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  • Great Bay Refuge

    Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement

    December 2012

    Volume 1 — Chapters 1 through 6 including Bibliography, Glossary, and Acronyms

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

  • This blue goose, designed by J.N. “Ding” Darling, has become

    the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

    Front cover: Pintails taking flight ©Kevin Fleming

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of over 150 million acres including over 560 national wildlife refuges and thousands of waterfowl production areas. The Service also operates 70 national fish hatcheries and 86 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, administers the Endangered Species Act, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance Program which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

    Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCPs) provide long-term guidance for management decisions on a refuge and set forth goals, objectives, and strategies needed to accomplish refuge purposes. CCPs also identify the Service’s best estimate of future needs. These plans detail program levels that are sometimes substantially above current budget allocations and, as such, are primarily for Service strategic planning and program prioritization purposes. CCPs do not constitute a commitment for staffing increases, operational and maintenance increases, or funding for future land acquisition.

  • Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement

    December 2012

    The vision statement below qualitatively describes our desired future character of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. We will refine it throughout the planning process with input from our partners and the public, and it will guide program emphases and priorities at the refuge.

    Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge will comprise a variety of Delmarva coastal plain habitats, such as barrier island beach, freshwater and tidal wetlands, grassland, shrubland and forest. The refuge will manage, maintain, enhance and, where appropriate, restore habitats for native plants and animals, with an emphasis on migratory birds and rare species. A balanced approach will be used to ensure all wildlife dependent recreational users experience quality opportunities. The refuge will be a leader in conservation, research and community partnerships, adapting to physical and community changes as necessary to maintain the ecological integrity of the refuge and build a stewardship ethic for current and future generations.

    Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge Vision Statement

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

    iVision Statement

  • Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement

    December 2012

    Type of Action: Administrative – Development of a Comprehensive Conservation Plan

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

    Location: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge Milton, Delaware

    Administrative Headquarters: Coastal Delaware NWR Complex 2591 Whitehall Neck Road Smryna, DE 19977 (302) 684-8419

    Responsible Official: Wendi Weber, Regional Director, Northeast Region

    For Further Information: Thomas Bonetti, Planning Team Leader Northeast Regional Office 300 Westgate Center Drive Hadley, MA 01035 (413) 253-8307

    This Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement analyzes three alternatives to managing the 10,144-acre Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge over the next 15 years. This document also contains 13 appendices (in a separate document) that provide additional information supporting our analysis. Following is a brief overview of each alternative:

    Alternative A: This alternative is referred to as our “No Action” or “Current Management” alternative, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Alternative A is to continue to manage the refuge as we do at the present time. This alternative provides a basis for comparing the other two alternatives.

    Alternative B: Alternative B, the Service-Preferred Alternative, combines actions that we believe would most effectively achieve refuge purposes, vision and goals, and respond to public needs. This alternative will focus on focal species with proactive habitat management and expanded public use. Alternative B is our preferred alternative and the action that we recommend for final selection.

    Alternative C: Alternative C proposes to return to habitat management programs which were conducted on the refuge for several decades, but had been stopped in recent years for various reasons. Re-establishment of such programs would require substantial refuge action. This alternative included some modifications to public use programs.

    Summary

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

    iiiSummary

  • Table of Contents

    Chapters Chapter 1 The Purpose of, and Need for, Action

    Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-1 Need for the Action . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-1 Purpose for the Action . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-2 Project Area . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-4 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, its Policies, and Legal Mandates . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-7 Refuge Establishment, History, and Purpose. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-12 Refuge Vision Statement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-14 Refuge Goals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-14 Issues, Concerns, and Opportunities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-15 Decision to Be Made . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-22

    Chapter 2 The Planning Policies and Process

    Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2-1 The Comprehensive Conservation Planning Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2-2 Conservation Plans and Initiatives Guiding the Project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2-4 Existing Refuge Operational Plans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2-20 Formulating Alternatives Using Refuge Resources of Concern and Focal

    Species Management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2-21

    Chapter 3 Affected Environment

    Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-1 Refuge Management Units . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-1 Physical Environment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-2 History of Vegetation on and Around the Refuge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-18 Refuge Vegetation Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-26 Influence of Climate Change on Physical Environment and Refuge Management . . . 3-40 Biological Resources of Delaware Bay Estuary. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-62 Refuge Biological Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-66 Socioeconomic Environment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-93 Refuge Administration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-104

    Chapter 4 Alternatives Considered, Including the Service-preferred Alternative

    Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4-1 Developing Alternatives, Including the No Action Alternative . . . . . . . . . . . .

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