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Fish, Wildlife Service Release Draft Environmental Assessment For Little White Fish Hatchery

Comments accepted til April 9

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery released its draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for public review and comment.

The EA provides a detailed analysis of proposed activities necessary to restore native forest and grassland habitat on 417 acres of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service owned land in Skamania County.

Of specific concern is the restoration of Oregon white oak woodland, a native vegetation community of the Columbia River Gorge. The hatchery property provides one of a few protected examples of oak woodland habitat occurring on the western edge of the oak/conifer foothills eco-region within the Gorge. The hatchery property native oak forest and bunchgrass prairie habitat are host to approximately 200 species of birds, reptiles, mammals, and amphibians.

The draft EA analyzes the site specific effects and potential impacts of three alternatives.

Alternative A includes the No-Action alternative. Habitats on hatchery property would remain unmanaged. As a result, natural processes already influenced by a human altered environment would continue. There would be no effort to address priority stewardship actions. The decline of native oak habitat has been accelerated by human activities including oak removal, urban development, fire suppression, timber conversion, and cattle grazing. The No-Action alternative will likely accelerate the decline of native oak habitat.

Alternative B is the preferred alternative and recognizes that habitats on the hatchery property have significant conservation value, though are degraded and require active management to achieve several priority management goals. Upland habitats will be managed to provide clean, cold water for hatchery operations and maintain the current high standard of water quality.

Restoration activities will focus on the achievement of Desired Future Conditions, a balance of habitat needs of focal and other rare, declining, and threatened/endangered wildlife species using pre-European settlement conditions as a template for restoration.

Restoration of desired function also includes the reduction of accumulated fuels and associated risk for catastrophic fire. Fragile and rare habitats such as talus, riparian areas, and remnant bunchgrass and moss/lichen communities on rock outcrops and springs will be maintained and enhanced as necessary.

Habitat restoration offers an excellent opportunity to partner with the Columbia Land Trust and other neighboring private landowners to conserve, restore, and monitor lands in the vicinity on a landscape level.

Hatchery owned roads on the property will be managed to reduce adverse impacts to fish and wildlife populations and to enhance public safety. The hatchery habitat project also offers the opportunity to use the hatchery property as a model to demonstrate cutting edge restoration strategies and techniques; and as a research site for public and private agencies to evaluate active, passive, and minimal stewardship approaches.

Alternative C describes native habitat restoration without the use of herbicides. Only prescribed fire, mechanical, and hand removal methods would be used to treat and remove invasive plant species.

Ironically, many of the recommended forest restoration treatments necessary to achieve Desired Future Condition create favorable conditions for the spread of noxious weed species. As a result, the effective control of noxious weeds is a critical component of the overall habitat restoration plan for the hatchery property.

Public comments will be accepted until April 9, 2010.

Copies of the EA are available for viewing at the hatchery office in Cook and from the hatchery website at http://www.fws.gov/gorgefish/littlewhite/reports.html/.

The Service will accept written comments by April 9 via mail (Habitat Plan Comments, Little White Salmon/Willard National Fish Hatchery Complex, 56961 SR14, Cook, WA 98605) and facsimile (509-538-2880).

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