[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 191 (Tuesday, October 2, 2012)]
[Pages 60137-60138]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-24262]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-2012-N197; FF06R06000-FXRS1265066CCP0S2-123]

Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, Ravalli County, MT; Final 
Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Finding of No Significant Impact 
for Environmental Assessment

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


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 the environmental 
assessment (EA) for Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge Complex 
(refuge), Stevensville, MT. In this final CCP, we describe how we will 
manage this refuge for the next 15 years.

ADDRESSES: You may view or obtain copies of the final CCP and FONSI/EA 
by any one of the following methods.
    Agency Web Site: Download a copy of the document at from http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/planning;
    Email: leemetcalf@fws.gov. Include ``Lee Metcalf final CCP'' in the 
subject line of the message;
    U.S. mail: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Refuge 
Planning, P.O. Box 25486, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225; or
    In-Person Viewing or Pickup: Call 406-777-5552 to make an 
appointment during regular business hours at 4567 Wildfowl Lane, 
Stevensville, MT.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura King, 406-644-2211, ext. 210; 
leemetcalf@fws.gov (email).



    With this notice, we finalize the CCP process for Lee Metcalf 
National Wildlife Refuge. We started this process through a notice in 
the Federal Register (74 FR 50235; September 30, 2009). We released the 
draft CCP and the EA to the public, announcing and requesting comments 
in a notice of availability in the Federal Register (77 FR 18852; March 
28, 2012).
    Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge was established February 4, 
1964, and has two purposes:
    (1) ``[F]or use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other 
management purpose, for migratory birds'' (Migratory Bird Conservation 
Act); and
    (2) ``for (a) incidental fish and wildlife oriented recreational 
development, (b) the protection of natural resources, [and] (c) the 
conservation of endangered species or threatened species'' (Refuge 
Recreation Act).
    This refuge is located in Ravalli County, one of the fastest 
growing counties in the State of Montana, 2 miles north of Stevensville 
and 25 miles south of Missoula. Although it is one of the nation's 
smaller refuges, encompassing 2,800 acres, it is one of the few 
remaining undeveloped areas in the Bitterroot Valley. The refuge lies 
along the meandering Bitterroot River and is comprised of wet meadow 
and gallery and riverfront forest habitats and has created and modified 
    Riverfront forest includes early succession tree species such as 
black cottonwood and sandbar willow that are present near the active 
channel of the Bitterroot River and next to floodplain drainages. 
Gallery forest is dominated by cottonwood and ponderosa pine and is 
present on higher floodplain elevations along natural levees. Over 
140,000 visitors come to this refuge annually to view and photograph 
wildlife, archery deer hunt, walk the refuge trails, or participate in 
interpretive programs in the indoor and outdoor classrooms. The Refuge 
provides habitat for raptors, including ospreys, and numerous songbird 
and waterbird species.
    We announce our decision and the availability of the FONSI for the 
final CCP for Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in accordance with 

[[Page 60138]]

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 EA that accompanied the draft CCP. The CCP 
will guide us in managing and administering Lee Metcalf National 
Wildlife Refuge for the next 15 years. Alternative B, as we described 
in the final CCP, is the foundation for the CCP with two modifications.


    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, 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 in accordance with 
the Refuge Administration Act.


    We solicited comments on the draft CCP and the EA for Lee Metcalf 
National Wildlife Refuge from March 28, 2012 to April 30, 2012 (77 FR 
18852; March 28, 2012). During the review period a public meeting was 
held in Stevensville, Montana, on April 9, 2012. In additional to 
comments received at this meeting, 33 individual letters and emails 
were received. The Service reviewed all comments and made two 
modifications to the final CCP, in addition to clarifying or expanding 
existing information or recommendations. The responses to all 
substantive public comments can be found in the appendix of the final 

Selected Alternative

    The draft CCP and final EA included the analyses of three 
alternatives. After considering the comments we received, we have 
selected Alternative B for implementation, with the following 
modifications (beyond clarifying or expanding existing information or 
     The Kenai Nature Trail will be kept along its current 
path. However, visitors will have the option of remaining on a more 
level walking surface on a path above a steeper portion of the trail.
     We will determine if there are viable options for reducing 
the erosion along the Wildlife Viewing Area, a popular area for 
visitors. The decision to move forward will be based on cost, the 
effectiveness on reducing erosion, and impacts on the resource, 
including the Bitterroot River system.

This preferred alternative will serve as the final plan. The final plan 
identifies goals, objectives, and strategies that describe the future 
management of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, such as the 
expansion and restoration of native plant communities including 
grasslands, shrublands, and riparian forests. Some areas of wetland 
impoundments would be restored to native communities, including forest 
and shrubland. Refuge staff would manage and, where appropriate, 
restore the natural topography, water movements, and physical integrity 
of surface water flow patterns across the Bitterroot River floodplain. 
Unimpeded flow from North Burnt Fork Creek would be reconnected with 
flow pathways into the Bitterroot River to reduce creek water 
temperature, improve water and nutrient flow, and create habitat 
conditions conducive to native cold-water species. Additionally, a 
channel to the Bitterroot River would be reestablished that mimics the 
historical flow pattern of Three Mile Creek to create habitat 
conditions supporting native cold-water species and the restoration of 
riparian habitat. A significant focus of any restoration proposal would 
be controlling invasive species and preventing further spread. Grasses 
and shrubs native to the uplands, including the alluvial fans (that is, 
areas of sedimentary deposits where fast-flowing streams have flown 
into flatter plains), would begin to be restored to provide habitat for 
native wildlife, including grassland-dependent migratory birds. Some 
wetland impoundments and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (nonpublic) 
roads would be removed or reduced in size to allow for river migration 
and to restore native gallery and riverfront forest for riparian-
dependent wildlife. The remaining impoundments would be managed to 
mimic natural conditions for wetland-dependent migratory birds.
    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would expand and improve the 
refuge's compatible wildlife-dependent public use programs, in 
particular the wildlife observation, environmental education, and 
interpretation programs. The visitor contact area would be expanded 
into a visitor center with new displays and a combination conference 
room and environmental education classroom. The refuge would work with 
Ravalli County staff to designate the county road in the refuge as an 
auto tour route, which would include pulloffs and some form of 
interpretation. A seasonal hiking trail would be added, and current 
trails would be improved for wildlife observation and photography. 
Interpretation and environmental education programs would be expanded 
using added staff and volunteers. All public use programs would provide 
visitors with a consistent message about the purposes and values of the 
refuge and the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
    The refuge staff would be expanded by 3.5 individuals to include an 
assistant refuge manager (one full-time equivalent), a full-time and a 
career-seasonal biological science technician (1.5 full-time 
equivalents), and a visitor services specialist (one full-time 
equivalent) who would serve as a visitor center manager and volunteer 
coordinator. Increased research and monitoring, staff, funding, 
infrastructure, and partnerships would be required to accomplish the 
goals, objectives, and strategies associated with this alternative. 
Additional staff and funding would be added depending on the regional 
priorities for those funds allocated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service for management of lands and waters within the Refuge System.

    Dated: August 29, 2012.
Matt Kales,
Acting, Deputy, Regional Director, Mountain-Prairie Region, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-24262 Filed 10-1-12; 8:45 am]