[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 85 (Wednesday, May 2, 2012)]
[Pages 26035-26037]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-10571]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2012-N047; FXRS12650400000S3-123-FF04R02000]

St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, FL; Draft Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft comprehensive

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conservation plan and environmental assessment (Draft CCP/EA) for St. 
Vincent National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Franklin and Gulf Counties, 
Florida, 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 1, 2012.

ADDRESSES: You may obtain a copy of the Draft CCP/EA by contacting Ms. 
Laura Housh, via U.S. mail at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, 2700 
Suwannee Canal Road, Folkston, GA 31537. Alternatively, you may 
download the document from our Internet Site at http://southeast.fws.gov/planning under ``Draft Documents.'' Comments on the 
Draft CCP/EA may be submitted to the above postal address or by email 
to stvincentccp@fws.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Laura Housh at 912/496-7366, 
extension 244 (telephone); 912/496-3322 (fax); or via email at 



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for St. Vincent NWR. 
We started the process through a notice in the Federal Register on 
April 8, 2009 (74 FR 16002). For more about the refuge and our CCP 
process, please see that notice. St. Vincent NWR was established in 
1968, to protect and conserve migratory birds in accordance with the 
Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 (16 U.S.C. 715D).
    St. Vincent NWR is situated along the gulf coast of northwest 
Florida, about 60 miles from Panama City and 80 miles from Tallahassee. 
The approved acquisition boundary for the refuge is approximately 
13,736 acres. The current management boundary is approximately 12,490 
acres. We oversee 21 Farm Service Agency easements (1,625 acres) in 6 
counties. The 12,490-acre refuge boundary includes two islands--St. 
Vincent Island (12,358 acres) and Pig Island (46 acres). It also 
includes a mainland tract (86 acres).


The CCP Process

    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 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 Administration 
    Significant issues addressed in the Draft CCP/EA include: (1) The 
control of invasive exotic species combined with education; (2) the 
need for more education, outreach, and awareness of the refuge; (3) the 
need to evaluate the appropriate size and staff needed to accomplish 
established purposes (i.e., consider biologist and wildlife officer 
positions); (4) the need to broaden and strengthen relationships and 
partnerships internally and externally; (5) the need to better 
understand the potential impacts of climate change on refuge resources; 
(6) the need to evaluate accessibility issues; and (7) the need to 
acquire additional funding to support refuge needs.

CCP Alternatives, Including Our Proposed Alternative

    We developed three alternatives for managing the refuge 
(Alternatives A, B, and C), with Alternative C as our proposed 
alternative. A full description of each alternative is in the Draft 
CCP/EA. We summarize each alternative below.

Alternative A: Current Management (No Action)

    Under this alternative, there would be no action taken to improve 
or enhance the refuge's current habitats, or improve wildlife and 
public use management programs. Species of Federal responsibility, such 
as threatened and endangered species and migratory birds, would 
continue to be monitored at present levels. Additional species 
monitoring would occur as opportunistic events when contacts outside 
our staff offer support. Current habitat management, including 
prescribed fire and hydrological restoration, would continue as outside 
resources become available to assist our staff. Management of exotic, 
invasive, and nuisance animal and plant species would continue to be 
opportunistic. The public use programs of hunting, fishing, wildlife 
observation, wildlife photography, and environmental education and 
interpretation would continue at present levels. Acquisition of lands 
into the refuge would occur when funding is appropriated and as willing 
sellers are interested in selling land that is necessary for refuge 
operations and/or critical habitats for sensitive species. The staff 
would consist of a manager, office assistant, forestry technician, and 
biological science technician, along with supplementary support from 
the remainder of the North Florida National Wildlife Refuge Complex 
staff, when available, as well as support from volunteers and partners.

Alternative B: Focus on Natural and Primitive Processes

    The focus of Alternative B would be to emphasize the natural and 
primitive processes, while adhering to policy, mandates, and the 
missions of the Service and refuge. We would continue to support 
actions necessary to protect and manage for species of Federal 
responsibility, such as threatened and endangered species and migratory 
birds. Additional key species would be monitored as the refuge 
transitions into a more natural and primitive environment.
    We would aggressively attempt to restore the hydrology to natural 
conditions with the removal of additional roads on St. Vincent Island. 
All water control structures, including the impoundment system on St. 
Vincent Island, would be opened to allow natural flow of water to and 
from the bay and the gulf. Under this alternative, prescribed burning 
would be discontinued, to allow natural fire events to occur unless 
human life or property is involved. Since the purchase of the refuge, 
there has been minimal emphasis on timber conditions, so a forest 
habitat assessment would be conducted on refuge lands. The eradication 
of exotic species (e.g., feral hogs and sambar deer) would be a key 
component of this alternative.
    Wildlife-dependent recreational uses would continue, with some 
major changes. The hunt program would consist of a quality white-tailed 
deer and raccoon hunt (sambar deer and feral hog hunts would be phased 
out as eradication of these species occurs). As this alternative 
focuses on natural and primitive processes, camping during hunts would 
be discontinued and self check-in stations would be installed. Fishing 
opportunities would be based on natural processes, since stocking of 
freshwater fish would be discontinued.

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Wildlife observation, photography, and environmental education and 
interpretation would continue to focus on a natural and primitive 
process, with a discontinuation of vehicle tours.
    We would continue to maintain and build relations with partners, 
volunteers, and the friends group as they relate to managing the 
resource, supporting the strategic habitat conservation (SHC) 
initiative, and the landscape conservation cooperative (LCC). There 
would continue to be a need for research and studies on the refuge to 
gain a better understanding of the resource and the changes resulting 
from environmental and human events.
    We would staff the refuge at current levels, plus add an assistant 
manager, a wildlife biologist, a maintenance worker, and a wildlife 

Alternative C: Focus on Native and Imperiled Species (Proposed 

    This alternative expands on Alternative A, with an increased effort 
to manage and protect the refuge's native and imperiled species. Under 
this alternative, we would continue to survey and monitor species of 
Federal responsibility, such as threatened and endangered species and 
migratory birds, and key native species. We would also gain a better 
understanding of native species. Additional efforts would be made to 
protect and support nesting opportunities for key species, as well as 
gain a better understanding of population dynamics of some species. 
There would be evaluations to determine if it is suitable to 
reestablish populations of the eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise, 
and eastern wild turkey.
    We would continue to manage lakes 1, 2, and 3 by seasonal draw-
downs to support the needs of shorebirds and wading birds. Lakes 4 and 
5 would continue to support deep water for a freshwater fisheries 
program, with occasional draw-down to manage the vegetation within the 
system. Since the purchase of the refuge, there has been minimal 
emphasis on timber conditions, so a forest habitat assessment would be 
conducted. The management of exotic, invasive, and nuisance animals and 
plants would be a focus, with emphasis on aggressively eradicating 
feral hogs.
    Wildlife-dependent recreational uses would be expanded. The hunt 
program would consist of white-tailed deer, raccoon, and sambar deer. 
Fishing would consist of saltwater and freshwater opportunities. 
Wildlife observation, wildlife photography, and environmental education 
and interpretation would be enhanced to focus on imperiled species and 
the unique barrier island history and ecosystem as they relate to the 
coastal environment. We would enhance the environmental education 
program to incorporate Florida Sunshine Standards, while establishing 
guidelines for public programs. Vehicle tours that meet management 
objectives would continue as long as we have sufficient staff to 
support the program. The refuge would be staffed at current levels, in 
addition to an assistant manager, a wildlife biologist, a maintenance 
worker, a wildlife officer, a visitor services specialist, and a boat 
operator. Under this alternative, we would hire a wildlife biologist 
student through the Student Career Experience Program, continue the 
Youth Conservation Corps Program, and explore opportunities to work 
with students through the Student Conservation Association and 
AmeriCorps programs. Even with the increased staff, we would continue 
to expand our volunteer program and build stronger relations with the 
friends group and partners to manage our resources, supporting the SHC 
initiative and the LCC. As climate change affects the refuge, increased 
research and studies would need to be conducted on species and 
habitats, to support the best management decisions through adaptive 

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, email 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.


    This notice is published under the authority of the National 
Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (16 U.S.C. 668dd et 

    Dated: March 29, 2012.
Mark J. Musaus,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 2012-10571 Filed 5-1-12; 8:45 am]