[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 92 (Friday, May 11, 2012)]
[Pages 27792-27793]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-11393]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2012-N080; FXRS12650400000S3-123-FF04R02000]

Chassahowitzka 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 conservation plan and 
environmental assessment (Draft CCP/EA) for Chassahowitzka National 
Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Citrus and Hernando 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 11, 2012.

ADDRESSES: You may obtain a copy of the Draft CCP/EA by contacting Mr. 
Michael Lusk via U.S. mail at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, 
1502 SE. Kings Bay Drive, Crystal River, Florida 34429. 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: ChassCCP@fws.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Mary Morris at 850/567-6202 
(telephone); or via email at: ChassCCP@fws.gov.



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Chassahowitzka 
NWR started through a notice in the Federal Register on June 8, 2009 
(74 FR 27173). For more about the refuge and our CCP process, please 
see that notice.
    Located about 60 miles north of Tampa, the 30,843-acre 
Chassahowitzka NWR was established by authority of the Migratory Bird 
Conservation Act on June 15, 1943, as ``an inviolate sanctuary'' for 
wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds. In 1976, Congress 
designated roughly three-quarters of the refuge (23,579 acres) as 
wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964 (16 U.S.C. 1131-1136).
    The refuge's diverse ecosystems, including prime, estuarine 
habitat, hosts a myriad and abundance of flora and fauna. The 
marshlands, swamplands, shallow bays, and tidal streams provide both 
the quantity and quality of aquatic plant and animal life required to 
support thousands of wintering waterfowl, marsh and waterbirds, 
shorebirds, fishes, and a variety of animal species that depend on a 
marine environment. The refuge also has 2,560 acres of hardwood 
swamplands and 250 acres of upland forest. Notable imperiled species 
include Florida manatees and an experimental population of whooping 
cranes introduced to the marsh habitats over a decade ago by means of a 


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 
    Priority resource issues addressed in the Draft CCP/EA include: (1) 
Priority imperiled species (e.g., manatees and whooping crane); (2) 
determining the habitat needs of migratory birds and the cause of 
waterfowl population declines on the refuge since the 1970s; (3) 
evaluating the external threats of potential loss of water quality and 
quantity; (4) controlling invasive plant and pest animal species; (5) 
documenting climate change effects on refuge resources (6) protecting 
natural, cultural and wilderness resources; (7) limited accessibility 
issues; (8) administrative resources; and (9) partnerships.

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)

    This refuge is closer to pristine and has much less public use than 
most areas of Florida, so the goal under all three alternatives is to 
maintain its resources. To date, this has been done with minimal 
management by a small staff. Under this alternative, ongoing programs 
would continue. Species of Federal responsibility, such as threatened 
and endangered species and migratory birds, would continue to be 
monitored at present levels. High-profile, imperiled species, such as 
manatees and whooping cranes, would remain the focus. Additional 
species monitoring would occur as opportunistic events when contacts 
outside our staff offer support. Current habitat management, including 
prescribed fire, would continue (to improve crane habitat and to 
address fuel loads in uplands). 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 
and other existing uses would continue at present levels. Acquisition 
of inholding lands into the refuge would occur as willing sellers and 
funding become available. There is no staff dedicated exclusively to 
this refuge; instead, refuge staff draws from the staff assigned to the 
Crystal River NWR Complex (Complex), which also includes the Tampa Bay 
Refuges. This includes mostly the manager, deputy manager, wildlife 
biologist, and three park rangers (i.e., two wildlife officers and one 
visitor services staff). Alternative A presents the baseline upon which 
the other two alternatives

[[Page 27793]]

are expanded, but with differing management approaches.

Alternative B: Increased Research and Management via Partnerships

    Alternative B proposes increased research and management 
capability, primarily through the use of cooperative partnerships and 
outside funding, with a modest increase of staff (three positions for 
the Complex). Research would be enhanced beyond priority, high-profile 
imperiled species. Because much baseline data are needed beyond the 
current surveying and monitoring protocols, this alternative would seek 
to initiate studies of a broader suite of species and to document noted 
declines of refuge habitat and species (waterfowl) and climate-change 
impacts. Since the refuge is accessible mostly by water from off-site, 
non-Service-owned ramps, we would provide more complete information to 
help the public locate the refuge via water. Studies would be conducted 
to assess visitor and commercial use effects on refuge resources; 
further, in Citrus County, commercial uses would require a special use 
permit issued by the refuge. A volunteer coordinator position is 
proposed to expand the volunteer corps and programs and to train and 
use volunteers to promote interpretation, voluntary compliance with 
refuge regulations, and the new environmental education programs of the 

Alternative C: Adaptive Management (Proposed Alternative)

    Alternative C would also heavily rely on our extensive partnerships 
and promote some new ones. We would rely on and use a volunteer corps 
for every program area and investigate the use of prison crews for 
maintenance work. This alternative assumes Service funding above 
current levels for research studies and facilities development and 
proposes additional staffing (eight positions for the Complex), to 
provide optimal resource protection and management capability. Research 
would include a broader suite of species, as well as habitat studies to 
adaptively manage for wildlife populations. The impacts of commercial 
and visitor use and external threats to the refuge would be studied and 
the results of those studies applied to refuge management and public 
use. Upland uses would be promoted though the development of improved 
facilities and access, and an observation platform and kayak landing 
would be added to the Dog Island facility, accessed by boat. The 
addition of key positions, such as a law enforcement officer, a 
volunteer coordinator, and biological and computer-mapping technicians, 
would allow for greater resource study, mapping, data analysis, and 
enforcement. The hiring of a wildlife refuge specialist and office 
assistant would support staff and provide a dedicated outreach 
coordinator. Refuge facilities would be improved for both visitor 
services and personnel, including projects to replace the headquarters 
office (to reduce flooding potential) and build a pole barn and make 
other smaller improvements to the maintenance area and shop. For all 
alternatives, ``green'' options, materials, and energy efficiency would 
be included in the design and construction of new facilities and in 
equipment replacement.

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: April 17, 2012.
Mark J. Musaus,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 2012-11393 Filed 5-10-12; 8:45 am]