Comprehensive Conservation Plans

Under federal law, all national wildlife refuges in the lower 48 states are required to develop a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) by the end of 2012. A CCP sets a framework for management decisions on a refuge for a 10- to 15-year period, and it goes through a rigorous public process. Your input can help ensure that conservation and public visitation remain priorities on each refuge.

What is a Comprehensive Conservation Plan?

CCPs are powerful tools that are helping shape the future of wildlife conservation in America. They give citizens the opportunity to have a say in the future management of individual national wildlife refuges and to ensure that wildlife conservation and compatible recreation remain remain priorities. Refuge managers at times must make tough decisions to protect wildlife, such as eliminating jet-skiing, harmful agricultural activities or other actions; the CCP process allows all stakeholders to be heard and for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) employees to discuss the consequences of various management decisions.

Swan Lake NWR, MO, FWS
Refuge Managers rely on public backing in the CCP process to make difficult management decisions (Image: Swan Lake NWR, MO, FWS).

What Are the Requirements of CCPs?

The federal laws governing CCPs require FWS to both to examine a full range of alternative approaches to refuge management and also to involve the public in selecting the alternative best suited to the refuge’s purposes. In addition, refuges must ensure that the public has the opportunity to be actively involved in preparing and revising comprehensive conservation plans.

How Does the Process Work?

FWS, the agency that manages the Refuge System, is divided into eight different regions. Regional offices hire planning staff to help develop CCPs. To supplement regional staff, some refuges hire on-site planners as well. But all refuges are required to have completed CCPs by the end of 2012, regardless of staffing or funding needs.

Developing a CCP generally takes about a year from start to finish; the number of refuge staff available to work on the plan affects the length of the process. There are five basic steps in the CCP process:

  • Step 1: Scoping Phase. Refuges hold open houses and distribute surveys to the public to help identify concerns and issues regarding the refuge. Refuge employees collect data on topics such as fish and wildlife resources, environmental education needs and costs.
  • Step 2: Formulate Plan. Refuge staff outline key issues and concerns, as well as long-term goals for the refuge. Next, they analyze alternative ways to protect fish and wildlife, resolve concerns and meet goals.
  • Step 3: Write Draft Plan. The draft plan identifies management alternatives and examines the effects each would have on wildlife and habitat, visitation and public use, and refuge acquisition and expansion. Once the draft plan is written it is reviewed internally by FWS. Then, the draft is distributed to the public. Often times, refuge staff will send out press releases and hold open houses and presentations on various issues.
  • Step 4: Revise Plan. After hearing from the public, refuge employees analyze the comments, revise the plan and issue the final CCP.
  • Step 5: Implement Plan.

What Role Can You Play?

Get informed! The first step to getting involved in the CCP process is letting a refuge know that you want to be included. Call your local refuge and ask to get on their mailing list. Many refuges publish newsletters that give updates on the CCP process. The refuge can tell you when their open houses occur and when the draft plan will be published, so that you can provide input each step of the way.

Attend informational sessions held by refuge staff. These can help you untangle some of the complex issues that CCPs often cover. For example, the plans contain scientific components that are difficult to understand fully on your own (unless you happen to be a scientist!).

Obtain a copy of the draft CCP. This might be the most important time to participate in the process because the draft plan is still flexible. Your comments matter a great deal here, as refuge staff weigh each alternative and try to pick the best one.

Read the draft plan carefully. You can get an overall sense of the plan by looking closely at the proposed alternatives. Make sure that you understand all of the implications for each alternative and each issue. Here, it might help to get together with friends and discuss it as a group. Try to answer the following questions as you go:

  1. Are proposed public uses balanced? Or does the plan favor some activities over others?
  2. Are proposed uses compatible with the refuge’s purposes?
  3. Is the refuge managing for multiple species?
  4. Is the refuge helping endangered species recover?

Write a comments letter to the refuge stating your views on the draft plan clearly and write a few bullet points with a couple of sentences explaining each. Organize others and get them to submit their comments. The more individual comments sent in, the better. You can also write a group letter in addition to your individual ones.

For a detailed look at ways you can influence the CCP process, check out the Citizen’s National Wildlife Refuge Planning Handbook.

Contact Your Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Planning Office

Region 1: WA, OR, ID, HI
(503) 231-6840

Region 2: AZ, NM, TX, OK
(505) 248-6631

Region 3: MN, WI, MI, IA, MO, IL, IN, OH
(612) 713-5476

Region 4: AR, LA, MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, TN, KY
(404) 670-7152

Region 5: ME, VT, NH, CT, MA, RI, NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, VA, WV
(413) 253-8579

Region 6: MT, ND, SD, WY, NE, UT, CO, KS
(303) 236-8145 ext. 672

Region 7: AK
(907) 786-3490

Region 8: CA, NV

Washington, D.C., Office:
Ronald Fowler, Division of Realty
(703) 358-2414

Please contact your refuge to find out when a CCP is planned and what you can do to have an impact on the future of your public lands. For technical assistance or help writing comments, contact the NWRA.

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