[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 104 (Wednesday, May 30, 2012)]
[Pages 31870-31871]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-13011]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-2011-N223; FF06R06000-FXRS1265066CCP0S2-123]

Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Bowdoin National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announce that 
our Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan (Plan) and finding of no 
significant impact (FONSI) for the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge 
Complex (refuge complex) is available. This final Plan describes how 
the Service intends to manage this refuge complex for the next 15 

ADDRESSES: A copy of the Plan may be obtained by writing to U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Division of Refuge Planning, P.O. Box 25486, 
Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225; or by download from http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/planning.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura King, (406) 644-2211, ext. 210 
(phone); (406) 644-2661 (fax); or bowdoin@fws.gov (email).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The 84,724-acre Bowdoin National Wildlife 
Refuge Complex is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It is 
located in the mixed-grass prairie region of north-central Montana, 
within an area known as the prairie pothole region. The refuge complex 
oversees management of five national wildlife refuges: Bowdoin National 
Wildlife Refuge and four unstaffed satellite refuges--Black Coulee, 
Creedman Coulee, Hewitt Lake, and Lake Thibadeau National Wildlife 
Refuges. In addition, the refuge complex also manages the four-county 
Bowdoin Wetland Management District (district), which has nine 
waterfowl production areas in Blaine, Hill, Phillips, and Valley. While 
the five national wildlife refuges and the wetland management district 
were established under different authorities, they all have the 
overriding purpose of providing migration, nesting, resting, and 
feeding habitat for migratory birds in their wetlands and uplands. The 
four satellite refuges have both fee-title and private lands within 
their boundaries. The private lands are encumbered by refuge and 
flowage easements giving the Service the right to impound water, 
control the uses that occur on that water, and control any hunting and 
trapping. Access to these privately owned areas is by landowner 
permission only.
    The refuge complex provides opportunities for the public to enjoy 
compatible wildlife-dependent public-use activities including hunting, 
limited fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental 
education, and interpretation. A full-time staff of five and various 
temporary employees manage and study refuge habitats and maintain 
visitor facilities. Domestic livestock grazing, prescribed fire, and 
haying are the primary management tools used to maintain and enhance 
upland habitats. Water level manipulation is used to improve wetland 
habitats and invasive and non-native plant species are controlled and 
eradicated. Large, intact, native prairie communities can still be 
found throughout the refuge complex providing nesting habitat for over 
29 species of resident and migratory birds. Native grazers such as 
pronghorn, white-tailed deer, and mule deer browse and graze the 
uplands. Four wetland classes are found on the refuge complex: 
Temporary, seasonal, semipermanent, and permanent. These wetland 
classes are either freshwater or saline. There are more than 10,000 
acres of wetlands in the refuge complex. These wetlands have a diverse 
distribution of sizes, types, locations, and associations. As part of 
the central flyway, this concentration of wetlands attracts thousands 
of migrating shorebirds and waterfowl to the refuge complex.
    Approximately 25,000 people visit the refuge complex annually. A 
15-mile interpreted auto tour route and nature trail on the Bowdoin 
National Wildlife Refuge are two of the most popular activities. 
Fishing is only open on McNeil Slough and Beaver Creek WPAs. The 
remaining complex waters do not support a sport fishery due high 
salinity levels or shallow water depth. Excluding Holm WPA, the 
remaining complex is open to limited hunting of waterfowl and upland 
game birds. The four satellite refuges (with landowner permission) and 
remaining eight WPAs

[[Page 31871]]

are also open to big game hunting, subject to State regulations and 
    The draft Plan and environmental assessment (EA) was made available 
to the public for review and comment following the announcement in the 
Federal Register on June 22, 2011 (76 FR 36571-36571). The public was 
given until July 25, 2011, to comment and a public meeting was held in 
Malta on June 29, 2011. More than 20 individuals and groups provided 
written comments and appropriate changes were made to the final plan. 
The draft CCP and final EA included the analyses of three different 
sets of alternatives including three alternatives for managing the 
refuge complex, two alternatives to evaluate the divestiture of Lake 
Thibadeau, and five alternatives for addressing the salinity and 
blowing salts issue on Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge. The Region 6 
Regional Director selected Alternative B for overall refuge management 
and the proposed divestiture of Lake Thibadeau and Alternative 4 for 
addressing the salinity and blowing salts issue. These preferred 
alternatives will serve as the final plan.
    The final plan identifies goals, objectives, and strategies that 
describe the future management of the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge 
Complex. Alternative B for Lake Thibadeau National Wildlife Refuge 
recommends divestiture. The Service owns less than 1 percent of the 
lands within the 3,868-acre approved acquisition boundary; the 
remaining area is private lands encumbered by refuge and flowage 
easements. These easements give the Service the right to manage the 
impoundments and the uses that occur on that water and to control 
hunting and trapping, but these easements do not prohibit development, 
grazing, or agricultural uses. Due to upstream development in the 
watershed, the impoundments do not receive adequate water supplies and 
are often dry enough to be farmed; the surrounding upland areas are 
also farmed or heavily grazed.
    This loss or lack of habitat has resulted in the Service's 
recommendation to divest this refuge. For the remaining refuge complex 
lands, Alternative B proposes to conserve natural resources by 
restoring, protecting, and enhancing native mixed-grass prairie and 
maintaining high-quality wetland habitat for target migratory and 
resident birds. Invasive and nonnative plants that are causing habitat 
losses and fragmentation would be controlled or eradicated, including 
Russian olive trees. Research would be conducted to control crested 
wheatgrass and restore treated areas. Enhanced wetlands would be 
managed to mimic natural conditions for wetland-dependent migratory.
    Visitor services programs would be enhanced, providing additional 
opportunities for staff- and volunteer-led. A sanctuary area would be 
created for waterfowl on the east side of the Bowdoin National Wildlife 
Refuge closing this area to all foot traffic during the hunting season. 
A new wildlife observation site would be added on the auto tour route. 
The Service would work with the State to determine the feasibility of 
offering a big game hunt at Bowdoin Refuge. The success of all of these 
additional efforts and programs would depend on added staff, research, 
and monitoring programs, including additional funding, infrastructure, 
and new and expanded partnerships.
    Alternative 4 was chosen as the preferred alternative for 
addressing the salinity and blowing salts issue, improving plant and 
animal diversity. An underground injection well, possibly more than 
6,000 feet, would be used to force saline water deep into the ground. 
An annual withdrawal of 800 acre-feet of water would be required to 
maintain the salt balance, assuming all water and salt inputs remained 
consistent with past inputs. Once the salinity objective of 7,000 mg/L 
was met and water in Lake Bowdoin met all applicable water quality 
standards, modifications to the lake's infrastructure would be 
evaluated to determine the best way to re-create a flow-through system 
that maximized the effects of natural flooding. If natural flooding did 
not occur or more water to be supplied from the Milk River was not 
granted, the injection well could be used periodically to maintain 
salinity at an acceptable level. It is estimated that it will take 10-
20 years to achieve the salinity and water quality objectives. 
Throughout this process, the Service will also work with partners to 
determine how to best minimize salt inputs into the refuge.
    The Service is furnishing this notice to advise other agencies and 
the public of the availability of the final Plan, to provide 
information on the desired conditions for the refuge complex and to 
detail how the Service will implement management strategies. Based on 
the review and evaluation of the information contained in the EA, the 
Regional Director has determined that implementation of the Final Plan 
does not constitute a major Federal action that would significantly 
affect the quality of the human environment within the meaning of 
section 102(2)(c) of the National Environmental Policy Act. Therefore, 
an Environmental Impact Statement will not be prepared.

    Dated: December 23, 2011.
Noreen Walsh,
Deputy Regional Director.

    Editorial Note: This document was received at the Office of the 
Federal Register on May 24, 2012.
[FR Doc. 2012-13011 Filed 5-29-12; 8:45 am]