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Notice

Notice of Intent To Prepare a Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Associated Environmental Assessment for Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Cameron and Willacy Counties, TX

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AGENCY:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.

ACTION:

Notice of intent.

SUMMARY:

This notice advises the public that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) intends to gather information necessary to prepare a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and environmental documents pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its implementing regulations, for Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) headquartered near Rio Hondo, Texas. The Refuge is located in Cameron and Willacy Counties and includes the Bahia Grande and South Padre Island Units.

The Service is issuing this Notice in compliance with the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as amended (16 U.S.C. 668dd et seq.):

(1) To advise other agencies, organizations and the public of our intentions, and

(2) To obtain suggestions and information on the scope of issues to be considered in the planning process.

DATES:

Special mailings, newspaper articles, postings, and media announcements will inform people of opportunities for written input throughout the CCP planning process. Refuge fact sheets will be made available at local libraries in the surrounding communities. This notice of intent/public scoping process will continue until October 18, 2004. Written comments submitted by mail or e-mail should be postmarked by that date to ensure consideration. Comments mailed after that date will be considered to the extent practical. Inquire at the following address for future dates of planning activity and due dates for comments.

ADDRESSES:

Address comments and requests for more information to: John Wallace, Refuge Manager, Laguna Atascosa NWR, CCP-Project, P.O. Box 450, Rio Hondo, TX 78583, phone: (956) 748-3607, fax: (956) 748-3609.

Information concerning this Refuge may be also found at the following Web site: http://southwest.fws.gov.

Comments submitted via e-mail should be addressed to Chris Perez at Chris_Perez@fws.gov or John Wallace at John_Wallace@fws.gov. Additionally, you may hand-deliver comments to Mr. Wallace at the Refuge, 16 miles east on Highway 106 from Rio Hondo, Texas. Our practice is to make comments, including names and addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular business hours. Individual respondents may request that we withhold their home address from the rulemaking record, which we will honor to the extent allowable by law.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Chris Perez, Division of Planning, P.O. Box 1306, Albuquerque, NM 87103-1306.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 requires that all lands within the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) be managed in accordance with an approved CCP. The CCP guides management decisions and identifies refuge goals, long-range objectives and strategies for achieving refuge purposes. Each Refuge in the NWRS has specific purposes for which it was established. Those purposes are used to develop and prioritize management goals and objectives within the National Wildlife Refuge System mission and to guide which public uses will occur on a given refuge.

The planning process will consider many elements, including habitat and wildlife management, habitat protection and acquisition, wilderness preservation, public recreational opportunities, industrial use and cultural resources. Public input into this planning process is essential. The planning process is a way for the Service and the public to evaluate refuge management goals and objectives for the best possible conservation efforts of this important wildlife habitat. Concurrently, this process is also providing for wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities that are compatible with each Refuges establishing purposes and the mission of the NWRS.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is located in Cameron and Willacy counties, Texas and encompasses 86,905 acres of coastal prairie, lomas (clay ridges), resacas (oxbow lakes), native thornbrush, tidal saltflat, barrier island habitats and salt and freshwater marshes. The CCP will provide other agencies and the public with a clear understanding of the desired conditions for the Refuge and how the Service will implement management strategies for the conservation and development of these natural resources.

The Service, through this notice of intent, formally begins the comprehensive conservation planning process for Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The Service requests input on any and all issues concerning management or public recreation. Comments regarding the protection of threatened and/or endangered species, migratory birds, native species and their habitats are encouraged. The Service is equally interested in receiving public input in the following areas:

  • What makes this Refuge special for you?
  • What Refuge projects or activities interest you most?
  • What problems or issues do you see affecting management or public use of the Refuge?
  • What improvements do you recommend for the Refuge?
  • What changes, if any, would you like to see in the management of the Refuge?

The Service has provided the above questions for optional use only. The Planning Team developed these questions to facilitate issues and ideas. Comments received will be used as part of the planning process. Individual comments will not be referenced in our reports or directly responded to.

The Service will continue to solicit information from the public and other agencies via open houses, meetings, and written comments. Special mailings, newspaper releases, and announcements will continue to inform people of the time and place of opportunities for further input to the CCP.

Review of this project will be conducted in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), NEPA Regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508) found at (http://www.legal.gsa.gov), other appropriate Federal laws, and Service policies and procedures for compliance with those regulations.

The Service will prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) in accordance with procedures for implementing NEPA found in the Department of the Interior Manual (DM Part 516, Chap 6). The decision to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement instead of an EA is contingent Start Printed Page 43011upon the complexity of issues following the scoping phase of the CCP process.

We estimate that the draft environmental documents will be available in fall 2004 for public review and comment.

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Dated: May 3, 2004.

David Yazzie,

Acting Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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[FR Doc. 04-16344 Filed 7-16-04; 8:45 am]

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