Small Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Harbor Activities Related to the Delta IV/Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, 26069-26073 [E6-6717]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 85 / Wednesday, May 3, 2006 / Notices jlentini on PROD1PC65 with NOTICES While the number of potential incidental harassment takes will depend on the distribution and abundance of marine mammals in the area of seismic operations (as shown in Table 4–1 in the applications), which will vary annually due to variable ice conditions and other factors, the number of potential harassment takings is estimated to be small (see Tables 1 and 2 in this document). In addition, no take by death or serious injury is anticipated, and the potential for temporary or permanent hearing impairment will be avoided through the incorporation of the mitigation measures proposed for Shell’s IHA. This preliminary determination is supported by: (1) the likelihood that, given sufficient notice through slow ship speed and ramp-up of the seismic array, marine mammals are expected to move away from a noise source that is annoying prior to its becoming potentially injurious; (2) recent research that indicates that TTS is unlikely at SPLs as low as 180 dB re 1 microPa;(at least in delphinids); (3) the fact that injurious levels would be very close to the vessel; and (4) the likelihood that marine mammal detection ability by trained observers is close to 100 percent during daytime and remains high at night close to the seismic vessel. Finally, no known rookeries, mating grounds, areas of concentrated feeding, or other areas of special significance for marine mammals are known to occur within or near the planned areas of operations during the season of operations. Potential Impacts on Subsistence Uses of Marine Mammals Preliminarily, NMFS believes that the proposed seismic activity by Shell in the northern Chukchi Sea and central and eastern Beaufort Sea in 2006, in combination with other seismic and oil and gas programs in these areas, will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the subsistence uses of bowhead whales and other marine mammals. This preliminary determination is supported by the following: (1) Seismic activities in the Chukchi Sea will not begin until after July 10 by which time the spring bowhead hunt is expected to have ended; (2) NMFS′ understanding that the fall bowhead whale hunt in the Beaufort Sea will be governed by a CAA between Shell and the AEWC and village whaling captains; (3) although unknown at this time to NMFS, the CAA conditions will significantly reduce impacts on subsistence hunters; (4) while it is possible that accessibility to belugas during the spring subsistence beluga hunt could be impaired by the VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:19 May 02, 2006 Jkt 208001 survey, it is unlikely because very little of the proposed survey is within 25 km (15.5 mi) of the Chukchi coast, meaning the vessel will usually be well offshore and away from areas where seismic surveys would influence beluga hunting by communities; and (5) because seals (ringed, spotted, bearded) are hunted in nearshore waters and the seismic survey will remain offshore of the coastal and nearshore areas of these seals where natives would harvest these seals, it should not conflict with harvest activities. Proposed Authorization As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to Shell for conducting a seismic survey in the northern Chukchi Sea and central and eastern Beaufort Sea in 2006, provided the previously proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. Information Solicited NMFS requests interested persons to submit comments and information concerning this request (see ADDRESSES). Dated: April 28, 2006. James H. Lecky, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 06–4172 Filed 5–2–06; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S 26069 Boeing to take, by Level B harassment, small numbers of several species of pinnipeds at south VAFB beginning in June 2006. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than June 2, 2006. ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Steve Leathery, Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 EastWest Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910–3225. The mailbox address for providing email comments is PR1.042506E@noaa.gov. NMFS is not responsible for e-mail comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments sent via e-mail, including all attachments, must not exceed a 10–megabyte file size. A copy of the application containing a list of the references used in this document may be obtained by writing to the address specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the Internet at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm. Documents cited in this notice may be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address. Jolie Harrison, (301) 713–2289, ext. 166 or Monica DeAngelis, (562) 980–3232. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Background Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct Small Takes of Marine Mammals the Secretary of Commerce to allow, Incidental to Specified Activities; upon request, the incidental, but not Harbor Activities Related to the Delta intentional taking of small numbers of IV/Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle marine mammals by U.S. citizens who at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries geographical region if certain findings Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and are made and either regulations are Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), issued or, if the taking is limited to Commerce. harassment, notice of a proposed ACTION: Notice; receipt of application authorization is provided to the public and proposed authorization for for review. incidental harassment of marine Authorization for incidental takings mammals; request for comments. may be granted if NMFS finds that the SUMMARY: NMFS received a request from taking will have no more than a negligible impact on the species or The Boeing Company (Boeing) for a reauthorization to take small numbers of stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the marine mammals by harassment species or stock(s) for subsistence uses, incidental to harbor activities related to and that the permissible methods of the Delta IV/Evolved Expendable taking and requirements pertaining to Launch Vehicle (EELV) at south Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA (VAFB). the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such taking are set forth. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS requests impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as: comments on its proposal to authorize [I.D. O42506E] PO 00000 Frm 00052 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\03MYN1.SGM 03MYN1 26070 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 85 / Wednesday, May 3, 2006 / Notices 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. Subsection 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process by which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment. Except for certain categories of activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [‘‘Level A harassment’’]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [‘‘Level B harassment’’]. jlentini on PROD1PC65 with NOTICES Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45– day time limit for NMFS review of an application followed by a 30–day public notice and comment period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of small numbers of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS must determine whether to issue the authorization with appropriate conditions. Summary of Request On February 28, 2006 NMFS received an application from Boeing requesting an authorization for the harassment of small numbers of Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) and California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) incidental to harbor activities related to the Delta IV/EELV, including: transport vessel operations, cargo movement activities, harbor maintenance dredging, and kelp habitat mitigation operations. In addition, northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) may also be incidentally harassed but in even smaller numbers. Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) were issued to Boeing on May 15, 2002 (67 FR 36151, May 23, 2002), May 20, 2003 (68 FR 36540, June 18, 2003), May 20, 2004 (69 FR 29696, May 25, 2004), and May 23, 2005 (70 FR 30697, May 27, 2005) each for a 1–year period. No work and, therefore, no monitoring was conducted under the 2005 IHA. The harbor where activities will take place is on south VAFB approximately 2.5 mi (4.02 km) south of Point Arguello, CA and approximately 1 mi (1.61 km) north of the nearest marine mammal pupping site (i.e., Rocky Point). Specified Activities Delta Mariner off-loading operations and associated cargo movements will VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:19 May 02, 2006 Jkt 208001 occur a maximum of 3 times per year. The Delta Mariner is a 312–ft (95.1–m) long, 84–ft (25.6–m) wide steel hull ocean-going vessel capable of operating at a 8–ft (2.4–m) draft. For the first few visits to the south VAFB harbor, tug boats will accompany the Delta Mariner. Sources of noise from the Delta Mariner include ventilating propellers used for maneuvering into position and the cargo bay door when it becomes disengaged. Removal of the common booster core (CBC) from the Delta Mariner requires use of an elevating platform transporter (EPT), an additional source of noise with sound levels measured at approximately 85 dB A-weighted (re 20 microPascals at 1–m) 20 ft (6.1 m) from the engine exhaust when the engine is running mid-speed (Acentech, 1998). Procedures require two short (approximately 1/3 second) beeps of the horn prior to starting the ignition. The sound level of the EPT horn ranged from 62–70 dB A-weighted at 200 ft (60.9 m) away, and 84–112 dB A-weighted at 25 ft (7.6 m) away. Containers containing flight hardware items will be towed off the Delta Mariner by a tractor tug that generates a sound level of approximately 87 dB A-weighted at 50 ft (15.2 m) while in operational mode. Total time of Delta Mariner docking and cargo movement activities is estimated at approximately between 14 and 18 hours in good weather. To accommodate the Delta Mariner, the harbor will need to be dredged, removing approximately 3,000 to 5,000 cubic yards of sediment per dredging. Dredging will involve the use of heavy equipment, including a clamshell dredge, dredging crane, a small tug, dredging barge, dump trucks, and a skip loader. Measured sound levels from this equipment are roughly equivalent to those estimated for the wharf modification equipment: 43 to 81 dB Aweighted at 250 ft (76.2 m). Dredge operations, from set-up to tear-down, would continue 24–hours a day for 3 to 5 weeks. Sedimentation surveys have shown that initial dredging indicates that maintenance dredging should be required annually or twice per year, depending on the hardware delivery schedule. A more detailed description of the work proposed for 2006 is contained in the application which is available upon request (see ADDRESSES) and in the Final US Air Force Environmental Assessment for Harbor Activities Associated with the Delta IV Program at Vandenberg Air Force Base (ENSR International, 2001). PO 00000 Frm 00053 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Habitat and Marine Mammals Affected by the Activity Pacific Harbor Seals The marine mammal species likely to be harassed incidental to harbor activities at south VAFB are the Pacific harbor seal and the California sea lion. The most recent estimate of the Pacific harbor seal population in California is 31,600 seals. Since 1990 there has been no net population growth along the mainland or the Channel Islands. The decrease in population growth rate has occurred at the same time as a decrease in human-caused mortality and may indicate that the population has reached its environmental carrying capacity (Carretta et al., 2004). The total population of harbor seals on VAFB is now estimated to be 1,099 (maximum of 515 seals hauled out at one time on south VAFB) based on sighting surveys and telemetry data (SRS Technologies, 2003). The daily haul-out behavior of harbor seals along the south VAFB coastline is primarily dependent on time of day. The highest number of seals haul-out at south VAFB between 1100 through 1600 hours. In addition, haul-out behavior at all sites seems to be influenced by environmental factors such as high swell, tide height, and wind. The combination of all three may prevent seals from hauling out at most sites. The number of seals hauled out at any site can vary greatly from day to day based on environmental conditions. Harbor seals occasionally haul out at a beach 250 ft (76.2 m) west of the south VAFB harbor and on rocks outside the harbor breakwater where Boeing will be conducting Delta Mariner operations, cargo loading, dredging activities, and reef enhancement activities. The maximum number of seals present during the 2001 dredging of the harbor was 23 (averaging 7 per observation period) and the maximum number hauled out during the 2002 wharf modification activities was 43, averaging 21 per day when tidal conditions were favorable for hauling out. Dredging and reef enhancement did not occur in 2004 or 2005. The harbor seal pupping site closest to south VAFB harbor is at Rocky Point, approximately 1 mi (1.6 km) north of the harbor. Several factors affect the seasonal haul-out behavior of harbor seals including environmental conditions, reproduction, and molting. Harbor seal numbers at VAFB begin to increase in March during the pupping season (March to June) as females spend more time on shore nursing pups. The number of hauled-out seals is at its highest during the molt which occurs E:\FR\FM\03MYN1.SGM 03MYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 85 / Wednesday, May 3, 2006 / Notices jlentini on PROD1PC65 with NOTICES from May through July. During the molting season, tagged harbor seals at VAFB increased their time spent on shore by 22.4 percent; however, all seals continued to make daily trips to sea to forage. Molting harbor seals entering the water because of a disturbance are not adversely affected in their ability to molt and do not endure thermoregulatory stress. During pupping and molting season, harbor seals at the south VAFB sites expand into haul-out areas that are not used the rest of the year. The number of seals hauled out begins to decrease in August after the molt is complete and reaches the lowest number in late fall and early winter. California Sea Lions During the wharf modification activity in June-July 2002, California sea lions were observed hauling out on the breakwater in small numbers (up to 6 individuals). Although this is considered to be an unusual occurrence and is possibly related to fish schooling in the area, Boeing included sea lions in their request. California sea lions range from British Columbia to Mexico. The most recent population estimates for the California sea lions range from 237,000 to 244,000 individuals (Caretta et al., 2004). Between 1975 and 2001, the population growth rate was 5.4–6.1 percent. A 1985–1987 population survey indicated that most individuals on the Northern Channel Islands were on San Miguel Island, with the population ranging from 2,235 to over 17,000. The largest numbers of California sea lions in the VAFB vicinity occur at Lion Rock, 0.4 mi (0.64 km) southeast of Point Sal. This area is approximately 1.5 mi (2.41 km) north of the VAFB boundary. At least 100 sea lions can be observed during any season at this site. The Point Arguello beaches and the rocky ledges of South Rocky Point on south VAFB are haulout areas that may be used by California sea lions. In 2003, at least 145 sea lions were observed at Rocky Point, including five pups that did not survive due to abandonment shortly after birth. This was thought to be an El Nino effect, as there had never been any previously reported sea lion births at VAFB (Thorson, 2003). Each year, small groups of sea lions have been observed heading south along the VAFB coastline in April and May (Tetra Tech, 1997). Starting in August, large groups of sea lions can be seen moving north, in groups varying in size from 25 to more than 300 (Roest, 1995). This concurs with established migration patterns (Reeves et al., 1992; Roest, 1995). Juvenile sea lions can be observed hauled-out with harbor seals VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:19 May 02, 2006 Jkt 208001 along the South Base sites from July through September (Tetra Tech, 1997). Starving and exhausted subadult sea lions are fairly common on central California beaches during the months of July and August (Roest, 1995). During the breeding season, most of California sea lions inhabit southern California and Mexico. Rookery sites in southern California are limited to San Miguel Island and to the southerly Channel Islands of San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, and San Clemente. Breeding season begins in mid-May, occurring within 10 days of arrival at the rookeries. Molting occurs gradually over several months in the late summer and fall. Because the molt is not catastrophic, the sea lions can enter the water to feed. Male California sea lions migrate annually. In the spring they migrate southward to breeding rookeries in the Channel Islands and Mexico, then migrate northward in the late summer following breeding season. Females appear to remain near the breeding rookeries. The greatest population on land occurs in September and October during the post-breeding dispersal and although many of the sea lions, particularly juveniles and sub-adult and adult males, may move north away from the Channel Islands. Other Marine Mammals Other marine mammal species are rare to infrequent along the south VAFB coast during certain times of the year and are unlikely to be harassed by Boeing’s activities. These four species are: the northern elephant seal, the northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus), Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi), and Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus). Northern elephant seals may occur on VAFB but do not haul out in the harbor area. Northern fur seals, Guadalupe fur seals and Steller sea lions occur along the California coast and Northern Channel Islands but are not likely to be found on VAFB. Descriptions of the biology and local distribution of these species can be found in the application as well as other sources such as Stewart and Yochem (1994, 1984), Forney et al. (2000), Koski et al. (1998), Barlow et al. (1993), Stewart and DeLong (1995), and Lowry et al. (1992). NMFS Stock Assessments can be viewed at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm. Please refer to those documents for information on these species. PO 00000 Frm 00054 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 26071 Potential Effects of Activities on Marine Mammals Acoustic and visual stimuli generated by the use of heavy equipment during the Delta Mariner off-loading operations, dredging, and kelp habitat mitigation, as well as the increased presence of personnel, may cause shortterm disturbance to harbor seals and California sea lions hauled out along the beach and rocks in the vicinity of the south VAFB harbor. This disturbance from acoustic and visual stimuli is the principal means of marine mammal taking associated with these activities. Based on the measured sounds of construction equipment, such as might be used during Boeing’s activities, sound level intensity decreases proportional to the square root of the distance from the source. A dredging crane at the end of the dock producing 88 dBA of noise would be approximately 72 dBA at the nearest beach or the end of the breakwater, roughly 250 ft (76.2 m) away. The EPT produces approximately 85 dBA, measured less than 20 ft (6 m) from the engine exhaust, when the engine is running at mid speed. The EPT operation procedure requires two short beeps of the horn (approximately 1/3 of a second each) prior to starting the ignition. Sound level measurements for the horn ranged from 84 to 112 dBA at 25 ft (7.6 m) away and 62 to 70 dBA at 200 ft (61 m) away. The highest measurement was taken from the side of the vehicle where the horn is mounted. Ambient background noise measured approximately 250 ft (76.2 m) from the beach was estimated to be 35–48 dB Aweighted (Acentech, 1998; EPA, 1971). Pinnipeds sometimes show startle reactions when exposed to sudden brief sounds. An acoustic stimulus with sudden onset (such as a sonic boom) may be analogous to a ‘‘looming’’ visual stimulus (Hayes and Saif, 1967), which may elicit flight away from the source (Berrens et al., 1988). The onset of operations by a loud sound source, such as the EPT during CBC off-loading procedures, may elicit such a reaction. In addition, the movements of cranes and dredges may represent a ‘‘looming’’ visual stimulus to seals hauled out in close proximity. Seals and sea lions exposed to such acoustic and visual stimuli may either exhibit a startle response and/or leave the haul-out site. According to the MMPA and NMFS implementing regulations, if harbor activities disrupt the behavioral patterns of harbor seals, these activities would take marine mammals by Level B harassment. In general, if the received level of the noise stimulus exceeds both E:\FR\FM\03MYN1.SGM 03MYN1 jlentini on PROD1PC65 with NOTICES 26072 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 85 / Wednesday, May 3, 2006 / Notices the background (ambient) noise level and the auditory threshold of the animals, and especially if the stimulus is novel to them, there may be a behavioral response. The probability and degree of response will also depend on the season, the group composition of the pinnipeds, and the type of activity in which they are engaged. Minor and brief responses, such as short-duration startle or alert reactions, are not likely to constitute disruption of behavioral patterns, such as migration, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (i.e., Level B harassment) and would not cause serious injury or mortality to marine mammals. On the other hand, startle and alert reactions accompanied by large-scale movements, such as stampedes into the water of hundreds of animals, may rise to the level of Level A harassment and could result in injury of individuals. In addition, such large-scale movements by dense aggregations of marine mammals or at pupping sites could potentially lead to takes by serious injury or death. However, there is no potential for largescale movements leading to serious injury or mortality near the south VAFB harbor, because on average the number of harbor seals hauled out near the site on average is less than 30 and there is no pupping at nearby sites. The effects of the harbor activities are expected to be limited to short-term startle responses and localized behavioral changes. According to the June 2002 dock modification construction report (ENSRI, 2002), the maximum number of harbor seals hauled out each day ranged from 23 to 25 animals. There were 15 occasions in which construction noise, vehicle noise, or noise from a fishing boat caused the seals to lift their heads. Flushing only occurred due to fishing activities which were unrelated to the construction activities. The sea lions were less reactive to the construction noise than the harbor seals. None of the construction activities caused any of the sea lions to leave the jetty rocks and there was only one incident of a head alert reaction. The report from the December 2002 dredging activities show that the number of Pacific harbor seals ranged from 0 to 19 and that California sea lions did not haul out during the monitoring period. On 10 occasions, harbor seals showed head alerts although two of the alerts were for disturbances that were not related to the project. No harbor seals flushed during the activities on the dock. For a further discussion of the anticipated effects of the planned activities on harbor seals in the area, VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:19 May 02, 2006 Jkt 208001 please refer to the application, NMFS 2005 Environmental Assessment (EA) and ENSR International’s 2001 Final EA. Numbers of Marine Mammals Expected to be Harassed Boeing estimates that a maximum of 43 harbor seals per day may be hauled out near the south VAFB harbor, with a daily average of 21 seals sighted when tidal conditions were favorable during previous dredging operations in the harbor. Considering the maximum and average number of seals hauled out per day, assuming that the seals may be seen twice a day, and using a maximum total of 73 operating days in 2005–2006, NMFS estimates that a maximum of 767 to 1570 Pacific harbor seals may be subject to Level B harassment out of a total estimated population of 31,600. These numbers are small relative to this population size (2.4 - 5.0 percent). During wharf modification activities, a maximum of six California sea lions were seen hauling out in a single day. Based on the above-mentioned calculation, NMFS believes that a maximum of 219 California sea lions may be subject to Level B harassment out of a total estimated population of 240,000. These numbers are small relative to this population size (less than 0.1 percent). Up to 10 northern elephant seals (because they may be in nearby waters) may be subject to Level B harassment out of a total estimated population of 101,000. These numbers are small relative to this population size (less than 0.01 percent). Possible Effects of Activities on Marine Mammal Habitat Boeing anticipates no loss or modification to the habitat used by Pacific harbor seals or California sea lions that haul out near the south VAFB harbor. The harbor seal and sea lion haul-out sites near south VAFB harbor are not used as breeding, molting, or mating sites; therefore, it is not expected that the activities in the harbor will have any impact on the ability of Pacific harbor seals or California sea lions in the area to reproduce. Boeing anticipates unavoidable kelp removal during dredging. This habitat modification will not affect the marine mammal habitat. However, Boeing will mitigate for the removal of kelp habitat by placing 150 tons of rocky substrate in a sandy area between the breakwater and the mooring dolphins to enhance an existing artificial reef. This type of mitigation was implemented by the Army Corps of Engineers following the 1984 and 1989 dredging. A lush kelp bed adjacent to the sandy area has PO 00000 Frm 00055 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 developed from the efforts. The substrate will consist of approximately 150 sharp-faced boulders, each with a diameter of about 2 ft (0.61 m) and each weighing about one ton. The boulders will be brought in by truck from an offsite quarry and loaded by crane onto a small barge at the wharf. The barge is towed by a tugboat to a location along the mooring dolphins from which a small barge-mounted crane can place them into the sandy area. Boeing plans to perform the reef enhancement in conjunction with the next maintenance dredging event in order to minimize cost and disturbances to animals. Noise will be generated by the trucks delivering the boulders to the harbor and during the operation of unloading the boulders onto the barges and into the water. Possible Effects of Activities on Subsistence Needs There are no subsistence uses for pinnipeds in California waters, and thus, there are no anticipated effects on subsistence needs. Mitigation To reduce the potential for disturbance from visual and acoustic stimuli associated with the activities Boeing will undertake the following marine mammal mitigating measures: (1) If activities occur during nighttime hours, lighting will be turned on before dusk and left on the entire night to avoid startling pinnipeds at night. (2) Activities will be initiated before dusk. (3) Construction noises must be kept constant (i.e., not interrupted by periods of quiet in excess of 30 minutes) while pinnipeds are present. (4) If activities cease for longer than 30 minutes and pinnipeds are in the area, start-up of activities will include a gradual increase in noise levels. (5) A NMFS-approved marine mammal observer will visually monitor the harbor seals on the beach adjacent to the harbor and on rocks for any flushing or other behaviors as a result of Boeing’s activities (see Monitoring). (6) The Delta Mariner and accompanying vessels will enter the harbor only when the tide is too high for harbor seals to haul-out on the rocks and the vessel will reduce speed to 1.5 to 2 knots (1.5–2.0 nm/hr; 2.8–3.7 km/ hr) once the vessel is within 3 mi (4.83 km) of the harbor. The vessel will enter the harbor stern first, approaching the wharf and mooring dolphins at less than 0.75 knot (1.4 km/hr). (7) As alternate dredge methods are explored, the dredge contractor may E:\FR\FM\03MYN1.SGM 03MYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 85 / Wednesday, May 3, 2006 / Notices introduce quieter techniques and equipment. Monitoring As part of its 2002 application, Boeing provided a proposed monitoring plan for assessing impacts to harbor seals from the activities at south VAFB harbor and for determining when mitigation measures should be employed. NMFS proposes the same plan for this IHA. A NMFS-approved and VAFBdesignated biologically trained observer will monitor the area for pinnipeds during all harbor activities. During nighttime activities, the harbor area will be illuminated, and the monitor will use a night vision scope. Monitoring activities will consist of: (1) Conducting baseline observation of pinnipeds in the project area prior to initiating project activities. (2) Conducting and recording observations on pinnipeds in the vicinity of the harbor for the duration of the activity occurring when tides are low enough for pinnipeds to haul out (2 ft, 0.61 m, or less). (3) Conducting post-construction observations of pinniped haul-outs in the project area to determine whether animals disturbed by the project activities return to the haul-out. Monitoring results from previous years of these activities have been reviewed and incorporated into the analysis of potential effects in this document, as well as the take estimates. jlentini on PROD1PC65 with NOTICES Reporting Boeing will notify NMFS 2 weeks prior to initiation of each activity. After each activity is completed, Boeing will provide a report to NMFS within 90 days. This report will provide dates and locations of specific activities, details of seal behavioral observations, and estimates of the amount and nature of all takes of seals by harassment or in other ways. In addition, the report will include information on the weather, the tidal state, the horizontal visibility, and the composition (species, gender, and age class) and locations of haul-out group(s). In the unanticipated event that any cases of pinniped injury or mortality are judged to result from these activities, this will be reported to NMFS immediately. Endangered Species Act This action will not affect species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that are under the jurisdiction of NMFS. VAFB formally consulted with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 1998 on the possible take of southern sea otters during Boeing’s harbor activities at south VAFB. A Biological VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:19 May 02, 2006 Jkt 208001 Opinion was issued in August 2001. The activities covered by this IHA are analyzed in that Biological Opinion, and this IHA does not modify the action in a manner that was not previously analyzed. National Environmental Policy Act In 2001, the USAF prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) for Harbor Activities Associated with the Delta IV Program at Vandenberg Air Force Base. In 2005, NMFS prepared an EA supplementing the information contained in the USAF EA and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact on the issuance of an IHA for Boeing’s harbor activities in accordance with section 6.01 of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrative Order (NAO) 216–6 (Environmental Review Procedures for Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, May 20, 1999). The proposed activity is within the scope of NMFS’2005 EA and FONSI. Preliminary Conclusions NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to Boeing for harbor activities related to the Delta IV/EELV to take place at south VAFB over a 1–year period. The proposal to issue this IHA is contingent upon adherence to the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements. NMFS has preliminarily determined that the impact of harbor activities related to the Delta IV/EELV at VAFB, including: transport vessel operations, cargo movement activities, harbor maintenance dredging, and kelp habitat mitigation would result in the Level B Harassment only of small numbers of Pacific harbor seals, California sea lions, and northern elephant seals; would have no more than a negligible impact on these marine mammal stocks; and would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of marine mammal stocks for subsistence uses. Northern fur seals, Guadalupe fur seals, and Steller sea lions are unlikely to be found in the area and, therefore, will not be affected. While behavioral modifications may be made by harbor seals and California sea lions to avoid the resultant acoustic and visual stimuli, there is no potential for largescale movements, such as stampedes, since these species haul out in such small numbers near the site (maximum number of harbor seals hauled out in one day estimated at 43 seals, averaging at 21 seals per day, maximum number of California sea lions hauled out in one day is estimated at six). The effects of Boeing’s harbor activities are expected PO 00000 Frm 00056 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 26073 to be limited to short-term and localized behavioral changes. Due to the localized nature of these activities, the number of marine mammals potentially taken by Level B harassment is estimated to be small. In addition, no take by injury or death is anticipated or authorized, and the potential for temporary or permanent hearing impairment is unlikely given the low noise levels expected at the site. No rookeries, mating grounds, areas of concentrated feeding, or other areas of special significance for marine mammals occur within or near south VAFB harbor. Information Solicited NMFS requests interested persons to submit comments and information concerning this request (see ADDRESSES). Prior to submitting comments, NMFS recommends readers review NMFS’ responses to those comments on this activity submitted previously (see 67 FR 63151, May 23, 2002, 68 FR 36540, June 18, 2003, 69 FR 29696, May 25, 2004, and 70 FR 30697, May 27, 2005). Dated: April 27, 2006. Wanda L. Cain, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. E6–6717 Filed 5–2–06; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [I.D. 042706D] Marine Mammals; File No. 763–1845 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; receipt of application. AGENCY: SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that the Smithsonian National Zoological Park (SNZP), 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (John Berry, Responsible Party), has applied in due form for a permit to conduct research on Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddelliis) and import and re-export marine mammal specimens for scientific research. DATES: Written, telefaxed, or e-mail comments must be received on or before June 2, 2006. ADDRESSES: The application and related documents are available for review upon written request or by appointment in the following office(s): Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, E:\FR\FM\03MYN1.SGM 03MYN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 71, Number 85 (Wednesday, May 3, 2006)]
[Notices]
[Pages 26069-26073]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E6-6717]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[I.D. O42506E]


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

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

ACTION:  Notice; receipt of application and proposed authorization for 
incidental harassment of marine mammals; request for comments.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY:  NMFS received a request from The Boeing Company (Boeing) for 
a reauthorization to take small numbers of marine mammals by harassment 
incidental to harbor activities related to the Delta IV/Evolved 
Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) at south Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA 
(VAFB). Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS 
requests comments on its proposal to authorize Boeing to take, by Level 
B harassment, small numbers of several species of pinnipeds at south 
VAFB beginning in June 2006.

DATES:  Comments and information must be received no later than June 2, 
2006.

ADDRESSES:  Comments on the application should be addressed to Steve 
Leathery, Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office 
of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-
West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225. The mailbox address for 
providing email comments is PR1.042506E@noaa.gov. NMFS is not 
responsible for e-mail comments sent to addresses other than the one 
provided here. Comments sent via e-mail, including all attachments, 
must not exceed a 10-megabyte file size.
    A copy of the application containing a list of the references used 
in this document may be obtained by writing to the address specified 
above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the Internet at: http://
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm.
    Documents cited in this notice may be viewed, by appointment, 
during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jolie Harrison, (301) 713-2289, ext. 
166 or Monica DeAngelis, (562) 980-3232.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) 
direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the 
incidental, but not intentional taking of small numbers of marine 
mammals by 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, notice of a proposed authorization is 
provided to the public for review.
    Authorization for incidental takings may be granted if NMFS finds 
that the taking will have no more than a negligible impact on the 
species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses, and that 
the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the 
mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such taking are set forth.
    NMFS has defined ``negligible impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 as:

[[Page 26070]]

    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.
    Subsection 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited 
process by which citizens of the United States can apply for an 
authorization to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by 
harassment. Except for certain categories of activities not pertinent 
here, the MMPA defines ``harassment'' as:
    any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the 
potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the 
wild [``Level A harassment'']; or (ii) has the potential to disturb 
a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing 
disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, 
migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering 
[``Level B harassment''].
    Section 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45-day time limit for NMFS 
review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and comment 
period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental harassment of 
small numbers of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the 
comment period, NMFS must determine whether to issue the authorization 
with appropriate conditions.

Summary of Request

    On February 28, 2006 NMFS received an application from Boeing 
requesting an authorization for the harassment of small numbers of 
Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) and California sea 
lions (Zalophus californianus) incidental to harbor activities related 
to the Delta IV/EELV, including: transport vessel operations, cargo 
movement activities, harbor maintenance dredging, and kelp habitat 
mitigation operations. In addition, northern elephant seals (Mirounga 
angustirostris) may also be incidentally harassed but in even smaller 
numbers. Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) were issued to 
Boeing on May 15, 2002 (67 FR 36151, May 23, 2002), May 20, 2003 (68 FR 
36540, June 18, 2003), May 20, 2004 (69 FR 29696, May 25, 2004), and 
May 23, 2005 (70 FR 30697, May 27, 2005) each for a 1-year period. No 
work and, therefore, no monitoring was conducted under the 2005 IHA. 
The harbor where activities will take place is on south VAFB 
approximately 2.5 mi (4.02 km) south of Point Arguello, CA and 
approximately 1 mi (1.61 km) north of the nearest marine mammal pupping 
site (i.e., Rocky Point).

Specified Activities

    Delta Mariner off-loading operations and associated cargo movements 
will occur a maximum of 3 times per year. The Delta Mariner is a 312-ft 
(95.1-m) long, 84-ft (25.6-m) wide steel hull ocean-going vessel 
capable of operating at a 8-ft (2.4-m) draft. For the first few visits 
to the south VAFB harbor, tug boats will accompany the Delta Mariner. 
Sources of noise from the Delta Mariner include ventilating propellers 
used for maneuvering into position and the cargo bay door when it 
becomes disengaged. Removal of the common booster core (CBC) from the 
Delta Mariner requires use of an elevating platform transporter (EPT), 
an additional source of noise with sound levels measured at 
approximately 85 dB A-weighted (re 20 microPascals at 1-m) 20 ft (6.1 
m) from the engine exhaust when the engine is running mid-speed 
(Acentech, 1998). Procedures require two short (approximately 1/3 
second) beeps of the horn prior to starting the ignition. The sound 
level of the EPT horn ranged from 62-70 dB A-weighted at 200 ft (60.9 
m) away, and 84-112 dB A-weighted at 25 ft (7.6 m) away. Containers 
containing flight hardware items will be towed off the Delta Mariner by 
a tractor tug that generates a sound level of approximately 87 dB A-
weighted at 50 ft (15.2 m) while in operational mode. Total time of 
Delta Mariner docking and cargo movement activities is estimated at 
approximately between 14 and 18 hours in good weather.
    To accommodate the Delta Mariner, the harbor will need to be 
dredged, removing approximately 3,000 to 5,000 cubic yards of sediment 
per dredging. Dredging will involve the use of heavy equipment, 
including a clamshell dredge, dredging crane, a small tug, dredging 
barge, dump trucks, and a skip loader. Measured sound levels from this 
equipment are roughly equivalent to those estimated for the wharf 
modification equipment: 43 to 81 dB A-weighted at 250 ft (76.2 m). 
Dredge operations, from set-up to tear-down, would continue 24-hours a 
day for 3 to 5 weeks. Sedimentation surveys have shown that initial 
dredging indicates that maintenance dredging should be required 
annually or twice per year, depending on the hardware delivery 
schedule.
    A more detailed description of the work proposed for 2006 is 
contained in the application which is available upon request (see 
ADDRESSES) and in the Final US Air Force Environmental Assessment for 
Harbor Activities Associated with the Delta IV Program at Vandenberg 
Air Force Base (ENSR International, 2001).

Habitat and Marine Mammals Affected by the Activity

Pacific Harbor Seals

     The marine mammal species likely to be harassed incidental to 
harbor activities at south VAFB are the Pacific harbor seal and the 
California sea lion. The most recent estimate of the Pacific harbor 
seal population in California is 31,600 seals. Since 1990 there has 
been no net population growth along the mainland or the Channel 
Islands. The decrease in population growth rate has occurred at the 
same time as a decrease in human-caused mortality and may indicate that 
the population has reached its environmental carrying capacity 
(Carretta et al., 2004). The total population of harbor seals on VAFB 
is now estimated to be 1,099 (maximum of 515 seals hauled out at one 
time on south VAFB) based on sighting surveys and telemetry data (SRS 
Technologies, 2003).
    The daily haul-out behavior of harbor seals along the south VAFB 
coastline is primarily dependent on time of day. The highest number of 
seals haul-out at south VAFB between 1100 through 1600 hours. In 
addition, haul-out behavior at all sites seems to be influenced by 
environmental factors such as high swell, tide height, and wind. The 
combination of all three may prevent seals from hauling out at most 
sites. The number of seals hauled out at any site can vary greatly from 
day to day based on environmental conditions. Harbor seals occasionally 
haul out at a beach 250 ft (76.2 m) west of the south VAFB harbor and 
on rocks outside the harbor breakwater where Boeing will be conducting 
Delta Mariner operations, cargo loading, dredging activities, and reef 
enhancement activities. The maximum number of seals present during the 
2001 dredging of the harbor was 23 (averaging 7 per observation period) 
and the maximum number hauled out during the 2002 wharf modification 
activities was 43, averaging 21 per day when tidal conditions were 
favorable for hauling out. Dredging and reef enhancement did not occur 
in 2004 or 2005. The harbor seal pupping site closest to south VAFB 
harbor is at Rocky Point, approximately 1 mi (1.6 km) north of the 
harbor.
    Several factors affect the seasonal haul-out behavior of harbor 
seals including environmental conditions, reproduction, and molting. 
Harbor seal numbers at VAFB begin to increase in March during the 
pupping season (March to June) as females spend more time on shore 
nursing pups. The number of hauled-out seals is at its highest during 
the molt which occurs

[[Page 26071]]

from May through July. During the molting season, tagged harbor seals 
at VAFB increased their time spent on shore by 22.4 percent; however, 
all seals continued to make daily trips to sea to forage. Molting 
harbor seals entering the water because of a disturbance are not 
adversely affected in their ability to molt and do not endure 
thermoregulatory stress. During pupping and molting season, harbor 
seals at the south VAFB sites expand into haul-out areas that are not 
used the rest of the year. The number of seals hauled out begins to 
decrease in August after the molt is complete and reaches the lowest 
number in late fall and early winter.

California Sea Lions

    During the wharf modification activity in June-July 2002, 
California sea lions were observed hauling out on the breakwater in 
small numbers (up to 6 individuals). Although this is considered to be 
an unusual occurrence and is possibly related to fish schooling in the 
area, Boeing included sea lions in their request.
    California sea lions range from British Columbia to Mexico. The 
most recent population estimates for the California sea lions range 
from 237,000 to 244,000 individuals (Caretta et al., 2004). Between 
1975 and 2001, the population growth rate was 5.4-6.1 percent. A 1985-
1987 population survey indicated that most individuals on the Northern 
Channel Islands were on San Miguel Island, with the population ranging 
from 2,235 to over 17,000. The largest numbers of California sea lions 
in the VAFB vicinity occur at Lion Rock, 0.4 mi (0.64 km) southeast of 
Point Sal. This area is approximately 1.5 mi (2.41 km) north of the 
VAFB boundary. At least 100 sea lions can be observed during any season 
at this site. The Point Arguello beaches and the rocky ledges of South 
Rocky Point on south VAFB are haulout areas that may be used by 
California sea lions. In 2003, at least 145 sea lions were observed at 
Rocky Point, including five pups that did not survive due to 
abandonment shortly after birth. This was thought to be an El Nino 
effect, as there had never been any previously reported sea lion births 
at VAFB (Thorson, 2003).
    Each year, small groups of sea lions have been observed heading 
south along the VAFB coastline in April and May (Tetra Tech, 1997). 
Starting in August, large groups of sea lions can be seen moving north, 
in groups varying in size from 25 to more than 300 (Roest, 1995). This 
concurs with established migration patterns (Reeves et al., 1992; 
Roest, 1995). Juvenile sea lions can be observed hauled-out with harbor 
seals along the South Base sites from July through September (Tetra 
Tech, 1997). Starving and exhausted subadult sea lions are fairly 
common on central California beaches during the months of July and 
August (Roest, 1995).
    During the breeding season, most of California sea lions inhabit 
southern California and Mexico. Rookery sites in southern California 
are limited to San Miguel Island and to the southerly Channel Islands 
of San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, and San Clemente. Breeding season begins 
in mid-May, occurring within 10 days of arrival at the rookeries. 
Molting occurs gradually over several months in the late summer and 
fall. Because the molt is not catastrophic, the sea lions can enter the 
water to feed.
    Male California sea lions migrate annually. In the spring they 
migrate southward to breeding rookeries in the Channel Islands and 
Mexico, then migrate northward in the late summer following breeding 
season. Females appear to remain near the breeding rookeries. The 
greatest population on land occurs in September and October during the 
post-breeding dispersal and although many of the sea lions, 
particularly juveniles and sub-adult and adult males, may move north 
away from the Channel Islands.

Other Marine Mammals

    Other marine mammal species are rare to infrequent along the south 
VAFB coast during certain times of the year and are unlikely to be 
harassed by Boeing's activities. These four species are: the northern 
elephant seal, the northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus), Guadalupe 
fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi), and Steller sea lions (Eumetopias 
jubatus). Northern elephant seals may occur on VAFB but do not haul out 
in the harbor area. Northern fur seals, Guadalupe fur seals and Steller 
sea lions occur along the California coast and Northern Channel Islands 
but are not likely to be found on VAFB. Descriptions of the biology and 
local distribution of these species can be found in the application as 
well as other sources such as Stewart and Yochem (1994, 1984), Forney 
et al. (2000), Koski et al. (1998), Barlow et al. (1993), Stewart and 
DeLong (1995), and Lowry et al. (1992). NMFS Stock Assessments can be 
viewed at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. Please 
refer to those documents for information on these species.

Potential Effects of Activities on Marine Mammals

    Acoustic and visual stimuli generated by the use of heavy equipment 
during the Delta Mariner off-loading operations, dredging, and kelp 
habitat mitigation, as well as the increased presence of personnel, may 
cause short-term disturbance to harbor seals and California sea lions 
hauled out along the beach and rocks in the vicinity of the south VAFB 
harbor. This disturbance from acoustic and visual stimuli is the 
principal means of marine mammal taking associated with these 
activities.
    Based on the measured sounds of construction equipment, such as 
might be used during Boeing's activities, sound level intensity 
decreases proportional to the square root of the distance from the 
source. A dredging crane at the end of the dock producing 88 dBA of 
noise would be approximately 72 dBA at the nearest beach or the end of 
the breakwater, roughly 250 ft (76.2 m) away. The EPT produces 
approximately 85 dBA, measured less than 20 ft (6 m) from the engine 
exhaust, when the engine is running at mid speed. The EPT operation 
procedure requires two short beeps of the horn (approximately 1/3 of a 
second each) prior to starting the ignition. Sound level measurements 
for the horn ranged from 84 to 112 dBA at 25 ft (7.6 m) away and 62 to 
70 dBA at 200 ft (61 m) away. The highest measurement was taken from 
the side of the vehicle where the horn is mounted. Ambient background 
noise measured approximately 250 ft (76.2 m) from the beach was 
estimated to be 35-48 dB A-weighted (Acentech, 1998; EPA, 1971).
    Pinnipeds sometimes show startle reactions when exposed to sudden 
brief sounds. An acoustic stimulus with sudden onset (such as a sonic 
boom) may be analogous to a ``looming'' visual stimulus (Hayes and 
Saif, 1967), which may elicit flight away from the source (Berrens et 
al., 1988). The onset of operations by a loud sound source, such as the 
EPT during CBC off-loading procedures, may elicit such a reaction. In 
addition, the movements of cranes and dredges may represent a 
``looming'' visual stimulus to seals hauled out in close proximity. 
Seals and sea lions exposed to such acoustic and visual stimuli may 
either exhibit a startle response and/or leave the haul-out site.
     According to the MMPA and NMFS implementing regulations, if harbor 
activities disrupt the behavioral patterns of harbor seals, these 
activities would take marine mammals by Level B harassment. In general, 
if the received level of the noise stimulus exceeds both

[[Page 26072]]

the background (ambient) noise level and the auditory threshold of the 
animals, and especially if the stimulus is novel to them, there may be 
a behavioral response. The probability and degree of response will also 
depend on the season, the group composition of the pinnipeds, and the 
type of activity in which they are engaged. Minor and brief responses, 
such as short-duration startle or alert reactions, are not likely to 
constitute disruption of behavioral patterns, such as migration, 
nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering (i.e., Level B harassment) 
and would not cause serious injury or mortality to marine mammals.
    On the other hand, startle and alert reactions accompanied by 
large-scale movements, such as stampedes into the water of hundreds of 
animals, may rise to the level of Level A harassment and could result 
in injury of individuals. In addition, such large-scale movements by 
dense aggregations of marine mammals or at pupping sites could 
potentially lead to takes by serious injury or death. However, there is 
no potential for large-scale movements leading to serious injury or 
mortality near the south VAFB harbor, because on average the number of 
harbor seals hauled out near the site on average is less than 30 and 
there is no pupping at nearby sites. The effects of the harbor 
activities are expected to be limited to short-term startle responses 
and localized behavioral changes.
    According to the June 2002 dock modification construction report 
(ENSRI, 2002), the maximum number of harbor seals hauled out each day 
ranged from 23 to 25 animals. There were 15 occasions in which 
construction noise, vehicle noise, or noise from a fishing boat caused 
the seals to lift their heads. Flushing only occurred due to fishing 
activities which were unrelated to the construction activities. The sea 
lions were less reactive to the construction noise than the harbor 
seals. None of the construction activities caused any of the sea lions 
to leave the jetty rocks and there was only one incident of a head 
alert reaction.
    The report from the December 2002 dredging activities show that the 
number of Pacific harbor seals ranged from 0 to 19 and that California 
sea lions did not haul out during the monitoring period. On 10 
occasions, harbor seals showed head alerts although two of the alerts 
were for disturbances that were not related to the project. No harbor 
seals flushed during the activities on the dock.
    For a further discussion of the anticipated effects of the planned 
activities on harbor seals in the area, please refer to the 
application, NMFS 2005 Environmental Assessment (EA) and ENSR 
International's 2001 Final EA.

Numbers of Marine Mammals Expected to be Harassed

    Boeing estimates that a maximum of 43 harbor seals per day may be 
hauled out near the south VAFB harbor, with a daily average of 21 seals 
sighted when tidal conditions were favorable during previous dredging 
operations in the harbor. Considering the maximum and average number of 
seals hauled out per day, assuming that the seals may be seen twice a 
day, and using a maximum total of 73 operating days in 2005-2006, NMFS 
estimates that a maximum of 767 to 1570 Pacific harbor seals may be 
subject to Level B harassment out of a total estimated population of 
31,600. These numbers are small relative to this population size (2.4 - 
5.0 percent).
    During wharf modification activities, a maximum of six California 
sea lions were seen hauling out in a single day. Based on the above-
mentioned calculation, NMFS believes that a maximum of 219 California 
sea lions may be subject to Level B harassment out of a total estimated 
population of 240,000. These numbers are small relative to this 
population size (less than 0.1 percent). Up to 10 northern elephant 
seals (because they may be in nearby waters) may be subject to Level B 
harassment out of a total estimated population of 101,000. These 
numbers are small relative to this population size (less than 0.01 
percent).

Possible Effects of Activities on Marine Mammal Habitat

    Boeing anticipates no loss or modification to the habitat used by 
Pacific harbor seals or California sea lions that haul out near the 
south VAFB harbor. The harbor seal and sea lion haul-out sites near 
south VAFB harbor are not used as breeding, molting, or mating sites; 
therefore, it is not expected that the activities in the harbor will 
have any impact on the ability of Pacific harbor seals or California 
sea lions in the area to reproduce.
    Boeing anticipates unavoidable kelp removal during dredging. This 
habitat modification will not affect the marine mammal habitat. 
However, Boeing will mitigate for the removal of kelp habitat by 
placing 150 tons of rocky substrate in a sandy area between the 
breakwater and the mooring dolphins to enhance an existing artificial 
reef. This type of mitigation was implemented by the Army Corps of 
Engineers following the 1984 and 1989 dredging. A lush kelp bed 
adjacent to the sandy area has developed from the efforts. The 
substrate will consist of approximately 150 sharp-faced boulders, each 
with a diameter of about 2 ft (0.61 m) and each weighing about one ton. 
The boulders will be brought in by truck from an off-site quarry and 
loaded by crane onto a small barge at the wharf. The barge is towed by 
a tugboat to a location along the mooring dolphins from which a small 
barge-mounted crane can place them into the sandy area. Boeing plans to 
perform the reef enhancement in conjunction with the next maintenance 
dredging event in order to minimize cost and disturbances to animals. 
Noise will be generated by the trucks delivering the boulders to the 
harbor and during the operation of unloading the boulders onto the 
barges and into the water.

Possible Effects of Activities on Subsistence Needs

    There are no subsistence uses for pinnipeds in California waters, 
and thus, there are no anticipated effects on subsistence needs.

Mitigation

    To reduce the potential for disturbance from visual and acoustic 
stimuli associated with the activities Boeing will undertake the 
following marine mammal mitigating measures:
    (1) If activities occur during nighttime hours, lighting will be 
turned on before dusk and left on the entire night to avoid startling 
pinnipeds at night.
    (2) Activities will be initiated before dusk.
    (3) Construction noises must be kept constant (i.e., not 
interrupted by periods of quiet in excess of 30 minutes) while 
pinnipeds are present.
    (4) If activities cease for longer than 30 minutes and pinnipeds 
are in the area, start-up of activities will include a gradual increase 
in noise levels.
    (5) A NMFS-approved marine mammal observer will visually monitor 
the harbor seals on the beach adjacent to the harbor and on rocks for 
any flushing or other behaviors as a result of Boeing's activities (see 
Monitoring).
    (6) The Delta Mariner and accompanying vessels will enter the 
harbor only when the tide is too high for harbor seals to haul-out on 
the rocks and the vessel will reduce speed to 1.5 to 2 knots (1.5-2.0 
nm/hr; 2.8-3.7 km/hr) once the vessel is within 3 mi (4.83 km) of the 
harbor. The vessel will enter the harbor stern first, approaching the 
wharf and mooring dolphins at less than 0.75 knot (1.4 km/hr).
    (7) As alternate dredge methods are explored, the dredge contractor 
may

[[Page 26073]]

introduce quieter techniques and equipment.

Monitoring

    As part of its 2002 application, Boeing provided a proposed 
monitoring plan for assessing impacts to harbor seals from the 
activities at south VAFB harbor and for determining when mitigation 
measures should be employed. NMFS proposes the same plan for this IHA.
    A NMFS-approved and VAFB-designated biologically trained observer 
will monitor the area for pinnipeds during all harbor activities. 
During nighttime activities, the harbor area will be illuminated, and 
the monitor will use a night vision scope. Monitoring activities will 
consist of:
    (1) Conducting baseline observation of pinnipeds in the project 
area prior to initiating project activities.
    (2) Conducting and recording observations on pinnipeds in the 
vicinity of the harbor for the duration of the activity occurring when 
tides are low enough for pinnipeds to haul out
    (2 ft, 0.61 m, or less).
    (3) Conducting post-construction observations of pinniped haul-outs 
in the project area to determine whether animals disturbed by the 
project activities return to the haul-out.
    Monitoring results from previous years of these activities have 
been reviewed and incorporated into the analysis of potential effects 
in this document, as well as the take estimates.

Reporting

    Boeing will notify NMFS 2 weeks prior to initiation of each 
activity. After each activity is completed, Boeing will provide a 
report to NMFS within 90 days. This report will provide dates and 
locations of specific activities, details of seal behavioral 
observations, and estimates of the amount and nature of all takes of 
seals by harassment or in other ways. In addition, the report will 
include information on the weather, the tidal state, the horizontal 
visibility, and the composition (species, gender, and age class) and 
locations of haul-out group(s). In the unanticipated event that any 
cases of pinniped injury or mortality are judged to result from these 
activities, this will be reported to NMFS immediately.

Endangered Species Act

    This action will not affect species listed under the Endangered 
Species Act (ESA) that are under the jurisdiction of NMFS. VAFB 
formally consulted with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 1998 on 
the possible take of southern sea otters during Boeing's harbor 
activities at south VAFB. A Biological Opinion was issued in August 
2001. The activities covered by this IHA are analyzed in that 
Biological Opinion, and this IHA does not modify the action in a manner 
that was not previously analyzed.

National Environmental Policy Act

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

Preliminary Conclusions

     NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to Boeing for harbor activities 
related to the Delta IV/EELV to take place at south VAFB over a 1-year 
period. The proposal to issue this IHA is contingent upon adherence to 
the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
requirements. NMFS has preliminarily determined that the impact of 
harbor activities related to the Delta IV/EELV at VAFB, including: 
transport vessel operations, cargo movement activities, harbor 
maintenance dredging, and kelp habitat mitigation would result in the 
Level B Harassment only of small numbers of Pacific harbor seals, 
California sea lions, and northern elephant seals; would have no more 
than a negligible impact on these marine mammal stocks; and would not 
have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of marine mammal 
stocks for subsistence uses. Northern fur seals, Guadalupe fur seals, 
and Steller sea lions are unlikely to be found in the area and, 
therefore, will not be affected. While behavioral modifications may be 
made by harbor seals and California sea lions to avoid the resultant 
acoustic and visual stimuli, there is no potential for large-scale 
movements, such as stampedes, since these species haul out in such 
small numbers near the site (maximum number of harbor seals hauled out 
in one day estimated at 43 seals, averaging at 21 seals per day, 
maximum number of California sea lions hauled out in one day is 
estimated at six). The effects of Boeing's harbor activities are 
expected to be limited to short-term and localized behavioral changes.
    Due to the localized nature of these activities, the number of 
marine mammals potentially taken by Level B harassment is estimated to 
be small. In addition, no take by injury or death is anticipated or 
authorized, and the potential for temporary or permanent hearing 
impairment is unlikely given the low noise levels expected at the site. 
No rookeries, mating grounds, areas of concentrated feeding, or other 
areas of special significance for marine mammals occur within or near 
south VAFB harbor.

Information Solicited

    NMFS requests interested persons to submit comments and information 
concerning this request (see ADDRESSES). Prior to submitting comments, 
NMFS recommends readers review NMFS' responses to those comments on 
this activity submitted previously (see 67 FR 63151, May 23, 2002, 68 
FR 36540, June 18, 2003, 69 FR 29696, May 25, 2004, and 70 FR 30697, 
May 27, 2005).

    Dated: April 27, 2006.
Wanda L. Cain,
Acting Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. E6-6717 Filed 5-2-06; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-S