By Mary Schamehorn
What appeared at first to be good news for opponents of the Bandon Marsh expansion quickly changed to bad news.
On Sept. 18, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released draft Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCP) and Environmental. Assessments (EA) for Bandon Marsh, Nestucca Bay and Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuges.
The plans describe a vision for the three Refuges and present goals, objectives and strategies for management over the next 15 years.
The CCP had no mention of expansion of the Bandon Marsh, which led opponents to believe that the Service had dropped their expansion plans.
But that didn't happen.
In early November 2011, the public was invited to participate in the planning process. Preliminary alternatives detailing how the refuge would be managed during the next 15 years were developed as part of the Refuge's CCP process.
And when the CCP was released last week, there was no mention of expansion of the Bandon Marsh.
What actually happened, according to information on the Service website, is that in early February, the USFWS made the decision to separate the CCP for Bandon Marsh from the boundary expansion study.
"This schedule change allows the CCP to continue on pace and meet the Congressionally mandated due date while allowing more time for thorough analysis and study of the Land Protection Planning (LPP) range of alternatives."
Nothing has changed
On the website, it was learned that the study area that has generated so much controversy in Coos County, particularly in communities that border the Coquille River, has not changed.
The LPP study area continues to be approximately 4,500 acres.
However, priority habitats are limited to about 2,180 acres of bottomlands and adjacent forested habitats within the lower Coquille estuary below river mile 10.4, which is a mile or so below Riverton, according to information on the USFWS website.
Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1983, conserves 889 acres of land in fee title ownership within an approved refuge boundary of 1,000 acres.
Spoke with official
The Herald contacted the Portland office of USFWS and spoke to Ben Harrison, Deputy Regional Chief of the planning branch of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
He said the expansion issue is "kind of in limbo until the CCP is completed. But nothing has changed.
"No work has been done on the land protection plan because we are attempting to complete the CCP at this point," Harrison said.
"No lands outside of the 4,500-acre study area are being considered for inclusion within the proposed expanded boundary. "The USFWS is gathering information on potential economic and ecological impacts to be evaluated in the LPP. The results of this analysis will be made public," said information put out by USFWS
The website points out that "landowners in the study area in the LPP retain all private property rights, and will not be subject to additional regulations or any searches for threatened or endangered species." That is during the study period.
A November vote
Former resident Jill Halliburton of Coquille, who is a leading opponent of the marsh expansion, reminded people that the issue will be on the November ballot as an advisory vote.
"The outcome will send an important message from our local population," she said.
"The plan has the potential to remove valuable Coquille Valley farmland from our economic base and turn it into marshland.
"I am unable to comprehend how this project will do more than very short term contribution to the economy, in spite of economic guesses by the folks who want to make it sound good.
"I also don't see it stopping at the lower Coquille Valley. This is a cancer that will only grow larger and, like a cancer, answer to no one," Halliburton said.
USFWS continues to point out that their "long-standing policy is to only acquire land from willing sellers. Eminent domain (condemnation) is very rarely used by the USFWS, and we would need a compelling reason, such as a request from the landowner to clear title, to use it to purchase land for the refuge," said a spokesman.
"If the LPP is approved and the Refuge boundary is expanded, landowners within the boundary wishing to sell their lands to the USFWS may do so at a price based upon appraisal if funding is available. Landowners within an approved refuge boundary are under no obligation to sell their lands to the USFWS," according to information on their website.
It is clear that the USFWS plans to go ahead with their original proposal to study the expansion of the Bandon Marsh well beyond its current boundaries.
The draft CCP/EAs are available for review through Oct. 22. Copies of the plan are available in the references section of the public libraries in Bandon, Coquille, Newport, Lincoln City, Pacific City and Tillamook.
The full document may be accessed online at www.fws.gov/oregoncoast.
Comments and questions can be mailed, faxed, or e-mailed by Oct. 22 and should be addressed to Roy Lowe, Project Leader, Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 2127 SE Marine Science Drive, Newport, OR 97365; fax number (541-867-4551, or email to Oregoncoastccp@fws.gov. For more information, people can call the refuge's office at 541-867-4550.
"The planning process is a way for the Service and the public to evaluate management goals and objectives that will ensure the best approach to wildlife, plant and habitat conservation, while providing opportunities for the public to safely enjoy fish and wildlife-oriented recreation on national wildlife refuges," said Lowe.
The National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to more than 96 million acres, 548 refuges and 37 wetland management districts nationwide.
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