_fischer@fws.gov.



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for ACE Basin NWR. We 
started the process through a notice in the Federal Register on January 
3, 2007 (72 FR 141).


The CCP Process

    The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (16 
U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (Improvement Act), which amended the National 
Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, requires us to 
develop a CCP for each national wildlife refuge. The purpose for 
developing a CCP is to provide refuge managers with a 15-year plan 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, CCPs identify wildlife-
dependent recreational opportunities available to the public, including 
opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife 
photography, and environmental education and interpretation. We will 
review and update the CCP at least every 15 years in accordance with 
the Improvement Act.
    ACE Basin NWR was established on September 20, 1990, and was 
renamed the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge on 
May 16, 2005. The refuge is a partner in the ACE Basin Task Force, a 
coalition consisting of the Service, South Carolina Department of 
Natural Resources, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, The Low 
Country Open Land Trust, Mead Westvaco, and private landowners. The 
refuge's two separate units (Edisto Unit and Combahee Unit) are further 
broken down into sub-units, with the Edisto Unit containing the 
Barrelville, Grove, and Jehossee sub-units, and the Combahee Unit 
containing the Bonny Hall, Combahee Fields, and Yemassee sub-units. The 
refuge is divided into nine management units or compartments, ranging 
in size from 350 to 3,355 acres. Compartment boundaries are established 
along geographic features that can be easily identified on the ground 
(i.e., rivers, roads, and trails).
    Serving as a basis for each alternative, goals and sets of 
objectives were developed to help fulfill the purposes of the refuge 
and the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System. These 
alternatives represent different approaches to managing the refuge, 
while still meeting purposes and goals. Plans will be revised at least 
every 15 years, or earlier, if monitoring indicates management changes 
are warranted.

CCP Alternatives, Including Our Proposed Alternative

    We developed three alternatives for managing the refuge and chose 
Alternative C as the proposed alternative. A full description is in the 
Draft CCP/EA. We summarize each alternative below.

Alternative A: Continuation of Current Refuge Management (No Action)

    This alternative represents no change from current management of 
the refuge and provides a baseline. Management emphasis would continue 
to focus on maintaining existing managed wetlands for wintering 
waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds. Primary activities include 
managing wetland impoundments (primarily historically created ``rice 
fields''), managing old farm fields in a grassland/scrub/shrub mosaic 
for neotropical migratory birds, basic species monitoring, wood duck 
banding, and managing moist soil for waterfowl. Alternative A 
represents the anticipated conditions of the refuge for the next 15 
years, assuming current funding, staffing, policies, programs, and 
activities continue. The other two alternatives are compared to this 
alternative in order to evaluate differences in future conditions 
compared to baseline management.
    This alternative reflects actions that include managing habitat for 
resident and wintering waterfowl, nesting bald eagles, foraging wood 
storks, and over-wintering whooping cranes (experimental flock). 
Further, it reflects actions for maintaining upland and wetland 
forests; for repairing wetland impoundment control structures (aluminum 
flash board risers and wooden ``rice trunks''), dikes, and internal 
drainage ditches and canals; for managing habitat for neotropical 
migratory birds; and for providing wildlife-dependent recreation 
opportunities. Species monitoring would be limited due to staffing 
constraints, volunteer assistance, and

[[Page 20496]]

limited research interest. Habitat management actions would primarily 
benefit waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and grassland-associated 
passerine birds; however, there is limited active management of other 
species and habitats.
    Management coordination would occur between the refuge and the 
state. Coordination would be limited because of staffing constraints 
and remain focused on waterfowl management and grassland habitat 
management, hunting, and fishing. Hunting and fishing would be allowed 
on the refuge provided that state regulations were followed. Wildlife-
dependent uses are allowed on the refuge with all areas open to the 
public, although some areas are only seasonally open.
    The refuge would remain staffed at current levels with periodic 
interns. Researchers would be accommodated when projects benefit the 

Alternative B: Protection of Trust Resources and State-Listed Species

    Alternative B places refuge management emphasis on the protection 
of trust resources (migratory birds and threatened and endangered 
species), as well as several state-listed species.
    This alternative expands on Alternative A, with a greater amount of 
active habitat management on the refuge. The focus of this alternative 
is to enhance and expand suitable habitat under species-specific 
management, targeted to attract greater numbers of wintering waterfowl 
and breeding areas for resident wood ducks. The acreage of managed 
wetlands (enhanced moist-soil management practices) and greentree 
reservoirs would be increased to accommodate larger waterfowl numbers. 
Some open fields and scrub/shrub areas on the refuge would be more 
intensively managed to increase populations of neotropical migratory 
and breeding songbirds to higher levels than under Alternative A, but 
limited to maintaining existing areas suitable for these migratory 
species. There would be an increased effort to control invasive exotic 
    This alternative proposes to increase monitoring efforts to focus 
primarily on threatened and endangered species (e.g., wood storks), 
waterfowl, and other migratory birds, with less effort to address other 
non-migratory resident species. Under Alternative A, monitoring would 
focus almost entirely on waterfowl, but does include other species as 
resources permit. This alternative would provide extensive waterfowl 
and endangered species monitoring with little additional effort for 
monitoring other species. Monitoring efforts would only occur based on 
available staffing, additional volunteers, and academic research.
    Wildlife-dependent uses of the refuge would continue. Hunting and 
fishing would continue to be allowed and environmental education and 
interpretation would be enhanced. Interpretive signage would be 
increased or added to existing nature trails. There would be restricted 
access to some areas of the refuge that have waterfowl and threatened 
or endangered species sensitive to disturbance. Interpretation efforts 
would focus mostly on the primary objectives of waterfowl and other 
migratory bird management.
    The refuge would be staffed at current levels, plus the addition of 
one forester to increase components of the Forest Management Plan and 
one public use park ranger. Researchers (enhancement of the existing 
research partnership with the Nemours Wildlife Foundation) would be 
accommodated when projects benefit the refuge and focus mostly towards 
waterfowl habitat and management (old rice fields/moist-soil management 

Alternative C: Wildlife and Habitat Diversity (Proposed Alternative)

    This alternative expands on Alternative A, with a greater amount of 
effort to manage the refuge to increase overall wildlife and habitat 
diversity. Although waterfowl, threatened and endangered species, and 
other migratory birds would remain a focus of management, wetland 
habitat manipulations would also consider the needs of multiple 
species, such as marsh and wading birds. Management of upland forests 
and fields for neotropical migratory birds would be more actively 
managed than under Alternative B. Landscape level consideration of 
habitat management would include a diversity of open fields, upland and 
wetland forests, and additional managed wetlands. Upland loblolly pine 
plantations (relic industrial forest) would be heavily thinned to 
encourage multi-strata vegetation composition and hardwood 
interspersion. More xeric loblolly pine plantations would be converted 
to longleaf pine savannas and subjected to frequent growing season 
prescribed fires to favor warm season grasses and forbs, and the 
potential reintroduction of red cockaded woodpeckers in the ACE Basin 
Project Area. Multiple species consideration would include species and 
habitats identified by the South Atlantic Migratory Bird Initiative and 
the state's Strategic Conservation Plan.
    This alternative would expand on the monitoring efforts of 
Alternative A to provide additional monitoring of migratory neotropical 
and breeding songbirds, and other resident species. Monitoring efforts 
would be increased with the assistance of additional staff, trained 
volunteers, and academic research. Greater effort would be made to 
recruit academic researchers to the refuge to study and monitor refuge 
    Wildlife-dependent uses of the refuge would continue. Hunting and 
fishing would continue to be allowed. However, hunting would be managed 
with a greater focus to achieve biological needs of the refuge, such as 
deer population management and feral hog control. Education and 
interpretation would be the same as Alternative A, but with additional 
education and outreach efforts aimed at the importance of landscape and 
diversity. A significantly greater effort would be made with outreach 
to nearby developing urban communities and a growing human population. 
Existing environmental education programs, such as Earth Stewards, 
conducted in concert with the SEWEE Association (refuge friends group) 
would be expanded to include additional elementary schools, students, 
and teachers.
    The refuge would be staffed at the 2008 staffing level to enhance 
all refuge services and management programs. Greater emphasis would be 
placed on recruiting and training volunteers to facilitate the 
accomplishment of maintenance programs and other refuge objectives. 
Refuge biological programs would actively seek funding and researchers 
to study primarily management-oriented needs. The staff would place 
greater emphasis on developing and maintaining active partnerships, 
including seeking grants to assist the refuge in reaching primary 

Next Step

    After the comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone 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.

    Authority:  This notice is published under the authority of the 
National Wildlife Refuge

[[Page 20497]]

System Improvement Act of 1997, Public Law 105-57.

    Dated: March 6, 2009.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. E9-10153 Filed 5-1-09; 8:45 am]