Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Surf Zone Testing/Training and Amphibious Vehicle Training and Weapons Testing, 16646-16651 [E8-6441]

Download as PDF 16646 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 61 / Friday, March 28, 2008 / Notices DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XE32 Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Surf Zone Testing/ Training and Amphibious Vehicle Training and Weapons Testing National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization and receipt of application for five-year regulations; request for comments and information. AGENCY: SUMMARY: On November 29, 2005, NMFS received a request from Eglin Air Force Base (Eglin AFB), for authorization to harass marine mammals, incidental to conducting surf zone testing/training and amphibious vehicle training and weapons testing off the coast of Santa Rosa Island (SRI). Following notice and comment, NMFS issued an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to Eglin AFB for a period of one year from December 11, 2006, to December 10, 2007, with mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements. On October 16, 2007, NMFS received a request from Eglin AFB to renew the IHA for a period of one year. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an authorization to Eglin AFB to incidentally take, by harassment, two species of cetaceans for a period of 1 year. NMFS is also requesting comments, information, and suggestions concerning Eglin AFB’s application and the structure and content of future regulations. Comments and information must be postmarked no later than April 28, 2008. DATES: Comments should be addressed to P. Michael Payne, Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910–3226. The mailbox address for providing email comments on this action is PR1.0648–XE32@noaa.gov. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 10– megabyte file size. A copy of the application and a list of references used in this document may be obtained by writing to this address, by telephoning the contact listed here (see FOR sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES ADDRESSES: VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:57 Mar 27, 2008 Jkt 214001 FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT) and is also available at: http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm. A copy of the Santa Rosa Island Mission Utilization Plan Programmatic Environmental Assessment (SRI Mission PEA) (U.S. Air Force, 2005) and a 2007 supplemental environmental assessment (SEA) are available by writing to the Department of the Air Force, AAC/EMSN, Natural Resources Branch, 501 DeLeon St., Suite 101, Eglin AFB, FL 32542–5133. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shane Guan, NMFS, 301–713–2289, ext 137. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional taking 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 regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review. An authorization 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 certain subsistence uses, and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘‘negligible impact’’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ‘‘...an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ 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 marine mammals by harassment. With respect to ‘‘military readiness activities,’’ the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as follows: (i) any act that injures or has the significant potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) any act that disturbs or is likely to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of natural behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, to a point where such behavioral patterns are abandoned or significantly altered [Level B harassment]. PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Summary of Request On November 21, 2005, Eglin AFB petitioned NMFS for an authorization under section 101(a)(5) of the MMPA for the taking, by harassment, of marine mammals incidental to programmatic mission activities on Eglin’s SRI property, including the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf or GOM) to a depth of 30 feet (9.1 meters), which is also known as the surf zone. The distance from the island shoreline that corresponds to this depth varies from approximately 0.5 mile (0.8 km) at the western side of the Air Force property to 1.5 miles (2.4 km) at the eastern side, extending out into the inner continental shelf. Activities conducted in this area are addressed in the Estuarine and Riverine Areas Programmatic Environmental Assessment (U.S. Air Force, 2003a). The proposed action is for the 46th Test Wing Commander to establish a mission utilization plan for SRI based on historical and anticipated future use. Current and future operations are categorized as either testing or training and include: 1) Surf Zone Testing/ Training; 2) Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) Training and Weapons Testing; 3) Amphibious Assaults; and 4) Special Operations Training. A detailed description of the proposed activities is provided in the June 22, 2006, Federal Register notice of proposed IHA (71 FR 35870). There is no change of activities for the proposed renewal of the IHA, therefore, please refer to that Federal Register notice for detailed information of the activities. Description of Marine Mammals Affected by the Activity Marine mammal species potentially occurring within the proposed action area include the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis), and the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris). General information on Florida manatees can be found in the Florida Manatee Recovery Plan (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2001). Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are distributed throughout the continental shelf, coastal, and bay-sound waters of the northern GOM and along the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast. The identification of a biologically-meaningful ‘‘stock’’ of bottlenose dolphins in the GOM is complicated by the high degree of behavioral variability exhibited by this species (Wells, 2003). Currently, bottlenose dolphins in the U.S. GOM are managed as 38 different stocks: one northern GOM oceanic stock, one E:\FR\FM\28MRN1.SGM 28MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 61 / Friday, March 28, 2008 / Notices sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES northern GOM continental shelf stock, three northern GOM costal stocks (western, northern, and eastern Gulf), and 33 bay, sound, and estuarine stocks (Waring et al., 2007). The identification of these stocks is based on descriptions of relatively discrete dolphin communities in these waters. A community includes resident dolphins that regularly share large portions of their ranges, exhibit similar distinct genetic profiles, and interact with each other to a much greater extent than with dolphins in adjacent waters. Bottlenose dolphin communities do not constitute closed demographic populations, as individuals from adjacent communities are known to interbreed. Nevertheless, the geographic nature of these areas and long-term stability of residency patterns suggest that many of these communities exist as functioning units of their ecosystems. Within the proposed action area, at least three Atlantic bottlenose dolphin stocks are expected to occur: the northern GOM northern coastal, the Pensacola Bay/East Bay stock, and the Choctawhatchee Bay stock (Waring et al., 2007). The best population size estimates available for these stocks are more than 13 years old; therefore, the current population size for each stock is considered unknown (Wade and Angliss, 1997). These data are insufficient to determine population trends for all of the GOM bay, sound and estuary bottlenose dolphin communities. The relatively high number of bottlenose dolphin deaths that occurred during mortality events (mostly from stranding) since 1990 raises a concern that some of the stocks are stressed. Human-caused mortality and serious injury for each of these stocks is not known, but considering the evidence from stranding data, the total human-caused mortality and serious injury exceeds 10 percent of the total known potential biological removal (PBR) or pervious PBR, and, therefore, it is probably not insignificant. For these reasons, each of these stocks is listed as a strategic stock under the MMPA. The Atlantic spotted dolphin is endemic to the Atlantic Ocean in temperate to tropical waters (Perrin et al., 1994). In the GOM, this species occurs primarily from continental shelf waters 10 – 200 m (32.8 – 656.2 ft) deep to slope waters <500 m (1,640 ft) deep VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:57 Mar 27, 2008 Jkt 214001 (Fulling et al., 2003). Atlantic spotted dolphins were seen in all seasons during GulfCet aerial surveys of the northern GOM from 1992 to 1998 (Hansen et al., 1996; Mullin and Hoggard, 2003). It has been suggested that this species may move inshore seasonally during spring, but data supporting this hypothesis are limited (Fritts et al., 1983). The best available abundance estimate for the northern GOM stock of the Atlantic spotted dolphin is 30,947 (NMFS, 2005). More detailed information on Atlantic bottlenose and spotted dolphins can be found in the NMFS Stock Assessment Reports at: http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/ nefsc/publications/tm/tm201/ tm201.pdf. Potential Impacts to Marine Mammals Potential impacts to marine mammals may occur due to underwater noise and direct physical impacts (DPI). Noise is produced by underwater detonations in the surf zone and by the operation of amphibious vehicles. DPI could result from collisions with amphibious vehicles and from ordnance live fire. However, with implementation of the mitigation actions proposed later in this document, the potential for impacts to marine mammals are anticipated to be de minimus (U.S. Air Force, 2005). Explosive criteria and thresholds for assessing impacts of explosions on marine mammals are summarized here in Table 1 and were discussed in detail in NMFS’s notice of issuance of an IHA for Eglin’s Precision Strike Weapon testing activity (70 FR 48675, August 19, 2005). Please refer to that document for background information. Estimation of Take and Impact Surf Zone Detonation Surf zone detonation noise impacts are considered within two categories: overpressure and acoustics. Underwater explosive detonations produce a wave of pressure in the water column. This pressure wave potentially has lethal and injurious impacts, depending on the proximity to the source detonation. Humans and animals receive the acoustic signature of noise as sound. Beyond the physical impacts, acoustics may cause annoyance and behavior modifications (Goertner, 1982). The impacts on marine mammals from underwater detonations were PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 16647 discussed by NMFS in detail in its notice of receipt of application for an IHA for Eglin’s Air-to-Surface Gunnery mission in the Gulf (71 FR 3474, January 23, 2006) and is not repeated here. Please refer to that document for this background information. A maximum of one surf zone testing/ training mission would be completed per year. The impact areas of the proposed action are derived from mathematical calculations and models that predict the distances to which threshold noise levels would travel. The equations for the models consider the amount of net explosive, the properties of detonations under water, and environmental factors such as depth of the explosion, overall water depth, water temperature, and bottom type. The end result of the analysis is an area known as the Zone of Influence (ZOI). A ZOI is based on an outward radial distance from the point of detonation, extending to the limit of a particular threshold level in a 360– degree area. Thus, there are separate ZOIs for mortality, injury (hearingrelated injury and slight, non-fatal lung injury), and harassment (temporary threshold shift, or TTS, and sub-TTS). Given the radius, and assuming noise spreads outward in a spherical manner, the entire area ensonified (i.e., exposed to the specific noise level being analyzed) is estimated. The radius of each threshold is shown for each shallow water surf zone mine clearing system in Table 1. The radius is assumed to extend from the point of detonation in all directions, allowing calculation of the affected area. The number of takes is estimated by applying marine mammal density to the ZOI (area) for each detonation type. Species density for most cetaceans is based on adjusted GulfCet II aerial survey data, which is shown in Table 2. GulfCet II data were conservatively adjusted upward to approximately two standard deviations to obtain 99 percent confidence, and a submergence correction factor was applied to account for the presence of submerged, uncounted animals. However, the calculation is an overestimate, since up to half of the ZOI would be over land and very shallow surf, which is not considered marine mammal habitat. E:\FR\FM\28MRN1.SGM 28MRN1 16648 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 61 / Friday, March 28, 2008 / Notices TABLE 1. ZONES OF IMPACT FOR UNDERWATER EXPLOSIVE FROM FOUR MINE CLEARING SYSTEMS (ACOUSTIC UNITS ARE RE 1 MICROPA2) ZOI Radius (m) Criteria Threshold SABRE 232 lb NEW MK–5 MCS 1,750 lb NEW DET 130 lb MK–82 ARRAY 1,372 lb Level B Behavior 176 dB 1/3 Octave SEL* 1,440 2,299 1,252 2,207 Level B TTS Dual Criterion 182 dB 1/3 Octave SEL 961 1,658 796 1,544 Level A PTS 205 dB SEL 200 478 155 436 Level B Dual Criteria 23 psi 857 1,788 761 1,557 Level A Injury 13 psi-msec 60 100 58 86 Mortality 30.5 psi-msec 45 68 42 60 *SEL - Sound energy level Table 2. Cetacean Densities for Gulf of Mexico Shelf Region Individuals/km2 Dive profile - % at surface Adjusted density (Individuals/ km2)* Bottlenose dolphin 0.148 30 0.810 Atlantic spotted dolphin 0.089 30 0.677 Bottlenose or Atlantic dolphin 0.007 30 0.053 Total 0.244 Species * 1.54 Adjusted for undetected submerged animals to approximately two standard deviations. Table 3 lists the noise-related dolphin take estimates resulting from surf zone detonations that are the subject of this proposed IHA. The take numbers represent the combined total of Atlantic bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins, and do not consider any mitigation measures. The use of combined Atlantic bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphin numbers is because of the difficulty in distinguish them from each other in the field. Implementation of mitigation measures discussed below would significantly decrease the number of takes. Discussion of the amount of take reduction is provided below. TABLE 3. TAKE ESTIMATES FROM NOISE IMPACTS TO DOLPHINS (ACOUSTIC UNITS ARE RE 1 MICROPA2) Criteria Threshold SABRE MK–5 MCS DET MK–82 Array Total Takes* Sub-TTS 176 dB 1/3 Octave SEL 10 26 8 24 68 Level B Harassment TTS (dual criterion) 182 dB 1/3 Octave SEL 5 13 3 12 33 Level B TTS (dual criterion) 23 psi 4 15 3 12 34 Level A PTS 205 dB Total SEL 0 1 0 1 2 Level A Non-lethal Injury 13 psi-msec 0 0 0 0 0 Mortality 30.5 psi-msec 0 0 0 0 0 *Estimated exposure with no mitigation measures in place sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES Noise from LCAC Noise resulting from LCAC operations was considered under a transit mode of operation. The LCAC uses rotary air screw technology to power the craft over the water, therefore, noise from the engine is not emitted directly into the water. The Navy’s acoustic in-water noise characterization studies show the noise emitted from the LCAC into the VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:57 Mar 27, 2008 Jkt 214001 water is very similar to that of the MH– 53 helicopter operating at low altitudes. Based on the Air Force’s Excess Sound Attenuation Model for the LCAC’s engines under ground runup condition, the data estimate that the maximum noise level (98 dBA) is at a point 45 degrees from the bow of the craft at a distance of 61 m (200 ft) in air. Maximum noise levels fall below 90 PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 dBA at a point less than 122 meters (400 ft) from the craft in air (U.S. Air Force, 1999). Due to the large difference of acoustic impedance between air and water, much of the acoustic energy would be reflected at the surface. Therefore, the effects of noise from LCAC to marine mammals would be negligible. E:\FR\FM\28MRN1.SGM 28MRN1 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 61 / Friday, March 28, 2008 / Notices Collision with Vessels During the time that amphibious vehicles are operating in (or, in the case of LCACs, just above) the water, encounters with marine mammals are possible. A slight possibility exists that such encounters could result in a vessel physically striking an animal. However, this scenario is considered very unlikely. Dolphins are extremely mobile and have keen hearing and would likely leave the vicinity of any vehicle traffic. The largest vehicles that would be moving are LCACs, and their beam measurement can be used for conservative impact analyses. The operation which potentially uses the largest number of LCACs is Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) training. Based on analysis in the ARG/MEU Readiness Training Environmental Assessment (U.S. Air Force, 2003b), LCAC activities (over 10 days) could potentially impact 22.25 square miles of the total water surface area. The estimated number of bottlenose dolphins in this area is 6.9, with an approximately equal number of Atlantic spotted dolphins. These species would easily avoid collision because the LCACs produce noise that would be detected some distance away, and therefore would be avoided as any other boat in the Gulf. In addition, Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) move very slowly and could be easily avoided. The potential for amphibious craft colliding with marine mammals and causing injury or death is therefore considered remote. sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES Live Fire Operations Live fire operations with munitions directed towards the Gulf have the potential to impact marine mammals (primarily bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins). A maximum of two live fire operations would be conducted in a year, and are associated with expanded Special Operations training on SRI. Small caliber weapons between 5.56 mm and .50 caliber with low-range munitions would be allowed only within designated live fire areas. The average range of the munitions is approximately 1 km (0.54 nm). If a given live fire area was 1 km (0.54 nm) wide, then approximately 1.5 dolphins could be vulnerable to a munitions strike. However, even the largest live fire area on SRI is considerably less than 1 km (0.54 nm) wide. If live fire is conservatively estimated to originate from a section of beach 0.2 km (0.11 nm) wide, only 0.3 dolphins would be within the area of potential DPI (using Table 2 density estimates). Finally, the VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:57 Mar 27, 2008 Jkt 214001 mitigation measures discussed below would further reduce the likelihood of direct impacts to marine mammals due to live fire operations. Given the infrequency of the surf zone detonation (maximum of once per year) and the amphibious vehicle and weapon testing (maximum of twice per year), NMFS believes there is no potential for long-term displacement or behavioral impacts of marine mammals within the proposed action area. Proposed Mitigation Eglin AFB would employ a number of mitigation measures in an effort to substantially decrease the number of animals potentially affected. Visual monitoring of the operational area can be a very effective means of detecting the presence of marine mammals. This is particularly true of the species most likely to be present (bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins) due to their tendency to occur in groups, their relatively short dive time, and their relatively high level of surface activity. In addition, the water clarity in the northeastern GOM is typically very high. It is often possible to view the entire water column in the water depth that defines the action area (30 feet or 9.1 m). For the surf zone testing/training, missions would only be conducted under daylight conditions of suitable visibility and sea state of number three or less. Prior to the mission, a trained observer aboard a helicopter would survey (visually monitor) the test area, which is a very effective method for detecting sea turtles and cetaceans. In addition, shipboard personnel would provide supplemental observations when available. The size of the area to be surveyed would depend on the specific test system, but it would correspond to the ZOI for Level B behavioral harassment (176 dB 1/3 octave SEL) listed in Table 1. The survey would be conducted approximately 250 feet (76 m) above the sea surface to allow observers to scan a large distance. If a marine mammal is sighted within the ZOI, the mission would be suspended until the animal is clear of this area. Surf zone testing would be conducted between 1 November and 1 March whenever possible. Navy personnel would only conduct live fire testing with sea surface conditions of sea state 3 or less on the Beaufort scale, which is when there is about 33 – 50 percent of surface whitecaps with 0.6 – 0.9 m (2 – 3 ft) waves. During daytime missions, small boats would be used to survey for marine mammals in the proposed action PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 16649 area before and after the operations. If a marine mammal is sighted within the target or closely adjacent areas, the mission would be suspended until the area is clear. No mitigation for marine mammals would be feasible for nighttime missions, however, given the remoteness of impact, the potential that a marine mammal is injured or killed is unlikely. Monitoring and Reporting The Eglin AFB will train personnel to conduct aerial surveys for protected species. The aerial survey/monitoring team would consist of an observer and a pilot familiar with flying transect patterns. A helicopter provides a preferable viewing platform for detection of protected marine species. The aerial observer must be experienced in marine mammal surveying and be familiar with species that may occur in the area. The observer would be responsible for relaying the location (latitude and longitude), the species if known, and the number of animals sighted. The aerial team would also identify large schools of fish, jellyfish aggregations, and any large accumulation of Sargassum that could potentially drift into the ZOI. Standard line-transect aerial surveying methods would be used. Observed marine mammals and sea turtles would be identified to species or the lowest possible taxonomic level possible. The aerial and (potential) shipboard monitoring teams would have proper lines of communication to avoid communication deficiencies. Observers would have direct communication via radio with the lead scientist, who will review the range conditions and recommend a Go/No-Go decision to the Officer in Tactical Command, who makes the final Go/No-Go decision. Specific stepwise mitigation procedures for SRI surf zone missions are outlined below. All ZOIs (mortality, injury, TTS) would be monitored. Pre-mission Monitoring: The purposes of pre-mission monitoring are to (1) evaluate the test site for environmental suitability of the mission (e.g., relatively low numbers of marine mammals, etc.) and (2) verify that the ZOI is free of visually detectable marine mammals and other living marine resources. On the morning of the test, the lead scientist would confirm that the test site can support the mission and that the weather is adequate to support observations. (1) One Hour Prior to Mission Approximately one hour prior to the mission, or at daybreak, the appropriate vessel(s) would be on-site near the E:\FR\FM\28MRN1.SGM 28MRN1 16650 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 61 / Friday, March 28, 2008 / Notices sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES location of the earliest planned mission point. Personnel onboard the vessel would assess the suitability of the test site, based on visual observation of marine mammals. This information would be relayed to the Lead Scientist. (2) Fifteen Minutes Prior to Mission Aerial monitoring would commence at the test site 15 minutes prior to the start of the mission. The entire ZOI would be surveyed by flying transects through the area. Shipboard personnel would also monitor the area as available. All marine mammal sightings would be reported to the Lead Scientist, who would enter all pertinent data into a sighting database. (3) Go/No-Go Decision Process The Lead Scientist would record sightings and bearing for all protected species detected. This would depict animal sightings relative to the mission area. The Lead Scientist would have the authority to declare the range fouled and request a hold until monitoring indicates that the ZOI is and will remain clear of detectable animals. The mission would be postponed if any marine mammal or sea turtle is visually detected within the ZOI for Level B behavioral harassment. The delay would continue until the marine mammal or sea turtle is confirmed to be outside the ZOI for Level B behavioral harassment on its own. In the event of a postponement, premission monitoring would continue as long as weather and daylight hours allow. Aerial monitoring is limited by fuel and the on-station time of the monitoring aircraft. Post-mission monitoring: Post-mission monitoring is designed to determine the effectiveness of premission mitigation by reporting any sightings of dead or injured marine mammals or sea turtles. Post-detonation monitoring would commence immediately following each detonation and continue for 15 minutes. The helicopter would resume transects in the area of the detonation, concentrating on the area down current of the test site. The monitoring team would attempt to document any marine mammals or turtles that were found dead or injured after the detonation, and, if practicable, recover and examine any dead animals. The species, number, location, and behavior of any animals observed by the observation teams would be documented and reported to the Lead Scientist. Post-mission monitoring activities would also include coordination with marine animal stranding networks. The NMFS maintains stranding networks along coasts to collect and circulate VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:57 Mar 27, 2008 Jkt 214001 information about marine mammal and sea turtle standings. In addition, NMFS proposes to require Eglin to monitor the target area for impacts to marine mammals and to report on its activities. NMFS’ Biological Opinion on this action has recommended certain monitoring measures to protect marine life. NMFS proposes to require the same requirements under the IHA: (1) Eglin will develop and implement a marine species observer-training program in coordination with NMFS. This program will primarily provide expertise to Eglin’s testing and training community in the identification of marine mammals and other protected marine species during surface and aerial mission activities in the GOM. Additionally, personnel involved in the surf zone and amphibious vehicle and weapon testing/training would participate in the proposed species observation training. Observers would receive training in protected species survey and identification techniques through a NMFS-approved training program. (2) Eglin would track its use of the surf zone and amphibious vehicle and weapon testing/training for test firing missions and protected resources (marine mammal/sea turtle) observations, through the use of an observer training sheet. (3) A summary annual report of marine mammal/sea turtle observations and surf zone and amphibious vehicle and weapon testing/training activities would be submitted to the NMFS Southeast Regional Office (SERO) and the Headquarters Office of Protected Resources by January 31 of each year. (4) If a dead or injuried marine mammal is observed before or after testing, a report must be made to the NMFS by the following business day. (5) Any unauthorized takes of marine mammals (i.e., injury or mortality) must be immediately reported to the NMFS representative and to the respective stranding network representative. ESA On March 18, 2005, the U.S. Air Force (USAF), Eglin AFB, requested initiation of formal consultation on all potential environmental impacts to ESA-listed species from all Eglin AFB mission activities on SRI and within the surf zone near SRI. These missions include the surf zone detonation and amphibious vehicle and weapon testing/ training that are the subject of this proposed IHA. On October 12, 2005, NMFS issued a Biological Opinion, concluding that the surf zone and amphibious vehicle and weapon testing/ PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 training are unlikely to jeopardize the continued existence of species listed under the ESA that are within the jurisdiction of NMFS or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Eglin AFB also consulted with the FWS for the SRI programmatic program regarding ESA-listed species and critical habitat under FWS jurisdiction. On December 1, 2005, FWS issued a Biological Opinion and concluded that the proposed mission activities are not likely to adversely affect these ESAlisted species based on Eglin’s commitment to incorporate measures to avoid and minimize impacts to these species. NEPA In March, 2005, the USAF prepared the Santa Rosa Island Mission Utilization Plan Programmatic Environmental Assessment (SRI Mission PEA). NMFS reviewed this PEA and determined that it satisfies, in large part, the standards under the Council on Environmental Quality’s regulations and NOAA Administrative Order 216–6 for implementing the procedural provisions of the NEPA (40 CFR sec. 1508.3). NMFS adopted the PEA but supplemented the PEA with its own cumulative impacts analysis to better ascertain the cumulative effects of past, present, and reasonably foreseeable activities conducted within and around Santa Rosa Island, and issued a finding of no significant impact on December 14, 2006. On May 9, 2007, Eglin AFB submitted additional information to ensure the most recent analysis of military activities was available for consideration in re-assessing the cumulative impacts associated with the proposed issuance of this IHA. NMFS is reviewing this additional information on cumulative environmental impacts to determine whether a supplemental analysis specific to cumulative impacts is warranted, and, if so, would either adopt the AF information as a supplement to the (2005 EA and 2007 SEA?) or will prepare its own supplemental EA to update the cumulative impacts analysis before making a determination on the issuance of an IHA and rulemaking. A copy of Eglin’s PEA and related information for this activity are available upon written request (see ADDRESSES). Preliminary Conclusions NMFS has preliminarily determined that the surf zone and amphibious vehicle and weapon testing/training that are proposed by Eglin AFB off the coast of SRI, is unlikely to result in the mortality or injury of marine mammals and, would result in, at worst, a E:\FR\FM\28MRN1.SGM 28MRN1 16651 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 61 / Friday, March 28, 2008 / Notices temporary modification in behavior by marine mammals. While behavioral modifications may be made by these species as a result of these surf zone detonation and amphibious vehicle training activities, any behavioral change is expected to have a negligible impact on the affected species. Also, given the infrequency of these testing/ training missions (maximum of once per year for surf zone detonation and maximum of twice per year for amphibious assault training involving live fire), there is no potential for longterm displacement or long-lasting behavioral impacts of marine mammals within the proposed action area. In addition, the potential for temporary hearing impairment is very low and would be mitigated to the lowest level practicable through the incorporation of the mitigation and monitoring measures proposed in this document. Proposed Authorization NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to Eglin AFB for conducting surf zone and amphibious vehicle and weapon testing/ training off the coast of SRI in the northern GOM provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. Information Solicited NMFS requests interested persons to submit comments and information concerning this proposed IHA and Eglin’s application for incidental take regulations (see ADDRESSES). NMFS requests interested persons to submit comments, information, and suggestions concerning both the request and the structure and content of future regulations to allow this taking. NMFS will consider this information in developing proposed regulations to govern the taking. Dated: March 21, 2008. Helen Golde, Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. E8–6441 Filed 3–27–08; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S costs and burden; it includes the actual data collection instruments [if any]. COMMISSION OF FINE ARTS Notice of Meeting Comments must be submitted on or before April 28, 2008. DATES: The next meeting of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts is scheduled for 17 April 2008, at 10 a.m. in the Commission’s offices at the National Building Museum, Suite 312, Judiciary Square, 401 F Street, NW., Washington, DC 20001–2728. Items of discussion may include buildings, parks and memorials. Draft agendas and additional information regarding the Commission are available on our Web site: http:// www.cfa.gov. Inquiries regarding the agenda and requests to submit written or oral statements should be addressed to Thomas Luebke, Secretary, U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, at the above address, or call 202–504–2200. Individuals requiring sign language interpretation for the hearing impaired should contact the Secretary at least 10 days before the meeting date. Dated in Washington, DC, March 21, 2008. Thomas Luebke, Secretary. [FR Doc. E8–6231 Filed 3–27–08; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6330–01–M COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION Agency Information Collection Activities Under OMB Review Commodity Futures Trading Commission. ACTION: Notice. AGENCY: SUMMARY: In compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.), this notice announces that the Information Collection Request (ICR) abstracted below has been forwarded to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and comment. The ICR describes the nature of the information collection and its expected FOR FURTHER INFORMATION OR A COPY CONTACT: Gary Martinaitis, Division of Market Oversight, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 1155 21st Street, NW., Washington, DC 20581, (202) 418– 5209; Fax: (202) 418–5527; e-mail: gmartinaitis @cftc.gov and refer to OMB Control No. 3038–0013. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Title: Exemptions from Speculative Limits (OMB Control No. 3038–0013). This is a request for extension of a currently approved information collection. Abstract: Commission regulations 1.47, 1.48, and 150.3(b) require limited information from traders whose commodity futures and options positions exceed federal speculative position limits. The regulations are designed to assist in the monitoring of compliance with speculative position limits adopted by the Commission. These regulations are promulgated pursuant to the Commission’s rulemaking authority contained in sections 4a(a), 4i, and 8a(5) of the Commodity Exchange Act, 7 U.S.C. 6a(1), 6i, and 12a(5). An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to, a collection of information unless it displays a currently valid OMB control number. The OMB control numbers for the referenced CFTC regulations were published on December 30, 1981. See 46 FR 63035 (Dec. 30, 1981). The Federal Register notice with a 60-day comment period soliciting comments on this collection of information was published on January 22, 2008 (73 FR 3705). Burden statement: The Commission estimates the burden of this collection of information as follows: ESTIMATED ANNUAL REPORTING BURDEN Estimated number of respondents Regulations (17 CFR) sroberts on PROD1PC70 with NOTICES Rule 1.47 and 1.48 .............................................................. Part 150 ............................................................................... There are no capital costs or operating and maintenance costs associated with this collection. VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:57 Mar 27, 2008 Jkt 214001 Reports annually by each respondent 7 2 2 1 Send comments regarding the burden estimated or any other aspect of the information collection, including suggestions for reducing the burden, to PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Total annual responses 14 2 Estimated number of hours per response Annual burden 3 3 42 6 the addresses listed below. Please refer to OMB Control No. 3038–0013 in any correspondence. E:\FR\FM\28MRN1.SGM 28MRN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 73, Number 61 (Friday, March 28, 2008)]
[Notices]
[Pages 16646-16651]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E8-6441]



[[Page 16646]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE32


Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals 
Incidental to Surf Zone Testing/Training and Amphibious Vehicle 
Training and Weapons Testing

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

ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization and 
receipt of application for five-year regulations; request for comments 
and information.

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

SUMMARY: On November 29, 2005, NMFS received a request from Eglin Air 
Force Base (Eglin AFB), for authorization to harass marine mammals, 
incidental to conducting surf zone testing/training and amphibious 
vehicle training and weapons testing off the coast of Santa Rosa Island 
(SRI). Following notice and comment, NMFS issued an incidental 
harassment authorization (IHA) to Eglin AFB for a period of one year 
from December 11, 2006, to December 10, 2007, with mitigation, 
monitoring, and reporting requirements. On October 16, 2007, NMFS 
received a request from Eglin AFB to renew the IHA for a period of one 
year. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is 
requesting comments on its proposal to issue an authorization to Eglin 
AFB to incidentally take, by harassment, two species of cetaceans for a 
period of 1 year. NMFS is also requesting comments, information, and 
suggestions concerning Eglin AFB's application and the structure and 
content of future regulations.

DATES: Comments and information must be postmarked no later than April 
28, 2008.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to P. Michael Payne, Chief, 
Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, 
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3226. The mailbox address for providing email 
comments on this action is PR1.0648-XE32@noaa.gov. Comments sent via 
email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 10-megabyte file 
size. A copy of the application and a list of references used in this 
document may be obtained by writing to this address, by telephoning the 
contact listed here (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT) and is also 
available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. A 
copy of the Santa Rosa Island Mission Utilization Plan Programmatic 
Environmental Assessment (SRI Mission PEA) (U.S. Air Force, 2005) and a 
2007 supplemental environmental assessment (SEA) are available by 
writing to the Department of the Air Force, AAC/EMSN, Natural Resources 
Branch, 501 DeLeon St., Suite 101, Eglin AFB, FL 32542-5133.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shane Guan, NMFS, 301-713-2289, ext 
137.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 
et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) to allow, upon 
request, the incidental, but not intentional taking 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 regulations are issued or, if the taking is 
limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided 
to the public for review.
    An authorization 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 certain subsistence uses, and if the permissible 
methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, 
monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has 
defined ``negligible impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 as ``...an impact 
resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably 
expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the 
species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or 
survival.''
    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 marine mammals by harassment. With 
respect to ``military readiness activities,'' the MMPA defines 
``harassment'' as follows:
    (i) any act that injures or has the significant potential to 
injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A 
harassment]; or (ii) any act that disturbs or is likely to disturb a 
marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing 
disruption of natural behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering, to a point where such behavioral patterns are abandoned 
or significantly altered [Level B harassment].

Summary of Request

    On November 21, 2005, Eglin AFB petitioned NMFS for an 
authorization under section 101(a)(5) of the MMPA for the taking, by 
harassment, of marine mammals incidental to programmatic mission 
activities on Eglin's SRI property, including the shoreline of the Gulf 
of Mexico (Gulf or GOM) to a depth of 30 feet (9.1 meters), which is 
also known as the surf zone. The distance from the island shoreline 
that corresponds to this depth varies from approximately 0.5 mile (0.8 
km) at the western side of the Air Force property to 1.5 miles (2.4 km) 
at the eastern side, extending out into the inner continental shelf.
    Activities conducted in this area are addressed in the Estuarine 
and Riverine Areas Programmatic Environmental Assessment (U.S. Air 
Force, 2003a). The proposed action is for the 46th Test Wing Commander 
to establish a mission utilization plan for SRI based on historical and 
anticipated future use. Current and future operations are categorized 
as either testing or training and include: 1) Surf Zone Testing/
Training; 2) Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) Training and Weapons 
Testing; 3) Amphibious Assaults; and 4) Special Operations Training. A 
detailed description of the proposed activities is provided in the June 
22, 2006, Federal Register notice of proposed IHA (71 FR 35870). There 
is no change of activities for the proposed renewal of the IHA, 
therefore, please refer to that Federal Register notice for detailed 
information of the activities.

Description of Marine Mammals Affected by the Activity

    Marine mammal species potentially occurring within the proposed 
action area include the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops 
truncatus), the Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis), and the 
Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris). General information 
on Florida manatees can be found in the Florida Manatee Recovery Plan 
(US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2001).
    Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are distributed throughout the 
continental shelf, coastal, and bay-sound waters of the northern GOM 
and along the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast. The identification of a 
biologically-meaningful ``stock'' of bottlenose dolphins in the GOM is 
complicated by the high degree of behavioral variability exhibited by 
this species (Wells, 2003). Currently, bottlenose dolphins in the U.S. 
GOM are managed as 38 different stocks: one northern GOM oceanic stock, 
one

[[Page 16647]]

northern GOM continental shelf stock, three northern GOM costal stocks 
(western, northern, and eastern Gulf), and 33 bay, sound, and estuarine 
stocks (Waring et al., 2007). The identification of these stocks is 
based on descriptions of relatively discrete dolphin communities in 
these waters. A community includes resident dolphins that regularly 
share large portions of their ranges, exhibit similar distinct genetic 
profiles, and interact with each other to a much greater extent than 
with dolphins in adjacent waters. Bottlenose dolphin communities do not 
constitute closed demographic populations, as individuals from adjacent 
communities are known to interbreed. Nevertheless, the geographic 
nature of these areas and long-term stability of residency patterns 
suggest that many of these communities exist as functioning units of 
their ecosystems.
    Within the proposed action area, at least three Atlantic bottlenose 
dolphin stocks are expected to occur: the northern GOM northern 
coastal, the Pensacola Bay/East Bay stock, and the Choctawhatchee Bay 
stock (Waring et al., 2007). The best population size estimates 
available for these stocks are more than 13 years old; therefore, the 
current population size for each stock is considered unknown (Wade and 
Angliss, 1997). These data are insufficient to determine population 
trends for all of the GOM bay, sound and estuary bottlenose dolphin 
communities. The relatively high number of bottlenose dolphin deaths 
that occurred during mortality events (mostly from stranding) since 
1990 raises a concern that some of the stocks are stressed. Human-
caused mortality and serious injury for each of these stocks is not 
known, but considering the evidence from stranding data, the total 
human-caused mortality and serious injury exceeds 10 percent of the 
total known potential biological removal (PBR) or pervious PBR, and, 
therefore, it is probably not insignificant. For these reasons, each of 
these stocks is listed as a strategic stock under the MMPA.
    The Atlantic spotted dolphin is endemic to the Atlantic Ocean in 
temperate to tropical waters (Perrin et al., 1994). In the GOM, this 
species occurs primarily from continental shelf waters 10 - 200 m (32.8 
- 656.2 ft) deep to slope waters <500 m (1,640 ft) deep (Fulling et 
al., 2003). Atlantic spotted dolphins were seen in all seasons during 
GulfCet aerial surveys of the northern GOM from 1992 to 1998 (Hansen et 
al., 1996; Mullin and Hoggard, 2003). It has been suggested that this 
species may move inshore seasonally during spring, but data supporting 
this hypothesis are limited (Fritts et al., 1983). The best available 
abundance estimate for the northern GOM stock of the Atlantic spotted 
dolphin is 30,947 (NMFS, 2005).
    More detailed information on Atlantic bottlenose and spotted 
dolphins can be found in the NMFS Stock Assessment Reports at: http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/nefsc/publications/tm/tm201/tm201.pdf.

Potential Impacts to Marine Mammals

    Potential impacts to marine mammals may occur due to underwater 
noise and direct physical impacts (DPI). Noise is produced by 
underwater detonations in the surf zone and by the operation of 
amphibious vehicles. DPI could result from collisions with amphibious 
vehicles and from ordnance live fire. However, with implementation of 
the mitigation actions proposed later in this document, the potential 
for impacts to marine mammals are anticipated to be de minimus (U.S. 
Air Force, 2005).
    Explosive criteria and thresholds for assessing impacts of 
explosions on marine mammals are summarized here in Table 1 and were 
discussed in detail in NMFS's notice of issuance of an IHA for Eglin's 
Precision Strike Weapon testing activity (70 FR 48675, August 19, 
2005). Please refer to that document for background information.

Estimation of Take and Impact

Surf Zone Detonation

    Surf zone detonation noise impacts are considered within two 
categories: overpressure and acoustics. Underwater explosive 
detonations produce a wave of pressure in the water column. This 
pressure wave potentially has lethal and injurious impacts, depending 
on the proximity to the source detonation. Humans and animals receive 
the acoustic signature of noise as sound. Beyond the physical impacts, 
acoustics may cause annoyance and behavior modifications (Goertner, 
1982).
    The impacts on marine mammals from underwater detonations were 
discussed by NMFS in detail in its notice of receipt of application for 
an IHA for Eglin's Air-to-Surface Gunnery mission in the Gulf (71 FR 
3474, January 23, 2006) and is not repeated here. Please refer to that 
document for this background information.
    A maximum of one surf zone testing/training mission would be 
completed per year. The impact areas of the proposed action are derived 
from mathematical calculations and models that predict the distances to 
which threshold noise levels would travel. The equations for the models 
consider the amount of net explosive, the properties of detonations 
under water, and environmental factors such as depth of the explosion, 
overall water depth, water temperature, and bottom type.
    The end result of the analysis is an area known as the Zone of 
Influence (ZOI). A ZOI is based on an outward radial distance from the 
point of detonation, extending to the limit of a particular threshold 
level in a 360-degree area. Thus, there are separate ZOIs for 
mortality, injury (hearing-related injury and slight, non-fatal lung 
injury), and harassment (temporary threshold shift, or TTS, and sub-
TTS). Given the radius, and assuming noise spreads outward in a 
spherical manner, the entire area ensonified (i.e., exposed to the 
specific noise level being analyzed) is estimated.
    The radius of each threshold is shown for each shallow water surf 
zone mine clearing system in Table 1. The radius is assumed to extend 
from the point of detonation in all directions, allowing calculation of 
the affected area.
    The number of takes is estimated by applying marine mammal density 
to the ZOI (area) for each detonation type. Species density for most 
cetaceans is based on adjusted GulfCet II aerial survey data, which is 
shown in Table 2. GulfCet II data were conservatively adjusted upward 
to approximately two standard deviations to obtain 99 percent 
confidence, and a submergence correction factor was applied to account 
for the presence of submerged, uncounted animals. However, the 
calculation is an overestimate, since up to half of the ZOI would be 
over land and very shallow surf, which is not considered marine mammal 
habitat.

[[Page 16648]]



   Table 1. Zones of Impact for Underwater Explosive from Four Mine Clearing Systems (Acoustic units are re 1
                                                   microPa\2\)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                            ZOI Radius (m)
                                                     -----------------------------------------------------------
            Criteria                  Threshold        SABRE 232 lb     MK-5 MCS                    MK-82 ARRAY
                                                           NEW        1,750 lb NEW    DET 130 lb      1,372 lb
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level B Behavior                 176 dB 1/3 Octave    1,440          2,299          1,252          2,207
                                  SEL\*\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level B TTS Dual Criterion       182 dB 1/3 Octave    961            1,658          796            1,544
                                  SEL
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level A PTS                      205 dB SEL           200            478            155            436
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level B Dual Criteria            23 psi               857            1,788          761            1,557
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level A Injury                   13 psi-msec          60             100            58             86
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mortality                        30.5 psi-msec        45             68             42             60
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\*\SEL - Sound energy level


       Table 2. Cetacean Densities for Gulf of Mexico Shelf Region
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                              Adjusted
                              Individuals/  Dive profile -    density
           Species                km\2\      % at surface  (Individuals/
                                                              km\2\)*
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bottlenose dolphin            0.148         30             0.810
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Atlantic spotted dolphin      0.089         30             0.677
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bottlenose or Atlantic        0.007         30             0.053
 dolphin
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Total                         0.244         .............  1.54
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\*\ Adjusted for undetected submerged animals to approximately two
  standard deviations.

    Table 3 lists the noise-related dolphin take estimates resulting 
from surf zone detonations that are the subject of this proposed IHA. 
The take numbers represent the combined total of Atlantic bottlenose 
and Atlantic spotted dolphins, and do not consider any mitigation 
measures. The use of combined Atlantic bottlenose and Atlantic spotted 
dolphin numbers is because of the difficulty in distinguish them from 
each other in the field. Implementation of mitigation measures 
discussed below would significantly decrease the number of takes. 
Discussion of the amount of take reduction is provided below.

           Table 3. Take Estimates from Noise Impacts to Dolphins (Acoustic units are re 1 microPa\2\)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                         Total
           Criteria                Threshold         SABRE       MK-5 MCS       DET      MK-82 Array    Takes*
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sub-TTS                        176 dB 1/3 Octave  10           26           8            24           68
                                SEL
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level B Harassment TTS (dual   182 dB 1/3 Octave  5            13           3            12           33
 criterion)                     SEL
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level B TTS (dual criterion)   23 psi             4            15           3            12           34
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level A PTS                    205 dB Total SEL   0            1            0            1            2
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level A Non-lethal Injury      13 psi-msec        0            0            0            0            0
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mortality                      30.5 psi-msec      0            0            0            0            0
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\*\Estimated exposure with no mitigation measures in place

Noise from LCAC

    Noise resulting from LCAC operations was considered under a transit 
mode of operation. The LCAC uses rotary air screw technology to power 
the craft over the water, therefore, noise from the engine is not 
emitted directly into the water. The Navy's acoustic in-water noise 
characterization studies show the noise emitted from the LCAC into the 
water is very similar to that of the MH-53 helicopter operating at low 
altitudes. Based on the Air Force's Excess Sound Attenuation Model for 
the LCAC's engines under ground runup condition, the data estimate that 
the maximum noise level (98 dBA) is at a point 45 degrees from the bow 
of the craft at a distance of 61 m (200 ft) in air. Maximum noise 
levels fall below 90 dBA at a point less than 122 meters (400 ft) from 
the craft in air (U.S. Air Force, 1999).
    Due to the large difference of acoustic impedance between air and 
water, much of the acoustic energy would be reflected at the surface. 
Therefore, the effects of noise from LCAC to marine mammals would be 
negligible.

[[Page 16649]]

Collision with Vessels

    During the time that amphibious vehicles are operating in (or, in 
the case of LCACs, just above) the water, encounters with marine 
mammals are possible. A slight possibility exists that such encounters 
could result in a vessel physically striking an animal. However, this 
scenario is considered very unlikely. Dolphins are extremely mobile and 
have keen hearing and would likely leave the vicinity of any vehicle 
traffic. The largest vehicles that would be moving are LCACs, and their 
beam measurement can be used for conservative impact analyses. The 
operation which potentially uses the largest number of LCACs is 
Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) training. 
Based on analysis in the ARG/MEU Readiness Training Environmental 
Assessment (U.S. Air Force, 2003b), LCAC activities (over 10 days) 
could potentially impact 22.25 square miles of the total water surface 
area. The estimated number of bottlenose dolphins in this area is 6.9, 
with an approximately equal number of Atlantic spotted dolphins. These 
species would easily avoid collision because the LCACs produce noise 
that would be detected some distance away, and therefore would be 
avoided as any other boat in the Gulf. In addition, Amphibious Assault 
Vehicles (AAVs) move very slowly and could be easily avoided. The 
potential for amphibious craft colliding with marine mammals and 
causing injury or death is therefore considered remote.

Live Fire Operations

    Live fire operations with munitions directed towards the Gulf have 
the potential to impact marine mammals (primarily bottlenose and 
Atlantic spotted dolphins).
    A maximum of two live fire operations would be conducted in a year, 
and are associated with expanded Special Operations training on SRI. 
Small caliber weapons between 5.56 mm and .50 caliber with low-range 
munitions would be allowed only within designated live fire areas. The 
average range of the munitions is approximately 1 km (0.54 nm). If a 
given live fire area was 1 km (0.54 nm) wide, then approximately 1.5 
dolphins could be vulnerable to a munitions strike. However, even the 
largest live fire area on SRI is considerably less than 1 km (0.54 nm) 
wide. If live fire is conservatively estimated to originate from a 
section of beach 0.2 km (0.11 nm) wide, only 0.3 dolphins would be 
within the area of potential DPI (using Table 2 density estimates). 
Finally, the mitigation measures discussed below would further reduce 
the likelihood of direct impacts to marine mammals due to live fire 
operations.
    Given the infrequency of the surf zone detonation (maximum of once 
per year) and the amphibious vehicle and weapon testing (maximum of 
twice per year), NMFS believes there is no potential for long-term 
displacement or behavioral impacts of marine mammals within the 
proposed action area.

Proposed Mitigation

    Eglin AFB would employ a number of mitigation measures in an effort 
to substantially decrease the number of animals potentially affected. 
Visual monitoring of the operational area can be a very effective means 
of detecting the presence of marine mammals. This is particularly true 
of the species most likely to be present (bottlenose and Atlantic 
spotted dolphins) due to their tendency to occur in groups, their 
relatively short dive time, and their relatively high level of surface 
activity. In addition, the water clarity in the northeastern GOM is 
typically very high. It is often possible to view the entire water 
column in the water depth that defines the action area (30 feet or 9.1 
m).
    For the surf zone testing/training, missions would only be 
conducted under daylight conditions of suitable visibility and sea 
state of number three or less. Prior to the mission, a trained observer 
aboard a helicopter would survey (visually monitor) the test area, 
which is a very effective method for detecting sea turtles and 
cetaceans. In addition, shipboard personnel would provide supplemental 
observations when available. The size of the area to be surveyed would 
depend on the specific test system, but it would correspond to the ZOI 
for Level B behavioral harassment (176 dB 1/3 octave SEL) listed in 
Table 1. The survey would be conducted approximately 250 feet (76 m) 
above the sea surface to allow observers to scan a large distance. If a 
marine mammal is sighted within the ZOI, the mission would be suspended 
until the animal is clear of this area. Surf zone testing would be 
conducted between 1 November and 1 March whenever possible.
    Navy personnel would only conduct live fire testing with sea 
surface conditions of sea state 3 or less on the Beaufort scale, which 
is when there is about 33 - 50 percent of surface whitecaps with 0.6 - 
0.9 m (2 - 3 ft) waves. During daytime missions, small boats would be 
used to survey for marine mammals in the proposed action area before 
and after the operations. If a marine mammal is sighted within the 
target or closely adjacent areas, the mission would be suspended until 
the area is clear. No mitigation for marine mammals would be feasible 
for nighttime missions, however, given the remoteness of impact, the 
potential that a marine mammal is injured or killed is unlikely.

Monitoring and Reporting

    The Eglin AFB will train personnel to conduct aerial surveys for 
protected species. The aerial survey/monitoring team would consist of 
an observer and a pilot familiar with flying transect patterns. A 
helicopter provides a preferable viewing platform for detection of 
protected marine species. The aerial observer must be experienced in 
marine mammal surveying and be familiar with species that may occur in 
the area. The observer would be responsible for relaying the location 
(latitude and longitude), the species if known, and the number of 
animals sighted. The aerial team would also identify large schools of 
fish, jellyfish aggregations, and any large accumulation of Sargassum 
that could potentially drift into the ZOI. Standard line-transect 
aerial surveying methods would be used. Observed marine mammals and sea 
turtles would be identified to species or the lowest possible taxonomic 
level possible.
    The aerial and (potential) shipboard monitoring teams would have 
proper lines of communication to avoid communication deficiencies. 
Observers would have direct communication via radio with the lead 
scientist, who will review the range conditions and recommend a Go/No-
Go decision to the Officer in Tactical Command, who makes the final Go/
No-Go decision.
    Specific stepwise mitigation procedures for SRI surf zone missions 
are outlined below. All ZOIs (mortality, injury, TTS) would be 
monitored.

Pre-mission Monitoring:

    The purposes of pre-mission monitoring are to (1) evaluate the test 
site for environmental suitability of the mission (e.g., relatively low 
numbers of marine mammals, etc.) and (2) verify that the ZOI is free of 
visually detectable marine mammals and other living marine resources. 
On the morning of the test, the lead scientist would confirm that the 
test site can support the mission and that the weather is adequate to 
support observations.
    (1) One Hour Prior to Mission
    Approximately one hour prior to the mission, or at daybreak, the 
appropriate vessel(s) would be on-site near the

[[Page 16650]]

location of the earliest planned mission point. Personnel onboard the 
vessel would assess the suitability of the test site, based on visual 
observation of marine mammals. This information would be relayed to the 
Lead Scientist.
    (2) Fifteen Minutes Prior to Mission
    Aerial monitoring would commence at the test site 15 minutes prior 
to the start of the mission. The entire ZOI would be surveyed by flying 
transects through the area. Shipboard personnel would also monitor the 
area as available. All marine mammal sightings would be reported to the 
Lead Scientist, who would enter all pertinent data into a sighting 
database.
    (3) Go/No-Go Decision Process
    The Lead Scientist would record sightings and bearing for all 
protected species detected. This would depict animal sightings relative 
to the mission area. The Lead Scientist would have the authority to 
declare the range fouled and request a hold until monitoring indicates 
that the ZOI is and will remain clear of detectable animals.
    The mission would be postponed if any marine mammal or sea turtle 
is visually detected within the ZOI for Level B behavioral harassment. 
The delay would continue until the marine mammal or sea turtle is 
confirmed to be outside the ZOI for Level B behavioral harassment on 
its own.
    In the event of a postponement, pre-mission monitoring would 
continue as long as weather and daylight hours allow. Aerial monitoring 
is limited by fuel and the on-station time of the monitoring aircraft.

Post-mission monitoring:

    Post-mission monitoring is designed to determine the effectiveness 
of pre-mission mitigation by reporting any sightings of dead or injured 
marine mammals or sea turtles. Post-detonation monitoring would 
commence immediately following each detonation and continue for 15 
minutes. The helicopter would resume transects in the area of the 
detonation, concentrating on the area down current of the test site.
    The monitoring team would attempt to document any marine mammals or 
turtles that were found dead or injured after the detonation, and, if 
practicable, recover and examine any dead animals. The species, number, 
location, and behavior of any animals observed by the observation teams 
would be documented and reported to the Lead Scientist.
    Post-mission monitoring activities would also include coordination 
with marine animal stranding networks. The NMFS maintains stranding 
networks along coasts to collect and circulate information about marine 
mammal and sea turtle standings.
    In addition, NMFS proposes to require Eglin to monitor the target 
area for impacts to marine mammals and to report on its activities. 
NMFS' Biological Opinion on this action has recommended certain 
monitoring measures to protect marine life. NMFS proposes to require 
the same requirements under the IHA:
    (1) Eglin will develop and implement a marine species observer-
training program in coordination with NMFS. This program will primarily 
provide expertise to Eglin's testing and training community in the 
identification of marine mammals and other protected marine species 
during surface and aerial mission activities in the GOM. Additionally, 
personnel involved in the surf zone and amphibious vehicle and weapon 
testing/training would participate in the proposed species observation 
training. Observers would receive training in protected species survey 
and identification techniques through a NMFS-approved training program.
    (2) Eglin would track its use of the surf zone and amphibious 
vehicle and weapon testing/training for test firing missions and 
protected resources (marine mammal/sea turtle) observations, through 
the use of an observer training sheet.
    (3) A summary annual report of marine mammal/sea turtle 
observations and surf zone and amphibious vehicle and weapon testing/
training activities would be submitted to the NMFS Southeast Regional 
Office (SERO) and the Headquarters Office of Protected Resources by 
January 31 of each year.
    (4) If a dead or injuried marine mammal is observed before or after 
testing, a report must be made to the NMFS by the following business 
day.
    (5) Any unauthorized takes of marine mammals (i.e., injury or 
mortality) must be immediately reported to the NMFS representative and 
to the respective stranding network representative.

ESA

    On March 18, 2005, the U.S. Air Force (USAF), Eglin AFB, requested 
initiation of formal consultation on all potential environmental 
impacts to ESA-listed species from all Eglin AFB mission activities on 
SRI and within the surf zone near SRI. These missions include the surf 
zone detonation and amphibious vehicle and weapon testing/training that 
are the subject of this proposed IHA. On October 12, 2005, NMFS issued 
a Biological Opinion, concluding that the surf zone and amphibious 
vehicle and weapon testing/training are unlikely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of species listed under the ESA that are within the 
jurisdiction of NMFS or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. 
Eglin AFB also consulted with the FWS for the SRI programmatic program 
regarding ESA-listed species and critical habitat under FWS 
jurisdiction. On December 1, 2005, FWS issued a Biological Opinion and 
concluded that the proposed mission activities are not likely to 
adversely affect these ESA-listed species based on Eglin's commitment 
to incorporate measures to avoid and minimize impacts to these species.

NEPA

    In March, 2005, the USAF prepared the Santa Rosa Island Mission 
Utilization Plan Programmatic Environmental Assessment (SRI Mission 
PEA). NMFS reviewed this PEA and determined that it satisfies, in large 
part, the standards under the Council on Environmental Quality's 
regulations and NOAA Administrative Order 216-6 for implementing the 
procedural provisions of the NEPA (40 CFR sec. 1508.3). NMFS adopted 
the PEA but supplemented the PEA with its own cumulative impacts 
analysis to better ascertain the cumulative effects of past, present, 
and reasonably foreseeable activities conducted within and around Santa 
Rosa Island, and issued a finding of no significant impact on December 
14, 2006. On May 9, 2007, Eglin AFB submitted additional information to 
ensure the most recent analysis of military activities was available 
for consideration in re-assessing the cumulative impacts associated 
with the proposed issuance of this IHA. NMFS is reviewing this 
additional information on cumulative environmental impacts to determine 
whether a supplemental analysis specific to cumulative impacts is 
warranted, and, if so, would either adopt the AF information as a 
supplement to the (2005 EA and 2007 SEA?) or will prepare its own 
supplemental EA to update the cumulative impacts analysis before making 
a determination on the issuance of an IHA and rulemaking. A copy of 
Eglin's PEA and related information for this activity are available 
upon written request (see ADDRESSES).

Preliminary Conclusions

    NMFS has preliminarily determined that the surf zone and amphibious 
vehicle and weapon testing/training that are proposed by Eglin AFB off 
the coast of SRI, is unlikely to result in the mortality or injury of 
marine mammals and, would result in, at worst, a

[[Page 16651]]

temporary modification in behavior by marine mammals. While behavioral 
modifications may be made by these species as a result of these surf 
zone detonation and amphibious vehicle training activities, any 
behavioral change is expected to have a negligible impact on the 
affected species. Also, given the infrequency of these testing/training 
missions (maximum of once per year for surf zone detonation and maximum 
of twice per year for amphibious assault training involving live fire), 
there is no potential for long-term displacement or long-lasting 
behavioral impacts of marine mammals within the proposed action area. 
In addition, the potential for temporary hearing impairment is very low 
and would be mitigated to the lowest level practicable through the 
incorporation of the mitigation and monitoring measures proposed in 
this document.

Proposed Authorization

    NMFS proposes to issue an IHA to Eglin AFB for conducting surf zone 
and amphibious vehicle and weapon testing/training off the coast of SRI 
in the northern GOM provided the previously mentioned mitigation, 
monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated.

Information Solicited

    NMFS requests interested persons to submit comments and information 
concerning this proposed IHA and Eglin's application for incidental 
take regulations (see ADDRESSES). NMFS requests interested persons to 
submit comments, information, and suggestions concerning both the 
request and the structure and content of future regulations to allow 
this taking. NMFS will consider this information in developing proposed 
regulations to govern the taking.

    Dated: March 21, 2008.
Helen Golde,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. E8-6441 Filed 3-27-08; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-S