Closely Watched By Waterfowlers, Willapa NWR Releases Final Plan

(U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE PRESS RELEASE)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today released the final Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (CCP/EIS) for Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Washington. The CCP/EIS outlines the management goals, objectives and strategies that will guide the Refuge for the next 15 years.

The CCP/ EIS was developed to provide scientifically grounded guidance for improving and managing the Refuge’s habitats for the long-term conservation of migratory birds, native plants and animals. The planning team modified the plan and the preferred alternative to reflect the many comments received during the public comment phase of the draft CCP/EIS. A Record of Decision formally finalizing the CCP/EIS will be signed in 30 days. Implementation of the long-term management actions and projects depends on the availability of funding over the next 15 years.

The final plan includes a new section describing public comments and concerns expressed regarding the draft CCP/EIS during the public comment period and the Service’s responses to public comments.

Changes to the wildlife and habitat sections based on public feedback include:

In the South Bay Units, the number of acres of diked impoundments targeted for restoration to historic estuarine habitats (open water, intertidal flats, and salt marsh) was reduced from 749 acres to 611 acres; On the Riekkola Unit, 93 acres of short-grass fields will be managed for Canada geese and Roosevelt elk instead of being removed, as proposed in the draft plan; The amount of late-successional forest was increased by two acres, for a total of 6,180 acres with proposed habitat restoration of the current headquarters facility site.

Priority public use programs are expanded in the final plan and include opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography and environmental education and interpretation. Other changes to the preferred alternative specific to the wildlife-dependent public use opportunities include:

Revised location of the new parking area, which will include year-round access to a new car-top boat launch at Dohman Creek; Expansion of waterfowl hunting on South Bay Units (5,570 acres) and regulated goose hunting on Riekkola Unit (100 acres) to include three blinds for goose hunting (including one barrier-free blind) and two blinds for waterfowl hunting (including one barrier-free blind), concurrent with tidal restoration; Development of a new hiking trail to Porter Point that will be open year-round to all Refuge visitors, concurrent with tidal restoration; Outside the hunting season, the blinds on the Riekkola Unit may be used by all Refuge visitors for wildlife viewing and photography.

The plan identifies actions necessary for enhancing, protecting and sustaining the Refuge’s natural resources, including a strategic land protection plan for future land acquisition, a forest management plan, improvements to habitats, migratory bird populations and threatened, endangered or rare species.

When Congress amended the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act (Act) in 1997, it incorporated an underlying philosophy that “wildlife comes first” on refuges. The Act provided the Service with guidance for managing refuges to ensure the long-term conservation of fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats. It also established six priority public uses on National Wildlife Refuges: wildlife observation and photography, hunting, fishing, interpretation and environmental education. The Act also requires all lands within the Refuge System to be managed in accordance with a CCP to ensure that the management of each refuge reflects the purposes of that refuge and the mission, policies and goals of the Refuge System.

Willapa National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife, and for conservation purposes in and around Willapa Bay. Subsequent acquisition of lands over the last 70 years has expanded the refuge to approximately 16,000 acres. Current wildlife and habitat management activities include wetland restoration, stream and riparian restoration, salmon reintroduction, grazing and pasture management, invasive species and weed control, forest management, and migratory bird and endangered species management and monitoring.

Willapa National Wildlife Refuge includes several rare remnants of old-growth coastal cedar forest. The Refuge preserves habitat for spawning wild salmon, hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds, and threatened and endangered species such as the marbled murrelet. The Refuge preserves a number of unique ecosystems including diverse salt marshes, rich tide flats, rain-drenched old growth forest, and dynamic coastal dunes. The Refuge is a great place to see what the Pacific Northwest looked like 100 years ago.

Visitors to the refuge can enjoy viewing a wide variety of wildlife, from spawning salmon in the Refuge’s numerous streams, Roosevelt elk on Long Island, and the tens of thousands of migrating shorebirds that crowd the beaches at Leadbetter Point and shores of Willapa Bay.

The final CCP/EIS is posted on the Refuges’ Web site at http://www.fws.gov/willapa/  The printed document is available at the Astoria Public Library in Oregon, and these Timberline Regional Libraries: Ilwaco, South Bend, Naselle, Ocean Park, and Raymond.

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