[Federal Register: January 5, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 3)]
[Page 582-584]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

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Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R5-R-2010-N137; BAC-4311-K9-S3]

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Fairfax 
County, VA, and Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William 
County, VA; Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of the draft comprehensive conservation plan and the 
environmental assessment (CCP/EA) for Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck 
(Mason Neck) National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and Featherstone NWR for a 
45-day public review and comment period. The draft CCP/EA describes 
three alternatives for managing Mason Neck NWR and two alternatives for 
managing Featherstone NWR for the next 15 years. Alternative B is 
identified for both refuges as the Service-preferred alternative. 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 February 22, 2011. We will also hold public meetings. We 
will announce upcoming public meetings in local news media, via our 
project mailing list, and on our regional planning Web site, http://

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments or requests for copies or more 
information by any of the following methods. You may request hard 
copies or a CD-ROM of the documents.
    Electronic mail: northeastplanning@fws.gov. Please include ``Mason 
Neck and Featherstone NWRs CCP'' in the subject line of your e-mail.
    U.S. Postal Service: Nancy McGarigal, Natural Resource Planner, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA 
    Facsimile: Attention: Nancy McGarigal, 413-253-8468.
    In-Person Drop-off, Viewing, or Pickup: Call 703-490-4979 to make 
an appointment during regular business hours at the Potomac River NWR 
Complex headquarters office, 14344 Jefferson Davis Highway, Woodbridge, 
VA 22191-2716.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Greg Weiler, Refuge Manager, Potomac 
River NWR Complex, 14344 Jefferson Davis Highway, Woodbridge, VA 22191-
2716; phone: 703-490-4979; facsimile: 703-490-5631; electronic mail: 



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Mason Neck and 
Featherstone NWRs. We published our original notice of intent to 
prepare a CCP in the Federal Register on May 18, 2007 (72 FR 28066).
    Mason Neck and Featherstone NWRs, together with Occoquan Bay NWR, 
comprise the Potomac River NWR Complex headquartered in Woodbridge, 
Virginia. Mason Neck NWR was established in 1969 as the first national 
wildlife refuge specifically created to protect a federally listed 
species. The refuge was created under the authority of the Endangered 
Species Preservation Act of 1966, the precursor to the current-day 
Endangered Species Act of 1973. The bald eagle (Haliaeetus 
leucocephalus), which was federally listed as threatened in 1969 was, 
and continues to be, the focal species of concern on the refuge. Due to 
successful recovery efforts throughout its range, the bald eagle was 
officially removed from the Federal list in 2007. It continues to be 
protected, however, under other Federal laws and by the Commonwealth of 
Virginia. Mason Neck NWR encompasses 2,277 acres of forest, marsh, and 
riverine habitat along Occoquan Bay and the mainstem of the tidal 
Potomac River. Refuge visitors engage in wildlife observation and 
photography, environmental education and interpretation, and fall deer 
    Featherstone NWR was established in 1979 with land acquired from 
the District of Columbia. It was further expanded in 1992 with lands 
donated by Prince William County. It presently encompasses 325 acres of 
marsh and forested riverine habitat along the southwest edge of 
Occoquan Bay. Its wetlands are important habitat for bald eagles, 
wading birds, waterbirds, and waterfowl, as well as other native 
species of conservation concern. The refuge is presently closed to 
public use and access for public safety reasons; there is currently no 
public parking available or safe access across the railroad tracks, 
which lie along the length of the refuge's western boundary.


The CCP Process

    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 (16 
U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (Refuge Administration Act), as amended by the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, 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 (NWRS), 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 and 
photography, and environmental education and interpretation. We will 
review and update each CCP at least every 15 years, in accordance with 
the Refuge Administration Act.

Public Outreach

    In March 2007, we distributed two issues of a workbook/planning 
newsletter, one for each refuge, to several hundred people on our 
project mailing list. We asked the recipients about their interest in 
the refuges and whether they had issues or concerns they would like us 
to address. We also posted the newsletters online for people to access 
electronically. In addition, we notified the general public of our 
planning kick-off and our interest in hearing about issues and concerns 
by publishing news releases in several local and regional newspapers. 
We also held two public scoping meetings in March 2007 in the cities of 
Woodbridge and Lorton, Virginia. The purpose of those meetings was to 
share information on the planning process, and to solicit management 
issues and concerns. Throughout the process, refuge staff have 
conducted additional outreach via participation in community meetings, 
events, and other public forums.
    Key issues common to both refuges identified by the public and our 
partners included:
     Developing a biological program with enough depth to 
address concerns about the biological diversity, health, and integrity 
of the refuges' forests and wetlands, and with capability to monitor 
for climate change impacts;
     Improving water quality;
     Protecting both refuges' shorelines;

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     Controlling invasive plants and forest pests;
     Controlling an over-abundant deer population;
     Creating trail connections on and off the refuges;
     Increasing opportunities for compatible public uses; and
     Providing more opportunities for hunting.
    Issues specific to Mason Neck NWR include management of the great 
blue heron rookery at Great Marsh and management of refuge 
impoundments. Issues specific to Featherstone NWR include the lack of 
safe public access to the refuge and the proposal for a Potomac 
Heritage National Scenic Trail segment to run through the refuge. We 
have considered and evaluated all of these comments in the various 
alternatives addressed in the draft CCP/EA.

CCP Alternatives We Are Considering

    We developed three management alternatives for Mason Neck NWR and 
two alternatives for Featherstone NWR based on their respective 
establishment purposes, the vision and goals we developed, and the 
issues and concerns that the public, State, and Federal agencies, and 
the Service raised during the planning process. A full description of 
each alternative is in the EA. The alternatives identify several 
actions in common. On both Mason Neck and Featherstone NWRs, all 
alternatives include measures to protect wetlands and refuge 
shorelines, control invasive plant species, protect cultural resources, 
establish baseline conditions and monitor for climate change impacts, 
distribute refuge revenue sharing payments, and continue participation 
in conservation and education partnerships.
    There are other actions that differ among the alternatives. The 
draft CCP/EA describes each alternative in detail and relates them to 
the issues and concerns that arose during the planning process. Below, 
we provide summaries for the three Mason Neck NWR alternatives, 
followed by summaries for the two Featherstone NWR alternatives.

Mason Neck NWR Alternatives

Alternative A (Current Management)
    This alternative is the ``No Action'' alternative required by the 
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Alternative A defines our 
current management activities, including those planned, funded, or 
underway, and serves as the baseline against which to compare 
Alternatives B and C. Alternative A would maintain our present refuge 
staffing level and our visitor services facilities, including existing 
trails and viewing platforms. We would continue to emphasize wildlife 
observation and photography opportunities, and provide a fall deer 
hunt. Our biological program priorities would continue to be protecting 
the refuge's wetlands and upland forest for migratory birds, with 
particular emphasis on protecting nesting bald eagles and the great 
blue heron rookery. Controlling invasive plants would also continue to 
be an important part of our program.
Alternative B (Improved Management for Trust Resources)
    This is the Service-preferred alternative. It combines the actions 
we believe would best achieve the refuge's purposes, vision and goals, 
and the NWRS policy on Biological Integrity, Diversity, and 
Environmental Health (601 FW 3). This alternative would also be best in 
responding to the issues that arose during the planning process.
    Alternative B would improve our management of refuge habitats to 
support Federal trust resources and species of conservation concern. In 
particular, our priority would be to enhance our management of the 
refuge's upland forests to benefit bald eagles, great blue heron, and 
other forest-dependent migratory birds through measures such as 
prescribed fire, forest thinning, and planting of trees, to improve 
forest health. We would also pursue actions to improve habitat quality 
in the refuge's marsh habitat to benefit bald eagles, waterfowl, 
waterbirds, and interjurisdictional fish. These actions include working 
with partners to improve water quality and clean up debris in Great 
Marsh, upgrading the water-control structure and altering the water-
level regime in Little Marsh to promote better foraging opportunities, 
and improving fish passage.
    Both the improvement of our current trails and addition of new 
trails and observation platforms would offer increased opportunities 
for wildlife observation, photography, and interpretation. We would 
also expand our interpretive programs and outreach efforts to inform 
and involve more people in working towards refuge goals.
Alternative C (Enhanced Public Use Management)
    Alternative C would manage habitat similar to Alternative A, but 
would expand wildlife-dependent public use programs beyond that which 
is proposed under either Alternatives A or B. We would devote more 
staff time and resources to offering new or improved compatible 
priority public programs. For example, we would offer a new 
muzzleloader deer hunting season, construct additional photography 
blinds, and offer more guided and self-guided wildlife observation 
tours and environmental education programs.

Featherstone NWR Alternatives

Alternative A (Current Management)
    Similar to Alternative A for Mason Neck NWR, this alternative 
satisfies the NEPA requirement for a ``No Action'' alternative. It 
describes our current management priorities and activities, and serves 
as a baseline for comparing and contrasting Alternative B. Under 
Alternative A, Featherstone NWR would continue to be closed to all 
public use and access. Our priorities would be to protect the refuge 
from vandalism and trespassing, control invasive plants, and monitor 
for threats to wildlife and habitats.
Alternative B (Enhanced Management)
    This is the Service-preferred alternative. Habitat and species 
management would focus on protecting sensitive nesting areas from human 
disturbance, and monitoring for and treating invasive plants, pests, 
and pathogens to avoid catastrophic loss or degradation of habitat. 
Under Alternative B, we would also continue to work with Prince William 
County to secure public parking and legal and safe pedestrian access to 
the refuge, which has been an issue since refuge establishment. Once 
that access is secured and we have the additional staff to manage those 
activities, we would provide opportunities for wildlife observation and 
nature photography on designated trails, and fishing at designated 
    Under Alternative B, within 5 years, we would evaluate a proposal 
to provide opportunities for hunting. Other alternatives, including no 
action, would be considered in that hunt program evaluation, and there 
would be public involvement before making a final decision on the types 
of hunting opportunities offered.

Public Availability of Documents

    In addition to any methods in ADDRESSES, you can view or obtain 
documents from the agency Web site, http://www.fws.gov/northeast/

Next Steps

    After this comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 

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them in the form of a final CCP and finding of no significant impact.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, electronic 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: November 29, 2010.
Wendi Weber,
Acting Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hadley, MA 
[FR Doc. 2010-33340 Filed 1-4-11; 8:45 am]