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Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; U.S. Air Force Launches, Aircraft and Helicopter Operations, and Harbor Activities Related to Launch Vehicles From Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), California

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


Notice; receipt of application for letter of authorization; request for comments and information.


NMFS has received a request from the U.S. Air Force (USAF) for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to launching space launch vehicles, intercontinental ballistic and small missiles, aircraft and helicopter operations, and harbor activities related to the Delta IV/Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) at VAFB, CA, from February 2014 through February 2019. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is announcing our receipt of the USAF's request for the development and implementation of regulations governing the incidental taking of marine mammals and inviting information, suggestions, and comments on the USAF's application and request.


Comments and information must be received no later than September 16, 2013.


Comments on the application should be addressed to Michael Payne, Chief, Permits and Start Printed Page 49730Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email comments is NMFS is not responsible for email comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size.

Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm without change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.

A copy of the USAF's application may be obtained by visiting the internet at:​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm. Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address.

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Candace Nachman, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401.

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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 specific geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review.

Authorization for incidental takings shall 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 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. 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.”

With respect to military readiness activities, the MMPA defines “harassment” as: “(i) any act that injures or has the significant potential to injure a marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A Harassment]; or (ii) any act that disturbs or is likely to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of natural behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, to a point where such behavioral patterns are abandoned or significantly altered [Level B Harassment].”

Summary of Request

On June 24, 2013, NMFS received an application from the USAF requesting a letter of authorization (LOA) for the take of five species of pinnipeds incidental to USAF launch, aircraft, and helicopter operations from VAFB launch complexes and Delta Mariner operations, cargo unloading activities, and harbor maintenance dredging in support of the Delta IV/EELV launch activity on south VAFB. The USAF is requesting a 5-year LOA for these activities. These activities are classified as military readiness activities. The USAF states that these activities may result in take of marine mammals from noise or visual disturbance from rocket and missile launches, as well as from the use of heavy equipment during the Delta Mariner off-loading operations, cargo movement activities, increased presence of personnel, and harbor maintenance dredging. The USAF requests to take five pinniped species by Level B harassment.

Description of the Specified Activity

There are currently six active space launch vehicle facilities at VAFB used to launch satellites into polar orbit. These facilities support launch programs for the Atlas V, Delta II, Delta IV, Falcon 9, Minotaur, and Taurus. There are also a variety of small missiles launched from various facilities on North VAFB, including the Minuteman III and several types of interceptor and target vehicles for the Missile Defense Agency. The VAFB airfield, located on north VAFB, supports various aircraft operations. A full description of the activities to be conducted by the USAF at VAFB, including descriptions of the different space vehicles and missiles, are described in the USAF's application. Additionally, United Launch Alliance, on behalf of the USAF, proposes to conduct Delta IV/EELV activities (transport vessel operations, harbor maintenance dredging, and cargo movement activities). These activities are described in Appendix A of the USAF's application.

Information Solicited

Interested persons may submit information, suggestions, and comments concerning the USAF's request (see ADDRESSES). All input related to the USAF's request and NMFS' role in governing the incidental taking of marine mammals will be considered by NMFS when developing, if appropriate, the most effective regulations governing the issuance of an LOA.

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Dated: August 9, 2013.

Donna S. Wieting,

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

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[FR Doc. 2013-19840 Filed 8-14-13; 8:45 am]