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Notice

Incidental Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Harbor Activities Related to the Delta IV/Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA

Action

Notice; Issuance Of Incidental Harassment Authorization.

Summary

In accordance with the provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) as amended, notification is hereby given that NMFS has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to United Launch Alliance (ULA) to take small numbers of marine mammals, by Level B harassment only, incidental to harbor activities related to the Delta IV/Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) at south Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA (VAFB).

 

Table of Contents Back to Top

DATES: Back to Top

This authorization is effective from June 21, 2007, through June 20, 2008.

ADDRESSES: Back to Top

A copy of the IHA and the application are available by writing to P. Michael Payne, Chief, Permits, Conservation, and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225, or by telephoning the contact listed here. A copy of the application containing a list of references used in this document may be obtained by writing to this address, by telephoning the contact listed here (FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT) or online at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. Documents cited in this notice may be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Back to Top

Candace Nachman or Jolie Harrison, (301) 713-2289.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Back to Top

Background Back to Top

Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional taking of small numbers of marine mammals by United States citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review.

Authorization for incidental takings may be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for certain subsistence uses, and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such taking are set forth.

NMFS has defined “negligible impact” in 50 CFR 216.103 as:

an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.

Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process by which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. Except for certain categories of activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines “harassment” as:

any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [“Level A harassment”]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [“Level B harassment”].

Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45-day time limit for NMFS review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and comment period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of small numbers of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS must determine whether to issue the authorization with appropriate conditions.

Summary of Request Back to Top

On January 26, 2007, NMFS received an application from ULA requesting an authorization for the harassment of small numbers of Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) and California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) incidental to harbor activities related to the Delta IV/EELV, including: transport vessel operations, cargo movement activities, harbor maintenance dredging, and kelp habitat mitigation operations. In addition, northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) may also be incidentally harassed but in even smaller numbers. IHAs were previously issued to The Boeing Company, now ULA, in 2002 (67 FR 36151, May 23, 2002), 2003 (68 FR 36540, June 18, 2003), 2004 (69 FR 29696, May 25, 2004), 2005 (70 FR 30697, May 27, 2005), and 2006 (71 FR 36321, June 26, 2006). No work and, therefore, no monitoring was conducted under the 2006 IHA. The harbor where activities will take place is on south VAFB approximately 2.5 mi (4.02 km) south of Point Arguello, CA and approximately 1 mi (1.61 km) north of the nearest marine mammal pupping site (i.e., Rocky Point).

Additional background relating to this application and the scope of the activities is set forth in the proposed IHA notice (72 FR 20324, April 24, 2007) and is not repeated here. The activities to be conducted have not changed between the proposed IHA notice and this final notice announcing the issuance of the IHA.

Specified Activities Back to Top

To accommodate the Delta Mariner, the harbor will need to be dredged, removing up to 5,000 cubic yards of sediment per dredging. Dredge operations, from set-up to tear-down, would continue 24-hours a day for 3 to 5 weeks. Sedimentation surveys have shown that initial dredging indicates that maintenance dredging should be required annually or twice per year, depending on the hardware delivery schedule. Delta Mariner off-loading operations and associated cargo movements will occur a maximum of 3 times per year, each of which is estimated to take approximately between 14 and 18 hours in good weather.

A more detailed description of the work proposed for 2007/2008 is contained in the application which is available upon request (see ADDRESSES) and in the Final US Air Force Environmental Assessment for Harbor Activities Associated with the Delta IV Program at Vandenberg Air Force Base (ENSR International, 2001).

Comments and Responses Back to Top

On April 24, 2007 (72 FR 20324), NMFS published a notice of receipt of proposed IHA for ULA's request to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to harbor activities related to the Delta IV/EELV, including: transport vessel operations, cargo movement activities, harbor maintenance dredging, and kelp habitat mitigation and requested comments, information, and suggestions concerning the request. During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS received one comment from the Marine Mammal Commission, which recommended that NMFS issue the authorization as proposed. NMFS also received one comment from a private citizen.

Comment: The commenter opposed the issuance of permits to allow killing of marine mammals.

Response: NMFS does not believe that the authorized activities will result in the death of any marine mammals, nor does this IHA authorize any marine mammal mortality.

Marine Mammals Affected by the Activity Back to Top

The marine mammal species likely to be harassed incidental to harbor activities at south VAFB are the Pacific harbor seal, California sea lion, and northern elephant seal, which haul out in the area where these activities are conducted. None of the haul-out areas near these activities are used for breeding, molting, or mating. A more detailed discussion of the status of these stocks and their occurrence at VAFB, as well as other marine mammal species that occur at VAFB, was included in the notice of the proposed IHA (72 FR 20324, April 24, 2007).

Potential Effects of Activities on Marine Mammals Back to Top

The primary impacts to marine mammals from these activities are expected to be short-term behavioral reactions in response to the acoustic and visual stimuli produced by the heavy machinery used. NMFS anticipates that no injury will result from these actions. A discussion of the sound levels produced by the equipment, behavioral reactions of marine mammals to loud noises or looming visual stimuli, and some specific observations of the response of marine mammals to this activity gathered during previous monitoring were presented in the notice of proposed IHA (72 FR 20324, April 24, 2007) and is not repeated here. For a further discussion of anticipated effects of the planned activities on pinnipeds in the area, refer to the application, NMFS' 2005 Environmental Assessment (EA) and ENSR International's 2001 Final EA.

Numbers of Marine Mammals Expected to be Harassed Back to Top

ULA estimates that a maximum of 43 harbor seals per day may be hauled out near the south VAFB harbor, with a daily average of 21 seals sighted when tidal conditions were favorable during previous harbor dredging operations. Considering the maximum and average number of seals hauled out per day, assuming that the seals may be seen twice a day, and using a maximum total of 73 operating days in 2007-2008, NMFS estimates that a maximum of 767 to 1,570 Pacific harbor seals may be subject to Level B harassment out of a total estimated population of 31,600. These numbers are small relative to this population size (2.4 - 5.0 percent).

During wharf modification activities, a maximum of six California sea lions were seen hauling out in a single day. Based on the above-mentioned calculation, NMFS believes that a maximum of 219 California sea lions may be subject to Level B harassment out of a total estimated population of 240,000. These numbers are small relative to this population size (less than 0.1 percent). Up to 10 northern elephant seals (because they may be in nearby waters) may be subject to Level B harassment out of a total estimated population of 101,000. These numbers are small relative to this population size (less than 0.01 percent).

Possible Effects of Activities on Marine Mammal Habitat Back to Top

The anticipated negative effects of dredging and kelp mitigation (short-term increase in noise and sedimentation) will be short-term and are not expected to result in a loss or modification to the habitat used by Pacific harbor seals, California sea lions, or northern elephant seals that haul out near the south VAFB harbor. Additional details were provided in the notice of proposed IHA (72 FR 20324, April 24, 2007).

Mitigation Back to Top

To reduce the potential for disturbance from visual and acoustic stimuli associated with the activities, ULA and/or its designees will undertake the following marine mammal mitigating measures:

(1) If activities occur during nighttime hours, lighting will be turned on before dusk and left on the entire night to avoid startling pinnipeds at night;

(2) Activities will be initiated before dusk;

(3) Construction noises must be kept constant (i.e., not interrupted by periods of quiet in excess of 30 minutes) while pinnipeds are present;

(4) If activities cease for longer than 30 minutes and pinnipeds are in the area, start-up of activities will include a gradual increase in noise levels;

(5) A NMFS-approved marine mammal observer will visually monitor the pinnipeds on the beach adjacent to the harbor and on rocks for any flushing or other behaviors as a result of ULA's activities (see Monitoring);

(6) To the extent possible, the Delta Mariner and accompanying vessels will enter the harbor only when the tide is too high for harbor seals to haul-out on the rocks. The vessel will reduce speed 1.5 to 2 knots (2.8-3.7 km/hr) once the vessel is within 3 mi (4.83 km) of the harbor. The vessel will enter the harbor stern first, approaching the wharf and mooring dolphins at less than 0.75 knot (1.4 km/hr); and

(7) As alternate dredge methods are explored, the dredge contractor may introduce quieter techniques and equipment.

Monitoring Back to Top

As part of its 2002 application, Boeing, now ULA, provided a proposed monitoring plan for assessing impacts to harbor seals from the activities at south VAFB harbor and for determining when mitigation measures should be employed. NMFS is requiring the same plan for this IHA.

A NMFS-approved and VAFB-designated biologically trained observer will monitor the area for pinnipeds during all harbor activities. During nighttime activities, the harbor area will be illuminated, and the monitor will use a night vision scope. Monitoring activities will consist of:

(1) Conducting baseline observation of pinnipeds in the project area prior to initiating project activities;

(2) Conducting and recording observations on pinnipeds in the vicinity of the harbor for the duration of the activity occurring when tides are low enough for pinnipeds to haul out

(2 ft, 0.61 m, or less); and

(3) Conducting post-construction observations of pinniped haul-outs in the project area to determine whether animals disturbed by the project activities return to the haul-out.

Monitoring results from previous years of these activities have been reviewed and incorporated into the analysis of potential effects in this document, as well as the take estimates.

Reporting Back to Top

ULA will notify NMFS 2 weeks prior to initiation of each activity. ULA will submit a final report to NMFS within 120 days of the expiration of the Authorization and a draft report 120 days prior to the expiration of the IHA if a new IHA is requested. The reports will provide dates, times, durations and locations of specific activities, details of pinniped behavioral observations, and estimates of numbers of affected pinnipeds and impacts (behavioral or other). In addition, the report will include information on the weather, tidal state, horizontal visibility, and composition (species, gender and age class) and locations of haul-out group(s). In the unanticipated event that a marine mammal is injured or killed as a result of these activities, ULA or its designee shall cease operations immediately and report the incident to NMFS immediately.

Endangered Species Act Back to Top

This action will not affect species listed under the Endangered Species Act that are under the jurisdiction of NMFS. VAFB formally consulted with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998 on the possible take of southern sea otters during Boeing's, now ULA, harbor activities at south VAFB. A Biological Opinion was issued in August 2001, which concluded that the proposed activities were not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the southern sea otter and no injury or mortality is expected. The activities covered by this IHA are analyzed in that Opinion, and this IHA does not modify the action in a manner that was not previously analyzed.

National Environmental Policy Act Back to Top

In 2001, the United States Air Force (USAF) prepared an EA for Harbor Activities Associated with the Delta IV Program at VAFB. In 2005, NMFS prepared an EA supplementing the information contained in the USAF EA and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the issuance of an IHA for Boeing's, now ULA, harbor activities in accordance with section 6.01 of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrative Order 216-6 (Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, May 20, 1999). The proposed activity is within the scope of NMFS' 2005 EA and FONSI.

Conclusions Back to Top

NMFS has issued an IHA to ULA for harbor activities related to the Delta IV/ EELV to take place at south VAFB over a 1-year period, contingent upon adherence to the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements. NMFS has determined that the impact of harbor activities related to the Delta IV/EELV at VAFB (transport vessel operations, cargo movement activities, harbor maintenance dredging, and kelp habitat mitigation) will result in the Level B Harassment of small numbers of Pacific harbor seals, California sea lions, and northern elephant seals. The effects of ULA's harbor activities are expected to be in the form of short-term and localized behavioral changes and no take by injury or death is anticipated or authorized. NMFS has further determined that these takes will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks. Northern fur seals, Guadalupe fur seals, and Steller sea lions are unlikely to be found in the area and, therefore, will not be affected. No rookeries, mating grounds, areas of concentrated feeding, or other areas of special significance for marine mammals occur within or near south VAFB harbor.

Authorization Back to Top

NMFS has issued an IHA to take marine mammals, by Level B harassment, incidental to conducting harbor activities at VAFB to ULA for a 1-year period, provided the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are undertaken.

Dated: June 18, 2007.

James H. Lecky,

Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service.

[FR Doc. E7-12135 Filed 6-21-07; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-S

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