Public Meetings Scheduled For Expansion Of Acquisition Boundaries Of Chickasaw And Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuges

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces additional public meetings for the Draft Land Protection Plan and Environmental Assessment which describe a proposal to  expand the acquisition boundaries of the Chickasaw and Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuges in western Tennessee. 

At the request of elected officials, the Service has re-opened the public comment period and will hold two more public meetings to provide additional opportunities for the public to learn more about the refuge proposal and to provide comments. 

The public meetings will be held  on Tuesday, April 29, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Ripley Technology Center, 127 Industrial Drive, in Ripley, Tn., 38063; and on Wednesday, April 30, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, 121 W Main Street, in Brownsville, Tn., 38012.   

After two public scoping meetings held in December 2012, the service released a draft Land Protection Plan and accompanying Environmental Assessment and opened the first 45-day public comment period on Feb. 11.  The service held a public meeting on Feb. 19, in Ripley, Tn., attended by about 86 people. 

The service received letters and written comments from more than a dozen individuals and organizations during and after the meeting.  Comments on the proposal, both verbal and written, ranged from support to opposition. Concerns were expressed about the potential economic effects of refuge expansion, the question of fee-title purchases versus conservation easements, and the use of condemnation to acquire properties within the proposed boundary expansion.

“We welcome the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions about the project that may be lingering or to simply meet a refuge neighbor,” said Randy Cook, project leader. “I also want to reiterate that if this proposal is approved, we would only be working with willing sellers or willing landowners interested in conservation easements.  There would be no taking of anyone’s  land.”

Public input on the proposal will continue to guide the service through the planning process.  The service will collect and consider the public’s comments on the alternatives in the draft plan and will use that input to help develop a final plan which will then be submitted to the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for final consideration.

The Mississippi River has been cut off from more than 90% of its floodplain, disrupting critical ecosystem processes that provide services to wildlife and humans, including flood abatement, fish spawning, nutrient and sediment trapping, and improvement of water quality.  This project would protect an additional 38,127 acres of unleveed Mississippi floodplain and conserve the floodplain of the Hatchie River, the largest forested floodplain in Tennessee.  Over 90 percent of the proposed expansion lies within the five-year floodplains of the Mississippi and Hatchie Rivers, which regularly flood the proposed expansion areas. The project would protect habitat along more than 49 miles of the Mississippi River and over 106 miles of the Hatchie River.

The proposed boundary expansion area would be managed to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitats and provide additional opportunities for public use including; hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, and environmental interpretation and education. This proposed expansion area could ultimately connect the Hatchie, Lower Hatchie, and Chickasaw NWRs with JohnTully Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Fort Pillow State Park, and John Tully State Forest.  This project is the result of many years of collaborative strategic habitat conservation planning with the Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, private conservation organizations, academic institutions, and local stakeholders.   

If the proposal is approved, funding for any type of acquisition will be from non traditional tax revenue sources including the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

For more information about the proposal, visit: www.fws.gov/southeast/news/ChickasawExpansionBrochApril.pdf

To download a copy of the Draft Plan and Environmental Assessment, visit:  http://www.fws.gov/southeast/planning/PDFdocsLandAcquisition/ChickasawDraftLPPEA/Draft_LPP_EA_Formatted.pdf

Comments can be sent to: Tom Greene, Natural Resource planner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 61389 Hwy. 434, Lacombe, La., 70445,chickasawlowerhatchieexpansion@fws.gov985-882-2020.                                    


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