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Public review, comment requested for ‘Ding’ Darling NWR 15-year plan

By Staff | May 18, 2010

On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Conservation Plan (CCP) and Environmental Assessment (EA) are available for J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. 

The CCP describes how the Service intends to manage the Refuge over the next 15 years. In order to ensure consideration of comments in the development of the final CCP, comments must be received by June 16, 2010.

In addition to outlining broad management direction on conserving wildlife and their habitats, the CCPs identify wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities available to the public, including opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation.

During this planning process, the Service worked with the public and the local, state, federal and tribal governmental partners to identify issues for the refuge to address over the 15-year life of the CCP. Using this long list of issues, the Service then identified the priority issues for J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR, as listed.

• Increasing and Changing Human Population, Development of the Landscape, Recreational Uses and Demands, and Associated Impacts

• Issues and Impacts Associated with Water Quality, Water Quantity, and Timing

• Invasion and Spread of Exotic, Invasive, and Nuisance Species

• Climate Change Impacts

• Need for Long Term Protection of Important Resources

• Declines in and Threats to Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Species

• Insufficient Baseline Wildlife and Habitat Data and Lack of Comprehensive Habitat Management Plan

• Insufficient Staff and Resources to Address Refuge Needs

To address these priority issues, 17 future management goals were developed for the refuge, including minimizing the threats to and promote the recovery of the rare, threatened, and endangered species occurring on Sanibel and Captiva islands and in adjacent waters.

Other goals include conserve, restore, enhance, and manage the upland, transitional, and estuarine habitats of Sanibel and Captiva islands to maintain and enhance their biological integrity and to support species diversity and abundance of native plants and animals, with an emphasis on migratory birds; Eliminate existing and future exotic, invasive, and nuisance species on the refuge to maintain and enhance the biological integrity of the upland, transitional, and estuarine habitats of Sanibel and Captiva islands; Work with the partners to address and resolve the water quality, quantity, and timing concerns associated with the watershed of the refuge; Lake Okeechobee releases to the west; the watershed of the Caloosahatchee River; and, the Gulf of Mexico; and identify, understand and ameliorate the impacts of climate change on refuge resources to plan for and adapt management as necessary to protect the native wildlife; the upland, transitional, and estuarine habitats of Sanibel and Captiva islands; and the cultural resources of the refuge.

To also address these priority issues, four alternatives were developed and evaluated during the planning process:  Alternative A (Current Management, the No Action Alternative), Alternative B (Native Wildlife and Habitat Diversity), Alternative C (Migratory Birds, the Proposed Action Alternative), and Alternative D (Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Species).

Summary of Proposed Action   (SUBHEAD)

Alternative C proposes to expand refuge management with a focus on the needs of migratory birds, providing direction for refuge management actions, decisions, and priorities and prioritizing migratory birds in all restoration plans. alternative addresses the management needs of all birds covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, including resident species of native birds that are found using the refuge year round.

Alternative C would expand the current wildlife and habitat management activities of the refuge to better serve migratory birds, including expanded survey and monitoring; increased water management capabilities; increased control efforts to address exotic, invasive, and nuisance species; and increased coordination with the partners to address water quality, quantity, and timing of flows. 

Further, in coordination with the partners, the refuge would utilize the best available science and employ a strategic habitat conservation approach to anticipate wildlife and habitat adaptation tendencies and to target management actions to facilitate successful adaptation responses to the impacts of climate change.

The refuge would work with the partners to increase of the archaeological and historical resources of the refuge on Sanibel and Captiva islands, including the “Ding” Darling fishing cabin; pursue designation as Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and RAMSAR Wetlands of International Importance; and enhance its Wilderness Area program.

Although the refuge currently has a robust visitor services program, Alternative C would expand existing visitor services activities to focus messages of all visitor and outreach activities and programs on migratory birds and the minimization of human impacts on these resources and to increase the ethical natural resource behavior of refuge users.  In general, existing visitor uses would continue, including fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation, while refuge staff would increase efforts to improve ethical behavior, expand and enhance outreach activities, and maintain the concession approach to facilitating visitor activities and experiences. 

To provide additional visitor opportunities, the refuge would locate and develop an observation tower at the Bailey Tract and a handicapped-accessible fishing pier at Smith Pond on the Bailey Tract. The Wildlife Drive would be evaluated for any needed changes. And, the refuge would evaluate the need for and ability to provide parking at the Shell Mound Trail to address existing ad hoc parking and Wildlife Drive congestion issues at this site.

To help accomplish the outlined actions, Alternative C would add five refuge-specific staff:  Wildlife Biologist, Biological Science Technician, two law enforcement officers, and Park Ranger (Environmental Education/Outreach). The refuge would work with SCCF to replace the existing Marine Research Lab, located at Tarpon Bay. In line with regional compatibility guidance and to limit the impacts from commercial fishing activities, the refuge would phase out commercial bait fishing activities from the refuge during the life of the Plan.

In summary, the CCP was developed based upon the selection of Alternative C as the proposed action. The actions outlined in the CCP provide direction and guidance for future management of J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR. Successful implementation will depend on coordination and partnerships between the public, the partners, the Service and other governmental agencies.

A copy of the CCP is available on compact diskette or hard copy. Copies may obtained:

• Online by visiting http://www.fws.gov/southeast/planning/CCPDraftRefugesforReview.html and selecting the Refuge’s name;

• E-mailing the Refuge at DingDarlingCCP@fws.gov;

• By calling the Refuge at 472-1100;

• By visiting the Refuge at 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel, FL 33957.

Comments should be mailed to the Refuge at the above listed address or e-mailed to DingDarlingCCP@fws.gov. To ensure consideration of your comments in the development of the final CCP, all comments must be submitted by the deadline and must include your name and return mailing address.