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April 9, 2007 is the deadline to submit letters OBJECTING to the proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to divest its easement interests in the Bear Butte Lake National Wildlife Refuge, turning the management of the Refuge entirely over to the State of SD, the Bureau of Land Management and private landowners.

This alert is asking citizens, tribal nations, organizations and allies concerned about the protection of Bear Butte and adjacent Bear Butte Lake to OBJECT to this plan by the APRIL 9TH DEADLINE.

This Alert contains:

  1. THE ISSUE
  1. PROPOSAL TO DIVEST THEMSELVES OF THE REFUGE
  1. HOW TO COMMENT
  1. SAMPLE LETTER
  1. HOW TO GET THE EA DOCUMENT
  1. BACKGROUND DATA ON BEAR BUTTE LAKE NWR

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1) THE ISSUE

Bear Butte Lake is both a State Park and a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). A 1967 agreement executed between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the SD Game Fish and Parks Department (SDGFP) allows for SDGFP to manage the Refuge. However, because the management goals of the SDGFP are recreational in nature and therefore, not compatible with the USFWS Refuge System, the USFWS Refuge System believes it makes sense to divest itself, rather than enforce its own singular mission, which is to manage the area for wildlife conservation. These conflicting management purposes date back to the 1950's, when no tribal input was solicited. In fact, the planning team that ran the divestiture model to determine whether Bear Butte NWR should be considered for the proposed divestiture did not include tribal consultation at its March 30, 2005 meeting.

The Refuge was created in 1937, when the USFWS acquired conservation easements from the State of SD, the War Department (now the Bureau of Land Management - BLM) and private landowners. The Refuge was established 'for the purpose of water conservation, drought relief, and migratory bird and wildlife conservation purposes. Following establishment, however, incompatible uses such as boating, camping, picnicking have been permitted and supported', reads page 33 of the Draft EA.

The USFWS has 374.20 easement acres and no fee title lands. The majority of the dam, on the western side, is on BLM land, while the remainder is on State owned land. Three small BLM parcels lie within the Refuge Boundaries, while the private lands border the boundaries. The USFWS 'has not enforced its easement rights for many years, neither has it made its right known' (page 53, Appendix E of the Draft EA).

To date, Tribal interests in preservation of this cultural resource have not been properly solicited and are not documented in the Draft EA. As well, the document proposing divestiture fails to mention the current controversy around inappropriate development near Bear Butte in Section 5 of the EA (page27). This section outlines effects common to all alternatives, including Environmental Justice issues. In fact, this section closes: 'Within the spirit and intent of EO 12898 (President Clinton's issuance of the Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Population and Income Populations), no minority or low-income population would be impacted by any Service action under the two alternatives presented in this document.'

The timing of this proposed divestiture could not be worse in terms of the larger issue of protection of Bear Butte and its adjacent resources, including Bear Butte Lake. Due to effects of drought other factors that have not been studied, the Lake was completely dry many times during this past Winter 2006/2007 and for quite a long time. We are calling for a complete Environmental Impact Statement along with objections to this proposed divestiture.

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2) PROPOSAL TO DIVEST THEMSELVES OF THE REFUGE

The USFWS believs that the SDGFP, via its promotion of the recreation uses of the Lake, prioritizes recreational use over wildlife. The mission of the USFWS is to protect wildlife; it allows for recreation related to wildlife on its refuges, but when conflicte arise, WILDLIFE, NOT RECREATION is the USFWS priority.

For example, they believe that the recreational uses at the Lake prevents whooping cranes, an endangered or threatened species, from using the area.

The USFWS doesn't think a park managed for recreation should be a refuge and want to walk away from the Bear Butte Lake NWR - GIVING UP THEIR EASEMENTS.

The planning document for the USFWS, called an Environmental Assessment (EA), proposes only two alternatives:

  1. Continue the status quo, or
  1. Divest themselves of the Refuge

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3) HOW TO COMMENT

Comments are due in writing and postmarked by April 9th, 2007 to:

Michael Spratt
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 25486
Denver Federal Center,
Denver, CO 80225-0486
michael_spratt@fws.gov

Questions can be addressed to:
Michael Spratt,
micheal_spratt@fws.gov,
(303) 236-4366, or

Tom Koerner,
Tom_Koerner@fws.gov,
(605) 685-6508,
lacreek@fws.gov

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4) SAMPLE LETTER - Don't Astroturf, just use as a guideline

Date

Michael Spratt
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 25486
Denver Federal Center,
Denver, CO 80225-0486
michael_spratt@fws.gov

Cc: Rep. Stephanie Herseth
Stephanie.herseth@mail.house.gov
1823 W. Main St.
Rapid City, SD 57701

Sen. Tim Johnson
elli_wicks@johnson.senate.gov
405 E. Omaha, Suite B
Rapid City, SD 57701

Dear Mr. Spratt,

I, ____, am submitting this formal objection to the proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to divest its easement interests in the Bear Butte Lake National Wildlife Refuge, turning the management of the Refuge entirely over to the State of SD, the Bureau of Land Management and private landowners. I am urging the USFWS to maintain their presence and enforce their Refuge System mission to manage the area for wildlife conservation.

The USFWS EA is "thin" in many areas, including it's proposed two alternatives. The EA should propose another alternative, insisting that the State of SD change its management of the Lake and the Lake's surroundings to decrease the impacts of recreation to wildlife. The Draft EA provides insufficient documentation of the existance of confllcts between recreation and wildlife. While the EA provides data on the State Parks infrastructure and policies, it does not provide data on the Parks actual patterns of recreational use or actual wildlife data - except to list species that occur there. For example, the EA says, "Documentation of bird occurrence and use is not well-developed for this refuge." But ironically, it is documented that recreation adversely impacts wildlife.

Native American cultural protections under Federal laws, require consultation with Native Americans regarding environmental justice and protection of historic/cultural resources. As State laws in this area are much weaker than the superior Federal regulations, the removal of the USFWS, a Federal agency, will seriously threaten the protection of Native American interests. In fact, tribal consultation on this Draft EA did not occur at the March 30, 2005 meeting, nor was it sought, or included in the document.

When Federal government plans a project, gives money for a project, or permits a project, NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) is invoked. If the area affected has "Unique characteristics of the geographic area such as proximity to historic or cultural resources, park lands, prime farmlands, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers or ecologically critical areas." an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is needed (40 CFR 1508.27 (b) (3)).

I am requesting an EIS on the Bear Butte NWR divestment plan of the USFWS as future development of the area may involve federal dollars and plans. The State of SD is planning to build a highway by-pass around Sturgis to drop traffic from I-90 to the eastside of Sturgis. The recent flurry of commercial rally-related development near Bear Butte is in anticipation of this new by-pass.

With the National Wildlife Refuge status, in addition to the National Historic Landmark at Bear Butte, both on Highway 79, there exist compelling arguments for an EIS rather than an EA on the proposed by-pass or other future projects, which may involve federal dollars.

Highly controversial and culturally inappropriate development that currently threatens Bear Butte is not mentioned or portrayed within the "Environmental Justice" section of the EA. Part of Bear Butte and most of the lands immediately under its slope remain in private ownership. At the crux of the issue are the no zoning policies of Meade County, the local governing body, and the impacts of unregulated bike rally development on Native American interests. These critical Environmental Justice issues are not mentioned within the Draft EA and need to be considered in the proposed divestiture of the USFWS.

If the USFWS divests its interests the remaining federal regulating agency will be the BLM, which is a "multiple-use" agency. I PREFER THE USFWS, rather than the BLM and private landowners, as a federal land manager in this most special area and hope you will give my comments favorable consideration.

Sincerely,

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5) HOW TO GET THE EA DOCUMENT

Here is the link to download the draft EA:
PDF - http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/...

The link to the EA on the USFWS regional webpage:

mountain-prairie.fws.gov/planning/ccp.htm
mountain-prairie.fws.gov/planning/States/South%20Dakota/SouthDakota.htm

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6) BACKGROUND DATA ON BEAR BUTTE LAKE NWR<</p>

On the eastside of SD Highway 79, just a few miles northeast of the town of Sturgis, lies Bear Butte, revered by tribes across North America as one of the most sacred mountains. In geological terms, Bear Butte is a laccolith geologic formation, a bubble of magma that did not reach the volcanic stage. Bear Butte rises some 1,253 feet above the plains and sits at an elevation of 4,422 feet on the northeastern edge of the sacred Black Hills. Today, the mountain is owned by several Native Tribes, the State of South Dakota (as a State Park) and various private landowners.

Just to the west of Bear Butte, across Highway 79, lies Bear Butte Lake, which sits in one of the drainages that flow off of Bear Butte. The drainage of Bear Butte Lake is tributary of Spring Creek. Spring Creek flows around the northside of Bear Butte and joins Bear Butte Creek, about 6 miles east of the Mountain.

The Lake was once a natural lake, or prairie pothole. A dam was built along its southwest side and the natural lake/pothole is now augmented with additional surface water runoff now collected by the dam. The Lake has a surface are of 180 acres and a maximum depth of 13 feet.

There was once an artesian well near Bear Butte, which was used to supply additional water to the Lake via an easement that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held to pipe water into the lake. In 1987, the engineering on this well failed, was not repaired and thus this ground water no longer augments the surface water of the Lake.

The Lake supports an artificial fishery of introduced fish, which periodically die off when the lake shrinks, yielding low oxygen and high temperatures.

The Lake provides for shore birds and waterfowl and is especially important habitat for them during the spring and fall migrations. Due to drought conditions, the Lake has been completely dry many times during the winter of 2006/2007.

Originally posted to SarahLee on Fri Mar 30, 2007 at 10:19 AM PDT.

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