Draft Public Access Plan

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Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge is inching closer and closer to potentially opening to additional uses for the public to enjoy. Already occurring is an annual waterfowl hunt, but the refuge hopes that new opportunities can be added very soon. Keep reading to see how you can help!


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The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is exploring public use alternatives at Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge. A DRAFT document has been produced, called a Public Access Plan and Environmental Assessment that describes various alternatives of how additional public uses, such as wildlife observation, photography and hiking can occur on this public land.

The period of time when you can comment on this DRAFT document has been extended in order to allow more time for the public to review these important drafts. The comment period opened on December 1st, 2021 and will now be open through January 31st, 2022. During this time, we genuinely welcome your comments, questions and suggestions to help shape the additional activities that will occur on the refuge. Your feedback on this document is important and greatly appreciated as we continue to develop this wonderful community asset.


Get the Document Here


Full Document

Draft Public Access Plan and Environmental Assessment


Individual Document Sections

Draft Public Access Plan

Draft Environmental Assessment

Draft Environmental Education and Interpretation Compatibility Determination

Draft Wildlife Observation and Photography Compatibility Determination



Frequently Asked Questions

Is hunting prioritized over other recreational uses of the Refuge?

The Draft Plan appears to prioritize hunting over wildlife watching and other non-hunting uses.

Why is Alternative C even an option?

Should waterfowl hunting receive enhanced consideration over other wildlife-dependent recreation, if Refuge lands were purchased using Duck Stamp funds?

What is a Public Access Plan (PAP) and Environmental Assessment (EA)?

If I submit a comment, or suggestion, will it automatically be utilized?

What considerations were made in arriving at alternatives?

How can I provide a comment, or suggestion, during this comment period?

What are helpful kinds of comments?

What happens next?

Why has fishing not been considered in this plan?

Will I be able to use my boat at Wapato Lake?

Why are dogs not allowed on the refuge in any of the alternatives?

Why have you already decided that some activities are not allowed?



Is hunting prioritized over other recreational uses of the Refuge?

No. Refuges are guided by various Federal laws passed by elected officials to guide management and public use of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Key concepts and guidance come from the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as amended with passage of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act in 1997, as well as other laws, policy, and international treaties. The Improvement Act requires that each refuge be managed to fulfill both the Refuge System mission and the purpose for which a refuge was established.

The Improvement Act requires that refuge managers give enhanced consideration to six priority compatible wildlife-dependent recreational uses: hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, and interpretation. All of these six uses are to be given equal consideration. However, the uses that we allow on a specific refuge must be compatible with the purposes of the Refuge and the National Wildlife Refuge System; must ensure public safety; and must be managed to provide quality experiences for users (for example, a reasonable opportunity to view or photograph wildlife, and a reasonable opportunity to hunt).

Wapato Lake NWR was established in 2013 “… for the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources …” (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 16 U.S.C. § 742f(a)(4)) and for “… the conservation of the wetlands of the Nation in order to maintain the public benefits they provide and to help fulfill international obligations contained in various migratory bird treaties and conventions …” (Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986, 16 U.S.C. § 3901(b)). Thus, wildlife-dependent recreational uses must not interfere or detract from the Refuge’s purpose of managing and conserving fish, wildlife, wetlands, and the migratory birds that depend on those wetlands. The timing, place, and manner of these uses may need to be limited to be compatible with the Refuge’s purposes.

Alternatives A and B propose to open the Refuge to wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, and interpretation, while continuing the existing waterfowl hunting program. These alternatives propose different timing of uses to minimize harmful impacts to Refuge resources, ensure visitor safety, and minimize conflicts between Refuge user groups and Refuge visitors and adjacent landowners. Under these alternatives, we would continue to provide quality waterfowl hunting opportunities that are compatible with Refuge purposes, while minimizing conflicts with other priority wildlife-dependent uses, and ensuring the safety of Refuge visitors.

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The Draft Plan appears to prioritize hunting over wildlife watching and other non-hunting uses.

The first priority of every refuge is to conserve, manage, and if needed, restore fish and wildlife populations and habitats. Hunting is one of six priority public uses identified in the Fish and Wildlife Administration Act.

In designating hunting as one of the six priority public uses on national wildlife refuges, Congress acknowledged the important contributions by hunters in wildlife conservation and the purchase of some National Wildlife Refuge System lands. Although hunters comprise only a small percentage of the U.S. population, they contribute disproportionately to wildlife conservation. Furthermore, over the 75-year history of the Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Programs, excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery, and angling equipment have generated a cumulative total of more than $10 billion for wildlife conservation efforts by State and Territorial wildlife agencies for fish and wildlife management.

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Why is Alternative C even an option?

Public comments on a Public Access Plan/EA is an official process and has certain requirements. One of those requirements is that we must include a "No Change" alternative that represents the current status of public access at the Refuge. Since the waterfowl hunt is currently the only approved and operational activity, that is why it is the only activity shown in Alternative C, the "No Change" alternative.

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Should waterfowl hunting receive enhanced consideration over other wildlife-dependent recreation, if Refuge lands were purchased using Duck Stamp funds?

In designating hunting as one of the six priority public uses on National Wildlife Refuges, Congress acknowledged the important contributions by hunters in wildlife conservation and the purchase of some National Wildlife Refuge lands. Hunting is one of six priority public uses identified in the Fish and Wildlife Administration Act, as amended, which also include wildlife observation, wildlife photography, fishing, interpretation, and environmental education. Even if Refuge lands were purchased with funds from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps, by law all of these uses, if determined to be compatible, are to receive equal consideration.

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What is a Public Access Plan (PAP) and Environmental Assessment (EA)?

The Draft Public Access Plan must accompany the Draft Environmental Assessment that is being submitted. Together these documents make up the overall package for opening a refuge to additional public uses. An EA considers and analyzes impacts of the proposed uses on the “human environment”, including refuge wildlife and habitat, administration and budget; other user groups; and local land use and socioeconomics. A PAP provides the plan for how the various uses will work within each other, provides goals for future planning and implementation and sets a direction for the refuge. It is important to recognize that these are DRAFT documents and input provided from the public during the open comment period will be considered in developing the FINAL PAP/EA. The Plan, and Alternatives in the EA, may be revised based on public input.

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If I submit a comment, or suggestion, will it automatically be utilized?

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.

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What considerations were made in arriving at alternatives?

Several topics were considered when thinking through the various alternatives and creating the Draft Environmental Assessment and Public Access Plan. Some of those considerations are (but not limited to):

  • Public safety
  • Wildlife Impacts
  • Refuge’s staff capacity to manage the use (staffing and funding)
  • Ease of clarifying regulations regarding conflicts between user groups, or impacts of one use on another, especially when uses may occur at the same time or area, i.e. hunting and hiking at the same time and confined to the levee trail
  • Constraints and limiting factors in opening the refuge to new uses, including the small size of the refuge and the need to provide sanctuary areas for migratory birds, in line with refuge purposes
  • One point of public ingress and egress for all public uses
  • The private properties adjacent to the refuge, specifically those that have private waterfowl hunting blinds on them in close proximity to the refuge lands and hunting occurring any day of the week on those properties

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How can I provide a comment, or suggestion, during this comment period?

You may provide comments on the DRAFT Public Access Plan and the DRAFT Environmental Assessment by emailing refuge staff at tualatinriver@fws.gov or written letters sent to:

19255 SW Pacific Hwy., Sherwood, OR 97140

Please note that your comments will become part of the public record, along with your name, but you are able to comment anonymously. Please directly indicate, on your correspondence, that you are submitting your comment anonymously.

Do not provide comments on social media as these cannot be considered or included in the public record. Verbal comments, whether by phone, phone message or in person, also cannot be considered or included in the public record.

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What are helpful kinds of comments?

Here are some ideas regarding comments that would be helpful to ensure a great final product.

  • Comments about specific information, or considerations, that you believe were missed
  • Comments regarding specific concerns you have about anything in the Draft Environmental Assessment, or the Draft Public Access Plan
  • Any thoughts on the alternatives are very helpful. If you have any suggestions for changes to address quality, safety, impacts to wildlife and habitat, and conflicts between user groups, staff would appreciate hearing them.
  • Any other questions, comments or concerns that you may have are all welcomed and encouraged. Staff want to hear from you to help this process.

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What happens next?

Staff will review public comments, and decide if any changes will be made to the DRAFT EA/PAP as a result. Staff will also prepare responses to public comments that will be included in the FINAL EA/PAP. Then, the Regional Refuge Chief will sign a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) identifying the Service’s final Prepared Alternative and determining that opening the refuge to the described public uses will not have significant effects on the human environment. At this point, the refuge may open to the additional uses. This will all be released to the public, once complete.

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Why has fishing not been considered in this plan?

Fishing was considered but determined to be infeasible in the lakebed. This is because the Wapato Lake restoration will result in a shallow wetland with dense vegetative cover that is not suitable for fishing. While the creeks surrounding Wapato Lake may provide a more suitable fishing opportunity, more analysis would need to be done to determine where designated fishing locations could be established along the levee system. The Refuge may reevaluate this use in the future.

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Will I be able to use my boat at Wapato Lake?

Recreational boating (motorized and non-motorized) was not found to be an appropriate use of the Refuge, given the current and projected future habitat conditions in the lakebed. Desired habitat conditions under the Restoration Plan (shallow water and dense vegetation during spring and summer) would limit navigation. Use of boats on the lakebed would disturb wildlife using the site for breeding and would negatively impact the restoration efforts of the site. While higher water levels during fall and winter may be more favorable to recreational boating, this time period also corresponds with large numbers of migrating and wintering waterfowl utilizing Wapato Lake. Unfettered boating access between November - February would result in significant disturbance to and displacement of these birds.

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Why are dogs not allowed on the refuge in any of the alternatives?

Dogs are wonderful companions and love being outside. It’s always enjoyable to get them out in nature to explore with us. However, as a National Wildlife Refuge, there are particular reasons these lands are set aside and mostly those reasons center around wildlife and providing a safe place where wildlife can be undisturbed for the majority of the year. Additionally, the following concerns about dogs also factor into this decision of not allowing them on the refuge:

  • Dogs can carry disease into the refuge’s wildlife populations.
  • Dogs can chase and threaten wildlife, scaring birds and other animals away from nesting, feeding, and resting sites. The scent left behind by a dog can signal the presence of a predator, disrupting or altering the behavior of refuge wildlife. Small animals may hide in their burrow the entire day after smelling a dog and may not venture out to feed.
  • Unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells can disturb even the calmest, friendliest, and best-trained dog, causing them to behave unpredictably or bark excessively.
  • Many people, especially children, are frightened by dogs, even small ones. Uncontrolled dogs can present a danger to other visitors.

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Why have you already decided that some activities are not allowed?

Activities such as (but not limited to) jogging/running, ATV use, camping, removal of anything from the refuge, and drone use are not permitted because they are disturbing to wildlife, other visitors, and restoration efforts occurring at the site. You can find more information in the compatibility determination documents that reference various research on such activities and how they can impact the refuge and its resources in a negative way. Fortunately, being located in proximity to the greater metropolitan area, Wapato Lake NWR is within short drives of other locations where visitors can engage in recreational boating, biking and other refuge restricted activities. By not participating in these prohibited activities, while at Wapato Lake NWR, you can contribute to the safety of wildlife as well as other visitors who are also there to enjoy wonderful sightings of birds and other animals using their natural habitat.

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