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Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Space Vehicle and Missile Launch Operations at Kodiak Launch Complex, Alaska

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National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.


Notice of issuance of a Letter of Authorization.


In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as amended, and implementing regulations, notification is hereby given that a Letter of Authorization (LOA) has been issued to the Alaska Aerospace Corporation (AAC) to take two species of seals and sea lions incidental to space vehicle and missile launch operations at the Kodiak Launch Complex (KLC) in Kodiak, Alaska.


Effective from April 30, 2011, through April 29, 2012.


The LOA and supporting documentation are available for review 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, by telephoning the contact listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT, or on the Internet at:​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications. Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours at the above address.

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Michelle Magliocca, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 301-713-2289, ext 123.

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Sections 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. 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. Under the MMPA, the term “take” means to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill marine mammals.

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

Regulations governing the taking of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus), by harassment, and harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), adults by harassment and pups by injury or mortality, incidental to space vehicle and missile launch operations at the KLC, were issued on March 22, 2011 (76 FR 16311, March 23, 2011), and remain in effect until March 21, 2016. For detailed information on this action, please refer to that document. The regulations include mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements for the incidental take of marine mammals during space vehicle and missile launch operations at the KLC.

This LOA is effective from April 30, 2011, through April 29, 2012, and authorizes the incidental take of the two marine mammal species listed above that may result from the launching of up to 12 space launch vehicles, long-range ballistic target missiles, and other smaller missile systems at the KLC. Steller sea lion and harbor seal haulouts exist on Ugak Island, which lies approximately 3.4 miles to the southeast of the launch site. The KLC primarily supports launches of small to medium space launch vehicles—which by definition are those used to boost satellites to orbit—ranging in size from the small space-launch Castor 120 motor (used in the Athena, Minotaur IV, Minotaur V, and Taurus I systems) to the under-development medium-lift Taurus II. The KLC is also configured to support launch of the Minuteman I-derived Minotaur I Space Launch System, and to support launch of long-range ballistic systems such as the Polaris derived A-3 STARS, the Minuteman-derived Minotaur II and III, and the C-4.

The activities under these regulations are a major source of noise on Kodiak Island, as the operation of launch vehicle engines produce substantial sound pressures. Generally, four types of noise occur during a launch: (1) Combustion noise; (2) jet noise from interaction of combustion exhaust gases with the atmosphere; (3) combustion noise proper; and (4) sonic booms. Sonic booms are not a concern for pinnipeds on Ugak Island, as sonic booms created by ascending rockets launched from the KLC reach the Earth's surface over deep ocean, well past the edge of the outer continental shelf (FAA 1996). The noise generated by operations at the KLC may result in the incidental harassment of pinnipeds, both behaviorally and in terms of physiological (auditory) impacts. The noise and visual disturbances from space vehicle and missile launch operations may cause the animals to move towards or enter the water. If launches occur during the harbor seal pupping season, it is possible that harbor seal pups could be injured or killed as a result of the adults flushing in response to the rocket noise, or the mother/pup bond could be permanently broken.

However, NMFS does not expect harbor seal pup injury and mortality to occur to a great degree due to the pups' precociousness and the mothers' overt attention. Furthermore, take of any pinnipeds will be minimized through implementation of the following mitigation measures: (1) Security overflights immediately associated with the launch will not approach occupied pinniped haulouts on Ugak Island by closer than 0.25 mile (0.4 km), and will maintain a vertical distance of 1,000 ft (305 m) from the haulouts when within 0.5 miles (0.8 km), unless indications of human presence or activity warrant closer inspection of the area to assure that national security interests are protected in accordance with law; (2) the AAC will avoid launches during the harbor seal pupping season (May 15 to June 30), unless constrained by factors including, but not limited to, human safety and national security; and (3) if launch monitoring detects pinniped injury or death, or if long-term trend counts from quarterly aerial surveys indicate that the distribution, size, or productivity of the potentially affected pinniped populations has been affected due to the specified activity, the launch procedures and the monitoring methods will be reviewed, in cooperation with NMFS.

The AAC will also use audio-recording equipment and a remote live-streaming video system to monitor a harbor seal haulouts before, after, and during the first five launches. After the first five launches with harbor seal Start Printed Page 27309presence, the AAC and NMFS will reassess the efficiency of the video system before potentially relocating or re-aiming it to another haulout. Reports will be submitted to NMFS at the time of request for a renewal of the LOA, and a final comprehensive report, which will summarize all previous reports and assess cumulative impacts, will be submitted before the rule expires. This LOA will be renewed annually based on review of the annual monitoring report.

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Dated: April 29, 2011.

James H. Lecky,

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

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[FR Doc. 2011-11453 Filed 5-10-11; 8:45 am]