Final Recreation Regulations Published for Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today published a final rule in the Federal Register to implement general recreation actions in the approved Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the 240,000-acre Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

The new rules are effective May 27, 2008 following the customary 30-day waiting period for new rules.

Refuge Manager Don Hultman said they received 22 comments on the draft rule released for a 60-day comment period last October. He said most comments repeated previous concerns expressed during preparation of the CCP.

“We made three changes from the proposed rule,” said Hultman. “We will allow the collection of shed deer antlers on the refuge, we removed the chainsaw prohibition, and we changed the minimum camping distance from boat ramps and other facilities from 100 to 200 feet.”

Hultman said the new rules establish four electric motor only areas totaling 1,630 acres (1 area of 222 acres already exists) and eight new seasonal (March 16 – October 31) slow, no-wake areas totaling 9,370 acres. Airboats and hovercraft will not be allowed in slow, no-wake areas during the effective dates.

Collectively, these areas account for just eight percent of the estimated 140,000 acres of surface waters of the refuge. The remaining 92 percent of waters will remain open to all watercraft, subject to state rules and restrictions.

“It’s important for people to realize that the electric motor areas and slow, no wake areas remain open to all uses, including hunting and fishing. Only the means of access has changed,” Hultman said.

He said these areas are designed to help limit disturbance to habitat, fish, and wildlife in sensitive backwater areas, and balance the needs of the refuge’s 3.7 million annual visitors who enjoy the refuge in a variety of ways.

Other regulations stemming from the CCP include a ban of glass food and beverage containers on beach areas and other lands of the refuge; clarifying the definition and requirements for camping and campsite sanitation; and clarifying the rules for watercraft mooring, firearms, vegetation cutting and use, and domestic animals.

“Most of these regulations have been in effect for years as described in brochures and on refuge signs. This new rule formalizes the regulations, and fine-tunes and modernizes the language for clarity, ease of enforcement, and consistency with sound wildlife and recreation management,” Hultman said.

The entire rule, along with fact sheets and links to maps and the CCP, is available at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/
UpperMississippiRiver/, or you may call (507) 452-4232 and request a copy. New maps and brochures will be available by mid-May at refuge offices and at many boat landings.

The refuge CCP was approved in October 2006 following four years of effort, including 46 public meetings and workshops attended by 4,500 persons. Final rules for hunting and fishing changes stemming from the CCP went into effect last fall.

In addition to being the most visited refuge in the country, the “Upper Miss” Refuge has the added complexity of a major navigation system, including 11 locks and dams, within its boundary. It is also a world-class fish and wildlife area which harbors 306 species of birds; 119 species of fish; more than 160 active bald eagle nests; thousands of heron and egret nests; spectacular concentrations of canvasback ducks, tundra swans, and white pelicans; and several threatened or endangered species.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov.

-FWS-