[Federal Register: April 24, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 78)]
[Page 18744-18745]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2009-N0045; 40136-1265-0000-S3]

Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge, Hillsborough County, FL; 
Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge, Pinellas County, FL; and Passage Key 
National Wildlife Refuge, Manatee County, FL

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

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


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft comprehensive conservation plan and 
environmental assessment (Draft CCP/EA) for Egmont Key, Pinellas, and 
Passage Key National Wildlife Refuges for public review and comment. 
These three refuges, known as the Tampa Bay Refuges, are managed as 
part of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex. In 
this Draft CCP/EA, we describe the alternative we propose to use to 
manage these refuges for the 15 years following approval of the final 

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your written comments 
by May 26, 2009.

ADDRESSES: Requests for copies of the Draft CCP/EA should be addressed 
to: Mr. Richard J. Meyers, Assistant Refuge Manager, Chassahowitzka NWR 
Complex, 9500 Koger Boulevard North, Suite 102, St. Petersburg, FL 
33702. The Draft CCP/EA may also be accessed and downloaded from the 
Service's Internet site: http://southeast.fws.gov/planning.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Richard J. Meyers, telephone: 727/
570-5417; e-mail: richard_meyers@fws.gov.



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Egmont Key, 
Pinellas, and Passage Key National Wildlife Refuges. We started the 
process through a notice in the Federal Register on December 3, 2004 
(69 FR 70276).


    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 and the National Environmental Policy Act.
    Significant issues addressed in the Draft CCP/EA include: erosion; 
predatory/exotic/invasive species; human disturbance of wildlife, 
particularly with respect to illegal access to closed areas; fishing 
line and trash disposal; threatened and endangered species; bird and 
other wildlife surveys; environmental education and interpretation 
issues; and staffing, equipment, and facility needs.
    Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) includes 392 acres and 
was established in 1974 to protect its significant natural, historical, 
and cultural resources from the impending threats of development. 
Egmont Key NWR is the only refuge island open to the public and has 
been traditionally visited for many years as a primary recreation 
destination. Egmont Key NWR seeks to provide nesting habitat for brown 
pelicans and other waterbirds, as well as to conserve and protect 
barrier island habitat and to preserve historical structures of 
national significance (i.e., historic lighthouse, guard house, gun 
batteries, and brick roads). Presently, the island's approximately 244 
acres of beach and coastal berm support more than 110 species of 
nesting, migrating, and wintering birds. The island is listed as 
critical habitat for endangered piping plovers and provides habitat and 
protection for endangered manatees and sea turtles. Egmont Key NWR has 
an unusually high population of gopher tortoises and box turtles. Two 
wildlife sanctuaries, one on the east side of the island and one at the 
south end of the island, comprise about 97 acres and are closed to 
public use. Cooperative management agreements between the Service, the 
U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), and the Florida Department of Environmental 
Protection entrust daily management activities of Egmont Key NWR to the 
Florida Park Service (FPS), which manages the island to protect and 
restore the historic structures and for swimming, sunbathing, shelling, 
and picnicking.
    Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1951 as 
a breeding ground for colonial bird species. It contains seven mangrove 
islands encompassing about 394 acres. The refuge is comprised of Little 
Bird, Mule, Jackass, Listen, and Whale Island Keys and leases Tarpon 
and Indian Keys from Pinellas County. A Pinellas County seagrass 
sanctuary is located around Tarpon and Indian Keys and the use of 
internal combustion engines within this zone is prohibited to protect 
seagrass beds. Hundreds of brown pelicans and double-crested cormorants 
and dozens of herons, egrets, and roseate spoonbills nest within Tarpon 
and Little Bird Keys. Pinellas NWR provides important mangrove habitat 
for most long-legged wading species, especially for reddish egrets. All 
of the mangrove islands of Pinellas NWR are closed to public use year-
round to protect migratory birds.
    Passage Key National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was originally 
designated as a Federal bird reservation by President Roosevelt in 
1905, which then consisted of a 60-acre island with a freshwater lake 
and lush vegetation. However, erosion and hurricanes have virtually 
destroyed the key, and it is now a meandering sand bar varying in size 
from 0.5 to 10 acres, depending on weather. In 1970, Passage Key NWR 
was designated a Wilderness Area. The refuge's objective is to provide 
habitat for colonial waterbirds. Hundreds of brown pelicans, laughing 
gulls, black skimmer, and royal terns, and small numbers of herons and 
egrets, nested

[[Page 18745]]

annually until the island was destroyed by a hurricane in 2005. The key 
once hosted the largest royal tern and sandwich tern nesting colonies 
in the State of Florida. Because of its fragility, small size, and to 
protect the migratory birds that use the island, it is now closed to 
public use year-round.

CCP Alternatives, Including Our Proposed Alternative

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

Alternative A--No Action Alternative

    Under Alternative A, the no action alternative, management of the 
refuges would continue at the current level. The refuges would continue 
their primary mission of providing habitat for wildlife. Wildlife and 
habitat would be protected through a variety of management tools, such 
as area closures, predator control, law enforcement, exotic plant 
control, erosion control, and cleanup of trash. These activities 
(except for the closures) would be conducted on an opportunistic basis 
or under the direction and guidance of others.
    The refuges would continue to be managed by one full-time assistant 
refuge manager, with the support of nine staff members 100 miles away 
at the Chassahowitzka NWR. The refuges would continue to be assisted by 
numerous partners in opportunistically conducting bird and other 
wildlife surveys, educating visitors, and encouraging wildlife 
observation and photography. The Service would continue its cooperative 
management agreement with the FPS to manage Egmont Key NWR, with the 
State being responsible for most public recreation and interpretation 
of natural and cultural resources, and the Service being primarily 
responsible for the management of all wildlife and habitat. Meetings 
between the two agencies would continue to be held approximately twice 
a year.
    Under this alternative, the existing level of funding and staffing 
would be maintained. Accordingly, some positions would not be filled 
when vacated if funds needed to be reallocated to meet rising costs or 
new priorities.

Alternative B--Proposed Alternative

    Under Alternative B, the proposed alternative, the Service would 
take more of a leadership role by coordinating and/or directing 
activities and decisions made by partners that have an impact on the 
refuges, including coordinating, directing, and conducting bird surveys 
and Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle surveys; coordinating additional 
bird surveys and monitoring and conducting research on the gopher 
tortoises of Egmont Key NWR; and, with partners, identifying, mapping, 
and protecting State-listed plant species on the refuges. The Service 
would promote and support increasing the Friends Group to more than 150 
    Under this alternative, Service staff dedicated to the Tampa Bay 
Refuges would be increased to four full-time permanent employees and 
one part-time permanent employee, which would include the addition of a 
law enforcement officer to increase protection of wildlife, habitat, 
and visitor safety; a biological technician to conduct bird surveys, 
predator and exotic species control, and beach renourishment 
activities; a public use specialist to facilitate and create 
opportunities for environmental education, interpretation, and wildlife 
observation and photography; and a part-time administrative assistant. 
Larger office space to accommodate the increased staff along with the 
Friends Group would be acquired, as well as facilities for boat storage 
and use; also, a Visitor Center would be established.
    The cooperative agreement with FPS to manage Egmont Key NWR would 
be enhanced under this alternative by establishing monthly 
communications and quarterly meetings. Further, the Service would 
facilitate the transfer of the USCG property on Egmont Key to the 
Service, and would establish the Service's interest in the Pilots 
Compound property in the event the occupancy of that property changes. 
Acquisition of these lands would enable the Service to better conserve, 
protect, and manage the habitat on Egmont Key.

Alternative C

    Under Alternative C, the Service would take on an even greater 
leadership role at the refuges, enhancing and expanding the activities 
proposed under Alternative B. The Service staff dedicated to the Tampa 
Bay Refuges would be increased to seven full-time permanent employees, 
including two law enforcement officers, one biological technician, one 
public use specialist, one maintenance person/equipment operator, and 
an administrative assistant. The Service would promote and support 
increasing the Friends Group to 200-300 members. Additional equipment 
and facilities would be acquired to support the staff and increased 
activities on the refuges.
    The additional staff members would allow the refuges to increase 
the frequency of some monitoring (e.g., piping plover); initiate bird 
research; routinely monitor and research gopher tortoises; enhance 
protection of wildlife, habitats, and visitor safety; control exotic 
and invasive vegetation on a routine basis; and provide educational 
events on a routine basis, including weekly interpretive tours using 
concessionaire(s) selected and operating under Service contract.
    Under this alternative, the Service would own and manage all of 
Egmont Key without sharing that responsibility with FPS--an overlay 
state park managed by FPS would no longer exist, allowing the Service 
to manage the island in a comprehensive manner.

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 System Improvement Act of 1997, Public Law 

    Dated: March 13, 2009.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. E9-9412 Filed 4-23-09; 8:45 am]