[Federal Register: September 9, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 173)]
[Page 46456-46458]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R5-R-2008-N198; 50133-1265-XENP-S3]

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Kent County, MD

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

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


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces the 
availability of the draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and 
draft environmental assessment (EA) for Eastern Neck National Wildlife 
Refuge (NWR), located in Kent County, Maryland, with its office in Rock 
Hall, Maryland. The draft CCP/EA describes three alternatives, 
including our Service-preferred alternative B, for managing this refuge 
for the next 15 years. Also available for public review and comment are 
the draft compatibility determinations, which are included as appendix 
B in the draft CCP/EA.

DATES: To ensure our consideration of your written comments, please 
send them by October 9, 2009. We will also hold a public meeting in 
Rock Hall, Maryland. We will announce and post details of the public 
meeting in local news media, via our project mailing list, and on our 
Regional planning Web site, http://www.fws.gov/northeast/planning/

ADDRESSES: Send your comments or requests for copies of the draft CCP/
EA by one of the following methods.
    U.S. Mail: Nancy McGarigal, Natural Resource Planner, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA 01035.
    Fax: Attention: Nancy McGarigal, 413-253-8468.
    E-mail: northeastplanning@fws.gov. Please put the words ``Eastern 
Neck NWR CCP'' in the subject line of your e-mail.
    Agency Web site: View or download the draft document on the Web at 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Suzanne Baird, Project Leader, 
Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 2145 Key 
Wallace Drive, Cambridge, MD 21613; phone 410-228-2692, extension 101; 
fax 410-228-3261; or e-mail at fw5rw_bwnwr@fws.gov.



    This notice continues the CCP process for Eastern Neck NWR, which 
is one of the four refuges that comprise the Chesapeake Marshlands NWR 
Complex. The other three are Blackwater, Martin, and Susquehanna NWRs. 
We prepared the draft CCP in compliance with the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 
(Administration Act), as amended by the National Wildlife Refuge System 
Improvement Act of 1997 (Improvement Act), which requires us to develop 
a CCP for each national wildlife refuge. We published our original 
notice of intent to prepare a CCP in the Federal Register on June 11, 
2002 (67 FR 40002). Due to changes in budget and staffing priorities, 
the project was put on hold in 2003. We subsequently announced we were 
restarting the process by publishing another notice in the Federal 
Register on January 22, 2007 (72 FR 2709).
    Eastern Neck NWR is a 2,285-acre island that lies at the confluence 
of the Chester River and the Chesapeake Bay in Kent County, Maryland. 
Established in 1962 to protect migratory birds, the refuge is 
recognized regionally as a major feeding and resting place for a wide 
variety of migrating and wintering waterfowl. Its habitats are highly 
diverse, and include tidal marsh, open water, and woodland. Its managed 
croplands also contribute to the quality of its habitats by providing a 
ready source of high-energy food for wintering waterfowl when their 
reserves are low. The moist soil units and green tree reservoirs on the 
refuge also are managed to enhance habitats for

[[Page 46457]]

migratory birds. Thousands of Atlantic population Canada geese and 
black ducks winter here, as do large rafts of ruddy ducks, canvasbacks, 
and greater and lesser scaups. Of particular note are the wintering 
tundra swans that use the adjacent shallow waters. A small number of 
the federally listed endangered Delmarva fox squirrel (Sciurus niger 
cinereus) occur on the refuge, as do breeding bald eagles and more than 
60 migratory bird species of conservation concern.
    Although conserving wildlife and habitat is the refuge's first 
priority, the public can observe and photograph wildlife, fish, hunt, 
or participate in environmental education and interpretation programs. 
To facilitate those activities, we maintain self-guiding trails, 
fishing and observation platforms, and photography blinds. School 
groups come throughout the year for our educational and interpretive 
programs. An annual deer hunt and youth turkey hunt are also very 
popular activities on the refuge. All programs benefit from the active 
involvement of the Friends of Eastern Neck and refuge volunteers.


The CCP Process

    The Improvement Act requires us to develop a CCP for each national 
wildlife refuge. The purpose for developing those CCPs is to provide 
refuge managers with 15-year plans for achieving refuge purposes and 
the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), in 
conformance with sound principles of fish and wildlife management and 
conservation, legal mandates, and Service policies. In addition to 
outlining broad management direction on conserving wildlife and their 
habitats, CCPs identify opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation 
available to the public, which includes opportunities for hunting, 
fishing, observing and photographing wildlife, and participating in 
environmental education and interpretation programs. We will review and 
update each CCP at least every 15 years, in accordance with the 
Improvement Act.

Public Outreach

    In conjunction with our first Federal Register notice in June 2002, 
we distributed a newsletter to more than 600 State agencies, 
organizations, and individuals on our project mailing list, asking 
about their interest in the refuge and whether they had issues or 
concerns they would like us to address. At that time, we also held 
public scoping meetings. In January 2007, along with the release of the 
newsletter announcing that we were restarting the planning process, we 
held a public meeting in Rock Hall, Maryland. The purpose of that 
meeting was to share updated information on the planning process, 
review the 2002 scoping results, and solicit new management issues and 
concerns. Throughout the process, we have conducted additional outreach 
via participation in community meetings, events, and other public 
forums, and requested public input on managing the refuge and its 
    Some of the key issues in the public comments include:
     The need to identify the most effective strategies for 
enhancing habitats for migrating and wintering waterfowl,
     Determining what other species and habitats should be 
management priorities,
     Deciding how we can best control invasive plants, and
     How to work best with partners to minimize shoreline 
erosion and the degradation of shallow water habitats.
We considered all of these comments, and incorporated many of them into 
the varied alternatives in the draft CCP/EA.

CCP Actions We Are Considering, Including the Service-Preferred 

    We developed three management alternatives based on the purposes 
for establishing the refuge; its vision and goals; and the issues and 
concerns of the public, State agencies, and the Service that arose 
during the planning process. The alternatives share some actions in 
common, such as protecting and restoring the refuge shoreline and tidal 
marsh habitats, protecting nesting bald eagles and the federally listed 
Delmarva fox squirrel, controlling invasive plants, encouraging 
research that benefits our resource decisions, protecting cultural 
resources, distributing refuge revenue sharing payments to Kent County, 
supporting the Friends of Eastern Neck, and promoting the refuge 
volunteer program.
    Other actions distinguish the alternatives. The draft CCP/EA 
describes the alternatives in detail, and relates them to the issues 
and concerns. Highlights follow.

Alternative A (Current Management)

    This alternative is the ``No Action'' alternative required by NEPA. 
Alternative A defines our current management activities, and serves as 
the baseline for comparing the other alternatives. We would continue to 
focus our habitat management on protecting the refuge shoreline and 
restoring tidal marsh habitats in partnership with others. We would 
also manage cropland on 557 acres, moist soil units on 28 acres, and 
green tree reservoirs on 38 acres. We would continue to protect 708 
acres of mature mixed forest and treat invasive plants as our funding 
and staffing allow. Our biological monitoring and inventory program 
would continue at its current levels, focusing on surveys of breeding 
and wintering birds.
    Our visitor services programs would not change; we would continue 
to facilitate opportunities for fishing, hunting, observing and 
photographing wildlife, and participating in environmental education 
and interpretation programs. We would maintain, but not expand, the 
facilities to support those activities. The seasonal closures in some 
areas would continue to protect nesting or wintering birds. We would 
continue to station three permanent staff at Eastern Neck NWR, and 
access to all refuge complex staff would continue to be available as 

Alternative B (Emphasis on Tidal Wetlands and Waterfowl; the Service-
Preferred Alternative)

    This alternative is the one we propose as the best way to manage 
Eastern Neck NWR over the next 15 years. It includes an array of 
management actions that, in our professional judgment, works best 
toward achieving the refuge purposes, our vision and goals, and the 
goals of other State and regional conservation plans. We also believe 
it most effectively addresses the key issues raised during the planning 
    The highest priority of the biological program in alternative B 
would be to protect the refuge shoreline and tidal marsh. We plan to 
work with partners to create additional breakwaters and restore 108 
acres of native tidal marsh. We would consolidate our cropland 
management program into 372 acres in fewer, larger fields to increase 
their use by waterfowl. We would also improve migratory habitat for 
waterfowl, shorebirds, and marsh birds by creating up to four new moist 
soil units on 21 acres. As in alternative A, we would continue to 
monitor refuge forests and wetlands for invasive plants, and make 
treating them a priority. We would expand our biological monitoring and 
inventory program, and regularly evaluate its results to help us better 
understand the implications of our management actions and identify ways 
to improve their effectiveness. We would expand our support of 
compatible research programs, and

[[Page 46458]]

would encourage the use of the refuge to demonstrate restoration and 
best adaptive management practices.
    We would enhance opportunities for all six priority public uses, 
and emphasize two of them--wildlife observation and photography. We 
would seek new partnerships, such as those with environmental 
educators, to encourage their use of the refuge as a living laboratory 
and help us improve our programs. The seasonal closures in some areas 
would continue to protect nesting or wintering birds. Outreach and 
Service visibility on the refuge and in the local community would 
improve. We would station two additional staff at Eastern Neck NWR, 
but, as in alternative A, access to all refuge complex staff would 
continue to be available as needed.

Alternative C (Emphasis on Tidal Wetlands and Forest Habitat)

    As in alternatives A and B, the highest priority in alternative C 
is to protect and restore the refuge shoreline and tidal marsh. 
However, its emphasis on managing forest habitat in the refuge uplands 
to benefit forest-dependent species distinguishes it from alternatives 
A and B. We would eliminate the cropland program, and would not 
construct new moist soil units. Instead, we would allow those lands to 
revert through natural succession to forest, and intervene with 
treatments when necessary to ensure that a native, healthy, diverse 
forest results.
    We would not begin any other significant new inventorying or 
monitoring, except established protocols when required by mandates on 
Federal trust species or when recommended by the Regional biologist. We 
would permit compatible research programs requested by our partners on 
refuge lands, but would limit our involvement. As in alternative B, we 
would encourage the use of the refuge to demonstrate restoration and 
best adaptive management practices.
    Under alternative C, we would offer more visitor services programs 
and build more infrastructure than in alternatives A or B. We would 
open for public access the areas previously closed to protect wintering 
waterfowl. The suitability of those areas for waterfowl would diminish 
greatly as they revert to forest. We would improve our programs for 
environmental education, interpretation, and wildlife observation and 
photography. We would hold teacher workshops, become actively involved 
in developing local school programs using the refuge, and promote 
senior education programs. We would consider a new trail and boat 
launch at the south end of the island, and would expand the turkey hunt 
by opening it to adult hunters for a limited time. As in alternative B, 
we would improve Service outreach and visibility, and station two new 
staff at the refuge.

Public Meetings

    We will give the public opportunities to provide input at one 
public meeting in Rock Hall, Maryland. You can obtain the schedule from 
the project leader or natural resource planner (see addresses or FOr 
Further Information CONTACT, above). You may also submit comments at 
any time during the planning process, by any means shown in the 
ADDRESSES section.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comments, 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.

    Dated: August 7, 2009.
Salvatore M. Amato,
Acting Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hadley, MA 
[FR Doc. E9-21737 Filed 9-8-09; 8:45 am]