[Federal Register Volume 73, Number 74 (Wednesday, April 16, 2008)]
[Notices]
[Pages 20704-20706]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E8-8109]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R4-R-2008-N0009; 40136-1265-0000-S3]


Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Jackson County, MS, and 
Mobile County, AL

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, announce the availability 
of a draft comprehensive conservation plan and environmental assessment 
(Draft CCP/EA) for Grand Bay 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 comments by May 16, 
2008.

ADDRESSES: Requests for copies of the Draft CCP/EA should be addressed 
to: Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, 6005 Bayou Heron Road, Moss 
Point, MS 39562; Telephone: 601/475-0765. The Draft CCP/EA may also be 
accessed and downloaded from the Service's Internet Web site http://
southeast.fws.gov/planning. Comments on the Draft CCP/EA may be 
submitted to the above address or via electronic mail to: mike_
dawson@fws.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mike Dawson, Refuge Planner, Jackson, 
MS; Telephone: 601/965-4903, Ext. 20.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Introduction

    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for Grand Bay 
National Wildlife Refuge. We started the process through a notice in 
the Federal Register on December 29, 2005 (70 FR 77176).

Background

The CCP Process

    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, 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 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.

CCP Alternatives, Including Our Proposed Alternative

    We developed four alternatives for managing the refuge and chose 
Alternative C as the proposed action. Each alternative would pursue the 
same four broad refuge goals. These goals are (1) Wildlife; (2) 
habitat; (3) public use; and (4) refuge administration.

Alternatives

    A full description of each alternative is in the Draft CCP/EA. We 
summarize each alternative below.
Alternative A: Current Management (No Action)
    Alternative A would maintain the current management direction, that 
is, the refuge's habitats and wildlife populations would continue to be 
managed as they have in recent years. Public use patterns would remain 
relatively unchanged from those that exist at present.
    We would support national and regional plans to promote management 
actions that would provide for viable populations of native fish and 
wildlife species and habitats, with special emphasis on wet pine 
savanna.
    There would be no active, direct management of waterfowl or other 
migratory bird populations. All sightings and the presence of 
threatened and endangered species would be documented on the refuge. 
However, no active efforts would be undertaken to inventory other 
wildlife.
    We would maintain approximately 1,000 acres of pine savanna, which 
is the existing acreage. No active management would be undertaken to 
improve the habitat condition of forested wetlands. We would continue 
to utilize prescribed fire to manage habitats and reduce hazardous 
fuels on approximately 1,000 acres; furthermore, we would attempt to 
set prescribed fires on a 2- to 3-year rotation and to suppress 
wildfires. In partnership with the National Estuarine Research Reserve 
(NERR), we would annually control 20-30 acres of cogongrass and Chinese 
tallow.
    We would identify and protect natural and cultural resources of the 
refuge. We would seek to acquire 90 percent of all lands within the 
approved acquisition boundary within 15 years of CCP approval. Through 
a partnership with NERR, we would protect shell middens on the refuge. 
In order to pursue these and other objectives, we would provide one 
full-time law enforcement officer.
    We would provide opportunities for quality, wildlife-dependent 
public uses, leading to greater understanding and enjoyment of fish, 
wildlife, and the Gulf Coast ecosystems contained within the refuge.
    We would continue to serve the public without a Visitor Services' 
Plan. In partnership with NERR, we would operate a joint research, 
office, and education facility/visitor center to

[[Page 20705]]

provide benefits to refuge visitors. We would continue to allow fishing 
and provide hunting for deer, squirrel, and waterfowl in keeping with 
State regulations and seasons.
    With our limited support, NERR would continue environmental 
education and interpretation at current levels. This would include 
participation in community events, on- and off-site environmental 
education, guided tours, and interpretive trails. Also in partnership 
with NERR, we would maintain current wildlife observation and 
photography programs and facilities.
    We would cooperate with NERR to provide for sufficient staffing, 
facilities, and infrastructure to implement a comprehensive refuge 
management program. We would maintain Grand Bay Refuge's current staff 
of two--the refuge manager and one law enforcement officer.
Alternative B: Custodial or Passive Management
    Alternative B would emphasize custodial management, also called 
passive management, which, in general, means that we would not actively 
intervene in the process of natural succession. There would be no 
active habitat management, including no use of prescribed fire or 
selective logging to open up dense forest understories.
    We would support national and regional plans to promote management 
actions that would provide for viable populations of native fish and 
wildlife species and habitats, with special emphasis on wet pine 
savanna. We would work toward achieving a number of objectives in 
pursuit of the wildlife goal.
    There would be no active, direct management of waterfowl or other 
migratory bird populations. Sightings and presence of threatened and 
endangered species would be documented on the refuge; however, this 
would be a more constrained effort than in Alternative A. Moreover, no 
active efforts would be undertaken to inventory other wildlife.
    Alternative B does not have a wet pine savanna objective. This 
habitat type would neither be encouraged nor discouraged at Grand Bay 
Refuge under this alternative. Likewise, there would be no active 
management to improve the habitat condition of forested wetlands. In 
addition, we would not utilize prescribed fire to set back succession 
or manipulate habitats and plant communities. However, we would 
suppress all wildfires, in keeping with our policy.
    Control of invasive plant species would continue on a limited basis 
under this alternative. In partnership with NERR, we would annually 
control 5-10 acres of cogongrass and Chinese tallow on the refuge.
    We would identify and protect natural and cultural resources of the 
refuge. We would pursue land protection programs and would provide law 
enforcement. We would seek to acquire 90 percent of all lands within 
the approved acquisition boundary within 15 years of CCP approval. 
Through a partnership with NERR, we would continue to protect shell 
middens on the refuge. We would not undertake any additional efforts on 
behalf of discovering, protecting, and interpreting cultural resources, 
such as preparation and implementation of a Cultural Resources' 
Management Plan.
    There would be no Service-provided law enforcement on the refuge 
under the custodial or passive management alternative. As a result, no 
public hunting would be permitted, because the presence of hunters on 
the refuge necessitates a law enforcement presence to ensure public 
safety and enforce compliance with State hunting regulations and refuge 
rules.
    We would continue to serve the public without the overall guidance 
and direction of a Visitor Services' Plan. NERR would operate the joint 
research, office, and education facility/visitor center. We would 
continue to allow fishing in State waters on the refuge.
    NERR would continue environmental education and interpretation at 
current levels, including participation in community events, on- and 
off-site environmental education, guided tours, and interpretive 
trails. NERR would also maintain current wildlife observation and 
photography programs and facilities.
    Due to scaled-back direct management responsibilities for habitat, 
wildlife populations, and visitor services, under this alternative 
there would be no staff present on Grand Bay Refuge. The nearest 
Service personnel would be located at Mississippi Sandhill Crane 
National Wildlife Refuge.
Alternative C: Optimize Wildlife and Habitat Management (Proposed 
Action)
    Alternative C would optimize wildlife and habitat management on 
Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge. We would support national and 
regional plans to promote management actions that would provide for 
viable populations of native fish and wildlife species and habitats, 
with special emphasis on wet pine savanna.
    Within 15 years of CCP approval, we would support the annual 
population objective of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan by 
contributing 20 percent (3,600 ducks) of a midwinter population of 
approximately 18,000 ducks in the Coastal Mississippi Wetlands 
Initiative Area. For all other migratory birds, within 15 years of CCP 
approval, we would provide habitats sufficient to meet population goals 
of regional and national bird conservation plans.
    We would create and enhance favorable conditions for gopher 
tortoises (200 acres) and for the possible reintroduction of 12-15 
Mississippi sandhill cranes (5-7 nesting pairs) and the gopher frog 
(creating two ponds). Over the same timeframe, we would develop and 
maintain inventories for small mammals, butterflies, reptiles, 
amphibians, and possibly other taxa.
    Within 15 years of CCP approval, we would restore 2,500 acres of 
wet pine savanna habitat, supporting primarily grassy-herbaceous 
dominated conditions to benefit grassland birds. We would also aim to 
restore forest structure to promote super-emergent trees, cavities, and 
understory structure on approximately 2,000 acres to benefit migratory 
land birds. We would utilize prescribed fire to manage habitat and 
reduce hazardous fuels on approximately 5,000 acres; we would aim to 
set prescribed fires on a 2- to 3-year rotation with 50 percent of 
burns during the growing season. We would suppress wildfires.
    In partnership with NERR, we would annually control 50 acres of 
cogongrass and Chinese tallow, while controlling other invasive flora 
opportunistically.
    We would identify and protect natural and cultural resources of the 
refuge. We would seek to acquire 100 percent of the lands with the 
approved acquisition boundary within 15 years of CCP approval. We would 
develop and begin to implement a Cultural Resources' Management Plan 
that would be used to provide overall management direction for cultural 
resources at Grand Bay Refuge. In order to protect these resources, we 
would provide one additional law enforcement officer.
    In partnership with NERR, we would operate a new joint research, 
office, and education facility/visitor center to provide benefits to 
refuge visitors. We would also continue to allow fishing and provide 
hunting for deer, squirrel, and waterfowl consistent with State 
regulations and seasons. With limited refuge support, NERR would 
continue environmental education and interpretation at current levels, 
including participation in community

[[Page 20706]]

events, on- and off-site environmental education, guided tours, and 
interpretive trails. In partnership with NERR, we would maintain 
current wildlife observation and photography programs and facilities.
    We would have the same staff as under Alternative A, plus one 
biologist, one park ranger, one biological technician, one equipment 
operator, and one law enforcement officer, for a total of seven 
employees.
Alternative D--Optimize Visitor Services
    Alternative D would optimize visitor services on Grand Bay National 
Wildlife Refuge. This alternative would attempt to substantially expand 
opportunities for public use on the refuge.
    We would support national and regional plans to promote management 
actions that would provide for viable populations of native fish and 
wildlife species and habitats, with special emphasis on wet pine 
savanna.
    There would be no active, direct management of waterfowl or other 
migratory bird populations. All sightings and the presence of 
threatened and endangered species would be documented on the refuge. 
Also, within 15 years of CCP approval, we would develop and maintain 
inventories for small mammals, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, and 
possibly other taxa. We would maintain approximately 1,000 acres of 
pine savanna, which is the existing acreage. No active management would 
be undertaken to improve the habitat condition of forested wetlands. We 
would continue to utilize prescribed fire to manage habitat and reduce 
hazardous fuels on approximately 1,000 acres; furthermore, we would 
attempt to set prescribed fires on a 2- to 3-year rotation. We would 
suppress wildfires. In partnership with NERR, we would annually control 
20-30 acres of cogongrass and Chinese tallow.
    We would aim to acquire 100 percent of lands within the approved 
acquisition boundary within 15 years of CCP approval. Through an 
ongoing partnership with NERR, we would protect the refuge's shell 
middens. In order to protect resources and the public at Grand Bay, we 
would provide two law enforcement officers.
    Within three years of CCP completion and approval, we would develop 
a Visitor Services' Plan to be used in expanding public use facilities 
and opportunities on the refuge. As in Alternative A, under Alternative 
D, in partnership with NERR, we would operate a new joint research, 
office, and education facility/visitor center to provide benefits to 
refuge visitors. In addition, we would develop a new welcome center 
along Interstate 10 near the interchange with Franklin Creek Road (Exit 
75).
    Within five years of CCP approval, we would develop a Hunt Plan 
that coordinates hunting with other increased public uses, such as 
wildlife observation and photography.
    We would also implement our own program of expanded environmental 
education and interpretation to complement NERR's efforts, in keeping 
with the new Visitor Services' Plan. In partnership with NERR, we would 
implement expanded opportunities for wildlife observation and 
photography, such as a canoe/kayak trail, photo blind(s), and an 
elevated marsh observation platform at the ``Goat Farm.''
    In order to provide for expanded visitor services under Alternative 
D, we would increase the size of the staff from the current two 
employees. The new positions Alternative D calls for include: One 
assistant manager, one park ranger, one equipment operator, and two law 
enforcement officers for a total of seven employees.

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.

Next Step

    After the comment period ends for the Draft CCP/EA, we will analyze 
the comments and address them in the form of a Final CCP and Finding of 
No Significant Impact.

    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. E8-8109 Filed 4-15-08; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P