Take Action: Public Comments on Building the Wall in Wildlife Refuge

BE HEARD!!!

Call for public comments about building the border wall through

our National Wildlife Refuge

Comments are being accepted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service regarding surveying activities on Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge tracts. A survey for natural resources and a survey for cultural resources will be conducted in preparation for building a border wall on at least 14 separate refuge tracts. USFWS is preparing documents that will determine whether these activities are compatible with their mission. It is important that everyone who is concerned about the construction of the border wall submit a comment to USFWS. Please send your comments via email or US mail by November 19, 2007!

Here are a few ways to guide your comments:


· While the surveys themselves may cause little immediate damage, their intent is to pave the way for the construction of border walls, an activity which will seriously degrade and fragment the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and which is incompatible with the refuge mission. According to USFWS regulations, “Fragmentation of the National Wildlife Refuge System’s wildlife habitats is a direct threat to the integrity of the National Wildlife Refuge System, both today and in the decades ahead. Uses that we reasonably may anticipate to reduce the quality or quantity or fragment habitats on a national wildlife refuge will not be compatible.”

· We have no faith in the utility and impartiality of the survey process. The private corporation in charge of conducting the surveys, Engineering-Environmental Management, Inc. (E²M), has a vested interest in expediting the construction of the border walls to please their client, the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, E²M has already mismanaged the public comment period of the Rio Grande Valley EIS, allowing technical difficulties with both the official website and the posted fax number to interfere with the acceptance of public comments for several days of the already EIS short comment period. E²M should not be in charge of this vitally important surveying task. It should instead be carried out by local US Fish and Wildlife biologists who are familiar with the natural and cultural resources that are present in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

· The USFWS has expressed concerns that there will not be enough refuge staff to properly oversee survey activities. We share these concerns; there should be USFWS oversight for all activities.

· The natural resource survey is further compromised by its limited duration. E²M employees will only spend 10 days surveying the natural resources in the wall’s path. That is utterly insufficient. Endangered species are by definition extremely rare, and sightings of migratory species are dependent on the time of year, so the odds of seeing one during any 10 day period are next to nothing. If they fail to see a particular endangered or migratory animal during their brief visit the final report may give the false impression that they are not present and will not be impacted by the wall.

· The cultural resource survey contains a troubling provision for backhoe trenching up to 33 ft deep in areas that have a high probability of cultural resources. This is listed as a “last option,” but it should not be allowed at all. Not only would such an activity be incompatible with the environmental mission of the refuge, it would likely destroy the very cultural resources that are being documented.

Please send comments to:

Refuge Manager

Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR

Rt. 2 Box 202A

Alamo, TX 78516

Or email Bryan_Winton@fws.gov (Subject line: Draft Compatibility Determinations: Border Fence)

Draft of Natural and Cultural Resource Compatibility Determination Docs are below:

—–

DRAFT

COMPATIBILITY DETERMINATION

Use: Issuance of a Special Use Permit to Engineering-Environmental Management (e2M) to conduct Natural Resource Surveys, directly associated with determining the environmental impact(s) of the proposed Border Fence (PF-225) on several river tracts on the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge (LRGVNWR).

Refuge Name: Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge (LRGVNWR).

Refuge Units Affected by Proposed Use:

Arroyo Ramirez Tract, Los Negros Creek Tract (O-1); Rio San Juan Tract, Los Velas Tract (O-2);

Los Ebanos Tract (O-3); Penitas Tract; Kiskadee Wildlife Management Area (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department lands managed under agreement)(O-4); Monterrey Banco Tract (O-7); La Coma Tract (O-8); Rosario Banco Tract (O-10); Phillips Banco Tract (O-18); Boscaje de La Palma Tract, Southmost Tract (O-21).

Establishing and Acquisition Authorities:

  • Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 [16 U.S.C. 742f(a)(4)], [16 U.S.C. 742f(b)(1)]
  • An Act Authorizing the Transfer of Certain Real Property for Wildlife, or other purposes [16 U.S.C. 667b]
  • Refuge Recreation Act, as amended [16 U.S.C. 460k-1], [16 U.S.C. 460k-2]
  • Migratory Bird Conservation Act [16 U.S.C. 715d]
  • National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997

Refuge Purpose(s): As excerpted from the enabling legislation used to authorize the acquisition of the Refuge, the following are the Refuge purposes:

“… for the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources …” [16 U.S.C. 742f(a)(4)] “… for the benefit of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, in performing its activities and services. Such acceptance may be subject to the terms of any restrictive or affirmative covenant, or condition of servitude …” [16 U.S.C. 742f(b)(1)] (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956)

”… particular value in carrying out the national migratory bird management program.” [16 U.S.C. 667b] (An Act Authorizing the Transfer of Certain Real Property for Wildlife, or other purposes)

”… suitable for: (1) incidental fish and wildlife-oriented recreational development, (2) the protection of natural resources, (3) the conservation of endangered species or threatened species …” [16 U.S.C. 460k-1] “… the Secretary … may accept and use … real … property. Such acceptance may be accomplished under the terms and conditions of restrictive covenants imposed by donors …” [16 U.S.C. 460k-2] (Refuge Recreation Act [16 U.S.C. 460k-460k-4], as amended)

”… for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.” [16 U.S.C. 715d] (Migratory Bird Conservation Act)

The Lower Rio Grande Valley and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuges Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) of 1997 satisfies the CCP requirement of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 and identifies the following five goals of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge:

  • To restore, enhance and protect biological diversity.
  • To protect and obtain additional water rights, improve water management, and protect, restore and enhance wetlands.
  • To improve water quality and reduce contaminant related fish and wildlife resource losses.
  • To protect, maintain and plan for cultural resources.
  • To offer compatible wildlife dependent public uses, recreational opportunities, and interpretation and education.

National Wildlife Refuge System Mission: “The Mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”

Description of Proposed Use:

Natural Resources Surveys

e2M has been tasked with conducting reconnaissance-level biological surveys within the above described alignments. Intuitive controlled surveys of the fence corridor would be conducted by senior ecologists. The natural resources surveys are scheduled to commence ASAP, and would be conducted over a 10-day period. Surveyors would walk the entire accessible length of the corridor for each fence segment, and examine in more detail areas containing unique species compositions or habitat that might be conducive to sensitive species. Plot data (GPS coordinates, photographs, and plant community composition) would be recorded at regular intervals along the

corridor and where plant communities present substantial shifts in species composition. These

data would be used to generate vegetation classifications and maps to support delineation of habitat types, analysis of potential sensitive species occurrences, and analysis of potential project impacts to biological resources. Lists of state-and federal-listed species potentially occurring within the alignment have been developed. Although, no protocol surveys would be conducted, surveyors would specifically look for evidence indicating the presence of state and federal listed

species and habitats that might support them. These surveys, would be observational only (i.e., they would not include trapping, digging, or other disturbances). In addition, waters of the U.S., including, but not limited to wetlands, arroyos, and resacas, would be identified during the initial pedestrian survey. These surveys would adhere to the requirements of the 1987 COE Wetland Delineation Manual, which will include investigation to determine the presence of hydric soils. For these surveys, minor digging may be required but all test holes would be refilled in place.

Availability of Resources: Additional fiscal resources are needed to permit and monitor this use. A designated Refuge staff person will need to be made available daily to oversee this activity, since the ultimate intent of the natural resource survey is to establish the environmental feasibility of installing significant infrastructure–which is currently not permitted. Therefore, Refuge personnel will need to oversee this activity so that refuge resources are protected throughout the survey, and that un-permitted duties associated with the project are not initiated prematurely. The LRGVNWR staff will provide oversight during all aspects of the investigation, to ensure compatibility stipulations are met, and to insure permit compliance while on-refuge work occurs. The necessary effort required to issue and oversee the natural resource surveys cannot be accomplished with existing resources and staff without undue hardship to other refuge programs. Recent staff transfers and personnel shortage further complicate the Refuge’s ability to properly and adequately oversee this activity.

Anticipated Impacts of the Use: This Phase of the proposed project will have negligible impacts to Refuge resources. Only hand-trimming of branches (native vegetation) will be allowed. No loss of habitat will be permitted. No new roads or trails will be permitted. Natural Resource Surveys, as permitted, could actually have benefits to the refuge if surveyors identify (and disclose) additional locations of rare and endangered plants, assuming surveys are sufficiently thorough and adequate. All flagging and stakes will likely remain upon cessation of this Phase of the project. This will enable Refuge leadership to view the survey work and ascertain whether sufficient modifications to Project alignment were considered in order to minimize/avoid destroying Refuge vegetation and threatened/endangered species habitat will be sufficiently safeguarded. Special Use Permit issuance for subsequent phases of the project could be contingent upon findings and proposed alignment resulting from the natural resource survey work. Some wildlife disturbance, excess survey flagging, contractor garbage/trash, and un-retrieved stakes/flagging is likely to result from this Phase of the proposed project.

Associated inadvertent impacts of this activity could be negative press coverage associated with the proposed project. Very little local support is present for the proposed project. Refuge staff cooperation in authorizing E2M to access Refuge lands under Special Use Permit for any reason could be perceived by environmental supporters and conservation groups as unsatisfactory.

Public Review and Comment: Public notices of the Draft Compatibility Determination will be advertised in local newspapers (The Valley Morning Star, Brownsville Herald, The Monitor) at Refuge expense. Public comments will be solicited during October, 2007.

Determination (check one below):

___ Use is Not Compatible _X_ Use is Compatible with Following

Stipulations

Stipulations Necessary to Ensure Compatibility:

Prior to the implementation of the project:

1. No work will begin without obtaining a Special Use Permit from the Refuge and without daily notification and coordination with the Refuge Manager regarding particular sites/locations of that days’ activities; Any and all federally mandated consultations (by Ecological Services or otherwise) and the procurement of any other necessary permits (access rights-of-way, etc.) will be obtained by E2M and its assigns, including, but not limited to, those required by the COE and the Texas State Historic Preservation Office (a.k.a. SHPO).

2. Vegetated areas will be accessed/surveyed on foot only.

3. All efforts will be made to recognize and avoid terrestrial wildlife to reduce the risk of unnecessary mortality.

4. While work is being conducted, vehicles and equipment must remain on designated Refuge roads. No off-road access is permitted.

5. All other stipulations and/or rules from General Conditions and Operating Procedures While on the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge will be strictly adhered to.

Justification: The Refuge acknowledges that this phase of the overall project is a component (natural resource surveys) that can be justified since the presence of threatened or endangered species, and otherwise rare species could be observed during this course of the investigation. For the sole purposes of evaluating appropriateness and compatibility, natural resource surveys will not materially interfere with or detract from, and may actually add to our basic understanding and knowledge, of the resources present on refuge lands. Natural resource surveys, albeit affiliated and associated with the proposed Border Fence (PF-225) initiative, will enable Refuge leadership to better evaluate what the measurable, site-specific impacts of the fence could/will be in the event that the project proceeds. Without authorizing natural resource surveys, the impacts of the project cannot be fully and accurately measured.

Submitted by: Refuge Manager____________________________

(Signature and Date)

Signature: Project Leader___ ___________________________

(Signature and Date)

Concurrence: Regional Chief _______________________________

(Signature and Date)

Mandatory 10- or 15-year Re-Evaluation Date: __October 21, 2017__

Fish and Wildlife Service policy states that after November 17, 2002 no uses on a refuge will be permitted for a period longer than 10 years, unless the terms and conditions for such long-term permits (e.g., easements) specifically allows for the modification to the terms and conditions of the permit, if necessary, to ensure compatibility.

—–

DRAFT

COMPATIBILITY DETERMINATION

Use: engineering-environmental Management, Inc. (e2M) proposes to conduct cultural resources surveys on fourteen (14) Refuge tracts within the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge (LRGVNWR). These surveys are directly associated with determining the environmental impact(s) of the proposed Border Fence (PF-225) in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

Refuge Name: Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge tracts likely to be surveyed: Arroyo Ramirez, Los Negros Creek, Rio San Juan, Granjeno, Kiskadee, Penitas, Los Velas, Los Ebanos, Monterrey Banco, La Coma, Rosario Banco, Phillips Banco, Boscaje de La Palma, and Southmost.

Establishing and Acquisition Authorities:

  • Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 [16 U.S.C. 742f(a)(4)], [16 U.S.C. 742f(b)(1)]
  • An Act Authorizing the Transfer of Certain Real Property for Wildlife, or other purposes [16 U.S.C. 667b]
  • Refuge Recreation Act, as amended [16 U.S.C. 460k-1], [16 U.S.C. 460k-2]
  • Migratory Bird Conservation Act [16 U.S.C. 715d]
  • National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997

Refuge Purpose(s): As excerpted from the enabling legislation used to authorize the acquisition of the Refuge, the following are the Refuge purposes:

“… for the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources …” [16 U.S.C. 742f(a)(4)] “… for the benefit of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, in performing its activities and services. Such acceptance may be subject to the terms of any restrictive or affirmative covenant, or condition of servitude …” [16 U.S.C. 742f(b)(1)] (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956)

”… particular value in carrying out the national migratory bird management program.” [16 U.S.C. 667b] (An Act Authorizing the Transfer of Certain Real Property for Wildlife, or other purposes)

”… suitable for: (1) incidental fish and wildlife-oriented recreational development, (2) the protection of natural resources, (3) the conservation of endangered species or threatened species …” [16 U.S.C. 460k-1] “… the Secretary … may accept and use … real … property. Such acceptance may be accomplished under the terms and conditions of restrictive covenants imposed by donors …” [16 U.S.C. 460k-2] (Refuge Recreation Act [16 U.S.C. 460k-460k-4], as amended)

”… for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.” [16 U.S.C. 715d] (Migratory Bird Conservation Act)

The Lower Rio Grande Valley and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuges Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) of 1997 satisfies the CCP requirement of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 and identifies the following five goals of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge:

  • To restore, enhance and protect biological diversity.
  • To protect and obtain additional water rights, improve water management, and protect, restore and enhance wetlands.
  • To improve water quality and reduce contaminant related fish and wildlife resource losses.
  • To protect, maintain and plan for cultural resources.
  • To offer compatible wildlife dependent public uses, recreational opportunities, and interpretation and education.

National Wildlife Refuge System Mission: “The Mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.”

Description of Proposed Use:

Cultural Resources Surveys

e2M has been tasked by the Corps of Engineers – Fort Worth District, with conducting cultural resources surveys within the above listed Refuge tracts. The nature of the cultural resources survey would depend upon the potential of the specific portion of the alignment to contain cultural resources. The least invasive approach, which would be used for areas determined to have low potential for cultural resources, would be simple pedestrian surveys of all the identified alignments. There are no known cultural resource sites within the proposed corridors of the surveys. However, e2M has included in their request contingencies for areas that present a moderate or high potential for presence of cultural resources. In areas that present moderate potential, shovel testing would be employed. Shovel testing involves the careful excavation of areas up to 2 feet in diameter and 5 feet in depth. Depending upon the level of perceived potential in an area, shovel tests may be conducted at up to 16 points per mile. Finally, in areas that have a high probability to contain cultural resources and present deep alluvial sediments, backhoe trenching may be required. Ditches would be up to 33 feet deep, approximately 3.5 feet wide, and may extend for up to 60 feet in length. Backhoe trenching would be the last option utilized for documenting cultural resources. The cultural resources surveys are scheduled to commence as soon as possible (pending the issuance of a special use permit) and would be conducted over a 10-day period. Follow-up surveys to further investigate and/or archive sites potentially eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places may be required. Any collections of cultural resources would require the issuance of a permit under the Archeological Resources Protection Act and the Antiquities Act. This permit is issued by the Regional Director.

Availability of Resources: No additional fiscal resources will be needed due to this use as long as surveys are carried out utilizing pedestrian surveys (only). If areas are identified during the surveys that indicate moderate or high potential cultural resources, additional fiscal and staff resources may be required. The LRGVNWR staff will provide oversight during all aspects of the investigation to ensure compatibility stipulations are met, and to insure permit compliance with on-refuge work. The effort required to issue and oversee the special use permit can be accomplished with existing resources as long as pedestrian-only surveys are employed. More intensive surveys for moderate to high potential sites will require additional staff and fiscal resources as well as permits.

Anticipated Impacts of the Use: Cultural resource surveys conducted by e2M will be conducted on foot or using existing trails or roads within each of the listed Refuge tracts. Vehicles will be permitted only on existing roads and only hand-trimming of tree branches will be authorized. Cultural resource surveys will disturb and temporarily displace wildlife but this affect is expected to be temporal and insignificant. Surveys would occur during daylight hours only and would not affect nocturnal species. Due to the methods employed in areas of low potential for cultural resources, there should be little if any damage to wildlife or vegetation. This use is expected to have negligible impacts to Refuge resources. However, upon the identification of moderate to high potential sites by the contractor and proposals to utilize hand digging and/or heavy equipment, amended special use permits or archeological permits will be required. These amended permits or archeological permits may contain additional stipulations as necessary to protect wildlife and vegetation. It is also possible that activities prescribed for moderate or high potential sites would not be permitted. Depending on the proposed action, it may be necessary to reevaluate this Compatibility Determination. If a new Compatibility Determination is required, it would include additional public comment.

Public Review and Comment: Public notices of the Draft Compatibility Determination will be advertised in local newspapers (The Valley Morning Star, Brownsville Herald, The Monitor, The Rio Grande Guardian Times). Comments will be received from November 5 through November 19, 2007. All comments must be written and received via mail, email or delivered in person to the Santa Ana Refuge Headquarters.

Determination (check one below):

___ Use is Not Compatible _X_ Use is Compatible with Following

Stipulations

Stipulations Necessary to Ensure Compatibility:

Prior to the implementation of the project:

1. No work will begin without obtaining a Special Use Permit from the Refuge Manager. Daily work activities will be closely coordinated with the LRGVNWR Refuge Manager regarding particular sites/locations and access routes.

2. Vegetated areas will be surveyed on foot only.

3. Vegetation may be cut using hand tools only and only for the purpose of conducting the survey.

4. No digging with shovels or heavy equipment is permitted without prior consultation with the Refuge Manager.

5. All efforts will be made to recognize and avoid terrestrial wildlife to reduce the risk of unnecessary mortality.

6. While work is being conducted, vehicles and equipment must remain on designated Refuge roads. No off-road access is permitted. Vehicles will not be permitted on Refuge roads during wet conditions.

7. All survey personnel will be accompanied by Refuge Law Enforcement Officers (as available) or Border Patrol Agents when present on Refuge lands.

8. All other stipulations and/or rules from General Conditions and Operating Procedures While on the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge will be strictly adhered to.

Justification: Though the overall objective of these surveys is to gather cultural resource information related to the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and identification of endangered and threatened species related to Section 7 (Endangered Species) Consultation for the future construction of the Border Fence, these surveys have the potential to provide much needed cultural resource information to the Refuge. Little information is currently available to the Refuge Staff regarding the presence or absence of cultural resources on these Refuge tracts. Gathering of cultural resource data on Refuge tracts is important, and can be useful baseline information for Refuge Managers and Biologists assigned to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Service Policy related to cultural resources is established in Service Manual 614 FW 1-5. Under Section 1.2 Objectives, A. the objectives for managing cultural resources are to: “Protect, maintain, and plan for the use of Service managed cultural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.” The Santa Ana/Lower Rio Grande Valley Comprehensive Conservation Plan goals and objectives include: 5.4 Cultural Resources. GOAL: “to protect, maintain, and plan for Service managed cultural resources on the Lower Rio Grande Valley/Santa Ana NWR for the benefit of present and future generations.” Objectives: 1. “Coordinate with the SHPO to identify cultural resources on the refuge. Evaluate the status of new sites such as the Casa Yanqui ruins in the Starr County District and submit for additional protection (i.e., National Register) if necessary.” These cultural resource surveys will not materially interfere with or detract from the purposes of the Refuge and have the potential to add to the Refuge’s basic understanding and knowledge of the resources present on Refuge lands. Methods and procedures specified in the proposed use are not likely to significantly impact wildlife or wildlife habitat within the Refuge. The fact that these surveys are related to potential future construction of a Border Fence on Refuge lands is not considered a factor in determining whether the use is Compatible.

Signature: Project Leader___ ___________________________

(Signature and Date)

Concurrence: Regional Chief ______________________________

(Signature and Date)

Mandatory 10- or 15-year Re-Evaluation Date: __November 20, 2017__

Fish and Wildlife Service policy states that after November 17, 2002 no uses on a refuge will be permitted for a period longer than 10 years, unless the terms and conditions for such long-term permits (e.g., easements) specifically allows for the modification to the terms and conditions of the permit, if necessary, to ensure compatibility.


Courtesy of:
NO BORDER WALL
noborderwall@yahoo.com

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