[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 17 (Tuesday, January 27, 2015)]
[Notices]
[Pages 4303-4306]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-01514]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R7-R-2012-N207; FXRS1265070000S3-134-FF07R06000]


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska; Revised Comprehensive 
Conservation Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a revised comprehensive conservation plan (plan/CCP) 
and final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Arctic National 
Wildlife Refuge (refuge, NWR) for a 30-day public review. In this 
revised plan and final EIS, we describe how we propose to manage the 
refuge for the next 15 years.

DATES: The review period will end February 26, 2015. We are not 
soliciting comments on the plan during this review period.

ADDRESSES: You may submit questions or requests for more information by 
any one of the following methods:
     Email: ArcticRefugeCCP@fws.gov. Include ``Arctic National 
Wildlife Refuge Revised CCP and Final EIS'' in the subject line of the 
message.
     Fax: Attention: Arctic CCP, Planning Team Leader, Arctic 
National Wildlife Refuge, (907) 456-0428.
     U.S. Mail: Attention: Stephanie Brady, Arctic CCP, Arctic 
National Wildlife Refuge, 101 12th Ave., Rm. 236, Fairbanks, AK 99701.
     In-Person Drop Off: You may drop off questions during 
regular business hours at the above addresses.
    You will find the plan and EIS, as well as information about the 
planning process and a summary of the revised plan, on the planning Web 
site: http://arctic.fws.gov/ccp.htm.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Stephanie Brady, (907) 306-7448.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Introduction

    With this notice, we continue the comprehensive conservation 
planning process for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which we began by 
publishing a notice of intent in the Federal Register (75 FR 17763) on 
April 7, 2010. For more about the initial process and the history of 
this refuge, see that notice.

Background

    The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) 
requires us to develop a CCP for each national wildlife refuge in 
Alaska. The purpose of developing a CCP is to provide refuge managers 
with a strategy 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 Service policies. In addition to outlining broad 
management direction for conserving wildlife and their habitats, CCPs 
identify wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities available to the 
public, including opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife 
observation and photography, and environmental education and 
interpretation. In general, we review and update CCPs in Alaska every 
15 to 20 years.
    ANILCA lists specific purposes for each refuge in Alaska. These 
purposes provide the foundation for developing and prioritizing the 
management goals and objectives for each Alaskan refuge. The planning 
process is a way for us and the public to evaluate management goals and 
objectives that will ensure the best possible approach to wildlife, 
plant, and habitat conservation while providing for wildlife-dependent 
recreation opportunities that are compatible with each refuge's 
establishing purposes and the mission of the NWRS.

Additional Information

    The revised plan may be found at http://arctic.fws.gov/ccp.htm. The 
document incorporates an EIS, prepared in accordance with the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (43 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.).

Alternatives Considered

    The revised plan and final EIS includes detailed information about 
the refuge, planning process, issues, and management alternatives 
considered. The final EIS includes discussions of six alternatives for 
refuge management. All six alternatives address three significant 
issues: Wilderness recommendations, Wild and Scenic River 
recommendations, and Kongakut River visitor use management. The 
Service's preferred alternative is described in the revised Plan and 
final EIS.

Alternative A: Current Management (No Action)

    This alternative reflects the current management direction of 
Arctic NWR. It provides the baseline against which to compare other 
alternatives. Under Alternative A, the refuge would continue to be 
managed according to the direction included in the 1988 plan. Current 
goals and objectives would not be changed.
     Wilderness--No new areas would be recommended for 
Wilderness designation.
     Wild and Scenic Rivers--No new rivers would be recommended 
for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
     Kongakut River Visitor Use Management--Managers would 
continue to manage visitors using the following practices: Group size 
limits for guided groups (7 hikers, 10 floaters); and No group size 
limits for non-guided groups, although we recommend using commercial 
limits; Information on low-impact camping and other best practices 
would continue to be available on the Refuge Web site. Commercial 
service providers would continue to have special use permits with 
occasional compliance checks by the Service.
    Monitoring of physical and social conditions and visitor impacts 
would continue to occur occasionally. Air operator permit holders would 
be required to land on non-vegetated surfaces and asked to follow all 
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) advisories during flight 
operations. The Service would prepare a Public Use Management Plan (as 
required by the 1988 plan).

Alternative B

     Wilderness--Recommend the Brooks Range Wilderness Study 
Area to Congress for Wilderness designation.
     Wild and Scenic Rivers--Recommend the Hulahula, Kongakut, 
and Marsh Fork Canning Rivers to Congress for inclusion into the 
National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
     Kongakut River Visitor Use Management--Under this 
alternative, and immediately upon plan approval, we would proceed with 
two concurrent step-down plans: A Visitor Use Management Plan (VUMP) 
and a Wilderness Stewardship Plan (WSP). In addition to the practices 
identified under Alternative A, we would implement interim measures. 
The refuge would expand monitoring of degraded sites, work with guides 
to reduce visitor volume, work with air operators to disperse flights 
over high-use areas, publish a schedule of when guides will

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be launching trips, step up enforcement of permit conditions and Refuge 
regulations, and set an interim cap on commercial recreation guides 
from 2013 through 2016 or through completion of the VUMP/WSP, whichever 
comes first.

Alternative C

     Wilderness--Recommend the Coastal Plain Wilderness Study 
Area to Congress for Wilderness designation.
     Wild and Scenic Rivers--Recommend the Atigun River to 
Congress for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
     Kongakut River Visitor Use Management--Under this 
alternative, management would be the same as under Alternative B.

Alternative D

     Wilderness--Recommend the Brooks Range and Porcupine 
Plateau Wilderness Study Areas to Congress for Wilderness designation.
     Wild and Scenic Rivers--Recommend the Atigun, Kongakut, 
and Marsh Fork Canning Rivers, and those portions of the Hulahula River 
managed by the Refuge, to Congress for inclusion into the National Wild 
and Scenic Rivers System.
     Kongakut River Visitor Use Management--Under this 
alternative, management would be the same as Alternative B, except 
there would be no interim cap on commercial recreation guides.

Alternative E

     Wilderness--Recommend the Brooks Range, Porcupine Plateau, 
and Coastal Plain Wilderness Study Areas to Congress for Wilderness 
designation.
     Wild and Scenic Rivers--Recommend the Atigun, Hulahula, 
Kongakut, and Marsh Fork Canning Rivers to Congress for inclusion into 
the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
     Kongakut River Visitor Use--Under this alternative, 
management would be the same as under Alternative D.

Alternative F

    Under Alternative F much of the management direction outlined in 
Alternative A would continue. The goals and objectives and management 
policies and guidelines described in the plan would be adopted.
     Wilderness--No new areas would be recommended for 
Wilderness designation.
     Wild and Scenic River--No new rivers would be recommended 
for inclusion into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
     Kongakut River Visitor Use--Under this alternative, 
management would be the same as under Alternative D.

Preferred Alternative

    The Service selected Alternative E as the Preferred Alternative for 
the revised plan for Arctic Refuge. Alternative E addresses the key 
issues and concerns identified during the planning process and will 
best achieve the purposes of the refuge, the mission of the NWRS, and 
maintain the refuge's special values.
    Wilderness: Alternative E recommends the qualified and suitable 
lands and waters in three Wilderness Study Areas (nearly 12.28 million 
acres) for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. If 
Congress were to designate these acres as Wilderness, nearly the entire 
refuge would be managed to preserve Wilderness character while 
providing for the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, 
educational, conservation, and historical use. Wilderness Act purposes 
would be within and supplemental to the purposes of the refuge. 
Wilderness designation would provide statutory protection for resources 
in the refuge and represents a more permanent commitment to 
perpetuating the refuge's natural conditions, ecological processes, and 
wilderness-associated recreational opportunities. Until Congress makes 
a decision regarding this recommendation, the Wilderness Study Areas 
will continue to be managed under Minimal Management.
    Wild and Scenic Rivers: Four rivers are recommended for inclusion 
in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System: The Atigun, Marsh Fork 
Canning, Hulahula, and Kongakut rivers. The Refuge will implement the 
interim management prescriptions described in the revised plan 
(Appendix I) to maintain the outstandingly remarkable and other values 
of these rivers until Congress makes a decision regarding the 
recommendation. If Congress were to designate these four rivers, the 
refuge would prepare a Comprehensive River Management Plan specific to 
each of the four rivers. These plans would: Describe the existing 
resource conditions in the river corridor; define the goals and desired 
conditions for protecting river values; address the types and amounts 
of public use the river area can sustain (i.e., user capacities); 
address water quality issues and instream flow requirements; and 
include a monitoring strategy to maintain desired conditions.
    Kongakut River Visitor Management: The refuge will implement 
interim management measures (not including a cap on commercial 
recreation guides) to better manage visitor use of the Kongakut River 
pending completion of a refuge-wide Visitor Use Management Plan. These 
interim measures include: Working with guides to reduce visitor volume 
and to disperse flights; publishing a launch schedule; developing new 
outreach materials with targeted messages; increasing enforcement of 
permit conditions and refuge regulations; and identifying and repairing 
degraded sites.
    Summary: Arctic Refuge serves a distinctive function in the NWRS as 
a landscape that is essentially unaltered and free-functioning, 
contains outstanding natural diversity, and provides a benchmark for 
wilderness qualities and for perpetuating biological integrity, 
diversity, and environmental health. Alternative E provides assurance 
that the refuge's special values and distinctive function will be 
protected and perpetuated for future generations. This alternative 
adopts the management goals and objectives and revised management 
policies and guidelines (Chapter 2). Our implementation of Alternative 
E will occur over the next 15 to 20 years, depending on future staffing 
levels and funding.

Factors Considered in Making the Decision

    The decision was based on a thorough analysis of the environmental, 
social, and economic considerations presented in the revised plan and 
final EIS. The Service reviewed and considered the impacts identified 
in Chapter 5 of the draft plan/EIS; relevant issues, concerns, and 
opportunities; input received throughout the planning process, 
including advice from technical experts and public comments on the 
draft plan/EIS; and other factors, including refuge purposes and 
relevant laws, regulations, and policies. The revised plan and final 
EIS addresses a variety of needs, including protection of fish and 
wildlife populations and their habitats and providing opportunities for 
fish and wildlife-dependent recreation, subsistence, and other public 
uses. Alternative E contributes significantly to achieving refuge 
purposes and goals. Alternative E also strengthens the monitoring of 
fish, wildlife, habitat, and public uses on the refuge to provide means 
to better respond to changing conditions in the surrounding landscape.

Public Involvement

    We are releasing the revised plan and final EIS for a 30-day public 
review period. We are not soliciting public comments at this time. The 
Service has

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afforded government agencies, tribes, and the public extensive 
opportunity to participate in the preparation of this EIS.
    We began the planning process with formal notification to nine 
federally recognized tribes, two Native village councils, the State of 
Alaska, four Federal agencies, two Regional Native corporations, one 
village corporation, and the North Slope Borough. We prepared the 
revised Plan/final EIS in coordination with the Alaska Department of 
Natural Resources, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Arctic 
Slope Regional Corporation, and the Native Village of Kaktovik, all of 
which had one or more representatives on the planning team. The 
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) joined the 
planning team as a cooperating agency during preparation of the final 
EIS. We informally consulted with the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich'in Tribal 
Government, the Native Village of Kaktovik, the Native Village of 
Venetie Tribal Government, the Arctic Village Council, and the Venetie 
Village Council on several occasions throughout the planning process, 
encouraging their participation in the revised plan. We formally 
consulted with the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich'in Tribal Government, the Native 
Village of Kaktovik, and the Native Village of Venetie Tribal 
Government in June 2012. We formally consulted with Regional Native 
Corporation Doyon Limited in September 2012.
    The Service published a notice of intent to prepare the plan/EIS in 
the Federal Register on April 7, 2010 (75 FR 17763). Scoping comments 
were accepted for 60 days. Open-house style meetings were held in 
Anchorage, Arctic Village, Barrow, Fairbanks, Fort Yukon, Kaktovik, and 
Venetie, Alaska. Public hearings were held in all these locations, as 
well as in Washington, DC The Service received 94,061 written and oral 
comments during the scoping process.
    A notice of availability for the draft plan/EIS was published in 
the Federal Register on August 15, 2011 (76 FR 50490). The draft EIS 
was available for public comment from August 15 to November 15, 2011--a 
90-day public comment period. The Service held open-house style 
meetings in Anchorage (September 20, 2011), Arctic Village (November 
14, 2011), Fairbanks (August 24, 2011), Fort Yukon (October 28, 2011), 
Kaktovik (October 25, 2011), and Venetie, Alaska (November 15, 2011). 
In addition, we held six public hearings on the draft in Anchorage 
(September 21, 2011), Arctic Village (November 14, 2011), Fairbanks 
(October 19, 2011), Fort Yukon (October 28, 2011), Kaktovik (November 
3, 2011), and Venetie (November 15, 2011).
    The Service received 612,285 communications (an example of a 
communication could be an individual piece of mail, Web site 
submission, form letter, statement at a public hearing, etc.) during 
the public review period on the draft plan/EIS. We have considered all 
public comments throughout the process and have incorporated them in 
various ways, such as in identifying the significant planning issues 
and the different alternatives addressed in the revised plan/final EIS.

Changes to the Revised Plan and Final EIS

    We made the following changes in the revised plan and final EIS 
from the draft plan/EIS:
    Wilderness Terminology--We added a ``Note about Wilderness 
Terminology'' to the front pages of Volumes 1, 2, and 3 to explain how 
we use wilderness-related terms throughout the revised plan. 
``Wilderness'' (with a capital ``W'') refers to designated Wilderness 
lands, and ``wilderness'' (not capitalized) is used as an adjective to 
describe wilderness-related qualities across the Refuge, including in 
Minimal Management areas.
    Acreages--Many of the acreages listed in the revised plan/final EIS 
differ from those published elsewhere, including the draft plan. The 
revised acreages reflect our ability to more accurately measure land 
areas using such technologies as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). 
We added a ``Note about Acreages'' to the front pages of Volumes 1, 2, 
and 3 to explain our approach.
    ANILCA--ANLICA Section 1004 does not apply to Arctic Refuge, and 
all references to it were removed from the revised plan/final EIS.
    Cooperating Agencies--Since the draft plan was released, we 
welcomed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as a 
cooperating agency.
    Refuge Purposes--We recently received clarification on how Refuge 
purposes guide management. Established in 1960, the Arctic National 
Wildlife Range (Range) was created ``for the purpose of preserving 
unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values.'' In 1980, ANILCA 
re-designated the Range as part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 
and provided four purposes that guide management of the entire Refuge. 
Under the provisions of Section 305 of ANILCA, the Range purposes from 
1960 remain in force and effect on the lands and waters in the original 
Range only to the extent they are consistent with ANILCA and the Alaska 
Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). ANILCA purposes apply to the 
entire Refuge. The revised plan was edited to fully reflect this 
interpretation of Refuge purposes.
    Goals and Objectives--The goals and objectives included in the 
draft plan were revised based on public comment and Service review. 
Changes range from minor clarifications to major rewrites of goals and 
objectives. In some cases, multiple objectives in the draft plan were 
combined into one. Additionally, several new objectives were added to 
the revised plan. These objectives discuss restoration and 
rehabilitation of degraded and/or impaired sites; management of the 
Refuge's Marine Protected Area; modifications to the Refuge's 
management approach to climate change providing more flexibility in the 
range of available responses to climate change; assessment and 
inventory of water resources; and formal consultation with tribes and 
Alaska Native Regional Corporations on a wide range of environmental, 
biological, cultural, and subsistence issues and concerns.
    Management Policies and Guidelines--We made several changes to the 
Refuge's management policies and guidelines, including rewriting the 
introduction to better explain how the guidelines were developed to 
meet the needs of Arctic Refuge, clarifying the authorities of the 
State of Alaska and the Service, expanding the discussion on U.S. 
government relations with tribal governments, and clarifying our intent 
to refrain from activities intended to resist the effects of climate 
change. We expanded the section on human safety and management 
emergencies to include threats to refuge resources; restriction of 
domestic animals such as sheep, goats, and camelids (llamas and 
alpacas) to prevent the spread of disease to wildlife; prohibition of 
the use of straw and hay for bedding for dogs; and prohibition of all 
except pelletized weed-free feed for pack animals, to reduce the 
potential introduction and spread of invasive plants. Finally, we 
removed the proposed permit and fees for temporary facilities related 
to the taking of fish and wildlife left in designated Wilderness from 
one season to the next.
    Alternatives--The projected budget to implement each of the 
alternatives was revised and is now lower than what was published in 
the draft plan. The options considered for management of visitor use on 
the Kongakut River were revised. A Public Use or Visitor Use Management 
Plan would be completed under all the alternatives, including

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Alternative A (No Action), and two of the alternatives now include an 
interim cap on commercial recreation guides from 2013 to 2016, or until 
step-down plans are completed. Step-down planning would begin 
immediately upon approval of the revised plan/final EIS, rather than 2 
years after approval, and all management prescriptions put in place 
pending the step-down plans would be considered interim.
    Other Chapters and Appendices--Various chapters and appendices were 
revised and reworked since the draft plan and draft EIS. Chapter 1, 
Introduction, was updated with details about the public comment period 
on the draft plan and contains a new section entitled ``Concerns 
Regarding Fish, Wildlife, and Habitats,'' as required by ANILCA. 
Chapter 4, Affected Environment, has a new section on soundscape and a 
new section on cabins; in addition, subsections on climate change were 
added to the descriptions of water resources, vegetation, fish, birds, 
and mammals. Socioeconomic data were updated with 2010 Census data, 
where available, and a new section on the Poker Flat Research Range and 
NASA's Sounding Rockets Program was added. Chapter 5, Environmental 
Consequences, was reworked to provide more consistency, and to identify 
reasonably foreseeable future actions. Additionally, the chapter 
considers the effects of each proposed action on the Poker Flat 
Research Range. Step-down plans were reprioritized in Chapter 6, and 
the compatibility determinations were finalized and signed (Appendix 
G). The eligibility and suitability studies for the wild and scenic 
river review (Appendix I) were combined into a single report, and we 
added information about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and its 
management implications.
    Two New Volumes--A major change made since the draft plan is the 
addition of Volumes 3 and 4. Volume 3 summarizes all the public 
comments received on the draft plan/EIS, presents the substantive 
comments we received, and includes the Service's responses to each 
substantive comment. Volume 4 contains indices to help the reader 
navigate through Volume 3 and contains full text samples of 
communications received on the draft plan.

Comments

    We are not soliciting comments at this time. This release is 
intended to allow the public a period of review. Appendix J in Volume 2 
of the plan includes a summary report of public comments received 
during the scoping period. Volume 3 of the revised plan contains a 
summary of public comments received on the draft plan/EIS and the 
Service's responses to substantive comments. Volume 4 of the revised 
plan includes samples of public comments received on the draft plan/
EIS.

Next Steps

    Following conclusion of the 30-day public review period, a Record 
of Decision (ROD) will be signed in which we disclose the Service's 
final decision and any conditions of approval. Availability of the ROD 
will be announced through the Federal Register, a press release, the 
Refuge's Web site, and communications with those on the CCP mailing 
list.

Geoffrey L. Haskett,
Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Anchorage, Alaska.
[FR Doc. 2015-01514 Filed 1-26-15; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P