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Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge Public Access Plan Finalized

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed the final environmental assessment for the public access plan for Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The public access plan opens the refuge to new activities, specifically wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, and interpretation. The refuge will be open for wildlife observation and photography, environmental education and interpretation from February-November, seven days a week.

In addition to the new activities for the public, the refuge is also open to hunting. From February through September, the full 2.6-mile levee trail and 0.25-mile paved entrance trail is open to the public. During October and November, while the state waterfowl hunting season occurs on privately owned lands adjacent to the refuge, the 0.25-mile of paved entrance trail and the northern 1.3 miles of the levee trail are open to the public. To ensure the safety of all visitors and in response to public comments on the draft public access plan, during the months of December and January, the refuge will only be open to waterfowl hunters participating in the state season on refuge lands with refuge hunting permits on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Access to hunters is limited to the northern 1.3 miles of the levee trail.

The Draft Public Access Plan and accompanying Draft Environmental Assessment were open for public comment from December 1st, 2021 through January 31st, 2022. Staff reviewed all public comments to determine if any changes were necessary to the Draft Public Access Plan. Read our responses to all public comments here. The refuge will open to the public on October 1st, 2022. Please check back on this website for posting of the final plan.

The News Release can be accessed here.

The Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and decision to open to public access can be found here.

Frequently Asked Questions on Public Comments and the Final Public Access Plan and Environmental Assessment

Where can I find responses to a comment I submitted on the draft plan/EA?

Responses to all public comments are below.

Which alternative from the draft plan was selected (final preferred alternative)?

In response to public comments regarding safety and hunting access, the Service developed a new preferred alternative (Alternative B, with modifications) that combines elements of Alternatives A and B to minimize potential for conflicts between the general public and waterfowl hunters on or near the refuge during the hunt season, while maximizing opportunities for public access while levee repairs and lakebed restoration are ongoing.

Under the new preferred alternative, from February through September, the public may walk/hike on the full 2.6-mile levee trail and 0.25 mile paved entrance trail seven days per week, during daylight hours only (from sunrise to sunset). During October and November, while the state waterfowl hunting season occurs on privately owned lands adjacent to the refuge, and before levee repairs are completed (estimated in 2027), the public may walk/hike on 0.25 mile of paved entrance trail and the northern 1.3 miles of the levee trail seven days per week, during daylight hours only. The southern 1.3 miles of the levee trail would be closed to public access to minimize potential for off-site hunting conflicts and to establish sanctuary for waterfowl during the hunt season. During December and January, Refuge access would be limited to only selected hunters and their parties on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and the entire levee trail would be closed to all other public access.

After levee restoration work is complete (scheduled for 2027), the lake will be able to hold water through the full hunt season, and therefore waterfowl hunting would occur during the entire State season in accordance with the Refuge’s Waterfowl Hunt Plan. To minimize potential user group conflicts and safety concerns, access to the 1.3-mile northern portion of the trail would be limited to only selected hunters and their parties on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and the entire levee trail would be closed to all other public access from mid-October to January. We would notify the public before changes to public access take place.

While restoration and levee repairs are ongoing, we will be collecting data on public and wildlife use of the Refuge and will initiate a complete review of the public use program, including waterfowl hunting, to determine if changes to the hunt or public access plan are warranted. Any proposed changes would be evaluated in a separate review and NEPA document.

Comments Received During Public/Agency Review Period and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Responses 

The comment period for the Draft Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge Public Access Plan and Environmental Assessment (Draft Public Access Plan) consisted of a formal comment period for 60 days upon release of the draft EA in December 2021. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) received 63 comment submissions, including comments representing 10 organizations and agencies, during the posted public comment period between December 1, 2021 and January 31, 2022.

Comments focused on alternatives developed through public input and significant issues identified through public scoping. A large proportion of the commenters expressed support or opposition to one or more alternatives presented in the Draft Public Access Plan.

Comments received were grouped into 14 categories: Support Alternative A, Support Alternative B, Oppose Alternatives, Hunting, Current Access, Public Access Seasons, Tribal Access, Recreation Types, Infrastructure, Dogs, Funding, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Process, References, and Other. Comments presented here have been paraphrased from the originals, and in some cases consolidated with others where the Service’s response is the same. 

Support Alternative A, Open Wapato Lake NWR to Year-round Non-Hunting Public Access.

Comment 1: Multiple comments expressed support for Alternative A. 

Thank you for your comments. Ultimately, we selected Alternative B, with modifications, as our Preferred Alternative since it minimizes the potential for conflicts between hunting and non-hunting user groups, and provides wildlife with rest days from human disturbance during the hunt season.

Comment 2: Several comments expressed support for the expansion of public uses proposed in Alternative A.

Thank you for your comments. Although we selected Alternative B, with modifications, as our Preferred Alternative, this alternative, like Alternative A, expands public uses on the Refuge. This alternative would allow access to the Refuge for wildlife observation and photography, environmental education, and interpretation for 10 months of the year (February-November).

 

Support Alternative B, Open Wapato Lake NWR to Seasonal Non-hunting Public Access.

Comment 3: Several comments expressed support for Alternative B.

Thank you for your comments. We have selected Alternative B, with modifications, as our Preferred Alternative since it minimizes the potential for conflicts between hunting and non-hunting user groups, and provides wildlife with rest days from human disturbance during the hunt season. While the lakebed restoration and levee repairs are in progress (expected completion 2027), modified Alternative B will be implemented. Following levee repairs and pending public use review, Alternative B will be implemented. See the Final Environmental Assessment for more description of these alternatives.

Comment 4: A few comments expressed support for Alternative B over Alternative C (No Action Alternative).

Thank you for your comments. Alternative C, the No Action Alternative, was not selected as the Preferred Alternative because the Refuge would remain open only to waterfowl hunting, and not the other priority wildlife-dependent uses of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Comment 5: A few comments suggested that Alternative B was safer than Alternative A.

Thank you for your comments. The Refuge takes the safety of visitors seriously and considered it in the development of alternatives. We have selected Alternative B, with modifications, as the Preferred Alternative. This alternative allows some trail access during October and November until restoration and levee repairs are complete (estimated in 2027) but the Refuge would be closed to non-hunting visitation in December and January when the refuge waterfowl hunt is conducted. The safety concern is addressed by separating hunting activity and non-hunting visitation, thus eliminating the potential for confusion over access days.

 

Oppose Alternatives

Comment 6: Several comments expressed opposition to Alternative B.

Thank you for your comments. We have selected Alternative B, with modifications, as the Preferred Alternative. We received multiple comments expressing safety concerns resulting from the potential for visitors’ confusion over which days hunting takes place. We have modified this alternative to continue to allow access only to the northern 1.3 miles of the levee trail during the months of October and November, when hunting activity on private lands adjacent to the refuge is ongoing, and then to allow access only to permitted waterfowl hunters in December and January, the months when the refuge waterfowl hunt is currently taking place. The chosen alternative separates hunting and non-hunting uses by season, providing opportunities for a variety of user groups to safely enjoy the Refuge without negatively impacting wildlife or their habitat. It also allows wildlife to be relatively free from disturbance four days per week in December and January.

Comment 7: A few comments expressed opposition to Alternative C.

Thank you for your comments. Alternative C, the No Action Alternative, was not selected as the Preferred Alternative because the Refuge would remain open only to waterfowl hunting, and not the other priority wildlife-dependent uses of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

 

Hunting

Comment 8: Several comments expressed concern that it appears that hunters are given priority on the Refuge over other users.

The Refuge follows the priorities established by each administration. We opened to hunting, prior to any other uses, based on an administration priority to expand fishing and hunting opportunities on federal lands. This alternative allows us to open the Refuge to more uses. This Public Use Plan focuses on fostering an environment of inclusivity by providing a range of opportunities for diverse user groups to connect with the natural world. 

Comment 9: A few comments expressed concerns about hunting safety due to the close proximity of hunting blinds to the town of Gaston.

A number of variables were considered to ensure that the waterfowl hunt program could be implemented safely, including: limiting the number of blinds available on hunt days to six; limiting the number of hunters entering the Refuge on hunt days by requiring a permit obtained via a lottery; positioning the blinds so that none are facing Highway 47, the town center, or adjacent landowners; spacing the blinds based on the maximum distances shot travels; and requiring that hunters shoot only from blinds. For more information on the Refuge’s hunting program, see the Wapato Lake NWR Waterfowl Hunt Plan and Environmental Assessment (USFWS 2020).

Comment 10: A few comments opposed hunting on the Refuge because it conflicts with other uses, including wildlife viewing and photography.

The Refuge acknowledges that the refuge is relatively small and the area we can open to public access while providing wildlife with areas relatively free of human disturbance is limited. In order to provide quality, safe opportunities for as many visitors as possible we have selected Alternative B as our Preferred Alternative, and modified this alternative to separate these uses in time and space. Under the modified Alternative B, the Refuge would be closed to non-hunting public use in December and January, the months when waterfowl hunting is conducted on the refuge. This temporal and physical separation will minimize conflicts between hunting and non-hunting users. As levee repairs progress, the Refuge will be evaluating public uses to determine if changes to the hunt or public access plan are warranted. Any proposed changes would be evaluated in a separate review and NEPA document.

Comment 11: Two comments expressed the desire for hunting opportunities to be expanded on the Refuge.

The Refuge’s goal for public use at Wapato Lake NWR is to provide a range of opportunities for the public to experience nature, including both hunting and non-hunting wildlife-dependent recreation. This Plan provides opportunities for a variety of user groups to safely enjoy the Refuge while minimizing adverse impacts to the wildlife and habitats of Wapato Lake. The rationale for the decisions we made pertaining to the current waterfowl hunt program at Wapato Lake can be found in the environmental assessment and hunt plan that was completed in 2020. 

Comment 12: A few commenters suggested that hunting should be greatly restricted or reduced to allow for greater temporal and physical separation from other recreational uses.

We appreciate the suggestion. Hunting is and will continue to be an important wildlife-dependent use of this and many national wildlife refuges. In response to public comments, we selected Alternative B as our Preferred Alternative, with modifications, to temporally and physically separate hunting from other uses. Under the modified Alternative B, the Refuge would be closed to non-hunting public use during the six weeks when waterfowl hunting currently occurs on the Refuge. The number and spacing of the hunt blinds at Wapato Lake NWR were based on the Refuge’s experience with the youth waterfowl hunt program at the Tualatin River NWR, and with input from ODFW and USFWS staff involved with waterfowl hunt programs on state wildlife areas and other Refuges. It will take several years to determine the optimal location, spacing and number of blinds at Wapato Lake NWR because the conditions within the lakebed will change following restoration and levee repairs. 

Comment 13: One comment stated that hunters disturb wildlife more than non-consumptive users.

While hunting does create disturbance, if regulated properly (i.e. limiting the number of hunting days, blinds, and hunters, and providing a no-hunting sanctuary zone), we can provide migration and wintering habitat for waterfowl while also permitting legal waterfowl harvest opportunities. All public uses including non-consumptive uses like wildlife observation and photography cause disturbance to wildlife on the Refuge. Therefore, allowing hunting and non-hunting uses to occur on the Refuge at the same time may result in an undesired amount of disturbance and potential conflict and safety issues between user groups. The chosen alternative separates uses by season, providing opportunities for a variety of user groups to safely enjoy the Refuge while providing wildlife with areas relatively free of human disturbance, and with rest days relatively free of human disturbance during the hunt season. For additional rationale behind the decisions to permit hunting, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education and interpretation, including the scientific literature used to inform our decisions, please see the compatibility determinations that accompany both the waterfowl hunt and public use EAs and Plans.

 

Current Access

Comment 14: Two comments expressed disappointment that only hunting is currently allowed on the Refuge.

The Refuge follows the priorities established by each administration. We opened to hunting, prior to any other uses, based on an administration priority to expand fishing and hunting opportunities on federal land. Once fully opened to the public, the refuge will provide a number of other wildlife recreational opportunities, including wildlife observation, photography, environmental education and interpretation for the majority of the year. The Public Access Plan, based on Alternative B of the EA, with modifications, focuses on fostering an environment of inclusivity by providing a range of opportunities for diverse user groups to connect with the natural world. 

 

Public Access Seasons

Comment 15: One comment stated that all users, especially birders and photographers, should be allowed on the Refuge during peak waterfowl use periods. The comment states that Alternative B only allows hunters during peak waterfowl use periods.

The Refuge’s goal for public use at Wapato Lake NWR is to provide a range of opportunities for the public to experience nature, including both hunting and non-hunting wildlife-dependent recreation. All uses create some level of disturbance; therefore, allowing both hunting and non-consumptive uses such as wildlife observation and photography to occur during the same time period may result in an undesirable amount of disturbance to migrating and wintering birds, as well as create potential conflicts and safety issues between user groups. The chosen alternative separates uses by season, providing opportunities for a variety of user groups to safely enjoy the Refuge while minimizing negative impacts to wildlife and their habitat, including during the waterfowl migration and wintering periods. For additional rationale behind the decisions to permit hunting, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education and interpretation, including the scientific literature used to inform our decisions, please see the Environmental Assessments for the hunt (USFWS 2020) and public access plans (USFWS 2022), and the accompanying compatibility determinations (USFWS 2020 Appendix B, USFWS 2022 Appendix D).

Comment 16: Two comments expressed concern that there would be conflicts between hunting and other uses if they are conducted at the same time, and that this conflict should be minimized. 

Thank you for your comment. We have selected Alternative B, with modifications, as our Preferred Alternative. The modified alternative addresses this concern by restricting use of the refuge to waterfowl hunters only during the months of December and January, and during the full state waterfowl hunting season following completion of levee repairs. The chosen alternative separates hunting and non-hunting uses both in time and space to limit user conflicts.

Comment 17: One comment stated that it is important that enforcement occurs on hunting days to prevent non-hunting users from accessing the Refuge. 

Thank you for your concern about enforcement of refuge regulations in ensuring the safety of our visitors. In response to comments we have chosen an alternative in which hunting and non-hunting activities are not conducted at the same time. We acknowledge that opening Wapato Lake NWR to public use requires staff time and resources to ensure activities are conducted in a safe manner and that each activity takes place only within its designated area and season. Staff plan to be on site frequently to monitor visitor use and will be aided by volunteers. In preparation for this enforcement we will install informational panels and provide brochures on site, and keep the entrance kiosk up to date with information on when certain uses are allowed. We will work with the local community to educate and inform the public regarding when the refuge is open for different uses. Physical barriers and seasonal signage will also be employed, as well as extensive outreach. Additionally, we will provide an informational FAQ and updated information regarding safety and access schedules on the Wapato Lake NWR website and social media outlets.

Comment 18: One comment expressed concern that Alternative A, with alternating use days for hunting and non-hunting uses, has a high potential for continuous bird disturbance and visitor confusion potentially leading to user conflicts, safety concerns, and decreasing the quality of hunting experiences. 

The Refuge’s goal for public use at Wapato Lake NWR is to provide a range of opportunities for the public to experience nature, including both hunting and non-hunting wildlife-dependent recreation. Because hunting and non-hunting uses each create some level of disturbance, allowing both to occur during the same time of year may result in an undesirable amount of disturbance to wildlife and their habitat, as well as create safety issues and potential conflict between user groups. The chosen alternative, a modified version of Alternative B, separates hunting and non-hunting uses in both time and space. From February through September the entire levee trail is open seven days per week, and during October and November the northern portion of the levee trail is open seven days per week. In December and January, the refuge is open only to waterfowl hunting. Hunters are limited to hunting, by permit only, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The remaining days during December and January the refuge is closed to all uses, allowing birds sanctuary days with limited disturbance. After levee restoration work is complete (scheduled for 2027), the lake will be able to hold water through the full hunt season, and therefore waterfowl hunting would occur during the entire State season in accordance with the Refuge’s Waterfowl Hunt Plan. While restoration and levee repairs are ongoing, we will be collecting data on public and wildlife use of the Refuge and will initiate a complete review of the public use program, including waterfowl hunting, to determine if changes to the hunt or public access plan are warranted. 

The plan provides opportunities for a variety of user groups to safely enjoy the Refuge while minimizing negative impacts to wildlife and their habitats, including during the waterfowl migration and wintering periods. See comment 19 for detailed information on how the chosen alternative is designed to minimize impact to wildlife. For additional rationale behind the decisions to permit hunting, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education and interpretation, including the scientific literature cited, please see the compatibility determinations that accompany both the waterfowl hunt and public use EAs and Plans.

Comments 19: One comment suggested an alternative incorporating multiple days of the week where the Refuge is closed to all uses to limit wildlife disturbance. The comment also suggested that public access be limited during nesting season to reduce disturbance.

The Refuge’s goal for public use at Wapato Lake NWR is to provide a range of opportunities for the public to experience nature, including both hunting and non-hunting wildlife-dependent recreation. By closing the southern portion of the trail that parallels the waterfowl sanctuary zone to all users during October-January and restricting use on the northern refuge trail to permitted hunters only during December and January while levee repairs are ongoing, the plan provides opportunities for a variety of user groups to safely enjoy the Refuge while minimizing negative impacts to wildlife and their habitat. Since most wildlife breeding activity will occur in the wetland itself, and public use will be confined to the trail at the top of the levee, disturbance during the breeding season will be minimal. As wetland plant communities develop over time, there will be more cover for breeding wildlife, and an even greater buffer between the trail and the wetland. Further, with the current trail system, the public can only access the northern and western portions of the levee, so the entire east side of the wetland is free of any disturbance from visitors. The highest potential for disturbance during nesting season is associated with wildlife using the dense vegetation that will be present on levee side slopes following restoration actions; however, the impacts would be minor since visitors are required to remain on designated trails. Refuge staff have developed signage to clearly articulate that visitors must remain on trails.

 

Tribal Access

Comment 20: One comment emphasized the importance of tribal food sovereignty and a desire for tribal food and fiber collection be respected and elevated as a use on the Refuge.

The Service recognizes that the lands comprising the Tualatin River NWR Complex are culturally significant, and that the Refuge Complex can play a more prominent role honoring Indigenous cultures by supporting more opportunities to reconnect with those lands. We also recognize that ecological outcomes on Refuge Complex lands, as well as relationships with our Indigenous partners, would benefit from incorporating Indigenous Traditional Ecological and Cultural Knowledge into Refuge Complex land stewardship. We are committed to respecting and elevating Tribal food sovereignty at Wapato Lake NWR, guided by those relationships.

 

Recreation Types 

Comment 21: One comment asked why jogging and running are not allowed on the Refuge.

Disturbance of wildlife from any human activity is unavoidable. However, some activities are more intensively disturbing to wildlife than others. Factors that increase the level of disturbance include the speed of the movement. Recent research indicates that fast movement, such as jogging, may create more wildlife disturbance than previously thought, evoking escape responses at longer distances and/or of greater intensity than walking (Lethlean 2017). In addition, jogging and running have the potential to create user conflicts and safety issues given that the levee trail is only eight feet wide at most. For these reasons, jogging and running are not allowed on the Refuge. 

Comment 22: One comment stated that Alternative A with alternating hunting and non-hunting public use days would cause continuous disturbance to wildlife that would lead to a diminished wildlife viewing experience.

Further evaluation of the potential impacts of each alternative, combined with public comments, led us to the decision that alternating uses during the same season would result in a lower quality experience for all user groups. This is one reason we made the decision not to mix the uses but rather to separate them by season.

Comment 23: Two comments expressed appreciation for the limited access methods (i.e. no motorized vehicles, bikes, horses).

The National Wildlife Refuge System is unique in its emphasis on wildlife-dependent activities, which include wildlife observation, photography, interpretation, environmental education, hunting, and fishing. We acknowledge that visitors enjoy a wide range of activities in the outdoors, and there are many exceptional opportunities for outdoor recreation in the greater Portland metropolitan area. Activities that are prohibited at Wapato Lake NWR are non wildlife-dependent uses that have been determined to cause increased disturbance to wildlife. For example, rapid movements by jogging/running or biking are more disturbing to wildlife than slower moving hikers (Lethlean 2017). These rules and regulations exist in order to facilitate an environment that allows visitors to enjoy wildlife-dependent recreation while minimizing negative impacts to wildlife and their habitat.

Comment 24: One comment suggested further limiting non-hunting uses during hunting season to reduce wildlife disturbance.

The Refuge’s goal for public use at Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge is to provide a range of opportunities for the public to experience nature, including both hunting and non-hunting wildlife dependent recreation. By closing the southern portion of the trail that parallels the waterfowl sanctuary zone to all visitors from October through the end of January and restricting use on the refuge to hunters only during December and January while levee repairs are ongoing (and mid-October through January following levee repairs), the plan provides opportunities for a variety of user groups to safely enjoy the Refuge while minimizing negative impacts to wildlife and their habitat. In addition, there are no plans to permit non-hunting uses of the waterfowl hunt blinds. Separate wildlife observation and photography blinds may be considered in the future.

Comment 25: One comment stated that fishing should be allowed on the Refuge.

Fishing is a consumptive use, similar to hunting, and therefore has a different process to get approved which includes review at the headquarters level, and publication of draft and final hunting and fishing rules in the Federal Register. The Refuge recognizes the interest in fishing on the refuge. As stated in the plan, fishing is not feasible in the dense vegetation of the wetland inside the lakebed. However, we have discussed the possibility of fishing in the creeks surrounding the levee. Before a fishing program could be implemented, several factors would first need to be resolved, including: access (for all users, regardless of abilities), jurisdiction, infrastructure, and stability of the levee (slated for repairs beginning in 2024). Therefore, while fishing cannot be implemented on the refuge at this time, we may be able to offer fishing in the future.

Comment 26: One comment suggested that citizen science such as eBird should be conducted on the Refuge.

Citizen science, also known as community science, efforts play an important role not only in gathering data for management decision-making, but also provide a gateway for community involvement and support. While not explicitly called out in the alternatives presented, community science work is already conducted at Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge, in addition to the data-gathering conducted by refuge staff, e.g. annual waterfowl (and other wildlife) use surveys. Community science will continue to play a role in conservation efforts throughout our entire Complex.

 

Infrastructure

Comment 27: Multiple comments suggested that an accessible covered observation platform should be constructed on the Refuge.

Thank you for your suggestion. The Refuge, through visitor and community engagement, will continuously consider ways to enhance the visitor experience, including development of new or enhanced facilities such as a viewing platform for wildlife observation, which would also serve as a gathering location for environmental education and interpretive programs.

Comment 28: One comment stated that clear signage and infrastructure is needed to clearly indicate the seasonal and daily access rules. 

Visitor safety has been and will continue to be a priority in the development of public use at Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Clear signage and physical barriers such as gates or ropes will be utilized to denote closed areas. Operational status will also be conveyed online on the Wapato Lake NWR website and social media outlets.

Comment 29: One comment noted that certain trail orientations and landscaping can help to reduce wildlife disturbance and enhance visitor experience.

Thank you for your comments and suggestions on trail development. Unfortunately, due to the topography of Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge, one of the only currently feasible locations for our trails is on top of our levee system, so we have little control over the alignment of the trail. However, there are plans to continue restoration along the levees, which would allow us to plant a variety of riparian riparian
Definition of riparian habitat or riparian areas.

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vegetation, including woody shrubs that would allow for additional cover for wildlife, and as vegetation matures, will provide a buffer zone for wildlife in the wetland. We appreciate your further suggestions and are always receptive to ways to make our wildlife refuge a better experience for visitors and a welcoming habitat for wildlife.

Comment 30: A few comments suggested that accessible infrastructure should be included throughout the Refuge such as wheelchair accessible trails, multiple language interpretative signs, and benches to accommodate people with disabilities and all Refuge users. One commenter specifically requested that wheelchair accessible photo blinds and benches be included on the Refuge.

Thank you for your comments and suggestions regarding visitor accessibility at Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge. In our efforts to make this refuge a place that is welcoming to all, these considerations are extremely important. Our facilities are designed to accommodate different ability levels. We work with partners that assist us in making sure we are looking at our facilities through an accessibility lens to accommodate as many individuals as feasible. Visitor accessibility has been a significant component in development of our infrastructure (for example, our bridges, parking lot), as well as the ABA-accessible hunt blind. When the photo blind(s) are installed, some would be accessible to persons with limited mobility. Additionally, signage is being developed in both English and Spanish, and highlights the availability of accessibility information on our website. That being said, since public use planning is in the early stages, there will be an opportunity to continue to develop projects with accessibility at the forefront.

Comment 31: One comment suggested adding signage to sensitive areas discouraging disturbing nesting wildlife and discouraging releasing unwanted pets. 

We agree that releasing unwanted pets creates a threat to native wildlife and habitat. Free-roaming or feral cats, dogs, and other domestic animals can kill or disturb native wildlife and may spread wildlife diseases and invasive plant species. For this reason, unauthorized release of any animals on a National Wildlife Refuge is prohibited under Federal regulations. Refuge staff will create signage and educational materials that educate the public about how they can reduce disturbance to nesting wildlife, and inform them of Federal regulations, including release of unwanted pets. 

Comment 32: One comment suggested adding interpretive signage along the trail discussing various conservation topics.

The visitor services program is working to further develop interpretive materials describing Wapato Lake NWR’s rich cultural and natural history, including signage for specific interpretive areas of interest. These interpretive materials will be developed as part of a larger, cohesive interpretive plan for the refuge.

 

Dogs

Comment 33: Two comments asked how the restriction on dogs relates to service animals. One of the commenters asked why dogs are allowed for hunting.

Service animals are allowed but must be on leash control at all times and all feces must be removed from the site. The definition of a service animal is any animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The perception of safety provided by an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship is not considered “work” or “tasks” under this definition. Therefore, emotional support, therapy, or comfort animals do not qualify or meet the definition of a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The use of hunting dogs as a part of our hunt program is very controlled, as hunters specifically train their dogs to retrieve downed birds. Our hunt is operated on a permit basis, and so the use of hunting dogs is limited to specific hunt days during the hunting season and limited to the maximum number of hunters allotted for each day. Additionally, retrieving dogs reduce waste of downed birds, thus reducing the overall impact to the resource. See comment 34 for further discussion.

Comment 34: A few comments stated that dogs should be allowed on the Refuge for all users, not just for hunters.

Thank you for your comment. Dogs used for waterfowl hunting are only used to retrieve downed birds. Retrievers used for duck hunting do not track, flush out, or maneuver prey. They sit by their owner’s side until a bird is brought down by the hunter. Then they swim out or run over dry land to fetch the bird and return it to the hunter. Dogs used for duck hunting stay in the assigned hunt blind until needed for retrieval, and do not roam the area or come into contact with other dogs or visitors. The prohibition of pets, including dogs, on the trail is to reduce disturbance to wildlife and habitat and improve everyone’s viewing experience. The presence of dogs, even when leashed, can scare wildlife away from the trail because wildlife instinctively view dogs as predators. Fleeing from a predator burns much needed energy that animals need to maintain body condition, prepare for migration, and raise their young. Dogs and other pets are not allowed on the Refuge. See comment 33 for further discussion. 

 

Funding 

Comment 35: One comment suggested that the Refuge look into a fee system for all users.

Approximately 30 of the over 560 National Wildlife Refuges charge a $3-$5 daily fee to visit, in order to cover road and facility maintenance. At this time, we are not considering incorporating a daily use fee to park or visit Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Hunt lottery application fees may be considered in the future in order to accommodate resource and staffing needs to conduct a quality hunt program.

Comment 36: One comment suggested that the Duck Stamp program should be expanded to include users outside hunting to expand the funding/support base for the USFWS.

We appreciate the suggestion. Expansion of the duck stamp program is outside the scope of this plan. Wapato Lake and Tualatin River NWRs do have a targeted supporting group - the Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Their steady support of our programs and refuges is invaluable. The Friends contribute time, energy, volunteers, advocacy, and funds through grants and other means that directly benefit Tualatin River NWR, Wapato Lake NWR, and our surrounding communities.

 

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Planning Process

Comment 37: One comment asked why it has taken so long to open the Refuge to the public and expressed frustration in the length of the planning process.

Pursuing major actions on a national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Learn more about national wildlife refuge
, including opening it to public access, takes time. As a designated urban refuge, we value all users and need to consider the benefits and impacts of different alternatives to the whole community. Hence it has taken longer to work through the potential obstacles and make access accessible and safe for all users. To open a Refuge to public use the Service has to develop a draft plan, get it approved internally and through public comment, and finally approve it with the input from stakeholders. Each step has multiple layers and depending on various factors including controversy of the proposed action, it may take more time to finalize the decision. Additionally, the Refuge follows the priorities established by each administration. We opened to hunting, prior to any other uses, based on an administration priority to expand fishing and hunting opportunities on federal lands. Originally, we planned to complete the restoration of the lakebed before opening the refuge to the wildlife dependent opportunities typically authorized on refuges. However, for many reasons, the Service decided to open the refuge to public use while continuing restoration activities and infrastructure improvements. Once fully opened to the public, the refuge will provide a number of other opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation, including wildlife observation, photography, environmental education and interpretation, for the majority of the year.

 

References

Comment 38: Once comment mentioned that the references in the plan are inaccessible to the public.

When refuge staff are evaluating the potential impacts of an activity on a species or habitat that the Refuge is charged with protecting, reference material can come from many sources, some of which may be highly relevant and specific but unpublished. Links were added to the reference list of the plan, EA, and CDs for references that are publicly available online. We can provide full references that are not publicly accessible upon request.

Comment 39: One comment stated that the references cited are not from, and do not relate to, the Wapato Lake NWR and Willamette Valley habitats.

When making science-based management decisions on refuges, scientific literature pertaining specifically to a species or geographic area of interest may not be available. In these scenarios, we utilize the best available science to inform our decisions. This was the case with the compatibility determinations that were drafted for public use at Wapato Lake NWR. While no studies were found that documented the impacts of human induced disturbance of wildlife in western Oregon wetlands, we were able to make inferences about wildlife disturbance at Wapato Lake from a wide range of scientific studies and literature reviews covering numerous taxonomic groups and geographies, including many focusing on avifauna, waterbirds and wetland systems.

Comment 40: One comment suggested that the census survey on outdoor recreation should have been included in this plan. 

In the Compatibility Determination attached to this Draft EA and Public Use plan we refer to the Banking on Nature 2017 report (Caudill and Carver 2019) which estimates that non-consumptive use at Tualatin River NWR results in over $2.2 million in recreation expenditures. However, due to Wapato Lake NWR’s location and less developed facilities, visitation and therefore recreation expenditures are likely to remain lower than at Tualatin River NWR.

 

Other

Comment 41: One comment stated that hunting for nutria should be a priority for the Refuge.

We agree that nutria, a non-native species, can be extremely destructive to levees, dikes, and other Refuge infrastructure, and have negative impacts to wetland plants needed by native wildlife for food or cover. While the refuge does not have plans to implement a nutria hunting program, we are in the process of developing a nutria management plan, that will likely include a combination of shooting and trapping by the Service or Service-authorized agents, in an effort to maintain long term integrity of the levees and protect restored wetland plant communities. Therefore, nutria hunting or trapping would not be a public hunting opportunity, but rather a refuge management activity to protect Refuge infrastructure, habitat, and wildlife.

Comment 42: One commenter asked if the Refuge could help to address the flooding that occurs from the Wapato River by pumping water into the wetlands on the Refuge.

Wapato Creek is not part of the Refuge and thus we do not have jurisdiction over the waterway. We are in the process of reevaluating needed repairs on the levee system and the design would not address the question raised. It is outside our scope/analysis of the project. The present conditions would remain with flows continuing to go into the creek. Our levee work will not increase or decrease the cross-section of the creek and therefore have no beneficial or detrimental impact to existing flooding conditions. Addressing flooding concerns is a part of ongoing discussions with appropriate partners.

Comment 43: Two commenters expressed appreciation for the Refuge’s commitment to serving and engaging with the diverse local community described in the Plan. These comments also suggested hiring staff that understand and address equity and accessibility issues.

Thank you for your comment regarding equity and accessibility. Refuge management considers equity and diversity important to all aspects of conservation, and staff work to make these a priority in the development and planning of public use and outreach programs. Staff will continue to invest in training to further understand equitable conservation practices and visitor services.

Comment 44: One comment highlighted the importance of clear and obvious messaging and signage to ensure all visitors are aware of the rules regarding the type and timing of uses that are allowed on the Refuge. Another commenter suggested that the Refuge increase enforcement capacity through the use of volunteers, collaboration with local law enforcement, and seasonal security positions.

As a National Wildlife Refuge, wildlife habitat management, as well as visitor safety, are extremely important. Providing clear signage to articulate our rules and regulations will help to protect wildlife and facilitate a positive experience for visitors. In addition to visual interpretation and signage at the trailhead and along the trail, refuge staff (including law enforcement) will also have a presence at the refuge to connect with visitors and ensure compliance. We will also be building a volunteer program with positions such as Trail Rovers to help communicate our rules and regulations. In addition to steps being taken at the refuge, community engagement and communication will be necessary tools to create an environment of accountability and community at of Wapato Lake NWR.

Comment 45: One comment suggested that the Refuge create programming outside the regular Refuge hours and public access areas.

Educational, interpretive and outreach programs conducted at Wapato Lake NWR should be created based on community feedback, including input from community leaders, cultural groups, and interest groups. The focus of some programming will be on bringing historically underrepresented audiences to the refuge. The intended programming will work to meet the needs of the local and nearby urban communities, as described in the analysis of current demographic information and outcomes of meetings with community leaders. Where appropriate, and with refuge management approval, these programs and activities could include opportunities outside of normal operating hours, or within areas not open to the general public. A volunteer program will be established in order to provide quality information to visitors and provide programming to the public.

FWS is not obligated to make a change based on any one idea, or the popularity of an idea. This process helps staff gather more insight and understanding from the community to learn what concerns they may have, or questions that come up, in order to potentially make changes where they make the most sense.

Activities

Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge is currently closed to all public access, with the exception of approved hunting activities. Please see further hunt information below.

Other Facilities in the Complex

A National Wildlife Refuge Complex is a grouping of two or more refuges, wildlife management areas or other refuge conservation areas that are generally managed by a central office location. Refuges are grouped in a complex because they occur in a similar ecological region (like a watershed or habitat type) and have a related purpose and management needs.

Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge, with Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, forms the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge currently serves as the Complex headquarters, and staff work to manage both refuges. Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge became an official refuge in 2013, but has been closed to the general public and most public use activities until 2021.

Locations

Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge
104 Onion Lane Gaston, OR 97119
Driving Directions

To main parking lot, from Portland: Head to Hwy 26W; remain on freeway and take exit 57 for Glencoe Rd, toward North Plains; turn left onto 1st St/NW Glencoe Rd; turn right onto NW Zion Church Rd and continue onto NW Cornelius Schefflin Rd; at traffic circle, take 1st exist onto NW Verboort Rd; at next traffic circle, take 3rd exit onto NW Martin Rd; turn left onto OR-47; at city of Gaston (approximately 12 miles after turning onto OR-47), follow signs and turn left into parking lot.

Hours
Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge Hours
Year-round
All areas closed to the public
Contact Hours (Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Administration)
Mon-Thur
8 am - 4 pm
Fri
9 am - 3:30 pm