[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 130 (Thursday, July 7, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 39890-39893]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-17014]



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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR



Fish and Wildlife Service



[FWS-R4-R-2011-N053; 40136-1265-0000-S3]




St. Johns National Wildlife Refuge, FL; Draft Comprehensive 

Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment



AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.



ACTION: Notice of availability; 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 St. Johns National Wildlife 

Refuge (NWR) in Brevard County, Florida, 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 August 8, 2011.



ADDRESSES: You may obtain a copy of the Draft CCP/EA by contacting Mr. 

Bill Miller, via U.S. mail at Merritt Island NWR Complex, P.O. Box 

2683, Titusville, FL 32781, or via e-mail at William_G_Miller@fws.gov, or St. Johns CCP@fws.gov. Alternatively, you may 

download the document from our Internet Site at http://www.fws.gov/southeast/planning/ under ``Draft Documents.'' Summit comments on the 

Draft CCP/EA to the above postal address or e-mail addresses.



FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Bill Miller, at 561/715-0023 

(telephone) or William_G_Miller@fws.gov (e-mail).



SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:



Introduction



    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for St. Johns NWR. We 

started the process through a Federal Register notice on December 14, 

2009 (74 FR 66147). Please see that notice for more about the refuge 

and its purposes.

    The St. Johns NWR is a unit of and administered through the Merritt 

Island NWR Complex.

    St. Johns NWR was established in August 1971, to provide protection 

for threatened and endangered species and native diversity. Its primary 

purpose relates to threatened and endangered species and applies to all 

lands and waters managed as part of St. Johns NWR. The refuge contains 

two units that combine for approximately 6,422 acres. The southern or 

``Bee Line'' unit occurs approximately 1 mile west of the city of Port 

St. John, Florida, while the northern or ``State Road 50'' unit occurs 

approximately 5 miles to the north, roughly 5 miles west of the city of 

Titusville, Florida. St. Johns NWR is closed to public use, but for 

those permitted through the special use permit process.



Background



The CCP Process



    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 (16 

U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (Administration Act), as amended by the National 

Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, requires us to develop 

a CCP for each national wildlife refuge. The purpose 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 Administration 

Act.

    Significant issues addressed in this Draft CCP/EA include: (1) 

Managing for wildlife diversity and prioritizing habitat management for 

secretive marsh birds; (2) expanding the approved acquisition boundary 

by 459 acres to enable us to enter into land acquisition agreements 

with willing sellers for lands that connect the refuge to a regional 

network of publicly managed lands; (3) protecting our interests from 

illicit uses; (4) opening select areas to unsupervised visitation; (5) 

evaluating the effectiveness of cattle grazing as a habitat management 

tool; (6) evaluating the compatibility of feral hog and white-tailed 

deer hunting as a visitor service; and (7) adding permanent staff.



CCP Alternatives, Including Our Proposed Alternative



    We developed three alternatives for managing the refuge and chose 

``Alternative C'' as the proposed alternative. A full description of 

each alternative is in the Draft CCP/EA. We summarize each alternative 

below.



[[Page 39891]]



Alternative A: Current Management (No Action)



    Alternative A continues management activities and programs at 

present levels. We would continue the prescribed fire program to 

maintain open habitat conditions that would generally favor many native 

birds, including black and king rails, wading birds, and eastern 

meadowlarks. Secretive marsh bird surveys would continue to be 

conducted although infrequently. The lack of firm data on the mix of 

wintering birds using the refuge would continue. There would be no 

active management of wood storks or State-listed wading birds. We would 

continue to reduce the impacts from off-site runoff and facilitate 

infiltration; however, there would be no active management of water 

quality. Still, we would continue to protect emergent wetlands that 

buffer and filter the St. Johns River. We would not actively collect 

data related to climate change trends and their effects on the refuge.

    Periodic detection and control of invasive plant species would 

continue. We would also continue to monitor for the presence and 

abundance of invasive species such as the feral hog, continuing to use 

a hog trapper and staff to control these animals occasionally and 

opportunistically.

    Boundaries would not change under this alternative, and the lack of 

a functional management boundary would continue to be problematic. In 

particular, effective resource protection would continue to be hindered 

by the fragmented ownership, and the unmarked, unfenced boundaries of 

the checkerboard area of the Bee Line unit. In addition, there would be 

no active management of rights-of-way.

    Under this alternative, we would continue to provide law 

enforcement support through the Merritt Island NWR. We would continue 

to collaborate with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 

(FWC), Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and local 

law enforcement agencies in trying to protect resources from illegal 

activities, such as trespass and unauthorized use of all-terrain and 

off-road vehicles. We would continue to provide protection for cultural 

and archaeological resources.

    The refuge would remain closed to the public, with certain limited 

exceptions, such as an occasional guided tour. The refuge would 

continue to be managed part time by Merritt Island NWR Complex staff as 

a collateral duty. We would continue to count on three or four 

volunteers from the community to conduct occasional special guided 

educational tours and to control exotic plants under staff supervision. 

We would maintain one tool and equipment storage shed, which houses a 

small cache of fire-fighting equipment. We would maintain perimeter 

fencing, gates, culverts, and 10-12 miles of unpaved access roads.



Alternative B: Management for Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Species



    In general, Alternative B represents an expansion of the management 

efforts of Alternative A, emphasizing on rare, threatened, and 

endangered species. Management would primarily occur through prescribed 

burning and hydrologic restoration. Utilizing ecological indicators, we 

would promote a fire return interval to maintain early successional 

habitat on behalf of these species and would shift prescribed burning 

events to summer/early fall. In addition, we would determine the size, 

seasonality, and frequency of prescribed fires to benefit rail species.

    We would develop a monitoring program for secretive marsh birds and 

adapt management based on species response. We would work to restore 

the hydrologic setting to benefit marsh birds and determine the role of 

the refuge in regional and national species conservation plans, 

particularly with regard to rare, threatened, and endangered species. 

Management of wood storks and State-listed wading birds, including the 

snowy egret, tri-colored heron, and little blue heron, would expand. We 

would conduct nesting surveys and opportunistically remove fill and 

dike features of the State Road 50 unit borrow ponds to provide 

additional artificial islands.

    On behalf of the northern crested caracara, Alternative B would 

maintain open habitat with a minimum of woody vegetation, including wax 

myrtle. We would also evaluate the use of mowing, cattle grazing, and/

or other forms of vegetation maintenance to benefit this species on the 

Bee Line unit.

    We would stay abreast of Cape Sable seaside sparrow reintroduction 

and introduction discussions within the State. We would work with our 

South Florida Ecological Services Field Office and the FWC to evaluate 

the suitability of the refuge as a potential introductory site to 

support recovery of this species.

    An exotic plant database would be maintained, and exotic plants 

would be controlled at maintenance levels. We would increase control of 

invasive/feral animals and would use permittees and partners for the 

feral hog control effort.

    We would proactively address climate change, particularly with 

regard to its potential to impact rare species.

    In pursuit of more functional refuge boundaries, we would cooperate 

with partners to consolidate and secure ownership in the checkerboard 

area of the Bee Line unit to create functional refuge management areas. 

We would consider fee-title acquisitions, land swaps, management 

agreements, conservation easements, and other measures based on a 

willing-seller approach to protect these sites. We would also work with 

Brevard County to abandon the county's historic rights-of way. We would 

pursue the implementation of a minor expansion proposal, approximately 

459 areas, of the approved acquisition boundary to connect lands and 

develop corridors proximal to the State Route 50 unit for dispersal and 

movement of wildlife. We would increase our law enforcement staff and 

coordinate with governmental partners and landowners to increase the 

number of patrols and level of enforcement to deter and prevent 

unpermitted activities. With regard to cultural, historical, and 

archaeological resources, we would continue to provide protection for 

these resources.

    Under Alternative B, visitor services and public use would be 

similar to current management direction, with certain minor expansions. 

In general, the refuge would remain closed to the public, except for 

occasional guided tours arranged in advance. Outreach would be expanded 

and focused on threatened, endangered, and rare species. We would work 

with partners to develop a curriculum-based environmental education 

program.

    Administrative capacity would expand somewhat. We would share a law 

enforcement officer and maintenance worker with Merritt Island NWR 

Complex. We would hire a full-time biological technician/biologist. We 

would utilize volunteers for increased environmental education and 

interpretation activities, surveys of threatened and endangered 

species, boundary identification, expanded exotics control, and refuge 

cleanups. We would continue to maintain our current facilities and add 

one to two vehicles and equipment for exotic plant control activities.



Alternative C: Enhanced Wildlife and Habitat Diversity (Proposed 

Alternative)



    This alternative would focus on enhancing all native wildlife and 

habitat diversity. With respect to marsh birds, this alternative would 

expand on Alternative B. We would determine our role in regional and 

national species



[[Page 39892]]



conservation plans. Based on ecological indicators targeting marsh bird 

and habitat responses, we would utilize prescribed fire to maintain and 

restore early successional habitats. Concerning the suite of resident, 

wintering, and summering birds on the refuge, Alternative C would 

represent an expansion of Alternative A. Through prescribed burning, we 

would promote an ecologically based fire return interval to maintain 

early successional ecological stages of all fire-maintained habitats. 

In addition, the hydrologic setting would be restored to as near as 

possible pre-drainage conditions to benefit wildlife.

    Management of wood storks and State-listed wading birds would 

expand, as under Alternative B. On behalf of the northern crested 

caracara, we would maintain open habitat with a minimum of woody 

vegetation. We would also evaluate the use of mowing, grazing, and/or 

other forms of vegetation control to help maintain open habitat for 

this species at the Bee Line unit, while minimizing impacts to 

secretive marsh birds. Under this alternative, we would stay abreast of 

Cape Sable seaside sparrow reintroduction and introduction through 

discussions with the State. Management of hydrology, including 

groundwater, surface water, and water quality, would expand. We would 

coordinate with the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) 

to develop a better understanding of the hydrology of the refuge. To 

help fill in the information gaps, and using experts, we would develop 

a hydrologic study to understand the relationships of water quality, 

water quantity, and timing of flows within and across the refuge.

    Invasive plant control would be identical to that proposed under 

Alternative B. Invasive animal control would expand further on the 

efforts proposed under Alternative B. We would use permittees and 

partners for feral hog control and possibly public hunts if, after 

evaluation, hunting is determined to be an effective tool to remove or 

control this species.

    We would focus habitat management on maintaining and supporting a 

wide array of native wildlife. Overall, the relative percentages and 

composition of the major habitat types would not change; the aim would 

be to increase their quality rather than quantity. We would strive to 

maintain emergent marsh and open waters for a diversity of mammals, 

such as the white-tailed deer and round-tailed muskrat.

    With regard to climate change, we would partner with SJRWMD in 

adaptive management efforts to manage habitats, ecosystems, and 

wildlife affected by climate change. We would investigate opportunities 

to participate in regional climate change initiatives to better 

understand the role climate change may have on resources and would 

adapt management based on discovery of climate change related impacts.

    We would work with partners to consolidate and secure ownership in 

the checkerboard area of the Bee Line unit to create functional 

management areas. We would consider fee-title acquisitions, land swaps, 

management agreements, conservation easements, and other measures based 

on a willing-seller approach to protect these sites. We would work with 

Brevard County to vacate or abandon its historic rights-of-way and 

would add access to accommodate public use. Additionally, this 

alternative identifies a minor expansion proposal (approximately 459 

acres) of the approved acquisition boundary to connect lands and 

develop natural area corridors to the State Road 50 unit. Under 

Alternative C, we would increase Service law enforcement staff and 

coordinate with stakeholders to increase the number of patrols and 

level of enforcement to deter and prevent destructive illegal 

activities. With regard to cultural, historical, and archaeological 

resources, we would continue to provide protection for these resources. 

In addition, we would complete and begin to implement a Cultural 

Resources Management Plan over the 15-year life of the CCP.

    One of the centerpieces of Alternative C includes expanding visitor 

services and public use. To expand opportunities for interpretation, we 

would work with partners to evaluate a range of access alternatives for 

St. Johns NWR. Working with Brevard County, we would seek to develop 

facilities such as a trailhead and kiosk from Fay Lake Park into the 

refuge's Bee Line unit, and would consider developing an interpretive 

trail and kiosk on the State Route 50 unit. We would also explore, 

based on potential and varied acquisition opportunities from willing 

sellers through and subject to the proposed minor expansion proposal, 

opportunities to provide public access to the State Route 50 unit from 

Brevard County's Fox Lake Park Sanctuary through the Fox Lake tract. We 

would expand environmental education efforts by working with partners 

to develop curriculum-based environmental education programs related to 

wildlife and climate change. We would also work with local schools to 

conduct on-site environmental education. We would open up the refuge to 

wildlife observation and photography, and would provide facilities to 

enhance the visitor experience (e.g., marked foot trails, kiosks at 

trailheads, and a safe parking area). We would establish foot traffic 

on existing dikes and roads and would evaluate potential connectivity 

to regional trail networks. The refuge and any future trails would 

remain subject to closure for administrative purposes. Commercial 

photography and tours/guides would be available on a case-by-case 

basis. Access for uses determined to be appropriate and compatible 

would be walking, hiking, and bicycling. We would work with partners, 

including the FWC, to evaluate the potential for primitive weapon 

hunting (e.g., bow and muzzle-loader) and a youth hunt. Species to be 

considered for hunts would include white-tailed deer and feral hogs.

    In all respects, administration would expand under this 

alternative. When fully implemented, this alternative would provide for 

shared positions with Merritt Island NWR Complex, including a law 

enforcement officer, maintenance worker, and a refuge ranger. A full-

time biological technician position is also proposed, for a total of 

2.5 new positions. The volunteer program would also expand as we would 

utilize volunteers for increased environmental education and 

interpretation activities and programs, trail maintenance, outreach, 

wildlife surveys, expanded exotic control, and refuge cleanups. This 

alternative would provide for more facilities and equipment. We would 

consider developing kiosks, trails, and associated parking to provide 

safe and secure access from existing county parks to refuge lands. We 

would also add one to two vehicles and equipment for exotic plant 

control activities.



Next Step



    After the comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 

address them.



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



[[Page 39893]]



Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, Public Law 105-57.



    Dated: April 5, 2011.

Mark J. Musaus,

Acting Regional Director.

[FR Doc. 2011-17014 Filed 7-6-11; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4310-55-P