Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
With this notice, we finalize the CCP process for Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. We started this process through a notice in the
Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge was established February 4, 1964, and has two purposes:
(1) “[F]or use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds” (Migratory Bird Conservation Act); and
(2) “for (a) incidental fish and wildlife oriented recreational development, (b) the protection of natural resources, [and] (c) the conservation of endangered species or threatened species” (Refuge Recreation Act).
This refuge is located in Ravalli County, one of the fastest growing counties in the State of Montana, 2 miles north of Stevensville and 25 miles south of Missoula. Although it is one of the nation's smaller refuges, encompassing 2,800 acres, it is one of the few remaining undeveloped areas in the Bitterroot Valley. The refuge lies along the meandering Bitterroot River and is comprised of wet meadow and gallery and riverfront forest habitats and has created and modified wetlands.
Riverfront forest includes early succession tree species such as black cottonwood and sandbar willow that are present near the active channel of the Bitterroot River and next to floodplain drainages. Gallery forest is dominated by cottonwood and ponderosa pine and is present on higher floodplain elevations along natural levees. Over 140,000 visitors come to this refuge annually to view and photograph wildlife, archery deer hunt, walk the refuge trails, or participate in interpretive programs in the indoor and outdoor classrooms. The Refuge provides habitat for raptors, including ospreys, and numerous songbird and waterbird species.
We announce our decision and the availability of the FONSI for the final CCP for Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in accordance with National
The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 (16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (Refuge 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 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, 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 and photography, and environmental education and interpretation. We will review and update the CCP at least every 15 years in accordance with the Refuge Administration Act.
We solicited comments on the draft CCP and the EA for Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge from March 28, 2012 to April 30, 2012 (77 FR 18852; March 28, 2012). During the review period a public meeting was held in Stevensville, Montana, on April 9, 2012. In additional to comments received at this meeting, 33 individual letters and emails were received. The Service reviewed all comments and made two modifications to the final CCP, in addition to clarifying or expanding existing information or recommendations. The responses to all substantive public comments can be found in the appendix of the final CCP.
The draft CCP and final EA included the analyses of three alternatives. After considering the comments we received, we have selected Alternative B for implementation, with the following modifications (beyond clarifying or expanding existing information or recommendations):
• The Kenai Nature Trail will be kept along its current path. However, visitors will have the option of remaining on a more level walking surface on a path above a steeper portion of the trail.
• We will determine if there are viable options for reducing the erosion along the Wildlife Viewing Area, a popular area for visitors. The decision to move forward will be based on cost, the effectiveness on reducing erosion, and impacts on the resource, including the Bitterroot River system.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would expand and improve the refuge's compatible wildlife-dependent public use programs, in particular the wildlife observation, environmental education, and interpretation programs. The visitor contact area would be expanded into a visitor center with new displays and a combination conference room and environmental education classroom. The refuge would work with Ravalli County staff to designate the county road in the refuge as an auto tour route, which would include pulloffs and some form of interpretation. A seasonal hiking trail would be added, and current trails would be improved for wildlife observation and photography. Interpretation and environmental education programs would be expanded using added staff and volunteers. All public use programs would provide visitors with a consistent message about the purposes and values of the refuge and the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The refuge staff would be expanded by 3.5 individuals to include an assistant refuge manager (one full-time equivalent), a full-time and a career-seasonal biological science technician (1.5 full-time equivalents), and a visitor services specialist (one full-time equivalent) who would serve as a visitor center manager and volunteer coordinator. Increased research and monitoring, staff, funding, infrastructure, and partnerships would be required to accomplish the goals, objectives, and strategies associated with this alternative. Additional staff and funding would be added depending on the regional priorities for those funds allocated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for management of lands and waters within the Refuge System.