WILLAPA WILDLIFE REFUGE - If it all works out as planned, future visitors to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge will have "a much more pleasant experience," says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Project Leader Charlie Stenvall.
A draft comprehensive conservation plan and environmental impact statement focused on improvments to the refuge is available now for public comment through March 7.
Besides potentially moving the refuge headquarters building and its shop to a new location, the draft will "provide reasonable, scientifically grounded guidance for improving the refuge's forest, wetland, coastal dunes, estuarine, and open water habitats for the long-term conservation of migratory birds and native plants and animals," according to the plan.
The key refuge management actions addressed in the draft CCP/EIS include:
Protecting and sustaining the refuge's natural resources, including habitats, migratory bird populations, and threatened, endangered or rare species.
Providing priority public use programs - hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education and interpretation.
Developing a headquarters site plan.
Developing a predator management plan.
Restoring estuarine habitat.
Managing the refuge's forest.
Expanding the approved refuge boundary.
Under the plan, the headquarters will be moved to the Tarlett Slough area off 95th on the Peninsula, adjacent to the PUD building on Sandridge Road.
Stenvall said he'll be looking at comments received on the draft for "what we left out, what's missing, any analysis we're not aware of, then we'll analyze them. The final document should be completed later this year, then it's up to Congress."
He said the plan "gives people a sense of where we're going and what we're trying to do. It's a focus of how we're moving forward and to help people understand and see this as a good-faith effort. It's a plan with a broad scope with lots of aspects."
Although new shop and headquarter buildings will be constructed at the new site, the popular Salmon Art Trail and parking lot will remain at the Highway 101 site on Willapa Bay. "It will be a much more pleasant experience for people there without the shop buildings," Stenvall said.
Three alternatives are outlined in the draft:
Alternative 1 (No Action Alternative) continue refuge programs and operations at current levels. Refuge staff would maintain and, where feasible, restore habitats including forest stand improvements, wetlands enhancements, beach dune enhancements, and habitat improvements for imperiled federally or state listed species.
Existing public uses, including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, interpretation, environmental education, boating and camping would continue. The area within the Presidential Proclamation Boundary would remain closed to waterfowl hunting in all of the alternatives.
Alternative 2 - Under Alternative 2, the USFWS preferred alternative, current wildlife and habitat management programs would be maintained, plus, of the three alternatives, it would complete the highest level of habitat improvements under Alternative 2. Staff would restore the intensively managed pastures and impoundments to historic estuarine habitats and create approximately 749 acres of open water, intertidal flats and salt marsh on the Refuge. Staff would continue to implement the forest management plan with partners. On the Leadbetter Point Unit we would manage avian and mammalianpredators as necessary, to protect western snowy plovers and meet our recovery goals. Grassland restoration on 15-33 acres would include establishing the early-blue violet, a host plant that would serve the futurere introduction of the endangered Oregon silverspot butterfly. Improvements to the wildlife-dependent public use program would include a new interpretive trail and wildlife observation deck along the south bay connected to the proposed Tarlatt Unit headquarters facility (see map on page 6 of the draft). Staff would also expand waterfowl hunting opportunities conducted in accordance with the state season to include approximately 6,058 acres once the proposed estuarine restoration is completed. We would develop a cartop boat launch to access the south bay under Alternative 2, and conduct a special-permit elk hunt on the Leadbetter Point Unit. Elk and deer hunting would be expanded in south bay units in accordance with the state seasons. We are proposing to expand the approved refuge boundary under Alternative 2, to encompass 1,908 acres in the Nemah and Naselle area, 561 acres in south bay, and 4,334 acres in the east hills, (see the Land Status map on page 3 of the draft). We would divest the Cape Shoalwater and Wheaton properties from the Refuge (see the Alternatives Summary Table on pages 4-5 of the draft).
Alternative 3 - Under Alternative 3, we would restore intensively managed pastures and impoundments to estuarine habitats and create approximately 429 acres of open water, intertidal flats and salt marsh in the Lewis and Porter Point units only. Staff would retain approximately 30 acres of managed freshwater wetlands on the Riekkola and Tarlatt units. Staff would manage avian predators on the Leadbetter Point Unit on an as-needed basis, to protect the threatened western snowy plover. Grassland restoration and reintroduction of the Oregon silverspot butterfly would be the same as Alternative 2. Under Alternative 3 staff would expand waterfowl hunting in accordance with the state season on approximately 5,450 acres, after estuary restoration is completed. The Riekkola Unit goose hunt would be the same as Alternative 1. We would include a special-permit elk hunt on the Leadbetter Point Unit, and elk- and deer-hunting opportunities in the South Bay the same as Alternative 2. We would develop a headquarters facility on the Tarlatt Unit.
Under Alternative 3, staff propose to expand the approved refuge boundary 561 acres in south bay, and 4,334 acres in the east hills. We would divest the Cape Shoalwater and Wheaton properties from the refuge.
The first planning update and public comment period for the process were completed in March 2008. The second planning update was completed in August 2008 and the third update was completed in July of 2009. After comments are received and analyzed on March 7 this year, the final CCP/EIS is expected to be complete this spring.
"Your thoughts and comments on the alternatives are important to us," Stenvall said, "and we encourage you to share them with us. The CCP planning team will address your comments in the final CCP/EIS. The final CCP/EIS will guide refuge management for 15 years, and is scheduled to be available to the public in spring 2011. We developed the Draft CCP/EIS to provide reasonable, scientifically grounded guidance for improving the refuge's forest, wetland, coastal estuarine, and open water habitats for the long-term conservation of migratory birds, and native plants and animals. We encourage you to stay involved in the CCP planning process by reviewing and commenting on the proposals we have developed in the Draft CCP/EIS."