[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 165 (Tuesday, August 26, 2014)]
[Notices]
[Pages 50937-50939]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-20236]



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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-R-2014-N126; FXRS12610600000-145-FF06R06000]


San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Alamosa, Rio 
Grande, and Saguache, CO; Comprehensive Conservation Plan and 
Environmental Impact Statement

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the 
availability of a draft comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) and draft 
environmental impact statement for the San Luis Valley National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex (refuge complex) in Alamosa, Rio Grande, and 
Saguache, Colorado. In these documents, we describe alternatives, 
including our proposed action alternative, to manage the refuge complex 
for the 15 years following approval of the final CCP.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
October 27, 2014. We will hold public meetings; see Public Meetings 
under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION for dates, times, and locations.

ADDRESSES: You may submit your comments or requests for copies or more 
information by one of the following methods. You may request hard 
copies or a CD-ROM of the documents.
    Email: SLVrefuges@fws.gov. Include ``San Luis Valley National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex CCP'' in the subject line of the message.
    Fax: Attn: Laurie Shannon, Planning Team Leader, 303-236-4792.
    U.S. Mail: Laurie Shannon, Planning Team Leader, Division of Refuge 
Planning, P.O. Box 25486, Denver, CO 80225-0486.
    In-Person Drop-off: You may drop off comments during regular 
business hours at the above address, or at the San Luis Valley National 
Wildlife Refuge Complex administrative office located at 8249 Emperius 
Road, Alamosa, CO 81101.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laurie Shannon, Planning Team Leader, 
303-236-4317 (phone) or laurie_shannon@fws.gov (email); P.O. Box 
25486, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225-0486.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Introduction

    With this notice, we continue the CCP process for the San Luis 
Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex. We started this process 
through a notice in the Federal Register on March 15, 2011 (76 FR 
14042). The refuge complex is located in the San Luis Valley, a high 
mountain basin located in Alamosa, Rio Grande, and Saguache Counties, 
Colorado. A wide variety of habitats are found across the three 
refuges, including wet meadows, playa wetlands, riparian areas within 
the flood plain of the Rio Grande and other creeks, desert shrublands, 
grasslands, and croplands. Totaling about 106,000 acres, the refuges 
are an important stopover for numerous migratory birds. The refuges 
support many groups of nesting, migrating, and wintering birds, 
including grebes, herons, ibis, ducks, geese, hawks, eagles, falcons, 
shorebirds, owls, songbirds, and others.

Background

The CCP Process

    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (Administration Act) by the National 
Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, requires us to develop 
a CCP for each national wildlife refuge. The purpose for 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 (NWRS), 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, where appropriate, opportunities for hunting, fishing, 
wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and 
interpretation. We will review and update the CCP at least every 15 
years in accordance with the Administration Act.

Public Outreach

    We started the public outreach process in March 2011. At that time 
and throughout the process, we requested public comments and considered 
them in numerous ways. Public outreach has included holding six public 
meetings, mailing planning updates, maintaining a project Web site, and 
publishing press releases. We have considered and evaluated all the 
comments we have received during this process.

CCP Alternatives We Are Considering

    During the public scoping process with which we started work on 
this draft CCP and EIS, we, other governmental partners, Tribes, and 
the public raised several issues. Our draft CCP and EIS addresses them. 
A full description of each alternative is in the draft EIS. To address 
these issues, we developed and evaluated the following alternatives, 
summarized below.

Alternative A: No Action

    Habitat and wildlife management: There would be few changes in 
management of habitats and wildlife populations across the refuge 
complex through the manipulation of water. We would continue to manage 
wetland areas, wet meadows, riparian areas, and upland habitats to 
provide for a variety of waterbirds and other migratory birds. We would 
continue to protect habitat for the federally endangered southwestern 
willow flycatcher and other species of concern, including the Rio 
Grande sucker and Rio Grande chub on Baca NWR. We would continue to 
produce small grains at current levels on Monte Vista NWR to provide 
food for spring-migrating sandhill cranes. The management of elk 
populations would be limited to nonlethal dispersal, agency culling, 
and the distribution hunts on the former State lands of Baca NWR. We 
would phase out the existing arrangement with The Nature Conservancy 
for season-long bison use within Baca NWR, and we would not use bison 
as a management tool in the future.
    Water resources management: We would continue to manage water in 
the same manner, except as modified by changed State rules, 
regulations, and policies, and we would augment water supplies in 
accordance with State law.
    Visitor services: We would continue to provide for limited 
wildlife-dependent public uses, including waterfowl and small game 
hunting on Monte Vista and Alamosa NWRs. We would not build new 
facilities to support visitor services. Baca NWR would remain closed to 
all public access except for limited guided tours, and access to refuge 
offices.
    Cultural resources, partnerships, and refuge complex operations: 
There would be few changes from current management. When the 
legislation passed authorizing the Baca NWR, it did not come with 
additional funding, and additional operations costs were absorbed into 
the current operations. We would seek some additional staff and 
operations funding to support current management needs.

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    Wilderness review: We would not recommend protection for any areas 
having wilderness characteristics or values.

Alternative B: Proposed Action (Wildlife Populations, Strategic Habitat 
Restoration, and Enhanced Public Uses)

    Habitat and wildlife management: Although we would manage wetland 
and riparian areas within the refuge complex to achieve a variety of 
wetland types and conditions in order to support a diversity of 
migratory birds, we would focus on the focal species, including the 
federally listed southwestern willow flycatcher and other wildlife 
species like the Rio Grande chub and Rio Grande sucker that represent 
larger regional and landscape conservation goals. In specific areas, we 
would restore historical water flow patterns through more effective and 
efficient water management practices (e.g., moving water to areas that 
historically held more water). This could include removal or 
replacement of water infrastructure. We would restore riparian habitat 
along streams in Baca NWR and along selected areas along the Rio Grande 
in Alamosa NWR, and we would manage upland habitats to create a variety 
of conditions to provide for a diversity of wildlife species. We would 
use public hunting, including elk hunting, to complement the State's 
management across the refuge complex, with more limited dispersal 
hunting used on Alamosa and Monte Vista NWRs. We would phase out the 
existing arrangement with The Nature Conservancy for bison management 
on Baca NWR, but we would research the feasibility of using semi-free-
ranging bison year-round to effectively maintain and enhance refuge 
habitats. We would continue to grow limited amounts of small grain on 
Monte Vista NWR to provide food for spring-migrating sandhill cranes.
    Water resources management: We would continue to work with other 
landowners and agencies throughout the watershed to keep flexibility as 
well as to protect and, if necessary, augment our water rights as State 
regulations evolve. Our water infrastructure, delivery, and 
efficiencies would require upgrades to make sure our wildlife, habitat, 
and visitor services objectives are met.
    Visitor services: In addition to allowing for waterfowl and limited 
small game hunting, we would offer limited elk hunting on Monte Vista 
and Alamosa NWRs, and we would open Baca NWR for big game and small 
game hunting. We would improve public access on Monte Vista and Alamosa 
NWRs, including allowing more access from approximately July 15 through 
February 28 for wildlife viewing and interpretation on roads and trails 
that are currently only open to waterfowl hunters during hunting 
season. We would also improve existing access. We would seek funding to 
build a visitor center and refuge complex offices at Monte Vista NWR to 
provide for safer access to the refuge complex headquarters and to 
provide for a modern work environment, as well as to offer a place for 
visitors to come and learn more about the refuge complex resources. We 
would open Baca NWR for a variety of compatible, wildlife-dependent 
opportunities, including providing facilities to support them, 
including an auto tour route, trails, viewing blinds, and offering 
interpretation and environmental education programs.
    Cultural resources, partnerships, and refuge complex operations: We 
would increase our efforts toward identifying and protecting the 
significant cultural resources found on the refuge complex. We would 
work with partners and volunteers to accomplish our objectives, but we 
would also seek increased staffing levels of both full-time and 
seasonal employees, as well as increased funding for operations.
    Wilderness review: We would recommend protection of about 13,800 
acres along the southeastern boundary of Baca NWR and adjacent to Great 
Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve that possess wilderness 
characteristics and values.

Alternative C: Habitat Restoration and Ecological Processes

    Habitat and wildlife management: We would take all feasible actions 
to restore--or mimic, where needed--the native vegetation community, 
based on ecological site characteristics, ecological processes, and 
other factors. We would restore the function of the riparian and playa 
areas on the Baca NWR. Where possible, we would restore natural 
waterflow patterns. We would phase out and end the production of small 
grains for migrating sandhill cranes on Monte Vista NWR. Similar to 
alternative B, we would use hunting to manage elk populations across 
the refuge complex. Periodically (not annually), we would use bison on 
Baca NWR to mimic the ecological benefit they may have once provided.
    Water resources management: We would manage water to restore the 
hydrologic conditions, with less focus on habitat management for 
specific species or for providing wildlife viewing. In some years, 
water might not be available to meet life cycle needs for some 
waterfowl species. Existing water infrastructure would be removed or 
modified as needed.
    Visitor services: We would continue to allow waterfowl and limited 
small game hunting on the Monte Vista and Alamosa NWRs. Similar to 
under alternative B, we would open the Baca NWR for big game and small 
game hunting, whereas, on the Monte Vista and Alamosa NWRs, we would 
rely on limited public hunting or agency dispersal methods for elk 
management.
    There may be other changes in public use, depending on the habitat 
management action. Some areas could be closed, or wildlife viewing 
would be more limited. Current public access would be evaluated on the 
Alamosa and Monte Vista NWRs. If existing roads or trails are not 
needed, or if these facilities fragment habitat, they could be removed 
or altered. Viewing areas for sandhill cranes may be moved, depending 
on restoration efforts. As under alternative B, on Monte Vista and 
Alamosa NWRs, we would also allow for additional walking and biking on 
trails and roads within the hunt boundary from July 15 through February 
28. We would not build a refuge headquarters or visitor center on Monte 
Vista Refuge. Except for limited hunting access to achieve our 
management objectives, there would be few visitor facilities or 
programs on Baca NWR, and most of the refuge would remain closed.
    Cultural resources, partnerships, and refuge complex operations: 
Our actions would be similar to those under alternative B, except that 
on Baca NWR, roads that are not needed or that are fragmenting habitat 
would be removed.
    Wilderness review: This would be the same as under alternative B; 
we would recommend protection of about 13,800 acres along the 
southeastern boundary of Baca NWR.

Alternative D: Maximize Public Use Opportunities

    Habitat and wildlife management: Under this alternative, our 
habitat management practices would be a blend of alternatives A and B. 
We would manage wildlife habitats on the refuge complex consistent with 
our mission and purposes, while maximizing and emphasizing quality 
visitor experiences and wildlife-dependent public uses. For example, we 
could irrigate areas that are closer to public access to facilitate 
wildlife viewing. We would increase agricultural production of small 
grains for sandhill cranes on Monte Vista NWR, including the 
consideration of producing grain in specific places to enhance wildlife 
viewing. We would offer a variety of opportunities for elk

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hunting (e.g., youth hunts or additional provisions for persons with 
disabilities), managing numbers at levels that would restore and foster 
the long-term health of native plant communities. We would introduce 
and manage a small bison herd on a confined area of the Baca NWR, 
emphasizing wildlife viewing and interpretive opportunities.
    Water resources management: We would manage water similar to 
alternative B, except we would make a concerted effort to make sure 
there is water in specific areas to enhance wildlife viewing; this 
practice could require additional augmentation of water.
    Visitor services: We would provide for the widest variety of 
compatible wildlife-dependent recreation. Similar to under alternative 
B, public access and visitor programs would be expanded; however, there 
would be additional trails, viewing blinds, and seasonal auto tour 
routes across the refuge complex. Subsequently, we would increase 
interpretation and environmental education opportunities and seek more 
staff, volunteers, and partnerships to support the visitor services 
program. We would allow for limited fishing access on Alamosa NWR. We 
would also consider additional commercial uses.
    Cultural resources, partnerships and refuge complex operations: Our 
actions would be similar to those under alternative B, except there 
would be greater emphasis on using students and volunteers to help us 
survey areas with high potential for cultural resources. We would 
pursue more outside partnerships and seek to increase staffing and 
funding to support our refuge complex operations.
    Wilderness review: This would be the same as that under alternative 
B; we would recommend protection of about 13,800 acres along the 
southeastern boundary of Baca NWR.

Public Availability of Documents

    In addition to any one method in ADDRESSES, you can view or obtain 
documents at the following locations:
     Our Web site: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/planning/ccp/co/alm_bac_mtv/alm_bac_mtv.html.
     Public libraries:

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            Library                     Address           Phone number
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Alamosa Public Library........  300 Hunt Avenue,          (719) 589-6592
                                 Alamosa, CO 81101.
Carnegie Public Library.......  120 Jefferson Street,     (719) 852-3931
                                 Monte Vista, CO 81144.
Baca Grande Library...........  67487 County Road T,      (719) 256-4100
                                 Crestone, CO 81131.
Saguache Public Library.......  702 Pitkin Ave,           (719) 655-2551
                                 Saguache, CO 81149.
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Public Meetings

    Opportunity for public input will be provided at public meetings. 
The specific dates and times for the public meetings are yet to be 
determined, but will be announced via local media and a planning 
update.

Submitting Comments/Issues for Comment

    We particularly seek comments on the following issues:
 Issue 1--Habitat and wildlife management;
 Issue 2--Water resources management;
 Issue 3--Landscape conservation and protection;
 Issue 4--Visitor services management;
 Issue 5--Partnerships and refuge operations;
 Issue 6--Cultural resources management and tribal 
coordination;
 Issue 7--Research, science, and wilderness review;
    We consider comments substantive if they:
 Question, with reasonable basis, the accuracy of the 
information in the document;
 Question, with reasonable basis, the adequacy of the 
environmental assessment;
 Present reasonable alternatives other than those presented in 
the draft EIS; and/or
 Provide new or additional information relevant to the 
assessment.

Next Steps

    After this comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them in the form of a final CCP and final EIS.

Public Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, email 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.

    Dated: July 16, 2014.
Matt Hogan,
Acting, Regional Director, Mountain-Prairie Region, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-20236 Filed 8-25-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P