[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 185 (Friday, September 23, 2011)]
[Pages 59153-59155]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-24552]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R5-R-2011-N128; BAC-4311-K9-S3]

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Fairfax 
County, VA, and Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William 
County, VA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability: final comprehensive conservation plan 
and finding of no significant impact.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of our final comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and 
finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for Elizabeth Hartwell Mason 
Neck (Mason Neck) and Featherstone National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs; 
refuges). In this final CCP, we describe how we will manage these 
refuges for the next 15 years.

ADDRESSES: You may view or obtain copies of the final CCP and FONSI by 
any of the following methods. You may request a hard copy or a CD-ROM.
    Agency Web site: Download a copy of the document at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/planning/MasonNeck_Featherstone/ccphome.html.
    E-mail: Send requests to northeastplanning@fws.gov. Include ``Mason 
Neck and Featherstone Refuges CCP'' in the subject line of your e-mail.
    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.
    In-Person 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; fax: 703-490-5631; e-mail: fw5rw_msnnwr@fws.gov.



    With this notice, we finalize the CCP process for Mason Neck and 
Featherstone NWRs. We started this process through a notice of intent 
in the Federal Register (72 FR 28066) on May 18, 2007. We released the 
draft CCP/environmental assessment (EA) to the public, announcing and 
requesting comments in a notice of availability in the Federal Register 
(76 FR 582) on January 5, 2011.
    Mason Neck and Featherstone NWRs, together with Occoquan Bay NWR, 
comprise the Potomac River NWR Complex, which is headquartered in 
Woodbridge, Virginia. Mason Neck NWR was established in 1969 as the 
first NWR 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 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 of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (50 CFR 17.11(h)) in 
2007. It continues to be protected, however, under other Federal laws 
and State law in 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 deer hunting.
    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 has been closed to public 
use and access since its establishment because there is no public 
parking available or safe access across active railroad tracks, which 
lie along the length of the refuge's western boundary.
    We announce our decision and the availability of the FONSI for the 
final CCP for Mason Neck and Featherstone NWRs in accordance with 
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (40 CFR 1506.6(b)) 
requirements. We completed a thorough analysis of impacts on the human 
environment, which we included in the draft CCP/EA.
    The CCP will guide us in managing and administering Mason Neck and 
Featherstone NWRs for the next 15 years. Alternative B, as described 
for both refuges in the draft CCP/EA, and with the modifications 
described below, is the foundation for the final CCP.


    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 (16 
U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (Administration Act), as amended by the National 
Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, requires us to develop 
a CCP for each NWR. 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 
the CCP at least every 15 years

[[Page 59154]]

in accordance with the Administration Act.

CCP Alternatives, Including the Selected Alternative

    Our draft CCP/EA (76 FR 582) addressed several key issues, 
     Managing forested habitat to benefit bald eagles, great 
blue heron, other migratory birds of conservation concern, and other 
native wildlife species;
     Protecting wetland habitat to benefit waterbirds, 
waterfowl, and migratory fish;
     Expanding and enhancing wildlife-dependent recreational 
opportunities; and
     Providing public access to Featherstone NWR.
    To address these issues and develop a plan based on each refuge's 
establishing purposes, vision, and goals, we evaluated three 
alternatives for Mason Neck NWR and two alternatives for Featherstone 
NWR in the draft CCP/EA. The alternatives for both Mason Neck and 
Featherstone NWRs have some actions in common, such as controlling 
invasive species, monitoring wildlife diseases, encouraging research 
that benefits our resource decisions, protecting cultural resources, 
and distributing refuge revenue sharing payments to Fairfax and Prince 
William Counties.
    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 
evaluated in the draft CCP/EA, followed by summaries for the two 
Featherstone NWR alternatives.

Mason Neck Refuge Alternatives

Alternative A (Current Management)
    This alternative is the ``No Action'' alternative required by 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 
and forest pests would also continue to be an important part of our 
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 intent of NWRS policy on Biological Integrity, Diversity, and 
Environmental Health (601 FW 3). This alternative would also best 
respond 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 that improve 
forest health. Managing deer populations to minimize overbrowsing and 
controlling invasive plants and pests are actions planned. We would 
also pursue actions to improve habitat quality in the refuge's marsh 
habitat to benefit bald eagles, waterfowl, waterbirds, and migratory 
fish. These actions include working with partners to improve water 
quality and clean up debris in Great Marsh. In Little Marsh, we would 
upgrade the water control structure and alter the water level regime to 
promote better foraging opportunities for waterbirds and bald eagles, 
and to improve fish passage. In addition, we would work with partners 
to evaluate shoreline erosion risk and identify ways to address erosion 
in anticipation of climate change impacts.
    The improvement of our current trails, and the 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. In addition, 
once administrative and funding resources are in place, we would offer 
a youth turkey hunt and consider expanding our existing deer hunt.
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 priority public 
use 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 Refuge 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 bald eagle areas from 
human disturbance and improving the monitoring and treatment of 
invasive plants, pests, and pathogens to avoid catastrophic loss or 
degradation of habitat. Similar to our proposal under alternative B for 
Mason Neck NWR, we would work with partners to evaluate shoreline 
erosion risk and identify ways to address it in anticipation of climate 
change impacts.
    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 sites.
    Under alternative B, once we have administrative and funding 
resources in place, we would evaluate a proposal to provide hunting 
opportunities on refuge lands. 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.


    We solicited comments on the draft CCP/EA for Mason Neck and 
Featherstone NWRs from January 5 to February 22, 2011 (76 FR 582). 

[[Page 59155]]

the comment period, we received 79 responses, both oral and written. 
All comments we received were evaluated. A summary of those comments, 
and our responses to them, is included as appendix G in the final CCP.

Selected Alternative

    After considering the comments we received on our draft CCP/EA, we 
have made one modification to alternative B for Featherstone NWR. We 
have decided to allow non-motorized boaters to land at one designated 
site on the refuge's shoreline to facilitate wildlife observation and 
nature photography. The designated landing site is a portion of tidal 
beach on Farm Creek (refer to the final CCP, chapter 4, map 4.3 for 
details) and corresponds with the proposed location of the southernmost 
observation deck and fishing platform that we presented in the draft 
CCP/EA (refer to the draft CCP/EA, chapter 3, map 3.3 for details). 
Visitors accessing the refuge at this location by non-motorized boats 
would be allowed to walk approximately 0.4 miles along an existing 
footpath (indicated on map 4.3 in the final CCP). Boaters would be 
confined to this section of footpath until the rest of the refuge is 
officially open to public use, as was detailed in the draft CCP/EA. 
Other minor changes to alternative B for both refuges are described in 
the FONSI (appendix H in the final CCP) and in our response to public 
comments (appendix G in the final CCP).
    We have selected alternative B to implement for both Mason Neck and 
Featherstone NWRs, with the changes identified above, for several 
reasons. Alternative B for both refuges comprises a mix of actions 
that, in our professional judgment, work best towards achieving each 
refuges' purposes, visions, and goals, NWRS policies, and the goals of 
other State and regional conservation plans. We also believe that 
alternative B most effectively addresses the key issues raised during 
the planning process. The basis of our decision is detailed in the 
FONSI, which is included as appendix H in the final CCP.

Public Availability of Documents

    You can view or obtain documents as indicated under ADDRESSES.

    Dated: August 22, 2011.
Wendi Weber,
Acting Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hadley, MA 
[FR Doc. 2011-24552 Filed 9-22-11; 8:45 am]