[Federal Register Volume 73, Number 72 (Monday, April 14, 2008)]
[Notices]
[Pages 20059-20061]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E8-7853]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2008-N0028; 40136-1265-0000-S3]


Red River National Wildlife Refuge, Caddo, Bossier, Desoto, Red 
River, and Natchitoches Parishes, LA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability: draft comprehensive conservation plan 
and environmental assessment; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft comprehensive conservation plan and 
environmental assessment (Draft CCP/EA) for Red River National Wildlife 
Refuge 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 May 14, 2008.

ADDRESSES: Requests for copies of the Draft CCP/EA should be addressed 
to: Tina Chouinard, Natural Resource Planner, Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 6772 Highway 76 South, Stanton, Tennessee 38069. The Draft 
CCP/EA may also be accessed and downloaded from the Service's Internet 
Site: http://southeast.fws.gov/planning. Comments on the Draft CCP/EA 
may be submitted to the above address or via electronic mail to: tina_
chouinard@fws.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tina Chouinard; Telephone: 731/780-
8208; or Fax: 731/772-7839.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Introduction

    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Red River 
National Wildlife Refuge. We started the process through a notice in 
the Federal Register on March 13, 2006 (71 FR 12710).
    The Red River National Wildlife Refuge is a unit of the North 
Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The refuge was signed into 
existence on October 13, 2000, with the passage of the Red River 
National Wildlife Refuge Act. With land acquisition, the refuge was 
formally established in August 2002. There are three purposes of the 
refuge, as stated in the Red River National Wildlife Refuge Act. These 
are to: (1) Provide for the restoration and conservation of native 
plants and animal communities on suitable sites in the Red River basin, 
including restoration of extirpated species; (2) provide habitat for 
migratory birds; and (3) provide technical assistance to private 
landowners in the restoration of their lands for the benefit of fish 
and wildlife.
    According to legislation, the refuge is approved for up to 
approximately 50,000 acres of Federal lands and waters along that 
section of the Red River between Colfax, Louisiana, and the Arkansas 
State line, a distance of approximately 120 miles. The refuge growth 
will be strategically planned within five focus areas that will each 
have a management unit of the Red River National Wildlife Refuge. These 
focus areas are: Lower Cane River (Natchitoches Parish); Spanish Lake 
Lowlands (Natchitoches Parish); Bayou Pierre Floodplain (Desoto and Red 
River Parishes); Headquarters Site (Bossier Parish); and Wardview 
(Caddo Parish).
    Currently, the Service has acquired 9,787 acres, with 40,213 acres 
remaining to be purchased. The lands within the five areas will be 
acquired through a combination of fee title purchases from willing 
sellers and conservation easements, leases, and/or cooperative 
agreements from willing landowners. Currently, fee title lands have 
been purchased within portions of all the focus areas, with the 
exception of Wardview.
    Historically, the Red River Valley was forested with bottomland 
hardwoods, cypress sloughs, and shrub swamps; however, for the last 
three decades, the Red River Valley has been utilized extensively for 
agricultural production, and, as a result, has lost almost all of its 
forest cover. The river itself was very turbid, and its wildlife and 
fishery habitat was poor compared to other parts of the State. After 
completion of the Red River Waterway Project in 1994, water levels in 
the river became higher and more constant, greatly reducing its 
turbidity. Water quality improved and with seasonal retention of water 
levels, a rich diversity of aquatic flora and fauna has developed.
    Increased water levels on the river also improved some adjacent 
habitats. Flooded timber and farm fields with wet depressions are now 
common, providing habitat for migratory birds. The refuge has been 
involved in several reforestation projects and has improved moist-soil 
habitat. With management of this refuge in its infancy, the planning 
process will define priorities for current and future refuge resources 
and management.
    Wildlife species found on the refuge are typical of forested 
wetlands and fields. The Red River is a historic migration corridor for 
migratory birds

[[Page 20060]]

that use the Central and Mississippi Flyways on their journey to the 
Gulf Coast. Examples of priority species for conservation include the 
swallow-tailed kite, Swainson's warbler, yellow-billed cuckoo, and 
several species of waterfowl. Wading birds and shorebirds use the 
numerous sandbars, shallow flooded fields, and mudflats. Listed species 
include the interior least tern, which nests on riverine sandbars; the 
piping plover; and the possibility of the transient Louisiana black 
bear. Resident game and furbearer species are the typical variety of 
white-tailed deer, gray and fox squirrels, mink, and beaver. A variety 
of nongame mammals, amphibians, and reptiles are also present.

Background

The CCP Process

    The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (16 
U.S.C. 668dd-668ee), which amended the National Wildlife Refuge System 
Administration Act of 1966, requires us to develop a CCP for each 
national wildlife refuge. The purpose in 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 Improvement Act and NEPA.
    Significant issues addressed in the Draft CCP/EA include: 
management of white-tailed deer, invasive species, waterfowl, and 
bottomland hardwood forests; refuge access; land acquisition to include 
a minor boundary expansion; visitor services; visitor center; watershed 
protection; and cultural resource protection.

CCP Alternatives, Including Our Proposed Alternative

    We developed three alternatives for managing the refuge and chose 
Alternative C as the proposed alternative.

Alternatives

    A full description of each alternative is in the Draft CCP/EA. We 
summarize each alternative below.
Alternative A--No Action Alternative
    Red River National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Lower Mississippi 
River Ecosystem and is considered to be in the West Gulf Coastal Plain 
Bird Conservation Area. As such, it is a component of many regional and 
ecosystem conservation-planning initiatives. Under Alternative A, the 
No Action Alternative, present management of the refuge would continue 
at its current level of participation in these initiatives throughout 
the 15-year duration of the CCP. Current approaches to managing 
wildlife and habitats, protecting resources, and allowing for public 
use would remain unchanged.
    The main habitat types on the refuge are bottomland hardwood 
forests, managed wetlands, agriculture, and moist-soil units. Under 
Alternative A, management would continue to work with electric 
utilities and partners to restore bottomland hardwood forest habitat 
through the ``Carbon Sequestration Program.'' The refuge would continue 
to provide habitat for thousands of wintering waterfowl and year-round 
habitat for wood ducks. It would also maintain the current habitat mix 
for the benefit of other migratory birds, shorebirds, marsh birds, and 
landbirds. Staff would continue existing surveys and monitor long-term 
population trends and health of resident species.
    Currently, there are few public use and environmental education 
programs on the refuge. The refuge would continue to serve the public 
without being guided by a Visitor Services' Management Plan, relying 
instead on experience, general Service mandates and practices, and 
guidance and advice from recreation staff in the Regional Office. A new 
Headquarters/Visitor Center has been budgeted and would be constructed. 
The staff would continue to consist of one employee, the refuge 
manager.
Alternative B--Minimize Management and Visitor Services
    Under Alternative B, there would be less management of habitat and 
wildlife and a reduced public use program. Biological inventorying and 
monitoring would be intensified and enhanced with management programs 
developed that could be implemented less frequently, yet still 
accomplish the objectives. Extensive baseline inventorying and 
monitoring programs would be conducted with several partners to provide 
a solid foundation for the current condition of refuge habitats and 
wildlife, while monitoring for changes in trends.
    Additional research projects would be implemented through granting 
and partnership opportunities with other agencies and universities. An 
intensive inventory of bottomland hardwood forests to define current 
conditions and monitor natural successional changes would be 
implemented. Management in the bottoms would be limited so that the 
forest would go through natural succession, as defined in a revised 
Habitat Management Plan. Open fields would be allowed to go through 
natural succession to bottomland hardwood forests and moist-soil units 
would not be maintained. Management of invasive species would become a 
priority to establish baseline information on location and density. 
Partnerships would continue to be fostered for several biological 
programs, hunting regulations, law enforcement issues, and research 
projects.
    Public use would be limited with custodial-level maintenance. 
Public use would be monitored for impacts to wildlife. An extensive 
survey for monitoring the deer population and its association with 
habitat conditions would be implemented. Fishing and hunting would 
continue as currently managed. Environmental education, wildlife 
observation, and wildlife photography would be accommodated at present 
levels with the addition of a Visitor Center; but access would be 
limited to July-October and February-April to minimize disturbance to 
migratory birds. Staffing would increase by five positions [e.g., 
wildlife biologist, maintenance worker, equipment operator, 
administrative officer, and a park ranger (law enforcement)] to handle 
the increase in biological inventory and monitoring and control of 
invasive species.
Alternative C--Optimize Biological Program and Visitor Services 
(Proposed)
    Under Alternative C, the proposed alternative, the refuge would 
strive to optimize both its biological program and visitor services 
program. As explained in the Draft CCP/EA, Louisiana's Red River Valley 
is one of the most heavily degraded ecosystems in the State. The 
greatest habitat type lost was bottomland hardwood forest; therefore, 
bottomland hardwood forest habitat restoration and management would 
continue to be an important goal under this alternative. Under this 
alternative, the refuge would continue to participate in the Carbon 
Sequestration Program as

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described in the Draft CCP/EA. Any lands within the acquisition 
boundary of the refuge that have had their forest cover removed prior 
to 1990, would be targeted for acquisition and reforestation.
    The refuge would continue to benefit resident wildlife species and 
would aim to increase its knowledge base about migratory birds by 
developing and implementing monitoring programs. It would continue to 
provide habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds, marsh birds, nesting 
colonial waterbirds, and landbirds. Resources would be used to create 
and/or maintain a variety of habitats compatible with historic habitat 
types of the Red River Valley. These would include the above-mentioned 
bottomland hardwood forest habitat, as well as moist prairie. Prior 
farming practices on lands acquired by the refuge have left, in place, 
a number of water control structures. These water control structures 
would be maintained and enhanced to control water levels on several 
thousand acres of refuge lands. Efforts to control invasive species 
would increase.
    Land acquisition, reforestation, and resource protection would be 
intensified from the level now maintained in the No Action Alternative. 
The refuge would expand the approved acquisition boundary to 
incorporate 1,413 acres in the Spanish Lake Lowlands Unit, 87 acres in 
the Headquarters Unit, and 1,938 acres in the Lower Cane Unit. In the 
refuge's Private Lands Program, staff would work with private 
landowners on adjacent tracts to manage and improve habitats. The 
refuge would develop and begin to implement a Cultural Resources 
Management Plan (CRMP). Until such time as the CRMP is completed and 
implemented, the refuge would follow standard Service protocol and 
procedures in conducting cultural resource surveys by qualified 
professionals as needed.
    Wildlife-dependent visitor services would increase under this 
alternative. Within three years of CCP completion, the refuge would 
develop a Visitor Services' Plan to be used in expanding public use 
facilities and opportunities on the refuge. This step-down management 
plan would provide overall, long-term direction and guidance in 
developing and running a larger public use program at Red River Refuge. 
Federal funds are now available to construct a Refuge Headquarters/
Visitor Center at the Headquarters Unit. The new visitor center would 
include a small auditorium for use in talks, meetings, films, videos, 
and other audio-visual presentations. Alternative C would also increase 
opportunities for visitors by adding facilities such as photo-blinds, 
observation sites, and trails. Over the 15-year life of the CCP, more 
emphasis would be placed on environmental education and interpretation 
to increase the public's understanding of the importance of habitats 
and resources of the Red River Valley. Within five years of CCP 
approval, the refuge would prepare a Fishing Plan that would outline 
and expand permissible fishing opportunities within the refuge. A 
fishing pier would be constructed at the Headquarters Unit. Staff would 
investigate opportunities for expanding hunting possibilities.
    Alternative C would provide an assistant manager, a full-time law 
enforcement officer, an equipment operator, a maintenance worker, a 
wildlife biologist, an administrative assistant, and an outdoor 
recreational specialist.

Next Step

    After the comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them in the form of a final CCP and Finding of No Significant 
Impact.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail 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.

    Authority: This notice is published under the authority of the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, Public Law 
105-57.

    Dated: February 8, 2008.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. E8-7853 Filed 4-11-08; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P