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Notice

Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the King Pile Markers Project on the Columbia River

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AGENCY:

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

ACTION:

Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments on proposed authorization and possible renewal.

SUMMARY:

NMFS has received a request from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District (Corps) for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to the King Pile Markers Project on the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to incidentally take marine mammals during the specified activities. NMFS is also requesting comments on a possible one-year renewal that could be issued under certain circumstances and if all requirements are met, as described in Request for Public Comments at the end of this notice. NMFS will consider public comments prior to making any final decision on the issuance of the requested MMPA authorizations and agency responses will be summarized in the final notice of our decision.

DATES:

Comments and information must be received no later than September 26, 2019.

ADDRESSES:

Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Physical comments should be sent to 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and electronic comments should be sent to ITP.Pauline@noaa.gov.

Instructions: NMFS is not responsible for comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or Start Printed Page 44867received after the end of the comment period. Comments received electronically, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel or Adobe PDF file formats only. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted online at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/​permit/​incidental-take-authorizations-under-marine-mammal-protection-act without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Robert Pauline, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401. Electronic copies of the application and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in this document, may be obtained online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/​permit/​incidental-take-authorizations-under-marine-mammal-protection-act. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

The MMPA prohibits the “take” of marine mammals, with certain exceptions. Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce (as delegated to NMFS) 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 or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed incidental take authorization may be 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) and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for taking for subsistence uses (where relevant). Further, NMFS must prescribe the permissible methods of taking and other “means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact” on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for certain subsistence uses (referred to in shorthand as “mitigation”); and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth.

The definitions of all applicable MMPA statutory terms cited above are included in the relevant sections below.

National Environmental Policy Act

To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216-6A, NMFS must review our proposed action (i.e., the issuance of an IHA) with respect to potential impacts on the human environment.

This action is consistent with categories of activities identified in Categorical Exclusion B4 (incidental harassment authorizations with no anticipated serious injury or mortality) of the Companion Manual for NOAA Administrative Order 216-6A, which do not individually or cumulatively have the potential for significant impacts on the quality of the human environment and for which we have not identified any extraordinary circumstances that would preclude this categorical exclusion. Accordingly, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the issuance of the proposed IHA qualifies to be categorically excluded from further NEPA review.

We will review all comments submitted in response to this notice prior to concluding our NEPA process or making a final decision on the IHA request.

Summary of Request

On February 11, 2019, NMFS received a request from the Corps for an IHA to take marine mammals incidental to pile driving associated with the replacement of king pile markers at numerous dike locations in the lower Columbia River system. The king pile markers are located in Oregon and Washington between river miles (RM) 41 and 137. The application was deemed adequate and complete on August 2, 2019. The Corps' request is for take of small numbers of harbor seal (Phoca viutlina), Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus), and California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) that may occur in the vicinity of the project by Level B harassment. Neither the Corps nor NMFS expects serious injury or mortality to result from this activity and, therefore, an IHA is appropriate.

Description of Proposed Activity

Overview

The Corps is proposing to replace up to 68 king pile markers at 68 pile dike sites along the lower Columbia River between river miles (RM) 41 and 137 (see Figure 1). There are a total of 256 pile dikes, in the existing dike system. The king piles that require replacement are not functioning as intended. They were designed to aid navigation by helping mariners avoid pile dikes during high water. Many exiting king piles are either missing completely, damaged, or degraded to a point where they no longer provide a visual identifier. This lack of visibility poses a safety concern to both recreational and commercial boaters on the river. Replacement of the king piles will improve visibility of pile dikes and improve safety for Columbia River traffic. Impact and vibratory pile installation would introduce underwater sounds at levels that may result in take, by Level B harassment, of marine mammals in the lower Columbia River. Construction activities are expected to last 61 days.

Dates and Duration

Pile installation would be done during the 2019 in-water work window of October 1, 2019 to November 30, 2019. Impact driving will only take place in November, as per NMFS 2012 SLOPES IV programmatic biological opinion. Since the in-water work window is approximately 61 days and pile installation activity could potentially occur on each day of that window, it is estimated that the project could require up to 61 days. Pile installation will be conducted during standard daylight working hours. Up to one hour of impact driving and 30 minutes of vibratory driving could occur at each pile dike location per day.

Specific Geographic Region

Pile dikes are located in both Oregon and Washington on the Columbia River between RM 41 and 137. The project area is dominated by freshwater inputs from the Columbia and Willamette rivers. The Mouth of the Columbia River designated at RM 0 while the Bonneville Dam is located at RM 146. The existing depth (relative to Columbia River low water datum) at the locations of missing king pile markers varies from less than 10 ft. to greater than 30 ft., but is generally in the 20-30 foot range, possibly indicating scour protection rock thicknesses of up to 10 feet.

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Detailed Description of Specific Activity

King pile markers consist of one or more tall piles (up to about 20 feet above the Columbia River mean low water (MLW) datum) marking the end of a pile dike for navigational safety. King piles were originally constructed as part of a cluster of piles called an outer dolphin. Columbia River pile dikes are permeable groins extending into the river and consist of two or three rows of vertical untreated timber pilings driven in staggered rows of 5-foot centers alternately placed on each side of horizontal spreader piles and fastened together. Rock placed at the base of the piles and at the shore connection help protect against scour.

Construction will consist of driving new replacement piles, and adding scour protection rock around new piles as needed. Each replacement king pile marker will consist of a single steel pipe pile of up to 24-inch diameter. Piles will be driven up to 30-35 feet of embedment. If piles cannot be driven through the existing scour protection rock, the marker will be offset. Scour protection rock (less than 25 cubic yards) may be placed around the base of any offset piles. The total estimated Start Printed Page 44869quantity of piles needed for this project is 68 piles.

Barges will transport all materials (new piles, and scour protection rock) to and from the site and serve as staging platforms during construction. Barges will be moved by tugboats, then spudded or anchored into position.

At each king pile marker, piles will be installed using vibratory drivers (e.g., APE Model 200 vibratory driver or equivalent) and/or impact hammers (D-46-42 diesel impact hammer or equivalent) operated from a barge-mounted crane. Vibratory driving is the preferred method; however, impact driving may be necessary if piles cannot be driven to the necessary embedment depth using the vibratory method. Under the Standard Local Operating Procedures for Endangered Species (SLOPES) IV biological opinion (NMFS 2012a), impact driving in the Columbia River is only allowed during the month of November, and must use an acoustic attenuation device (e.g., a bubble curtain). This programmatic biological opinion examined the effects of implementing standard local operating procedures for Corps activities involving inwater or over-water structures (including pile driving, access management, and minor discharges) in Oregon and the south shore of the Columbia River and its tributaries. The measures described above are required to protect 17 fish species, including multiple salmon species (Oncorhynchus sp) as well as Southern green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) and eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus). Note that the programmatic biological opinion does not apply to this proposed IHA, but rather to the Corps' pile driving activities. Piles are generally installed by a rig that supports the pile leads, raises the pile, and operates a driver. Driving shoes may be used.

It is estimated that each pile will take up to one hour to install using vibratory methods with 30 minutes of that time being actual driving of the pile. Whether impact or vibratory methods are employed, one pile will be installed per pile dike location per day. Depending on weather and other logistical constraints, piles will be installed at up to 9 locations per day. For piles driven with an impact hammer, there are an estimated 550 strikes per pile requiring up to one hour, assuming a hammer energy rating of 55,000 ft-lbs and piles being driven through a combination of sand and rock (Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal, WSDOT 2018a, 2018b). Actual pile driving rates will vary, and a typical day will likely involve fewer locations and fewer strikes.

The contractor may use multiple pile-driving and material barges to facilitate completion of work within the in-water work window. However, concurrent work at two or more locations are unlikely to be in close proximity to each other.

Proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures are described in detail later in this document (please see Proposed Mitigation and Proposed Monitoring and Reporting).

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of Specified Activities

Sections 3 and 4 of the application summarize available information regarding status and trends, distribution and habitat preferences, and behavior and life history, of the potentially affected species. Additional information regarding population trends and threats may be found in NMFS's Stock Assessment Reports (SARs; https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/​national/​marine-mammal-protection/​marine-mammal-stock-assessments) and more general information about these species (e.g., physical and behavioral descriptions) may be found on NMFS's website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/​find- species).

Table 1 lists all marine mammal species with expected potential for occurrence in the lower Columbia River and summarizes information related to the population or stock, including regulatory status under the MMPA and ESA and potential biological removal (PBR), where known. For taxonomy, we follow Committee on Taxonomy (2016). PBR is defined by the MMPA as the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population (as described in NMFS's SARs). While no mortality is anticipated or authorized here, PBR and annual serious injury and mortality from anthropogenic sources are included here as gross indicators of the status of the species and other threats.

Marine mammal abundance estimates presented in this document represent the total number of individuals that make up a given stock or the total number estimated within a particular study or survey area. NMFS's stock abundance estimates for most species represent the total estimate of individuals within the geographic area, if known, that comprise that stock. For some species, this geographic area may extend beyond U.S. waters. All managed stocks in this region are assessed in NMFS's 2018 U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal SARs (Carretta et al., 2019). All values presented in Table 1 are the most recent available at the time of publication and are available in the 2018 SARs (Carretta et al., 2019).

Table 1—Marine Mammal Species Likely To Be in Lower Columbia River Near King Pile Marker Sites

Common nameScientific nameStockESA/ MMPA status; strategic (Y/N) 1Stock abundance (CV, Nmin, most recent abundance survey) 2PBRAnnual M/SI 3
Order Carnivora—Superfamily Pinnipedia
Family Otariidae (eared seals and sea lions):
California sea lionZalophus californianusU.S. Stock-, -, N257,606 (N/A, 233,515, 2014)14,011>320
Steller sea lionEumetopias jubatusEastern U.S-, -, N41,638 (See SAR, 41,638, 2015)2,498108
Family Phocidae (earless seals):
Harbor sealPhoca vitulina richardiiOregon and Washington Coast-, -, NUNK (UNK, UNK, 1999)UND10.6
1 Endangered Species Act (ESA) status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (-) indicates that the species is not listed under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one for which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds PBR or which is determined to be declining and likely to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed under the ESA is automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock.
2 NMFS marine mammal stock assessment reports online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​sars/​. CV is coefficient of variation; Nmin is the minimum estimate of stock abundance. In some cases, CV is not applicable.Start Printed Page 44870
3 These values, found in NMFS's SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g., commercial fisheries, ship strike). Annual M/SI often cannot be determined precisely and is in some cases presented as a minimum value or range. A CV associated with estimated mortality due to commercial fisheries is presented in some cases.

All species that could potentially occur in the proposed survey areas are included in Table 1. All three species (with three managed stocks) described below co-occur temporally and spatially co-occur with the proposed activity to the degree that take is reasonably likely to occur, and we have proposed authorizing it.

California Sea Lion

California sea lions are found along the west coast from the southern tip of Baja California to southeast Alaska. They breed mainly on offshore islands from Southern California's Channel Islands south to Mexico. Non-breeding males often roam north in spring foraging for food. Since the mid-1980s, increasing numbers of California sea lions have been documented feeding on fish along the Washington coast and—more recently—in the Columbia River as far upstream as Bonneville Dam, 145 mi (233 km) from the river mouth. Large numbers of California sea lions also use the South Jetty at the Mouth of Columbia River for hauling out (Jeffries 2000). The jetty is located approximately 40 miles downriver from the nearest king pile that would be replaced.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife survey information (2007 and 2014) indicates that California sea lions are relatively less prevalent in the Pacific Northwest during June and July, though in the months just before and after their absence there can be several hundred using the South Jetty. More frequent Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife surveys (2014) indicate greater numbers in the summer, and use remains concentrated to fall and winter months. Nearly all California sea lions in the Pacific Northwest are sub-adult and adult males (females and young generally stay in California).

Although coast wide the population has grown, the numbers seen in the river and upstream at Bonneville dam during both the spring and fall/winter observation periods have decreased since 2003. This may be in due to the California sea lion management activities that have been implemented to reduce their predation rates on salmon and steelhead. These activities include hazing of all California sea lions near the dam and fish ladders, as well as the lethal removal of the individuals with the highest predation rates (Tidwell et al. 2019).

Steller Sea Lion

The range of the Steller sea lion includes the North Pacific Ocean rim from California to northern Japan. Steller sea lions forage in nearshore and pelagic waters where they are opportunistic predators. Steller sea lion populations that primarily occur east of 144° W (Cape Suckling, Alaska) comprise the Eastern Distinct Population Segment (DPS) (Carretta et al. 2019). Stellar sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) are currently the most common marine mammal observed in the proposed action area. They are frequently observed between the river's mouth (RM 0) and the Bonneville Dam tailrace (RM 146). Large numbers of Steller sea lions use the South Jetty for hauling out (Jeffries 2000) and are present, in varying abundances, all year.

During an August-December monitoring period the number of individuals observed at Bonneville Dam has been increasing for the past decade (Tidwell et al. 2019). The Bonneville dam observation area is approximately 10 miles upstream of the nearest king pile that is proposed for replacement under this IHA.

Harbor Seal

Harbor seals range from Baja California, north along the western coasts of the United States, British Columbia and southeast Alaska, west through the Gulf of Alaska, Prince William Sound, and the Aleutian Islands, and north in the Bering Sea to Cape Newenham and the Pribilof Islands. They are one of the most abundant pinnipeds in Oregon and can typically be found in coastal marine and estuarine waters of the Oregon coast throughout the year. On land, they can be found on offshore rocks and islands, along shore, and on exposed flats in the estuary (Harvey 1987). They haul out on rocks, reefs, beaches, and drifting glacial ice and feed in marine, estuarine, and occasionally fresh waters. Harbor seals generally are non-migratory, with local movements associated with tides, weather, season, food availability, and reproduction. Harbor seals do not make extensive pelagic migrations (Carretta et al. 2019). Major haul-out sites with more than 500 individuals have been noted in the Columbia River and are downstream of Tongue Point, about 25 miles downstream of the nearest king pile driving location proposed for this project (Jeffries 2000). They are uncommon upstream near the Bonneville dam in all seasons.

Marine Mammal Hearing

Hearing is the most important sensory modality for marine mammals underwater, and exposure to anthropogenic sound can have deleterious effects. To appropriately assess the potential effects of exposure to sound, it is necessary to understand the frequency ranges marine mammals are able to hear. Current data indicate that not all marine mammal species have equal hearing capabilities (e.g., Richardson et al., 1995; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999; Au and Hastings, 2008). To reflect this, Southall et al. (2007) recommended that marine mammals be divided into functional hearing groups based on directly measured or estimated hearing ranges on the basis of available behavioral response data, audiograms derived using auditory evoked potential techniques, anatomical modeling, and other data. Note that no direct measurements of hearing ability have been successfully completed for mysticetes (i.e., low-frequency cetaceans). Subsequently, NMFS (2018) described generalized hearing ranges for these marine mammal hearing groups. Generalized hearing ranges were chosen based on the approximately 65 decibel (dB) threshold from the normalized composite audiograms, with the exception for lower limits for low-frequency cetaceans where the lower bound was deemed to be biologically implausible and the lower bound from Southall et al. (2007) retained. Marine mammal hearing groups and their associated hearing ranges are provided in Table 2.

Table 2—Marine Mammal Hearing Groups

[NMFS, 2018]

Hearing groupGeneralized hearing range *
Low-frequency (LF) cetaceans (baleen whales)7 Hz to 35 kHz.
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Mid-frequency (MF) cetaceans (dolphins, toothed whales, beaked whales, bottlenose whales)150 Hz to 160 kHz.
High-frequency (HF) cetaceans (true porpoises, Kogia, river dolphins, cephalorhynchid, Lagenorhynchus cruciger & L. australis)275 Hz to 160 kHz.
Phocid pinnipeds (PW) (underwater) (true seals)50 Hz to 86 kHz.
Otariid pinnipeds (OW) (underwater) (sea lions and fur seals)60 Hz to 39 kHz.
* Represents the generalized hearing range for the entire group as a composite (i.e., all species within the group), where individual species' hearing ranges are typically not as broad. Generalized hearing range chosen based on ~65 dB threshold from normalized composite audiogram, with the exception for lower limits for LF cetaceans (Southall et al. 2007) and PW pinniped (approximation).

The pinniped functional hearing group was modified from Southall et al. (2007) on the basis of data indicating that phocid species have consistently demonstrated an extended frequency range of hearing compared to otariids, especially in the higher frequency range (Hemilä et al., 2006; Kastelein et al., 2009; Reichmuth and Holt, 2013).

For more detail concerning these groups and associated frequency ranges, please see NMFS (2018) for a review of available information. Three pinniped species (two otariid and one phocid) have the reasonable potential to co-occur with the proposed survey activities. Please refer to Table 2

Potential Effects of Specified Activities on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat

This section includes a summary and discussion of the ways that components of the specified activity may impact marine mammals and their habitat. The Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment section later in this document includes a quantitative analysis of the number of individuals that are expected to be taken by this activity. The Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination section considers the content of this section, the Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment section, and the Proposed Mitigation section, to draw conclusions regarding the likely impacts of these activities on the reproductive success or survivorship of individuals and how those impacts on individuals are likely to impact marine mammal species or stocks.

Acoustic effects on marine mammals during the specified activity can occur from vibratory and impact pile driving. The effects of underwater noise from the Corps' proposed activities have the potential to result in Level A and Level B harassment of marine mammals in the vicinity of the project area.

Description of Sound Sources

This section contains a brief technical background on sound, on the characteristics of certain sound types, and on metrics used in this proposal inasmuch as the information is relevant to the specified activity and to a discussion of the potential effects of the specified activity on marine mammals found later in this document. For general information on sound and its interaction with the marine environment, please see, e.g., Au and Hastings (2008); Richardson et al. (1995); Urick (1983).

Sound travels in waves, the basic components of which are frequency, wavelength, velocity, and amplitude. Frequency is the number of pressure waves that pass by a reference point per unit of time and is measured in hertz (Hz) or cycles per second. Wavelength is the distance between two peaks or corresponding points of a sound wave (length of one cycle). Higher frequency sounds have shorter wavelengths than lower frequency sounds, and typically attenuate (decrease) more rapidly, except in certain cases in shallower water. Amplitude is the height of the sound pressure wave or the “loudness” of a sound and is typically described using the relative unit of the dB. A sound pressure level (SPL) in dB is described as the ratio between a measured pressure and a reference pressure (for underwater sound, this is 1 microPascal (μPa)), and is a logarithmic unit that accounts for large variations in amplitude; therefore, a relatively small change in dB corresponds to large changes in sound pressure. The source level (SL) represents the SPL referenced at a distance of 1 m from the source (referenced to 1 μPa), while the received level is the SPL at the listener's position (referenced to 1 μPa).

Root mean square (rms) is the quadratic mean sound pressure over the duration of an impulse. Root mean square is calculated by squaring all of the sound amplitudes, averaging the squares, and then taking the square root of the average (Urick, 1983). Root mean square accounts for both positive and negative values; squaring the pressures makes all values positive so that they may be accounted for in the summation of pressure levels (Hastings and Popper, 2005). This measurement is often used in the context of discussing behavioral effects, in part because behavioral effects, which often result from auditory cues, may be better expressed through averaged units than by peak pressures.

Sound exposure level (SEL; represented as dB re 1 μPa2-s) represents the total energy in a stated frequency band over a stated time interval or event, and considers both intensity and duration of exposure. The per-pulse SEL is calculated over the time window containing the entire pulse (i.e., 100 percent of the acoustic energy). SEL is a cumulative metric; it can be accumulated over a single pulse, or calculated over periods containing multiple pulses. Cumulative SEL represents the total energy accumulated by a receiver over a defined time window or during an event. Peak sound pressure (also referred to as zero-to-peak sound pressure or 0-pk) is the maximum instantaneous sound pressure measurable in the water at a specified distance from the source, and is represented in the same units as the rms sound pressure.

When underwater objects vibrate or activity occurs, sound-pressure waves are created. These waves alternately compress and decompress the water as the sound wave travels. Underwater sound waves radiate in a manner similar to ripples on the surface of a pond and may be either directed in a beam or beams or may radiate in all directions (omnidirectional sources), as is the case for sound produced by the pile driving activity considered here. The compressions and decompressions associated with sound waves are detected as changes in pressure by aquatic life and man-made sound receptors such as hydrophones.

Even in the absence of sound from the specified activity, the underwater environment is typically loud due to ambient sound, which is defined as environmental background sound levels lacking a single source or point (Richardson et al., 1995). The sound Start Printed Page 44872level of a region is defined by the total acoustical energy being generated by known and unknown sources. These sources may include physical (e.g., wind and waves, earthquakes, ice, atmospheric sound), biological (e.g., sounds produced by marine mammals, fish, and invertebrates), and anthropogenic (e.g., vessels, dredging, construction) sound. A number of sources contribute to ambient sound, including wind and waves, which are a main source of naturally occurring ambient sound for frequencies between 200 Hz and 50 kilohertz (kHz) (Mitson, 1995). In general, ambient sound levels tend to increase with increasing wind speed and wave height. Precipitation can become an important component of total sound at frequencies above 500 Hz, and possibly down to 100 Hz during quiet times. Marine mammals can contribute significantly to ambient sound levels, as can some fish and snapping shrimp. The frequency band for biological contributions is from approximately 12 Hz to over 100 kHz. Sources of ambient sound related to human activity include transportation (surface vessels), dredging and construction, oil and gas drilling and production, geophysical surveys, sonar, and explosions. Vessel noise typically dominates the total ambient sound for frequencies between 20 and 300 Hz. In general, the frequencies of anthropogenic sounds are below 1 kHz and, if higher frequency sound levels are created, they attenuate rapidly.

The sum of the various natural and anthropogenic sound sources that comprise ambient sound at any given location and time depends not only on the source levels (as determined by current weather conditions and levels of biological and human activity) but also on the ability of sound to propagate through the environment. In turn, sound propagation is dependent on the spatially and temporally varying properties of the water column and sea floor, and is frequency-dependent. As a result of the dependence on a large number of varying factors, ambient sound levels can be expected to vary widely over both coarse and fine spatial and temporal scales. Sound levels at a given frequency and location can vary by 10-20 dB from day to day (Richardson et al., 1995). The result is that, depending on the source type and its intensity, sound from the specified activity may be a negligible addition to the local environment or could form a distinctive signal that may affect marine mammals.

Sounds are often considered to fall into one of two general types: Pulsed and non-pulsed (defined in the following). The distinction between these two sound types is important because they have differing potential to cause physical effects, particularly with regard to hearing (e.g., Ward, 1997 in Southall et al., 2007). Please see Southall et al. (2007) for an in-depth discussion of these concepts. The distinction between these two sound types is not always obvious, as certain signals share properties of both pulsed and non-pulsed sounds. A signal near a source could be categorized as a pulse, but due to propagation effects as it moves farther from the source, the signal duration becomes longer (e.g., Greene and Richardson, 1988).

Pulsed sound sources (e.g., airguns, explosions, gunshots, sonic booms, impact pile driving) produce signals that are brief (typically considered to be less than one second), broadband, atonal transients (ANSI, 1986, 2005; Harris, 1998; NIOSH, 1998; ISO, 2003) and occur either as isolated events or repeated in some succession. Pulsed sounds are all characterized by a relatively rapid rise from ambient pressure to a maximal pressure value followed by a rapid decay period that may include a period of diminishing, oscillating maximal and minimal pressures, and generally have an increased capacity to induce physical injury as compared with sounds that lack these features.

Non-pulsed sounds can be tonal, narrowband, or broadband, brief or prolonged, and may be either continuous or intermittent (ANSI, 1995; NIOSH, 1998). Some of these non-pulsed sounds can be transient signals of short duration but without the essential properties of pulses (e.g., rapid rise time). Examples of non-pulsed sounds include those produced by vessels, aircraft, machinery operations such as drilling or dredging, vibratory pile driving, and active sonar systems. The duration of such sounds, as received at a distance, can be greatly extended in a highly reverberant environment.

The impulsive sound generated by impact hammers is characterized by rapid rise times and high peak levels. Vibratory hammers produce non-impulsive, continuous noise at levels significantly lower than those produced by impact hammers. Rise time is slower, reducing the probability and severity of injury, and sound energy is distributed over a greater amount of time (e.g., Nedwell and Edwards, 2002; Carlson et al., 2005).

Acoustic Effects on Marine Mammals

We previously provided general background information on marine mammal hearing (see “Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity”). Here, we discuss the potential effects of sound on marine mammals.

Note that, in the following discussion, we refer in many cases to a review article concerning studies of noise-induced hearing loss conducted from 1996-2015 (i.e., Finneran, 2015). For study-specific citations, please see that work. Anthropogenic sounds cover a broad range of frequencies and sound levels and can have a range of highly variable impacts on marine life, from none or minor to potentially severe responses, depending on received levels, duration of exposure, behavioral context, and various other factors. The potential effects of underwater sound from active acoustic sources can potentially result in one or more of the following: Temporary or permanent hearing impairment, non-auditory physical or physiological effects, behavioral disturbance, stress, and masking (Richardson et al., 1995; Gordon et al., 2004; Nowacek et al., 2007; Southall et al., 2007; Götz et al., 2009). The degree of effect is intrinsically related to the signal characteristics, received level, distance from the source, and duration of the sound exposure. In general, sudden, high level sounds can cause hearing loss, as can longer exposures to lower level sounds. Temporary or permanent loss of hearing will occur almost exclusively for noise within an animal's hearing range. We first describe specific manifestations of acoustic effects before providing discussion specific to pile driving activities.

Richardson et al. (1995) described zones of increasing intensity of effect that might be expected to occur, in relation to distance from a source and assuming that the signal is within an animal's hearing range. First is the area within which the acoustic signal would be audible (potentially perceived) to the animal but not strong enough to elicit any overt behavioral or physiological response. The next zone corresponds with the area where the signal is audible to the animal and of sufficient intensity to elicit behavioral or physiological responsiveness. Third is a zone within which, for signals of high intensity, the received level is sufficient to potentially cause discomfort or tissue damage to auditory or other systems. Overlaying these zones to a certain extent is the area within which masking (i.e., when a sound interferes with or masks the ability of an animal to detect a signal of interest that is above the absolute hearing threshold) may occur; the Start Printed Page 44873masking zone may be highly variable in size.

We describe the more severe effects (i.e., certain non-auditory physical or physiological effects) only briefly as we do not expect that there is a reasonable likelihood that pile driving may result in such effects (see below for further discussion). Potential effects from explosive impulsive sound sources can range in severity from effects such as behavioral disturbance or tactile perception to physical discomfort, slight injury of the internal organs and the auditory system, or mortality (Yelverton et al., 1973). Non-auditory physiological effects or injuries that theoretically might occur in marine mammals exposed to high level underwater sound or as a secondary effect of extreme behavioral reactions (e.g., change in dive profile as a result of an avoidance reaction) caused by exposure to sound include neurological effects, bubble formation, resonance effects, and other types of organ or tissue damage (Cox et al., 2006; Southall et al., 2007; Zimmer and Tyack, 2007). The construction activities considered here do not involve the use of devices such as explosives or mid-frequency tactical sonar that are associated with these types of effects.

Threshold Shift—Marine mammals exposed to high-intensity sound, or to lower-intensity sound for prolonged periods, can experience hearing threshold shift (TS), which is the loss of hearing sensitivity at certain frequency ranges (Finneran, 2015). TS can be permanent (PTS), in which case the loss of hearing sensitivity is not fully recoverable, or temporary (TTS), in which case the animal's hearing threshold would recover over time (Southall et al., 2007). Repeated sound exposure that leads to TTS could cause PTS. In severe cases of PTS, there can be total or partial deafness, while in most cases the animal has an impaired ability to hear sounds in specific frequency ranges (Kryter, 1985).

When PTS occurs, there is physical damage to the sound receptors in the ear (i.e., tissue damage), whereas TTS represents primarily tissue fatigue and is reversible (Southall et al., 2007). In addition, other investigators have suggested that TTS is within the normal bounds of physiological variability and tolerance and does not represent physical injury (e.g., Ward, 1997). Therefore, NMFS does not consider TTS to constitute auditory injury.

Relationships between TTS and PTS thresholds have not been studied in marine mammals, and there is no PTS data for cetaceans, but such relationships are assumed to be similar to those in humans and other terrestrial mammals. PTS typically occurs at exposure levels at least several decibels above (a 40-dB threshold shift approximates PTS onset; e.g., Kryter et al., 1966; Miller, 1974) that inducing mild TTS (a 6-dB threshold shift approximates TTS onset; e.g., Southall et al. 2007). Based on data from terrestrial mammals, a precautionary assumption is that the PTS thresholds for impulse sounds (such as impact pile driving pulses as received close to the source) are at least 6 dB higher than the TTS threshold on a peak-pressure basis and PTS cumulative sound exposure level thresholds are 15 to 20 dB higher than TTS cumulative sound exposure level thresholds (Southall et al., 2007). Given the higher level of sound or longer exposure duration necessary to cause PTS as compared with TTS, it is considerably less likely that PTS could occur.

TTS is the mildest form of hearing impairment that can occur during exposure to sound (Kryter, 1985). While experiencing TTS, the hearing threshold rises, and a sound must be at a higher level in order to be heard. In terrestrial and marine mammals, TTS can last from minutes or hours to days (in cases of strong TTS). In many cases, hearing sensitivity recovers rapidly after exposure to the sound ends. Few data on sound levels and durations necessary to elicit mild TTS have been obtained for marine mammals.

Marine mammal hearing plays a critical role in communication with conspecifics, and interpretation of environmental cues for purposes such as predator avoidance and prey capture. Depending on the degree (elevation of threshold in dB), duration (i.e., recovery time), and frequency range of TTS, and the context in which it is experienced, TTS can have effects on marine mammals ranging from discountable to serious. For example, a marine mammal may be able to readily compensate for a brief, relatively small amount of TTS in a non-critical frequency range that occurs during a time where ambient noise is lower and there are not as many competing sounds present. Alternatively, a larger amount and longer duration of TTS sustained during time when communication is critical for successful mother/calf interactions could have more serious impacts.

Currently, TTS data only exist for four species of cetaceans (bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas), harbor porpoise, and Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocoena asiaeorientalis)) and three species of pinnipeds (northern elephant seal, harbor seal, and California sea lion) exposed to a limited number of sound sources (i.e., mostly tones and octave-band noise) in laboratory settings (Finneran, 2015). TTS was not observed in trained spotted (Phoca largha) and ringed (Pusa hispida) seals exposed to impulsive noise at levels matching previous predictions of TTS onset (Reichmuth et al., 2016). In general, harbor seals and harbor porpoises have a lower TTS onset than other measured pinniped or cetacean species (Finneran, 2015). Additionally, the existing marine mammal TTS data come from a limited number of individuals within these species. There are no data available on noise-induced hearing loss for mysticetes. For summaries of data on TTS in marine mammals or for further discussion of TTS onset thresholds, please see Southall et al. (2007), Finneran and Jenkins (2012), Finneran (2015), and NMFS (2018).

Behavioral Effects—Behavioral disturbance may include a variety of effects, including subtle changes in behavior (e.g., minor or brief avoidance of an area or changes in vocalizations), more conspicuous changes in similar behavioral activities, and more sustained and/or potentially severe reactions, such as displacement from or abandonment of high-quality habitat. Behavioral responses to sound are highly variable and context-specific and any reactions depend on numerous intrinsic and extrinsic factors (e.g., species, state of maturity, experience, current activity, reproductive state, auditory sensitivity, time of day), as well as the interplay between factors (e.g., Richardson et al., 1995; Wartzok et al., 2003; Southall et al., 2007; Weilgart, 2007; Archer et al., 2010). Behavioral reactions can vary not only among individuals but also within an individual, depending on previous experience with a sound source, context, and numerous other factors (Ellison et al., 2012), and can vary depending on characteristics associated with the sound source (e.g., whether it is moving or stationary, number of sources, distance from the source). Please see Appendices B-C of Southall et al. (2007) for a review of studies involving marine mammal behavioral responses to sound.

Habituation can occur when an animal's response to a stimulus wanes with repeated exposure, usually in the absence of unpleasant associated events (Wartzok et al., 2003). Animals are most likely to habituate to sounds that are predictable and unvarying. It is important to note that habituation is appropriately considered as a “progressive reduction in response to Start Printed Page 44874stimuli that are perceived as neither aversive nor beneficial,” rather than as, more generally, moderation in response to human disturbance (Bejder et al., 2009). The opposite process is sensitization, when an unpleasant experience leads to subsequent responses, often in the form of avoidance, at a lower level of exposure. As noted, behavioral state may affect the type of response. For example, animals that are resting may show greater behavioral change in response to disturbing sound levels than animals that are highly motivated to remain in an area for feeding (Richardson et al., 1995; NRC, 2003; Wartzok et al., 2003). Controlled experiments with captive marine mammals have showed pronounced behavioral reactions, including avoidance of loud sound sources (Ridgway et al., 1997; Finneran et al., 2003). Observed responses of wild marine mammals to loud pulsed sound sources (typically airguns or acoustic harassment devices) have been varied but often consist of avoidance behavior or other behavioral changes suggesting discomfort (Morton and Symonds, 2002; see also Richardson et al., 1995; Nowacek et al., 2007). However, many delphinids approach low-frequency airgun source vessels with no apparent discomfort or obvious behavioral change (e.g., Barkaszi et al., 2012), indicating the importance of frequency output in relation to the species' hearing sensitivity.

Available studies show wide variation in response to underwater sound; therefore, it is difficult to predict specifically how any given sound in a particular instance might affect marine mammals perceiving the signal. If a marine mammal does react briefly to an underwater sound by changing its behavior or moving a small distance, the impacts of the change are unlikely to be significant to the individual, let alone the stock or population. However, if a sound source displaces marine mammals from an important feeding or breeding area for a prolonged period, impacts on individuals and populations could be significant (e.g., Lusseau and Bejder, 2007; Weilgart, 2007; NRC, 2005). However, there are broad categories of potential response, which we describe in greater detail here, that include alteration of dive behavior, alteration of foraging behavior, effects to breathing, interference with or alteration of vocalization, avoidance, and flight.

Changes in dive behavior can vary widely and may consist of increased or decreased dive times and surface intervals as well as changes in the rates of ascent and descent during a dive (e.g., Frankel and Clark, 2000; Costa et al., 2003; Ng and Leung, 2003; Nowacek et al., 2004; Goldbogen et al., 2013a, 2013b). Variations in dive behavior may reflect interruptions in biologically significant activities (e.g., foraging) or they may be of little biological significance. The impact of an alteration to dive behavior resulting from an acoustic exposure depends on what the animal is doing at the time of the exposure and the type and magnitude of the response.

Disruption of feeding behavior can be difficult to correlate with anthropogenic sound exposure, so it is usually inferred by observed displacement from known foraging areas, the appearance of secondary indicators (e.g., bubble nets or sediment plumes), or changes in dive behavior. As for other types of behavioral response, the frequency, duration, and temporal pattern of signal presentation, as well as differences in species sensitivity, are likely contributing factors to differences in response in any given circumstance (e.g., Croll et al., 2001; Nowacek et al., 2004; Madsen et al., 2006; Yazvenko et al., 2007). A determination of whether foraging disruptions incur fitness consequences would require information on or estimates of the energetic requirements of the affected individuals and the relationship between prey availability, foraging effort and success, and the life history stage of the animal.

Variations in respiration naturally vary with different behaviors and alterations to breathing rate as a function of acoustic exposure can be expected to co-occur with other behavioral reactions, such as a flight response or an alteration in diving. However, respiration rates in and of themselves may be representative of annoyance or an acute stress response. Various studies have shown that respiration rates may either be unaffected or could increase, depending on the species and signal characteristics, again highlighting the importance in understanding species differences in the tolerance of underwater noise when determining the potential for impacts resulting from anthropogenic sound exposure (e.g., Kastelein et al., 2001, 2005, 2006; Gailey et al., 2007).

Marine mammals vocalize for different purposes and across multiple modes, such as whistling, echolocation click production, calling, and singing. Changes in vocalization behavior in response to anthropogenic noise can occur for any of these modes and may result from a need to compete with an increase in background noise or may reflect increased vigilance or a startle response. For example, in the presence of potentially masking signals, humpback whales and killer whales have been observed to increase the length of their songs (Miller et al., 2000; Fristrup et al., 2003; Foote et al., 2004), while right whales have been observed to shift the frequency content of their calls upward while reducing the rate of calling in areas of increased anthropogenic noise (Parks et al., 2007). In some cases, animals may cease sound production during production of aversive signals (Bowles et al., 1994).

Avoidance is the displacement of an individual from an area or migration path as a result of the presence of a sound or other stressors, and is one of the most obvious manifestations of disturbance in marine mammals (Richardson et al., 1995). For example, gray whales are known to change direction—deflecting from customary migratory paths—in order to avoid noise from airgun surveys (Malme et al., 1984). Avoidance may be short-term, with animals returning to the area once the noise has ceased (e.g., Bowles et al., 1994; Goold, 1996; Stone et al., 2000; Morton and Symonds, 2002; Gailey et al., 2007). Longer-term displacement is possible, however, which may lead to changes in abundance or distribution patterns of the affected species in the affected region if habituation to the presence of the sound does not occur (e.g., Blackwell et al., 2004; Bejder et al., 2006; Teilmann et al., 2006).

A flight response is a dramatic change in normal movement to a directed and rapid movement away from the perceived location of a sound source. The flight response differs from other avoidance responses in the intensity of the response (e.g., directed movement, rate of travel). Relatively little information on flight responses of marine mammals to anthropogenic signals exist, although observations of flight responses to the presence of predators have occurred (Connor and Heithaus, 1996). The result of a flight response could range from brief, temporary exertion and displacement from the area where the signal provokes flight to, in extreme cases, marine mammal strandings (Evans and England, 2001). However, it should be noted that response to a perceived predator does not necessarily invoke flight (Ford and Reeves, 2008), and whether individuals are solitary or in groups may influence the response.

Behavioral disturbance can also impact marine mammals in more subtle ways. Increased vigilance may result in costs related to diversion of focus and attention (i.e., when a response consists of increased vigilance, it may come at the cost of decreased attention to other Start Printed Page 44875critical behaviors such as foraging or resting). These effects have generally not been demonstrated for marine mammals, but studies involving fish and terrestrial animals have shown that increased vigilance may substantially reduce feeding rates (e.g., Beauchamp and Livoreil, 1997; Fritz et al., 2002; Purser and Radford, 2011). In addition, chronic disturbance can cause population declines through reduction of fitness (e.g., decline in body condition) and subsequent reduction in reproductive success, survival, or both (e.g., Harrington and Veitch, 1992; Daan et al., 1996). However, Ridgway et al. (2006) reported that increased vigilance in bottlenose dolphins exposed to sound over a five-day period did not cause any sleep deprivation or stress effects.

Many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, traveling, and socializing, on a diel cycle (24-hour cycle). Disruption of such functions resulting from reactions to stressors such as sound exposure are more likely to be significant if they last more than one diel cycle or recur on subsequent days (Southall et al., 2007). Consequently, a behavioral response lasting less than one day and not recurring on subsequent days is not considered particularly severe unless it could directly affect reproduction or survival (Southall et al., 2007). Note that there is a difference between multi-day substantive behavioral reactions and multi-day anthropogenic activities. For example, just because an activity lasts for multiple days does not necessarily mean that individual animals are either exposed to activity-related stressors for multiple days or, further, exposed in a manner resulting in sustained multi-day substantive behavioral responses.

Stress Responses—An animal's perception of a threat may be sufficient to trigger stress responses consisting of some combination of behavioral responses, autonomic nervous system responses, neuroendocrine responses, or immune responses (e.g., Seyle, 1950; Moberg, 2000). In many cases, an animal's first and sometimes most economical (in terms of energetic costs) response is behavioral avoidance of the potential stressor. Autonomic nervous system responses to stress typically involve changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and gastrointestinal activity. These responses have a relatively short duration and may or may not have a significant long-term effect on an animal's fitness.

Neuroendocrine stress responses often involve the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system. Virtually all neuroendocrine functions that are affected by stress—including immune competence, reproduction, metabolism, and behavior—are regulated by pituitary hormones. Stress-induced changes in the secretion of pituitary hormones have been implicated in failed reproduction, altered metabolism, reduced immune competence, and behavioral disturbance (e.g., Moberg, 1987; Blecha, 2000). Increases in the circulation of glucocorticoids are also equated with stress (Romano et al., 2004).

The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does not normally place an animal at risk) and “distress” is the cost of the response. During a stress response, an animal uses glycogen stores that can be quickly replenished once the stress is alleviated. In such circumstances, the cost of the stress response would not pose serious fitness consequences. However, when an animal does not have sufficient energy reserves to satisfy the energetic costs of a stress response, energy resources must be diverted from other functions. This state of distress will last until the animal replenishes its energetic reserves sufficient to restore normal function.

Relationships between these physiological mechanisms, animal behavior, and the costs of stress responses are well-studied through controlled experiments and for both laboratory and free-ranging animals (e.g., Holberton et al., 1996; Hood et al., 1998; Jessop et al., 2003; Krausman et al., 2004; Lankford et al., 2005). Stress responses due to exposure to anthropogenic sounds or other stressors and their effects on marine mammals have also been reviewed (Fair and Becker, 2000; Romano et al., 2002b) and, more rarely, studied in wild populations (e.g., Romano et al., 2002a). For example, Rolland et al. (2012) found that noise reduction from reduced ship traffic in the Bay of Fundy was associated with decreased stress in North Atlantic right whales. These and other studies lead to a reasonable expectation that some marine mammals will experience physiological stress responses upon exposure to acoustic stressors and that it is possible that some of these would be classified as “distress.” In addition, any animal experiencing TTS would likely also experience stress responses (NRC, 2003).

Auditory Masking—Sound can disrupt behavior through masking, or interfering with, an animal's ability to detect, recognize, or discriminate between acoustic signals of interest (e.g., those used for intraspecific communication and social interactions, prey detection, predator avoidance, navigation) (Richardson et al., 1995; Erbe et al., 2016). Masking occurs when the receipt of a sound is interfered with by another coincident sound at similar frequencies and at similar or higher intensity, and may occur whether the sound is natural (e.g., snapping shrimp, wind, waves, precipitation) or anthropogenic (e.g., shipping, sonar, seismic exploration) in origin. The ability of a noise source to mask biologically important sounds depends on the characteristics of both the noise source and the signal of interest (e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, temporal variability, direction), in relation to each other and to an animal's hearing abilities (e.g., sensitivity, frequency range, critical ratios, frequency discrimination, directional discrimination, age or TTS hearing loss), and existing ambient noise and propagation conditions.

Under certain circumstances, marine mammals experiencing significant masking could also be impaired from maximizing their performance fitness in survival and reproduction. Therefore, when the coincident (masking) sound is man-made, it may be considered harassment when disrupting or altering critical behaviors. It is important to distinguish TTS and PTS, which persist after the sound exposure, from masking, which occurs during the sound exposure. Because masking (without resulting in TS) is not associated with abnormal physiological function, it is not considered a physiological effect, but rather a potential behavioral effect.

The frequency range of the potentially masking sound is important in determining any potential behavioral impacts. For example, low-frequency signals may have less effect on high-frequency echolocation sounds produced by odontocetes but are more likely to affect detection of mysticete communication calls and other potentially important natural sounds such as those produced by surf and some prey species. The masking of communication signals by anthropogenic noise may be considered as a reduction in the communication space of animals (e.g., Clark et al., 2009) and may result in energetic or other costs as animals change their vocalization behavior (e.g., Miller et al., 2000; Foote et al., 2004; Parks et al., 2007; Di Iorio and Clark, 2009;). Masking can be reduced in situations where the signal and noise come from different directions (Richardson et al., 1995), through amplitude modulation of the signal, or through other compensatory behaviors (Houser and Moore, 2014). Masking can be tested directly in captive species (e.g., Erbe, 2008), but in wild populations it must Start Printed Page 44876be either modeled or inferred from evidence of masking compensation. There are few studies addressing real-world masking sounds likely to be experienced by marine mammals in the wild (e.g., Branstetter et al., 2013).

Masking affects both senders and receivers of acoustic signals and can potentially have long-term chronic effects on marine mammals at the population level as well as at the individual level. Low-frequency ambient sound levels have increased by as much as 20 dB (more than three times in terms of SPL) in the world's ocean from pre-industrial periods, with most of the increase from distant commercial shipping (Hildebrand, 2009). All anthropogenic sound sources, but especially chronic and lower-frequency signals (e.g., from vessel traffic), contribute to elevated ambient sound levels, thus intensifying masking.

Airborne Acoustic Effects—Pinnipeds that occur near the project site could be exposed to airborne sounds associated with pile driving that have the potential to cause behavioral harassment, depending on their distance from pile driving activities. Airborne noise would primarily be an issue for pinnipeds that are swimming near the project site within the range of noise levels elevated above the acoustic criteria. We recognize that pinnipeds in the water could be exposed to airborne sound that may result in behavioral harassment when looking with their heads above water. Most likely, airborne sound would cause behavioral responses similar to those discussed above in relation to underwater sound. For instance, anthropogenic sound could cause hauled out pinnipeds to exhibit changes in their normal behavior, such as reduction in vocalizations, or cause them to temporarily abandon the area and move further from the source. However, these animals would previously have been `taken' because of exposure to underwater sound above the behavioral harassment thresholds, which are in all cases larger than those associated with airborne sound. Thus, the behavioral harassment of these animals is already accounted for in these estimates of potential take. Therefore, we do not believe that authorization of incidental take resulting from airborne sound for pinnipeds is warranted, and airborne sound is not discussed further here.

Potential Effects of the Corps' Proposed Activity—As described previously (see “Description of Active Acoustic Sound Sources”), the Corps proposes to conduct impact and vibratory driving. The effects of pile driving on marine mammals are dependent on several factors, including the size, type, and depth of the animal; the depth, intensity, and duration of the pile driving sound; the depth of the water column; the substrate of the habitat; the standoff distance between the pile and the animal; and the sound propagation properties of the environment. With both types, it is likely that the pile driving could result in temporary, short term changes in an animal's typical behavioral patterns and/or avoidance of the affected area. These behavioral changes may include (Richardson et al., 1995): Changing durations of surfacing and dives; moving direction and/or speed; reduced/increased vocal activities; changing/cessation of certain behavioral activities (such as socializing or feeding); visible startle response or aggressive behavior; avoidance of areas where sound sources are located; and/or flight responses.

The biological significance of many of these behavioral disturbances is difficult to predict, especially if the detected disturbances appear minor. However, the consequences of behavioral modification could be expected to be biologically significant if the change affects growth, survival, or reproduction. Significant behavioral modifications that could lead to effects on growth, survival, or reproduction, such as drastic changes in diving/surfacing patterns or significant habitat abandonment are extremely unlikely in this area (i.e., relatively shallow waters in an area with considerable vessel traffic).

Whether impact or vibratory driving, sound sources would be active for relatively short durations, with relation to potential for masking. The frequencies output by pile driving activity are lower than those used by most species expected to be regularly present for communication or foraging. We expect insignificant impacts from masking, and any masking event that could possibly rise to Level B harassment under the MMPA would occur concurrently within the zones of behavioral harassment already estimated for vibratory and impact pile driving, and which have already been taken into account in the exposure analysis.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

The proposed activities may have potential short-term impacts to food sources such as forage fish. The proposed activities could also affect acoustic habitat (see masking discussion above), but meaningful impacts are unlikely. There are no known foraging hotspots, or other ocean bottom structures of significant biological importance to marine mammals present in the waters in the vicinity of the multiple king pile marker sites. Therefore, the main impact issue associated with the proposed activity would be temporarily elevated sound levels and the associated direct effects on marine mammals, as discussed previously. The most likely impact to marine mammal habitat occurs from pile driving effects on likely marine mammal prey (i.e., fish) near where the piles are installed. Impacts to the immediate substrate during installation of piles would be minor since piles would be driven through existing enrockment structures. This could result in limited, temporary suspension of sediments, which could impact water quality and visibility for a short amount of time, but which would not be expected to have any effects on individual marine mammals. Impacts to substrate are therefore not discussed further.

Effects to Prey—Sound may affect marine mammals through impacts on the abundance, behavior, or distribution of prey species (e.g., crustaceans, cephalopods, fish, zooplankton). Marine mammal prey varies by species, season, and location and, for some, is not well documented. Here, we describe studies regarding the effects of noise on known marine mammal prey.

Fish utilize the soundscape and components of sound in their environment to perform important functions such as foraging, predator avoidance, mating, and spawning (e.g., Zelick et al., 1999; Fay, 2009). Depending on their hearing anatomy and peripheral sensory structures, which vary among species, fishes hear sounds using pressure and particle motion sensitivity capabilities and detect the motion of surrounding water (Fay et al., 2008). The potential effects of noise on fishes depends on the overlapping frequency range, distance from the sound source, water depth of exposure, and species-specific hearing sensitivity, anatomy, and physiology. Key impacts to fishes may include behavioral responses, hearing damage, barotrauma (pressure-related injuries), and mortality.

Fish react to sounds which are especially strong and/or intermittent low-frequency sounds, and behavioral responses such as flight or avoidance are the most likely effects. Short duration, sharp sounds can cause overt or subtle changes in fish behavior and local distribution. The reaction of fish to noise depends on the physiological state of the fish, past exposures, motivation Start Printed Page 44877(e.g., feeding, spawning, migration), and other environmental factors. Hastings and Popper (2005) identified several studies that suggest fish may relocate to avoid certain areas of sound energy. Additional studies have documented effects of pile driving on fish, although several are based on studies in support of large, multiyear bridge construction projects (e.g., Scholik and Yan, 2001, 2002; Popper and Hastings, 2009). Several studies have demonstrated that impulse sounds might affect the distribution and behavior of some fishes, potentially impacting foraging opportunities or increasing energetic costs (e.g., Fewtrell and McCauley, 2012; Pearson et al., 1992; Skalski et al., 1992; Santulli et al., 1999; Paxton et al., 2017). However, some studies have shown no or slight reaction to impulse sounds (e.g., Pena et al., 2013; Wardle et al., 2001; Jorgenson and Gyselman, 2009; Cott et al., 2012). More commonly, though, the impacts of noise on fish are temporary.

SPLs of sufficient strength have been known to cause injury to fish and fish mortality. However, in most fish species, hair cells in the ear continuously regenerate and loss of auditory function likely is restored when damaged cells are replaced with new cells. Halvorsen et al. (2012a) showed that a TTS of 4-6 dB was recoverable within 24 hours for one species. Impacts would be most severe when the individual fish is close to the source and when the duration of exposure is long. Injury caused by barotrauma can range from slight to severe and can cause death, and is most likely for fish with swim bladders. Barotrauma injuries have been documented during controlled exposure to impact pile driving (Halvorsen et al., 2012b; Casper et al., 2013).

The most likely impact to fish from pile driving activities at the project areas would be temporary behavioral avoidance of the area. The duration of fish avoidance of an area after pile driving stops is unknown, but a rapid return to normal recruitment, distribution and behavior is anticipated. In general, impacts to marine mammal prey species are expected to be minor and temporary due to the expected short daily duration of individual pile driving events at each king pile marker location and the relatively small areas being affected.

In summary, given the short duration of sound (up to 90 minutes) associated with individual pile driving events and the small area being affected relative to available nearby habitat, pile driving activities associated with the proposed action are not likely to have a permanent, adverse effect on any fish habitat, or populations of fish species or other prey. Thus, we conclude that impacts of the specified activity are not likely to have more than short-term adverse effects on any prey habitat or populations of prey species. Further, any impacts to marine mammal habitat are not expected to result in significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals, or to contribute to adverse impacts on their populations.

The area impacted by the project is relatively small compared to the available habitat in the lower Columbia River and Columbia River estuary. Any behavioral avoidance by fish of the disturbed area would still leave significantly large areas of fish and marine mammal foraging habitat in the nearby vicinity. As described in the preceding, the potential for the Corps' construction to affect the availability of prey to marine mammals or to meaningfully impact the quality of physical or acoustic habitat is considered to be insignificant. Furthermore, impact driving will only take place in November, as per the 2012 SLOPES IV programmatic biological opinion to protect 17 fish species, including multiple salmon species. Effects to habitat will not be discussed further in this document.

Estimated Take

This section provides an estimate of the number of incidental takes proposed for authorization through this IHA, which will inform both NMFS' consideration of “small numbers” and the negligible impact determination.

Harassment is the only type of take expected to result from these activities. Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, section 3(18) of 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).

Authorized takes would be by Level B harassment only, in the form of disruption of behavioral patterns for individual marine mammals resulting from exposure to pile driving. Based on the nature of the activity and the anticipated effectiveness of the mitigation measures (i.e., use of bubble curtains during impact driving, establishment of shutdown zones—discussed in detail below in Proposed Mitigation section, Level A harassment is neither anticipated nor proposed to be authorized.

As described previously, no mortality is anticipated or proposed to be authorized for this activity. Below we describe how the take is estimated.

Generally speaking, we estimate take by considering: (1) Acoustic thresholds above which NMFS believes the best available science indicates marine mammals will be behaviorally harassed or incur some degree of permanent hearing impairment; (2) the area or volume of water that will be ensonified above these levels in a day; (3) the density or occurrence of marine mammals within these ensonified areas; and, (4) and the number of days of activities. We note that while these basic factors can contribute to a basic calculation to provide an initial prediction of takes, additional information that can qualitatively inform take estimates is also sometimes available (e.g., previous monitoring results or average group size). Below, we describe the factors considered here in more detail and present the proposed take estimate.

Acoustic Thresholds

Using the best available science, NMFS has developed acoustic thresholds that identify the received level of underwater sound above which exposed marine mammals would be reasonably expected to be behaviorally harassed (equated to Level B harassment) or to incur PTS of some degree (equated to Level A harassment).

Level B Harassment for non-explosive sources—Though significantly driven by received level, the onset of behavioral disturbance from anthropogenic noise exposure is also informed to varying degrees by other factors related to the source (e.g., frequency, predictability, duty cycle), the environment (e.g., bathymetry), and the receiving animals (hearing, motivation, experience, demography, behavioral context) and can be difficult to predict (Southall et al., 2007, Ellison et al., 2012). Based on what the available science indicates and the practical need to use a threshold based on a factor that is both predictable and measurable for most activities, NMFS uses a generalized acoustic threshold based on received level to estimate the onset of behavioral harassment. NMFS predicts that marine mammals are likely to be behaviorally harassed in a manner we consider Level B harassment when exposed to underwater anthropogenic noise above received levels of 120 dB re 1 μPa (rms) for continuous (e.g., vibratory pile-Start Printed Page 44878driving, drilling) and above 160 dB re 1 μPa (rms) for non-explosive impulsive (e.g., seismic airguns) or intermittent (e.g., scientific sonar) sources.

The Corps' proposed activity includes the use of continuous (vibratory pile driving) and impulsive (impact pile driving) sources, and therefore the 120 and 160 dB re 1 μPa (rms) are applicable.

Level A harassment for non-explosive sources—NMFS' Technical Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing (Version 2.0) (Technical Guidance, 2018) identifies dual criteria to assess auditory injury (Level A harassment) to five different marine mammal groups (based on hearing sensitivity) as a result of exposure to noise from two different types of sources (impulsive or non-impulsive). The Corp's proposed activity includes the use of impulsive (impact pile driving) and non-impulsive (vibratory pile driving) source.

These thresholds are provided in the table below. The references, analysis, and methodology used in the development of the thresholds are described in NMFS 2018 Technical Guidance, which may be accessed at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/​national/​marine-mammal-protection/​marine-mammal-acoustic-technical-guidance.

Table 3—Thresholds Identifying the Onset of Permanent Threshold Shift

Hearing groupPTS onset acoustic thresholds * (received level)
ImpulsiveNon-impulsive
Low-Frequency (LF) CetaceansCell 1: L pk,flat : 219 dB; L E,LF,24h : 183 dBCell 2: L E,LF,24h : 199 dB.
Mid-Frequency (MF) CetaceansCell 3: L pk,flat : 230 dB; L E,MF,24h : 185 dBCell 4: L E,MF,24h : 198 dB.
High-Frequency (HF) CetaceansCell 5: L pk,flat : 202 dB; L E,HF,24h : 155 dBCell 6: L E,HF,24h : 173 dB.
Phocid Pinnipeds (PW) (Underwater)Cell 7: L pk,flat : 218 dB; L E,PW,24h : 185 dBCell 8: L E,PW,24h : 201 dB.
Otariid Pinnipeds (OW) (Underwater)Cell 9: L pk,flat : 232 dB; L E,OW,24h : 203 dBCell 10: L E,OW,24h : 219 dB.
* Dual metric acoustic thresholds for impulsive sounds: Use whichever results in the largest isopleth for calculating PTS onset. If a non-impulsive sound has the potential of exceeding the peak sound pressure level thresholds associated with impulsive sounds, these thresholds should also be considered.
Note: Peak sound pressure (L pk) has a reference value of 1 µPa, and cumulative sound exposure level (L E) has a reference value of 1µPa2 s. In this Table, thresholds are abbreviated to reflect American National Standards Institute standards (ANSI 2013). However, peak sound pressure is defined by ANSI as incorporating frequency weighting, which is not the intent for this Technical Guidance. Hence, the subscript “flat” is being included to indicate peak sound pressure should be flat weighted or unweighted within the generalized hearing range. The subscript associated with cumulative sound exposure level thresholds indicates the designated marine mammal auditory weighting function (LF, MF, and HF cetaceans, and PW and OW pinnipeds) and that the recommended accumulation period is 24 hours. The cumulative sound exposure level thresholds could be exceeded in a multitude of ways (i.e., varying exposure levels and durations, duty cycle). When possible, it is valuable for action proponents to indicate the conditions under which these acoustic thresholds will be exceeded.

Ensonified Area

Here, we describe operational and environmental parameters of the activity that will feed into identifying the area ensonified above the acoustic thresholds, which include source levels and transmission loss coefficient.

Sound Propagation

Transmission loss (TL) is the decrease in acoustic intensity as an acoustic pressure wave propagates out from a source. TL parameters vary with frequency, temperature, sea conditions, current, source and receiver depth, water depth, water chemistry, and bottom composition and topography. The general formula for underwater TL is:

TL = B * log10 (R1/R2),

Where:

B = transmission loss coefficient (assumed to be 15)

R1 = the distance of the modeled SPL from the driven pile, and

R2 = the distance from the driven pile of the initial measurement.

This formula neglects loss due to scattering and absorption, which is assumed to be zero here. The degree to which underwater sound propagates away from a sound source is dependent on a variety of factors, most notably the water bathymetry and presence or absence of reflective or absorptive conditions including in-water structures and sediments. Spherical spreading occurs in a perfectly unobstructed (free-field) environment not limited by depth or water surface, resulting in a 6 dB reduction in sound level for each doubling of distance from the source (20 * log(range)). Cylindrical spreading occurs in an environment in which sound propagation is bounded by the water surface and sea bottom, resulting in a reduction of 3 dB in sound level for each doubling of distance from the source (10 * log(range)). As is common practice in coastal waters, here we assume practical spreading loss (4.5 dB reduction in sound level for each doubling of distance). Practical spreading is a compromise that is often used under conditions where water depth increases as the receiver moves away from the shoreline, resulting in an expected propagation environment that would lie between spherical and cylindrical spreading loss conditions.

Sound Source Levels

The intensity of pile driving sounds is greatly influenced by factors such as the type of piles, hammers, and the physical environment in which the activity takes place. Pile driving may be done with either vibratory or impact hammer, with vibratory driving being the preferred method. Due to anticipated enrockment surrounding existing piles, however, use of impact hammers may be required.

Estimated in-water sound levels anticipated from vibratory installation and impact hammer installation of steel pipe piles are summarized in Table 4. Sound pressure levels for impact driving of 24-in steel piles were taken from Caltrans (2015). The SLs in the table below include a 7 dB reduction for impact driving due to attenuation associated with the use of bubble curtains. Vibratory driving source levels for 24-in steel piles came from the United States Navy (2015). Due to the short operating window (61 days), and concerns about possible delays due to bad weather, the Corps does not propose to use bubble curtains during vibratory driving. This should expedite pile installation at king pile locations where use of vibratory hammers is employed.Start Printed Page 44879

Table 4—Estimated Underwater Source Levels Associated With Vibratory Pile Driving and Impact Hammer Pile Driving

Pile typeSound Pressure Level (SPL) (single strike)
24-Inch Steel Pipe Piles w/impact hammer (attenuated) 1200 dBPEAK187 dBRMS171 dBSEL.
24-Inch Steel Pipe Piles w/vibratory (unattenuated) 2Not Available161 dBRMSNot Available.
1 From Caltrans (2015) Acoustic data from CalTrans 2015 Table I.2-1. Summary of Near-Source (10-Meter) Unattenuated Sound Pressure Levels for In-Water Pile Driving Using an Impact Hammer: 0.61-meter (24-inch) steel pipe pile in water ~15 meters deep, w/7dB reduction for use of attenuation (as per NMFS 2019 pers. Comm).
2 From United States Navy. 2015. Proxy source sound levels and potential bubble curtain attenuation for acoustic modeling of nearshore marine pile driving at Navy installations in Puget Sound. Prepared by Michael Slater, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, and Sharon Rainsberry, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest. Revised January 2015. Table 2-2.

When the NMFS Technical Guidance (2016) was published, in recognition of the fact that ensonified area/volume could be more technically challenging to predict because of the duration component in the new thresholds, we developed a User Spreadsheet that includes tools to help predict a simple isopleth that can be used in conjunction with marine mammal density or occurrence to help predict takes. We note that because of some of the assumptions included in the methods used for these tools, we anticipate that isopleths produced are typically going to be overestimates of some degree, which may result in some degree of overestimate of Level A harassment take. However, these tools offer the best way to predict appropriate isopleths when more sophisticated 3D modeling methods are not available, and NMFS continues to develop ways to quantitatively refine these tools, and will qualitatively address the output where appropriate. For stationary sources such as pile driving, NMFS User Spreadsheet predicts the distance at which, if a marine mammal remained at that distance the whole duration of the activity, it would incur PTS. Inputs used in the User Spreadsheet, and the resulting Level A harassment isopleths are reported below in Tables 5 and 6 respectively. Note that while up to 9 piles could be installed in a single day, they would be driven at different locations and the ensonified areas associated with each location would not overlap. For the purpose of calculating PTS isopleths using the User Spreadsheet, it is assumed that a single pile would be driven per day at a single location (i.e., the zones for each pile are calculated independently) since there will be no overlap of disturbance zones from adjacent king pile installation sites. The Level B harassment isopleths were calculated using the practical spreading loss model. Underwater noise will fall below the behavioral effects threshold of 160 dB for impact driving and 120 dB rms for vibratory driving at the distances shown in Table 6.

Table 5—NMFS Technical Guidance (2018) User Spreadsheet Input To Calculate PTS Isopleths

Inputs24-in Steel impact installation24-in Steel vibratory installation
Spreadsheet Tab Used(E.1) Impact Pile Driving(A.1) Vibratory Pile Driving.
Source Level (Single Strike/shot SEL)171 dB SEL/200 dB Peak161 dB RMS.
Weighting Factor Adjustment (kHz)22.5.
Number of strikes per pile550
Number of piles per day11.
Duration to install single pile (minutes)6030.
Propagation (xLogR)1515.
Distance of source level measurement (meters) +1010.

Table 6—Level A and Level B Harassment Isopleths

Noise generation typeLevel A harassmentLevel B harassment
Permanent Threshold Shift (PTS) isopleth (meters)Isopleth (meters)
Phocid pinnipedOtariid pinnipedAll groups
24″ Steel Pipe Impact attenuated56.94.1631
24″ Steel Pipe Vibratory unattenuated2.60.25,412

The Corps and NMFS do not anticipate take of marine mammals by Level A harassment due to the relatively small PTS isopleths as well as required shutdown if an animal approaches the zone. The Level B harassment zone area for each king pile site will differ since the landforms and river morphology are unique to each king pile location.

Marine Mammal Occurrence and Take Calculation and Estimation

In this section we provide the information about the presence, density, or group dynamics of marine mammals that will inform the take calculations. Pinnipeds are typically concentrated at haul out sites (e.g., the MCR South jetty) and feeding areas where there are concentrations of salmon (e.g., Bonneville Dam). Individual animals that occur near king pile locations are likely to be in transit between these two prominent sites. Pinnipeds that travel to Bonneville Dam consistently forage in all three of the dam's tailraces. A tailrace is the flume, or water channel leading away from the dam. Pinniped presence at the dam during the spring Start Printed Page 44880months has been recorded since 2002 and during fall/winter months starting in 2011 to assess the impact of predation on adult salmonids and other fish (Tidwell et al. 2019).

Estimated take was calculated using the maximum daily number of individuals observed at Bonneville dam (Tidwell et al. 2019), multiplied by the total number of work days (61). The maximum daily number of animals observed at the dam between August 15 and December 31 was used for both California sea lions (3 in 2015 and 2017) and Steller sea lions (56 in 2016). No harbor seals were observed during the fall/winter sampling period. However, only one of the three tailraces was monitored during the fall/winter months and only when sea lion abundance was ≥20 animals. Therefore, NMFS multiplied the number of observed California and Steller sea lions by three to account for potential animals at all of the tailraces. Since there were no harbor seals observed during the fall/winter period, NMFS used the maximum daily observation from the spring observation period (3 in 2006) during which all three tailraces were monitored. These estimates assume that if an animal transits the reach of river where driving takes place it will pass through the Level B isopleth since in most cases the radius would be larger than the width of the river in most cases. Table 7 depicts the stocks NMFS proposes to authorize for take, the numbers proposed for authorization, and the percentage of the stock taken.

Table 7—Level B Harassment Take Estimates for the King Pile Marker Project

SpeciesLevel B takeStock abundancePercentage of stock taken
California Sea Lion549296,7500.2
Stellar Sea Lion10,24841,63824.6
Harbor Seal183* 24,7320.7
* There is no current estimate of abundance available for this stock since most recent abundance estimate is >8 years old. Abundance value provided represents best available information from 1999.

Proposed Mitigation

In order to issue an IHA under Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses (latter not applicable for this action). NMFS regulations require applicants for incidental take authorizations to include information about the availability and feasibility (economic and technological) of equipment, methods, and manner of conducting such activity or other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact upon the affected species or stocks and their habitat (50 CFR 216.104(a)(11)).

In evaluating how mitigation may or may not be appropriate to ensure the least practicable adverse impact on species or stocks and their habitat, as well as subsistence uses where applicable, we carefully consider two primary factors:

(1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measure(s) is expected to reduce impacts to marine mammals, marine mammal species or stocks, and their habitat. This considers the nature of the potential adverse impact being mitigated (likelihood, scope, range). It further considers the likelihood that the measure will be effective if implemented (probability of accomplishing the mitigating result if implemented as planned), the likelihood of effective implementation (probability implemented as planned), and;

(2) the practicability of the measures for applicant implementation, which may consider such things as cost, impact on operations, and, in the case of a military readiness activity, personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the effectiveness of the military readiness activity.

In addition to the measures described later in this section, the Corps must employ the following standard mitigation measures:

  • Conduct briefings between construction supervisors and crews and the marine mammal monitoring team prior to the start of all pile driving activity, and when new personnel join the work, to explain responsibilities, communication procedures, marine mammal monitoring protocol, and operational procedures;
  • For in-water heavy machinery work other than pile driving (e.g., standard barges, tug boats), if a marine mammal comes within 10 m, operations shall cease and vessels shall reduce speed to the minimum level required to maintain steerage and safe working conditions. This type of work could include the following activities: (1) Movement of the barge to the pile location; or (2) positioning of the pile on the substrate via a crane (i.e., stabbing the pile);
  • Work may only occur during daylight hours, when visual monitoring of marine mammals can be conducted;
  • For any marine mammal species for which take by Level B harassment has not been requested or authorized, in-water pile installation will shut down immediately when the animals are sighted;
  • If take by Level B harassment reaches the authorized limit for an authorized species, pile installation will be stopped as these species approach the Level B harassment zone to avoid additional take of them.

Establishment of Shutdown Zones—For all pile driving activities, the Corps establish a shutdown zone. The purpose of a shutdown zone is generally to define an area within which shutdown of activity would occur upon sighting of a marine mammal (or in anticipation of an animal entering the defined area). Shutdown zones will vary based on the type of driving activity and by marine mammal hearing group. Shutdown zones during impact and vibratory driving will be 10 m for all species, with the exception of a 60-m shutdown zone for harbor seals during impact driving activities. In all cases, the proposed shutdown zones are larger than the calculated Level A harassment isopleths shown in Table 6. The placement of protected species observers (PSOs) during all pile driving activities (described in detail in the Proposed Monitoring and Reporting Section) will ensure that the entirety of all shutdown zones are visible during pile installation.

Establishment of Monitoring Zones for Level B Harassment—The Corps will establish monitoring zones, based on the Level B harassment isopleths which are Start Printed Page 44881areas where SPLs are equal to or exceed the 160 dB rms threshold for impact driving and the 120 dB rms threshold during vibratory driving. Monitoring zones provide utility for observing by establishing monitoring protocols for areas adjacent to the shutdown zones. Monitoring zones enable observers to be aware of and communicate the presence of marine mammals in the project area outside the shutdown zone and thus prepare for a potential cease of activity should the animal enter the shutdown zone. In the unlikely event that a cetacean enters the Level B harassment zones work will stop immediately until the animal either departs the zone or is undetected for 15 minutes. Distances to the Level B harassment zones are depicted in Table 6. In addition, the Corps will establish minimum allowable work distances between adjacent work platforms, based on monitoring zone isopleths, to ensure that there is no overlap of behavioral harassment zones.

Sound Attenuation—Bubble curtains will be used during any impact pile driving of piles located in water greater than 2 ft. in depth. The bubble curtain will be operated in a manner consistent with the following performance standards:

a. The bubble curtain will distribute air bubbles around 100 percent of the piling perimeter for the full depth of the water column;

b. The lowest bubble ring will be in contact with the mudline for the full circumference of the ring, and the weights attached to the bottom ring shall ensure 100 percent mudline contact. No parts of the ring or other objects shall prevent full mudline contact; and

c. Air flow to the bubblers must be balanced around the circumference of the pile.

Soft Start—The use of a soft-start procedure are believed to provide additional protection to marine mammals by providing warning and/or giving marine mammals a chance to leave the area prior to the hammer operating at full capacity. For impact pile driving, contractors will be required to provide an initial set of strikes from the hammer at reduced percent energy, each strike followed by no less than a 30-second waiting period. This procedure will be conducted a total of three times before impact pile driving begins. Soft start is not required during vibratory pile driving activities. A soft start must be implemented at the start of each day's impact pile driving and at any time following cessation of impact pile driving for a period of thirty minutes or longer. If a marine mammal is present within the shutdown zone, soft start will be delayed until the animal is observed leaving the shutdown zone. Soft start will begin only after the PSO has determined, through sighting, that the animal has moved outside the shutdown zone or 15 minutes have passed without being seen in the zone. If a marine mammal is present in the Level B harassment zone, soft start may begin and a Level B take will be recorded for authorized species. Soft start up may occur whether animals enter the Level B zone from the shutdown zone or from outside the monitoring area.

Pre-Activity Monitoring—Prior to the start of daily in-water construction activity, or whenever a break in pile driving of 30 minutes or longer occurs, PSOs will observe the shutdown and monitoring zones for a period of 30 minutes. The shutdown zone will be cleared when a marine mammal has not been observed within the zone for that 30-minute period. If a marine mammal is observed within the shutdown zone, a soft-start cannot proceed until the animal has left the zone or has not been observed for 15 minutes. If the Level B harassment zone has been observed for 30 minutes and marine mammals are not present within the zone, soft start procedures can commence and work can continue even if visibility becomes impaired within the Level B harassment zone. When a marine mammal permitted for take by Level B harassment is present in the Level B harassment zone, pile driving activities may begin and take by Level B will be recorded. As stated above, if the entire Level B harassment zone is not visible at the start of construction, pile driving activities can begin. If work ceases for more than 30 minutes, the pre-activity monitoring of both the Level B harassment and shutdown zone will commence.

Based on our evaluation of the applicant's proposed measures, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the proposed mitigation measures provide the means effecting the least practicable impact on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance.

Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

In order to issue an IHA for an activity, Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking. The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for authorizations must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the proposed action area. Effective reporting is critical both to compliance as well as ensuring that the most value is obtained from the required monitoring.

Monitoring and reporting requirements prescribed by NMFS should contribute to improved understanding of one or more of the following:

  • Occurrence of marine mammal species or stocks in the area in which take is anticipated (e.g., presence, abundance, distribution, density);
  • Nature, scope, or context of likely marine mammal exposure to potential stressors/impacts (individual or cumulative, acute or chronic), through better understanding of: (1) Action or environment (e.g., source characterization, propagation, ambient noise); (2) affected species (e.g., life history, dive patterns); (3) co-occurrence of marine mammal species with the action; or (4) biological or behavioral context of exposure (e.g., age, calving or feeding areas);
  • Individual marine mammal responses (behavioral or physiological) to acoustic stressors (acute, chronic, or cumulative), other stressors, or cumulative impacts from multiple stressors;
  • How anticipated responses to stressors impact either: (1) Long-term fitness and survival of individual marine mammals; or (2) populations, species, or stocks;
  • Effects on marine mammal habitat (e.g., marine mammal prey species, acoustic habitat, or other important physical components of marine mammal habitat); and
  • Mitigation and monitoring effectiveness.

Visual Monitoring

Monitoring would be conducted 30 minutes before, during, and 30 minutes after pile driving activities. In addition, observers shall record all incidents of marine mammal occurrence, regardless of distance from activity, and shall document any behavioral reactions in concert with distance from piles being driven. Pile driving activities include the time to install a single pile or series of piles, as long as the time elapsed between uses of the pile driving equipment is no more than thirty minutes.

There will be at least one PSO employed at all king pile installation locations during all pile driving activities. PSO will not perform duties Start Printed Page 44882for more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period. The PSO would be positioned close to pile driving activities at the best practical vantage point.

As part of monitoring, PSOs would scan the waters using binoculars, and/or spotting scopes, and would use a handheld GPS or range-finder device to verify the distance to each sighting from the project site. All PSOs would be trained in marine mammal identification and behaviors and are required to have no other project-related tasks while conducting monitoring. In addition, PSOs will monitor for marine mammals and implement shutdown/delay procedures when applicable by calling for the shutdown to the hammer operator. Qualified observers are trained and/or experienced professionals, with the following minimum qualifications:

  • Visual acuity in both eyes (correction is permissible) sufficient for discernment of moving targets at the water's surface with ability to estimate target size and distance; use of binoculars may be necessary to correctly identify the target;
  • Independent observers (i.e., not construction personnel);
  • Observers must have their CVs/resumes submitted to and approved by NMFS;
  • Advanced education in biological science or related field (i.e., undergraduate degree or higher). Observers may substitute education or training for experience;
  • Experience and ability to conduct field observations and collect data according to assigned protocols (this may include academic experience);
  • At least one observer must have prior experience working as an observer;
  • Experience or training in the field identification of marine mammals, including the identification of behaviors;
  • Sufficient training, orientation, or experience with the construction operation to provide for personal safety during observations;
  • Writing skills sufficient to prepare a report of observations including but not limited to the number and species of marine mammals observed; dates and times when in-water construction activities were conducted; dates and times when in-water construction activities were suspended to avoid potential incidental injury from construction sound of marine mammals observed within a defined shutdown zone; and marine mammal behavior; and
  • Ability to communicate orally, by radio or in person, with project personnel to provide real-time information on marine mammals observed in the area as necessary.

Reporting

A draft marine mammal monitoring report must be submitted to NMFS within 90 days after the completion of pile driving activities. This reports will include an overall description of work completed, a narrative regarding marine mammal sightings, and associated PSO data sheets. Specifically, the reports must include:

  • Date and time that monitored activity begins or ends;
  • Construction activities occurring during each observation period;
  • Weather parameters (e.g., percent cover, visibility);
  • Water conditions (e.g., sea state, tide state);
  • Species, numbers, and, if possible, sex and age class of marine mammals;
  • Description of any observable marine mammal behavior patterns, including bearing and direction of travel and distance from pile driving activity;
  • Distance from pile driving activities to marine mammals and distance from the marine mammals to the observation point;
  • Locations of all marine mammal observations;
  • An estimate of total take based on proportion of the monitoring zone that was observed; and
  • Other human activity in the area.

If no comments are received from NMFS within 30 days, that phase's draft final report will constitute the final report. If comments are received, a final report for the given phase addressing NMFS comments must be submitted within 30 days after receipt of comments. In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by the IHAs (if issued), such as an injury, serious injury or mortality, the Corps would immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator. The report would include the following information:

  • Description of the incident;
  • Environmental conditions (e.g., Beaufort sea state, visibility);
  • Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident;
  • Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved;
  • Fate of the animal(s); and
  • Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if equipment is available).

Activities would not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS would work with the Corps to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. The Corps would not be able to resume their activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone.

In the event that the Corps discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead PSO determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition as described in the next paragraph), the Corps would immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator. The report would include the same information identified in the paragraph above. Activities would be able to continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work with the Corps to determine whether modifications in the activities are appropriate.

In the event that the Corps discovers an injured or dead marine mammal and the lead PSO determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in these IHAs (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), the Corps would report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator, within 24 hours of the discovery. The Corps would provide photographs, video footage (if available), or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination

NMFS has defined negligible impact 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 (50 CFR 216.103). A negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population-level effects). An estimate of the number of takes alone is not enough information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to Start Printed Page 44883considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be “taken” through harassment, NMFS considers other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context of any responses (e.g., critical reproductive time or location, migration), as well as effects on habitat, and the likely effectiveness of the mitigation. We also assess the number, intensity, and context of estimated takes by evaluating this information relative to population status. Consistent with the 1989 preamble for NMFS's implementing regulations (54 FR 40338; September 29, 1989), the impacts from other past and ongoing anthropogenic activities are incorporated into this analysis via their impacts on the environmental baseline (e.g., as reflected in the regulatory status of the species, population size and growth rate where known, ongoing sources of human-caused mortality, or ambient noise levels).

To avoid repetition, our analysis applies to all species listed in Table 7, given that NMFS expects the anticipated effects of the proposed pile driving to be similar in nature. Where there are meaningful differences between species or stocks, or groups of species, in anticipated individual responses to activities, impact of expected take on the population due to differences in population status, or impacts on habitat, NMFS has identified species-specific factors to inform the analysis.

NMFS does not anticipate that serious injury or mortality would occur as a result of the Corps' proposed activity. As stated in the proposed mitigation section, shutdown zones will be established and monitored that equal or exceed calculated Level A harassment isopleths during all pile driving activities.

Behavioral responses of marine mammals to pile driving during the King Pile Marker Project are expected to be mild, short term, and temporary. Marine mammals within the Level B harassment zones may not show any visual cues they are disturbed by activities or they could become alert, avoid the area, leave the area, or display other mild responses that are not observable such as changes in vocalization patterns. Given the short duration of noise-generating activities (less than 90 minutes of combined daily impact and vibratory driving at 68 separate locations over 61 days, any harassment would be likely be intermittent and temporary.

In addition, for all species there are no known biologically important areas (BIAs) within the lower Columbia River and no ESA-designated marine mammal critical habitat. The lower Columbia River represents a very small portion of the total habitat available to the pinniped species for which NMFS is proposing to authorize take. More generally, there are no known calving or rookery grounds within the project area, the project area represents a small portion of available foraging habitat, and the duration of noise-producing activities relatively is short, meaning impacts on marine mammal feeding for all species should be minimal.

Any impacts on marine mammal prey that would occur during the Corps' proposed activity would have at most short-terms effects on foraging of individual marine mammals while transiting between the South Jetty at the Mouth of the Columbia River and Bonneville Dam located 146 miles upstream. Better feeding opportunities exist at these two locations which is why pinnipeds tend to congregate in these areas. Therefore, indirect effects on marine mammal prey during the construction are not expected to be substantial, and these insubstantial effects would therefore be unlikely to cause substantial effects on individual marine mammals or the populations of marine mammals as a whole.

In summary and as described above, the following factors primarily support our preliminary determination that the impacts resulting from this activity are not expected to adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival:

  • No mortality is anticipated or authorized;
  • The Corps would implement mitigation measures including bubble curtains and soft-starts during impact pile driving as well as shutdown zones that exceed Level A harassment zones for authorized species, such that Level A harassment is neither anticipated nor authorized;
  • Anticipated incidents of Level B harassment consist of, at worst, temporary modifications in behavior;
  • There are no BIAs or other known areas of particular biological importance to any of the affected stocks impacted by the activity within the Columbia River estuary or lower Columbia River;
  • The project area represents a very small portion of the available foraging area for all marine mammal species and anticipated habitat impacts are minimal; and

Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine mammal take from the proposed activity will have a negligible impact on all affected marine mammal species or stocks.

Small Numbers

As noted above, only small numbers of incidental take may be authorized under Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA for specified activities other than military readiness activities. The MMPA does not define small numbers and so, in practice, where estimated numbers are available, NMFS compares the number of individuals taken to the most appropriate estimation of abundance of the relevant species or stock in our determination of whether an authorization is limited to small numbers of marine mammals. Additionally, other qualitative factors may be considered in the analysis, such as the temporal or spatial scale of the activities.

Table 7 in the Marine Mammal Occurrence and Take Calculation and Estimation section presents the number of animals that could be exposed to received noise levels that may result in take by Level B harassment from the Corps' proposed activities. Our analysis shows that less than 25 percent of the Steller sea lion stock could be taken. Less than one percent of California sea lion and harbor seal stocks are expected to be taken. Given that numbers for Steller sea lions were derived from limited observation at Bonneville Dam, it is likely that many of these takes will be repeated takes of the same animals over multiple days. As such, the take estimate serves as a good estimate of instances of take, but is likely an overestimate of individuals taken, so actual percentage of stocks taken would be even lower. We also emphasize the fact that the lower Columbia River represents a very small portion of the stock's large range, which extends from southeast Alaska to southern California. It is unlikely that one quarter of the entire stock would travel in excess of 137 miles upstream to forage at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

Based on the analysis contained herein of the proposed activity (including the proposed mitigation and monitoring measures) and the anticipated take of marine mammals, NMFS preliminarily finds that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the population size of the affected species or stocks.

Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Determination

There are no relevant subsistence uses of the affected marine mammal stocks or species implicated by this action.Start Printed Page 44884

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

No incidental take of ESA-listed species is proposed for authorization or expected to result from this activity. Therefore, NMFS has determined that formal consultation under section 7 of the ESA is not required for this action.

Proposed Authorization

As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to the Corps for conducting pile driving activities on the Columbia River between September 15 and November 30, 2019, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. A draft of the proposed IHA can be found at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/​permit/​incidental-take-authorizations-under-marine-mammal-protection-act.

Request for Public Comments

We request comment on our analyses, the proposed authorization, and any other aspect of this Notice of Proposed IHA for the proposed [action]. We also request at this time comment on the potential renewal of this proposed IHA as described in the paragraph below. Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform decisions on the request for this IHA or a subsequent Renewal.

On a case-by-case basis, NMFS may issue a one-year IHA renewal with an additional 15 days for public comments when (1) another year of identical or nearly identical activities as described in the Specified Activities section of this notice is planned or (2) the activities as described in the Specified Activities section of this notice would not be completed by the time the IHA expires and a Renewal would allow for completion of the activities beyond that described in the Dates and Duration section of this notice, provided all of the following conditions are met:

  • A request for renewal is received no later than 60 days prior to expiration of the current IHA.
  • The request for renewal must include the following:

(1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted under the requested Renewal are identical to the activities analyzed under the initial IHA, are a subset of the activities, or include changes so minor (e.g., reduction in pile size) that the changes do not affect the previous analyses, mitigation and monitoring requirements, or take estimates (with the exception of reducing the type or amount of take because only a subset of the initially analyzed activities remain to be completed under the Renewal).

(2) A preliminary monitoring report showing the results of the required monitoring to date and an explanation showing that the monitoring results do not indicate impacts of a scale or nature not previously analyzed or authorized.

  • Upon review of the request for Renewal, the status of the affected species or stocks, and any other pertinent information, NMFS determines that there are no more than minor changes in the activities, the mitigation and monitoring measures will remain the same and appropriate, and the findings in the initial IHA remain valid.
Start Signature

Dated: August 20, 2019.

Cathryn E. Tortorici,

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

End Signature End Supplemental Information

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[FR Doc. 2019-18351 Filed 8-26-19; 8:45 am]

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