Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Piling and Fill Removal in Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area, Washington, 44583-44592 [2012-18537]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 146 / Monday, July 30, 2012 / Notices 2,000-acre activation limit for the overall general-purpose zone project, and to a five-year ASF sunset provision for magnet sites that would terminate authority for Sites 1 through 24 if not activated by July 31, 2017. Signed at Washington, DC, this 23rd day of July 2012. Paul Piquado, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Import Administration, Alternate Chairman, ForeignTrade Zones Board. Attest: Andrew McGilvray, Executive Secretary. [FR Doc. 2012–18586 Filed 7–27–12; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XC107 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Piling and Fill Removal in Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area, Washington National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS has received an application from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to restoration activities within the Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA). Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to the DNR to incidentally take harbor seals, by Level B harassment only, during the specified activity. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than August 29, 2012. ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Michael Payne, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email comments is ITP.Laws@noaa.gov. NMFS is not responsible for email comments sent to addresses other than the one mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Jul 27, 2012 Jkt 226001 provided here. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 10-megabyte file size. Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental.htm without change. All Personal Identifying Information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. An electronic copy of the application, a list of the references used in this document, and other supplemental documents 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 also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ben Laws, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. 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, a notice of a proposed authorization is published in the Federal Register to provide public notice and initiate a 30-day comment period. Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined ‘negligible impact’ in 50 CFR 216.103 as ‘‘* * * an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.’’ Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA established an expedited process by PO 00000 Frm 00005 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 44583 which citizens of the United States can apply for an authorization to incidentally take small numbers of marine mammals by Level B harassment as defined below. 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 marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of the comment period, NMFS must either issue or deny the authorization. If authorized, the IHA would be effective for one year from date of issuance. Except with respect to certain 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].’’ Summary of Request On May 18, 2012, we received an application from the DNR for an IHA for the taking, by Level B harassment only, of small numbers of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) incidental to activities conducted in association with an ongoing habitat restoration project within the Woodard Bay NRCA, Washington. DNR was first issued an IHA that was valid from November 1, 2010, through February 28, 2011 (75 FR 67951), and was subsequently issued a second IHA that was valid from November 1, 2011, through February 28, 2012 (76 FR 67419). Restoration activity planned for 2012–13, depending upon final funding, includes removal of fill and associated materials in Woodard Bay and Chapman Bay and removal of creosote pilings and structure in Chapman Bay. Pilings would be removed by vibratory hammer extraction methods or by direct pull with cables. The superstructure materials would be removed by excavator and/or cables suspended from a barge-mounted crane. The proposed activities would occur only between November 1 through March 15 (2012– 13), and could require a maximum total of approximately 70 days. Description of the Specified Activity The Woodard Bay NRCA, located within Henderson Inlet in southern Puget Sound, was designated by the Washington State Legislature in 1987 to E:\FR\FM\30JYN1.SGM 30JYN1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 44584 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 146 / Monday, July 30, 2012 / Notices protect a large, intact complex of nearshore habitats and related biological communities, and to provide opportunities for low-impact public use and environmental education for the people of Washington. The site includes the former Weyerhaeuser South Bay Log Dump, which operated from the 1920s until the 1980s. The remnant structures from the log dump, including several hundred creosoted timber pilings and a trestle and pier and associated fill, continue to negatively impact nearshore ecosystems protected by the conservation area. Therefore, the DNR has begun restoration activities in the NRCA to remove these dilapidated structures in order to enhance ecological structure and function as well as lowimpact public use. However, certain remnant log booms are not planned for removal—and, in fact, have been maintained—due to their function as habitat for harbor seals. These few remnant log boom structures have been utilized as haul-out habitat for resting, pupping and molting for more than 30 years, and play an important role in supporting a healthy population of harbor seals. Seals concentrate and primarily haul out at only two locations within the NRCA (see figures in DNR’s application and Monitoring Report). These two different haul-out sites within NRCA are referred to as the north and south sites. The north site, located adjacent to the northern tip of the Chapman Bay Pier, is composed of several rows of log booms fastened to creosoted pilings. The south site, located east of the Chapman Bay Pier in the main operational area of the log dump, is composed of six log boom rows and one floating platform attached to creosoted pilings. The booms are utilized year-round by harbor seals of all ages and are ideal for harbor seal pupping due to easy access to water escape routes and the low platform for pups to get in and out of the water (Calambokidis et al., 1991; Lambourn et al., 2007). In recent years, the log boom haul-out area has decreased significantly because logs have decayed, sunk, or floated away (Lambourn et al., 2007), and attempts have been made to re-establish some of the lost haul-out area. These booms are situated in the vicinity of the piles and structure planned for removal. The DNR anticipates harbor seals may flush into the water upon crew arrival and onset of fill removal and pile and structure removal activities; hence, harbor seals may be behaviorally harassed during these activities. The DNR is thus requesting an IHA to take harbor seals, by Level B harassment only, incidental VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Jul 27, 2012 Jkt 226001 to the specified restoration activities. The proposed activities may result in behavioral disturbance of seals due to noise or visual stimuli from the vibratory hammer, work vessels, heavy equipment onshore, or work crews. Proposed restoration activities requested under the IHA are funding dependent. They include all or part of the following: 1. Fill Removal • Remove 13,000 yd3 of fill from Woodard Bay • Remove 325 yd3 of fill from Chapman Bay • Remove associated creosoted timber, pilings, metal scraps and concrete abutment 2. Piling and Structure Removal • Remove 10,000 ft2 of pier superstructure and 470 pilings from Chapman Bay Pier • Remove 30 anchor piles from Chapman Bay Fill removal from Woodard and Chapman Bays would be accomplished from the uplands by heavy equipment and haul trucks. The creosoted pilings in the fill would be removed from the uplands by a crane-mounted vibratory hammer. This portion of the project is estimated to take approximately 12–14 weeks to complete. The majority of fill removal work is located in Woodard Bay, which is separated from the harbor seal haul-out areas (located in Chapman Bay) by land. This work would likely result in less disturbance of harbor seals than would the work located in Chapman Bay. In addition, the material to be removed would be hauled offsite by the contractor via Whitham Road, which is the main road into the NRCA and which leads away from the haul-out area (see Figure 4 of DNR’s application). Fill removal would largely occur above the Ordinary High Water Mark. Fill removal activities may occur between November 1 and March 15. Chapman Bay fill removal is roughly 250 m from the south haul-out and 975 m from the north haul-out. Piling and structure removal work would be accomplished by barge and skiffs. The pilings would be removed by vibratory hammer or by direct pull with cables; both methods are suspended from a barge-mounted crane. The vibratory hammer is a large steel device lowered on top of the pile, which then grips and vibrates the pile until it is loosened from the sediment. The pile is then pulled up by the hammer and placed on a barge. For direct pull, a cable is set around the piling to grip and lift the pile from the sediment. The superstructure materials would be PO 00000 Frm 00006 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 removed by excavator and/or cables suspended from a barge-mounted crane. Approximately 500 12- to 24-in diameter pilings, along with associated pier superstructure, would be removed near but not directly adjacent to haulouts. After vibration, a choker is used to lift the pile out of the water where it is placed on the barge for transport to an approved disposal site. Pilings that cannot be removed by hammer or cable, or that break during extraction, would be recorded via GPS for divers to relocate at the final phase of project activities. The divers would then cut the pilings at or below the mudline using underwater chainsaws. Operations would begin on the pilings and structures that are furthest from the seal haul-out so that there is an opportunity for the seals to adjust to the presence of the contractors and their equipment. Vibratory extraction operations may occur between November 1 and January 15 and are expected to occur for approximately 20 days over the course of this work window. Other work days would be spent removing pier superstructure, which does not involve vibratory extraction, but has the potential to result in behavioral harassment due to the proximity to working crew. The portion of the Chapman Bay Pier that would be removed is approximately 100 m from the south haul-out area and 250 m from the north haul out. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity Harbor seals are the only marine mammal regularly found within the action area. Two Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) were observed, at a distance, swimming in Henderson Inlet during site restoration activities in 2010. There have been very few sightings of Steller sea lions in Henderson Inlet, and none were observed during subsequent restoration activities in 2011. They do not breed in Puget Sound, do not regularly use the action area, and, as such, are not likely to be affected by restoration activities. Steller sea lions are not considered further in this document. Species Description—Harbor seals, which are members of the Phocid family (true seals), inhabit coastal and estuarine waters and shoreline areas from Baja California, Mexico to western Alaska. For management purposes, differences in mean pupping date (i.e., birthing) (Temte, 1986), movement patterns (Jeffries, 1985; Brown, 1988), pollutant loads (Calambokidis et al., 1985) and fishery interactions have led to the recognition of three separate harbor seal stocks along the west coast E:\FR\FM\30JYN1.SGM 30JYN1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 146 / Monday, July 30, 2012 / Notices of the continental U.S. (Boveng, 1988). The three distinct stocks are: (1) inland waters of Washington (including Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca out to Cape Flattery), (2) outer coast of Oregon and Washington, and (3) California (Carretta et al., 2007). The inland waters of Washington stock is the only stock that may occur within the project area. The average weight for adult seals is about 180 lb (82 kg) and males are slightly larger than females. Male harbor seals weigh up to 245 lb (111 kg) and measure approximately 5 ft (1.5 m) in length. The basic color of harbor seals’ coat is gray and mottled but highly variable, from dark with light color rings or spots to light with dark markings (NMFS, 2008). Population Abundance—Estimated population numbers for the inland waters of Washington, including the Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca out to Cape Flattery, have been most recently estimated at 14,612 individuals (Carretta et al., 2007). However, because the most recent abundance estimate is greater than 8 years old, there is no current estimate of abundance. Between 1983 and 1996, the annual rate of increase for this stock was 6 percent (Jeffries et al., 1997). Based on this information and trends of other harbor seal stocks, the current abundance estimate is likely an underestimate. Based on the analyses of Jeffries et al. (2003) and Brown et al. (2005), both the Washington and Oregon coastal harbor seal stock have reached carrying capacity and are no longer increasing. Harbor seals are not listed as depleted nor considered strategic under the MMPA or as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The stock is within its Optimum Sustainable Population level (Jeffries et al., 2003). Harbor seals are considered the most abundant resident pinniped species in Puget Sound (Lance and Jeffries, 2009). The harbor seal population within the NRCA is considered one of the healthier ones in southern Puget Sound. Seal numbers have been monitored at the site since 1977, when there were less than 50 seals. In 1996, the highest count year, there were 600 seals. The average maximum annual count between 1977 and 2008 was 315 seals (Buettner et al., 2008). Annual seal counts end by October and numbers of individuals decline throughout the winter. From 2006 to 2009, October counts averaged 171 and ranged between 79 and 275 (Lambourn, 2010). Distribution—Harbor seals are coastal species, rarely found more than 12 mi (20 km) from shore, and frequently VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Jul 27, 2012 Jkt 226001 occupy bays, estuaries, and inlets (Baird, 2001). Individual seals have been observed several miles upstream in coastal rivers. Ideal harbor seal habitat includes haul-out sites, shelter during the breeding periods, and sufficient food (Bj<rge, 2002). Haul-out areas can include intertidal and subtidal rock outcrops, sandbars, sandy beaches, peat banks in salt marshes, and man-made structures such as log booms, docks, and recreational floats (Wilson, 1978; Prescott 1982; Schneider and Payne, 1983; Gilber and Guldager, 1998; Jeffries et al., 2000). Human disturbance can affect haul-out choice (Harris et al., 2003). Behavior and Ecology—Harbor seals are typically seen in small groups resting on tidal reefs, boulders, mudflats, man-made structures, and sandbars. Harbor seals are opportunistic feeders that adjust their patterns to take advantage of locally and seasonally abundant prey (Payne and Selzer, 1989; Baird, 2001; Bj<rge, 2002). The harbor seal diet consists of fish and invertebrates (Bigg, 1981; Roffe and Mate, 1984; Orr et al., 2004). Although harbor seals in the Pacific Northwest are common in inshore and estuarine waters, they primarily feed at sea (Orr et al., 2004) during high tide. Researchers have found that they complete both shallow and deep dives during hunting depending on the availability of prey (Tollit et al., 1997). Their diet in Puget Sound consists of common prey resources such as hake, herring and adult and out-migrating juvenile salmonids. Harbor seals mate at sea and females give birth during the spring and summer, although the pupping season varies by latitude. In coastal and inland regions of Washington, pups are born from April through January. Pups are generally born earlier in the coastal areas and later in inland waters (Calambokidis and Jeffries, 1991; Jeffries et al., 2000). Suckling harbor seal pups spend as much as forty percent of their time in the water (Bowen et al., 1999). The remnant log booms at the Woodard Bay NRCA support a yearround population of harbor seals, which use the boom structures for haul-out habitat to rest, pup, and molt in two primary locations; to the east and to the north of the Chapman Bay Pier (see Figure 4 in DNR’s application). Haul-out behavior is shown to be affected by time of day and tide cycle, as well as factors related to seasonal weather patterns such as air temperature, wind speed, cloud cover, and sea conditions (Buettner et al., 2008). Annually, use of the log booms peaks from July, when females haul out to give birth to their PO 00000 Frm 00007 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 44585 pups, through October, during the late pupping season and molt (WA DNR, 2002). Acoustics—In air, harbor seal males produce a variety of low-frequency (less than 4 kHz) vocalizations, including snorts, grunts, and growls. Male harbor seals produce communication sounds in the frequency range of 100–1,000 Hz (Richardson et al., 1995). Pups make individually unique calls for mother recognition that contain multiple harmonics with main energy below 0.35 kHz (Bigg, 1981; Thomson and Richardson, 1995). Harbor seals hear nearly as well in air as underwater and had lower thresholds than California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) (Kastak and Schusterman, 1998). Kastak and Schusterman (1998) reported airborne low frequency (100 Hz) sound detection thresholds at 65.4 dB re: 20 mPa for harbor seals. In air, they hear frequencies from 0.25–30 kHz and are most sensitive from 6–16 kHz (Richardson, 1995; Terhune and Turnbull, 1995; Wolski et al., 2003). Adult males also produce underwater sounds during the breeding season that typically range from 0.25–4 kHz (duration range: 0.1 s to multiple seconds; Hanggi and Schusterman, 1994). Hanggi and Schusterman (1994) found that there is individual variation in the dominant frequency range of sounds between different males, and Van Parijs et al. (2003) reported oceanic, regional, population, and site-specific variation that could be vocal dialects. In water, they hear frequencies from 1–75 kHz (Southall et al., 2007) and can detect sound levels as weak as 60–85 dB re: 1 mPa within that band. They are most sensitive at frequencies below 50 kHz; above 60 kHz sensitivity rapidly decreases. Potential Effects on Marine Mammals Potential effects of DNR’s proposed activities are likely to be limited to behavioral disturbance resulting from visual stimuli of seals at the two described log boom haul-outs. Other potential disturbance could result from the introduction of sound into the environment as a result of pile removal activities; however, this is unlikely to cause an appreciably greater amount of harassment in either numbers or degree, in part because it is anticipated that most seals would be disturbed initially by physical presence of crews, vessels, or heavy equipment or by sound from vessels. There is a general paucity of data on sound levels produced by vibratory extraction of timber piles; however, it is reasonable to assume that extraction would not result in higher sound E:\FR\FM\30JYN1.SGM 30JYN1 44586 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 146 / Monday, July 30, 2012 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES pressure levels (SPLs) than vibratory installation of piles. As such, we assume that source levels from the proposed activity would not be as high as average source levels for vibratory installation of 12- to 24-in steel piles (155–165 dB; Caltrans, 2009). Our general in-water harassment thresholds for pinnipeds exposed to continuous noise, such as that produced by vibratory pile extraction, are 190 dB root mean square (rms) re: 1 mPa as the potential onset of Level A (injurious) harassment and 120 dB RMS re: 1 mPa as the potential onset of Level B (behavioral) harassment. These levels are considered precautionary and we are currently revising these thresholds to better reflect the most recent scientific data. Vibratory extraction would not result in sound levels near 190 dB; therefore, injury would not occur. However, underwater noise from vibratory extraction would likely exceed 120 dB in the vicinity of the haul-outs and may induce responses in-water such as avoidance or other alteration of behavior at time of exposure. However, seals flushing from haul-outs in response to small vessel activity and the presence of work crews would already be considered as ‘harassed’. We only consider a single incidence of harassment per individual in any given 24-hour period; therefore, additional incidents that may occur to the same individual from different stimuli are not considered additional takes. The airborne sound disturbance criteria for Level A harassment is 90 dB RMS re: 20 mPa for harbor seals. Based on information on airborne source levels measured for pile driving with vibratory hammer, removal of wood piles is unlikely to exceed 90 dB (WA DNR, 2011); further, the vibratory hammer would be outfitted with a muffling device ensuring that airborne SPLs are no higher than 80 dB. Potential effects of the action on harbor seals are detailed in the following text. Behavioral Disturbance Disturbance can result in a variety of effects, such as subtle or dramatic changes in behavior or displacement. Behavioral reactions of marine mammals are difficult to predict because they are dependent on numerous factors, including species, maturity, experience, activity, reproductive state, time of day, and weather. If a marine mammal does react to a stimulus by changing its behavior or moving a small distance, the impacts of that change may not be important to the individual, the stock, or the species as a whole. However, if marine mammals are displaced from an VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Jul 27, 2012 Jkt 226001 important feeding or breeding area for a prolonged period, impacts on the animals could be important. In general, pinnipeds seem more tolerant of, or at least habituate more quickly to, potentially disturbing stimuli than do cetaceans, and generally seem to be less responsive to exposure to industrial sound than most cetaceans. Because the few available studies show wide variation in response to stimuli, pinniped responses are difficult to quantify. The literature shows that a range of effects are possible, including no obvious visible response, or behavioral responses that may include annoyance and increased alertness, visual orientation towards the stimulus, investigation of the stimulus, change in movement pattern or direction, habituation, alteration of feeding and social interaction, or temporary or permanent avoidance of the affected area. Minor behavioral responses do not necessarily cause long-term effects to the individuals involved. Severe responses include panic, immediate movement away from the stimulus, and stampeding, which could potentially lead to injury or mortality (Southall et al., 2007). In their comprehensive review of available literature, Southall et al. (2007) reported that the limited data suggest exposures between approximately 90 and 140 dB generally do not appear to induce strong behavioral responses in pinnipeds, while higher levels of pulsed sound, ranging between 150 and 180 dB, will prompt avoidance of an area. For airborne sound Southall et al. (2007) note there is extremely limited data suggesting very minor, if any, observable behavioral responses by pinnipeds exposed to airborne pulses of 60 to 80 dB. Southall et al. (2007) noted that quantitative studies on behavioral reactions of pinnipeds to sound are rare, but described the following: • Harris et al. (2001) observed the response of ringed (Pusa hispida), bearded (Erignathus barbatus), and spotted seals (Phoca largha) to underwater operation of a single air gun and an eleven-gun array. Received exposure levels were 160 to 200 dB. In some instances, seals exhibited no response to sound. • Blackwell et al. (2004) observed ringed seals during impact installation of steel pipe pile. Received underwater SPLs were measured at 151 dB at 63 m. The seals exhibited either no response or only brief orientation response (defined as ‘‘investigation or visual orientation’’). PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 • In addition, Blackwell et al. (2004) studied the response of ringed seals within 500 m of impact driving of steel pipe pile to airborne sound. Received levels of airborne sound were measured at 93 dB at a distance of 63 m. Seals had either no response or limited response to pile driving. Reactions were described as ‘‘indifferent’’ or ‘‘curious.’’ • Miller et al. (2005) observed responses of ringed and bearded seals to a seismic air gun array. Received underwater sound levels were estimated at 160 to 200 dB. There were fewer seals present close to the sound source during air gun operations in the first year, but in the second year the seals showed no avoidance. In some instances, seals were present in very close range of the sound. The authors concluded that there was ‘‘no observable behavioral response’’ to seismic air gun operations. Jacobs and Terhune (2002) observed harbor seal reactions to acoustic harassment devices (AHDs) with source level of 172 dB deployed around aquaculture sites. Seals were generally unresponsive to sounds from the AHDs. During two specific events, individuals came within 141 and 144 ft (43 and 44 m) of active AHDs and failed to demonstrate any measurable behavioral response; estimated received levels based on the measures given were approximately 120 to 130 dB. Kastelein et al. (2006) exposed nine captive harbor seals in an approximately 82 × 98 ft (25 × 30 m) enclosure to nonpulse sounds used in underwater data communication systems (similar to acoustic modems). Test signals were frequency modulated tones, sweeps, and bands of sound with fundamental frequencies between 8 and 16 kHz; 128 to 130 ±3 dB source levels; 1- to 2-s duration (60–80 percent duty cycle); or 100 percent duty cycle. They recorded seal positions and the mean number of individual surfacing behaviors during control periods (no exposure), before exposure, and in 15-min experimental sessions (n = 7 exposures for each sound type). Seals generally swam away from each source at received levels of approximately 107 dB, avoiding it by approximately 16 ft (5 m), although they did not haul out of the water or change surfacing behavior. Seal reactions did not appear to wane over repeated exposure (i.e., there was no obvious habituation), and the colony of seals generally returned to baseline conditions following exposure. The seals were not reinforced with food for remaining in the sound field. Reactions of harbor seals to the simulated sound of a 2-megawatt wind power generator were measured by Koschinski et al. (2003). Harbor seals E:\FR\FM\30JYN1.SGM 30JYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 146 / Monday, July 30, 2012 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES surfaced significantly further away from the sound source when it was active and did not approach the sound source as closely. The device used in that study produced sounds in the frequency range of 30 to 800 Hz, with peak source levels of 128 dB at 1 m at the 80- and 160– Hz frequencies. Vessel sounds do not seem to have strong effects on seals in the water, but the data are limited. When in the water, seals appear to be much less apprehensive about approaching vessels. Some would approach a vessel out of apparent curiosity, including noisy vessels such as those operating seismic airgun arrays (Moulton and Lawson, 2002). Gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) have been known to approach and follow fishing vessels in an effort to steal catch or the bait from traps. In contrast, seals hauled out on land often are quite responsive to nearby vessels. Terhune (1985) reported that northwest Atlantic harbor seals were extremely vigilant when hauled out and were wary of approaching (but less so passing) boats. Suryan and Harvey (1999) reported that Pacific harbor seals commonly left the shore when powerboat operators approached to observe the seals. Those seals detected a powerboat at a mean distance of 866 ft (264 m), and seals left the haul-out site when boats approached to within 472 ft (144 m). Hearing Impairment and Other Physiological Effects Temporary or permanent hearing impairment is a possibility when marine mammals are exposed to very strong sounds. Hearing impairment is measured in two forms: Temporary threshold shift (TTS) and permanent threshold shift (PTS). PTS is considered injurious whereas TTS is not, as it is temporary and hearing is fully recoverable. Non-auditory physiological effects might also occur in marine mammals exposed to strong underwater sound. Possible types of non-auditory physiological effects or injuries that may occur in mammals close to a strong sound source include stress, neurological effects, bubble formation, and other types of organ or tissue damage. It is possible that some marine mammal species (i.e., beaked whales) may be especially susceptible to injury and/or stranding when exposed to strong pulsed sounds, particularly at higher frequencies. Neither auditory nor non-auditory physiological effects are anticipated to occur as a result of DNR activities. PTS is presumed to be likely if the hearing threshold is reduced by more than 40 dB (i.e., 40 dB of TTS). Due to VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Jul 27, 2012 Jkt 226001 the low source levels produced by vibratory extraction, NMFS does not expect that marine mammals will be exposed to levels that could elicit PTS; therefore, it will not be discussed further. The following subsection discusses in somewhat more detail the possibilities of TTS. TTS—TTS, reversible hearing loss caused by fatigue of hair cells and supporting structures in the inner ear, is the mildest form of hearing impairment that can occur during exposure to a strong sound (Kryter, 1985). While experiencing TTS, the hearing threshold rises and a sound must be stronger in order to be heard. TTS can last from minutes or hours to (in cases of strong TTS) days. For sound exposures at or somewhat above the TTS threshold, hearing sensitivity in both terrestrial and marine mammals recovers rapidly after exposure to the sound ends. We consider TTS to be a form of Level B harassment rather than injury, as it consists of fatigue to auditory structures rather than damage to them. Pinnipeds have demonstrated complete recovery from TTS after multiple exposures to intense sound, as described in the studies below (Kastak et al., 1999, 2005). The 190-dB injury criterion is not considered to be the level above which TTS might occur. Rather, it is the received level above which, in the view of a panel of bioacoustics specialists convened before TTS measurements for marine mammals became available, one could not be certain that there would be no injurious effects, auditory or otherwise, to pinnipeds. Few data on sound levels and durations necessary to elicit mild TTS have been obtained for marine mammals, and none of the published data concern TTS elicited by exposure to multiple pulses of sound. Human non-impulsive sound exposure guidelines are based on exposures of equal energy (the same sound exposure level [SEL]; SEL is reported here in dB re: 1 mPa2¥s/re: 20 mPa2¥s for in-water and in-air sound, respectively) producing equal amounts of hearing impairment regardless of how the sound energy is distributed in time (NIOSH, 1998). Until recently, previous marine mammal TTS studies have also generally supported this equal energy relationship (Southall et al., 2007). Three newer studies, two by Mooney et al. (2009a,b) on a single bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) exposed to either playbacks of U.S. Navy midfrequency active sonar or octave-band sound (4–8 kHz) and one by Kastak et al. (2007) on a single California sea lion exposed to airborne octave-band sound (centered at 2.5 kHz), concluded that for all sound exposure situations, the equal PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 44587 energy relationship may not be the best indicator to predict TTS onset levels. Generally, with sound exposures of equal energy, quieter sounds (lower SPL) of longer duration were found to induce TTS onset more than louder sounds (higher SPL) of shorter duration. Given the available data, the received level of a single seismic pulse (with no frequency weighting) might need to be approximately 186 dB SEL in order to produce brief, mild TTS. There are few known studies conducted on pinniped TTS responses to non-pulsed underwater or airborne sound. The first three studies described in the following text were performed in the same lab and on the same test subjects, and, therefore, the results may not be applicable to all pinnipeds or in field settings. • Kastak and Schusterman (1996) studied the response of harbor seals to non-pulsed construction sound, reporting TTS of about 8 dB. • Kastak et al. (1999) reported TTS of approximately 4–5 dB in three species of pinnipeds (harbor seal, California sea lion, and northern elephant seal [Mirounga angustirostris]) after underwater exposure for approximately 20 minutes to sound with frequencies ranging from 100–2,000 Hz at received levels 60–75 dB above hearing threshold. This approach allowed similar effective exposure conditions to each of the subjects, but resulted in variable absolute exposure values depending on subject and test frequency. Recovery to near baseline levels was reported within 24 hours of sound exposure. • Kastak et al. (2005) followed up on their previous work, exposing the same test subjects to higher levels of sound for longer durations. The animals were exposed to octave-band sound for up to 50 minutes of net exposure. The study reported that the harbor seal experienced TTS of 6 dB after a 25minute exposure to 2.5 kHz of octaveband sound at 152 dB (183 dB SEL). • Bowles et al. (unpubl. data) exposed pinnipeds to simulated sonic booms (airborne sound). Harbor seals demonstrated TTS at 143 dB peak and 129 dB SEL. • Kastak et al. (2004) used the same test subjects as in Kastak et al. (2005), exposing the animals to non-pulsed airborne sound (2.5 kHz octave-band sound) for 25 minutes. The harbor seal demonstrated 6 dB of TTS after exposure to 99 dB (131 dB SEL). The sound level necessary to cause TTS in pinnipeds depends on exposure duration; with longer exposure, the level necessary to elicit TTS is reduced (Schusterman et al., 2000; Kastak et al., E:\FR\FM\30JYN1.SGM 30JYN1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 44588 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 146 / Monday, July 30, 2012 / Notices 2005, 2007). The literature has not drawn conclusions on levels of underwater non-pulsed sound (e.g., vibratory pile removal) likely to cause TTS. Although underwater sound levels produced by the DNR project may be approximately equal to the lower end of sound levels produced in studies that have induced TTS in pinnipeds, there is a general lack of controlled, quantifiable field studies related to this phenomenon, existing studies have had varied results, and there are no universally accepted standards for the amount of exposure time likely to induce TTS (Southall et al., 2007). While it may be inferred that TTS could theoretically result from the DNR project, it is highly unlikely, due to the source levels and duration of exposure possible. In summary, it is expected that elevated sound will have only a negligible probability of causing TTS in individual seals. Further, seals are likely to be disturbed via the approach of work crews and vessels long before the beginning of any pile removal operations and would be apprised of the advent of increased underwater sound via the soft start of the vibratory hammer. It is not expected that airborne sound levels would induce any form of behavioral harassment, much less TTS in individual pinnipeds. The DNR and other organizations, such as the Cascadia Research Collective, have been monitoring the behavior of harbor seals present within the NRCA since 1977. Past disturbance observations at Woodard Bay NRCA have shown that seal harassment results from the presence of non-motorized vessels (e.g., recreational kayaks and canoes), motorized vessels (e.g., fishing boats), and people (Calambokidis and Leathery, 1991; Buettner et al., 2008). Calambokidis and Leathery (1991) found that the mean distance that seals entered the water in response to any type of vessel was 56 m. Most commonly seals were disturbed when vessels were 26 to 50 m from the haulout; however, only at distances greater than 125 m was there a sharp decrease in the proportion of groups disturbed. Seals entered the water in response to people on foot at up to 256 m although, on many occasions, people were able to pass less than 100 m from seals without noticeable disturbance while intentionally maintaining a low profile (Calambokidis and Leathery, 1991). Furthermore, the distances at which seals were disturbed varied significantly by vessel type; seals entered the water at a greater distance in response to nonmotorized vessels as compared to motorized vessels. It is hypothesized that because the latter are more readily VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Jul 27, 2012 Jkt 226001 detectable than the former, seals are more readily aware of their presence at greater distances and do not react to the same extent upon close approach (Buettner et al., 2008). Buettner et al. (2008) also noted the difference in vigilance of seals based on float location during pupping season. For example, seals on floats located on the outer edges of the log boom area, which are thus subjected to greater amounts of vessel traffic, were indifferent to vessels unless the vessels came right up to the log booms. Contrarily, seals on the floats located in the central area of the log booms, and hence not exposed to as much traffic, were more vigilant and more sensitive to disturbances. These observations suggest that, while seals are susceptible to anthropogenic disturbance, a certain amount of habituation may occur at these haul-outs. During emergency maintenance operations on the haul-out in 2008, seals present on the log booms flushed when the vessel first entered the haul-out area, but appeared to become habituated quickly thereafter. Maintenance operations included installation of new log booms to restore habitat. Seals initially flushed in response to onset of work but quickly acclimated to crew presence and would haul out on booms directly adjacent to the small barge used during maintenance. Furthermore, Suryan and Harvey (1991) found that harbor seals hauled-out at Puffin Island, WA, were more tolerant to subsequent harassments than they were to the initial harassment. However, sudden presence of a disturbance source (e.g., kayaker) can induce strong behavioral reactions. In summary, based on the preceding discussion and on observations of harbor seals during past management activities in Woodard Bay, NMFS has preliminarily determined that impacts to harbor seals during restoration activities would be limited to behavioral harassment of limited duration and limited intensity (i.e., temporary flushing at most) resulting from physical disturbance. It is anticipated that seals would be initially disturbed by the presence of crew and vessels associated with the habitat restoration project. Seals entering the water following such disturbance could also be exposed to underwater SPLs greater than 120 dB (i.e., constituting harassment); however, given the short duration and low energy of vibratory extraction of 12–24 in timber piles, PTS would not occur and TTS is not likely. Abandonment of any portion of the haul-out is not expected either, as harbor seals have been documented as quickly becoming PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 accustomed to the presence of work crews. During similar activities carried out under the previous IHAs, seals showed no signs of abandonment or of using the haul-outs to a lesser degree. Anticipated Effects on Habitat Marine mammal habitat would be temporarily ensonified by low sound levels resulting from habitat restoration effort. The piles designated to be removed have been treated with creosote, a wood preservative that is also toxic to the environment. Removing these piles will have beneficial impacts to the NRCA, including marine mammal habitat, by preventing the leaching of creosote chemicals, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, into the marine environment. No log booms would be removed; therefore, no impacts to the physical availability of haul-out habitat would occur. Any disturbance to substrate in the NRCA would be localized and of a temporary nature, resulting from the extraction of piles. As such, temporary impacts at most may be expected to the habitat of harbor seal prey species. No prey species are known to utilize the pilings themselves. Summary of Previous Monitoring DNR complied with the mitigation and monitoring required under the previous authorizations. In accordance with the 2010–11 IHAs, DNR submitted final monitoring reports, which described the monitoring effort and observations made. DNR has not exceeded authorized levels of take by Level B harassment under the IHAs. Past IHAs have stipulated that monitoring be conducted on at least 15 days of work, to include times when we considered disturbance to be most likely, such as: • Initial construction days of the project; • When the contractors were mobilizing to a new location; and • When activities were occurring closest to the haul-out areas. At least one observer was stationed at each of two observation sites, to monitor both haul-out areas, on all monitoring days. Monitoring began 30 minutes prior to the contractor’s start time (7 a.m.) and ended 30 minutes after the contractor left the site. Counts were conducted every half hour unless there was a disturbance, in which case another count was conducted. Each of the two haul-outs was counted separately and added together for the total number of seals hauled out. In the event of harassment, observers recorded the nature of the activity, proximity to haul-outs, and the number of seals that E:\FR\FM\30JYN1.SGM 30JYN1 44589 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 146 / Monday, July 30, 2012 / Notices flushed into the water (i.e., were harassed). The take number was calculated by subtracting the number of seals hauled out after the disturbance from the most recent count prior to the disturbance. Harbor seal disturbances were recorded and broken down into disturbance types based on cause of disturbance. Each disturbance was given a code and proximity in meters from haul-outs was recorded (Table 1). Proximity in relation to haul-outs was calculated using satellite imagery. Under the 2010–11 IHA, 356 takes by harassment were observed during the 14 days of observation (Table 1) resulting in a mean of 25 seals disturbed per monitored day. Extrapolating that average out for all 35 days of restoration activity that occurred provides a total estimated take of 875, less than the authorized take (by Level B harassment) of 1,539. Under the 2011–12 IHA, 172 takes by harassment were observed during the 15 days of observation (Table 1) resulting in a mean of 11 seals disturbed per monitored day. Extrapolating that average out for all 21 days of restoration activity that occurred provides a total estimated take of 231, less than the authorized take (by Level B harassment) of 2,080. These extrapolated estimates may be biased high since monitored days were chosen in part to sample days with activities most likely to disturb seals. TABLE 1—AGGREGATE HARBOR SEAL COUNTS AND DISTURBANCES FROM TWO HAUL-OUT SITES Date Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov Dec Dec Dec Dec Dec Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov Nov Dec Dec Dec Dec Dec Dec Dec Year 1 .................. 2 .................. 9 .................. 12 ................ 15 ................ 16 ................ 18 ................ 19 ................ 22 ................ 8 .................. 10 ................ 16 ................ 20 ................ 21 ................ 16 ................ 17 ................ 18 ................ 21 ................ 22 ................ 28 ................ 29 ................ 30 ................ 1 .................. 2 .................. 5 .................. 7 .................. 8 .................. 9 .................. 14 ................ 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 2011 Start time Finish time 0930 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 1200 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 0630 1330 0630 0630 0630 0630 1630 1800 1800 1730 1730 1700 1750 1730 1730 1730 1600 1730 1600 1700 1430 1630 1630 1630 1630 1630 1630 1630 1630 1630 1630 1630 1630 1130 1630 Pre-activity count Conditions Overcast, rain ............ Sunny ........................ Overcast, rain ............ Sunny ........................ Overcast, rain ............ Overcast, rain ............ Partly cloudy .............. Partly cloudy .............. Partly cloudy, snow ... Overcast, rain ............ Partly cloudy .............. Sunny ........................ Overcast, rain ............ Sunny ........................ Fair ............................ Fair ............................ Fair ............................ Rain ........................... Rain, wind ................. Fair ............................ Fair ............................ Fair ............................ Fair ............................ Fair ............................ Fair ............................ Fair ............................ Fair ............................ Fair ............................ Fair ............................ 8 97 71 67 27 40 8 121 35 1 20 36 0 43 1 25 26 0 0 41 19 6 27 25 62 20 1 0 47 Peak daily count 18 127 72 100 39 54 15 127 37 17 34 41 0 43 1 34 77 1 0 45 38 6 47 51 62 42 4 0 55 Disturbance code Proximity to haul-out (m) MS, PP ...... DB ............. MS ............. MS, MB ..... ................... BC ............. BC ............. MS ............. MS, BC ...... ................... BC ............. MS, VH ...... ................... MS, DB ...... ................... BC, MS ...... BC ............. ................... ................... BC, MS ...... ................... ................... BC ............. ................... BC, MS ...... MS ............. ................... ................... MS ............. <10 >300 >160 >150 >130 <250 >130 >130 >130 >300 >100 >100 >130 >75 .................... <500 <50 .................... .................... <150 .................... .................... <100 .................... <250 <100 .................... .................... <250 Total daily takes 5 69 31 76 0 25 6 34 13 0 30 38 0 29 0 8 4 0 0 44 0 0 21 0 51 7 0 0 37 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Activity codes: MS: motorized skiff; BC: Barge/Crane; VH: Vibratory hammer; PR: Pile removal; PP: Pile painting; MB: Mobilize barge; DB: Dive boat. Harbor seals were generally hauled out prior to the work day with the majority of seals at the south haul-out. The construction crew stayed at a distance of over 150 m from the haulouts when maneuvering back and forth from shore to their barge anchored greater than 150 m offshore from the haul-outs. The seals appeared to be relatively unaffected by the movement of the crane barge at distances greater than 150 m. The majority of incidental harassment takes were caused by the work skiff maneuvering back and forth, despite the distance from the haul-outs. Once the seals entered the water, the majority typically did not return to the haul-out during same-day monitoring effort, although there were never large VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Jul 27, 2012 Jkt 226001 groups of seals observed in the water after a disturbance. Seals that remained on the haul-out after a disturbance showed no signs of adverse behavior. Given that there have been no dedicated observations at the NRCA during this time of year (i.e., November-February) it is difficult to say whether the decreased number of harbor seals hauled out (as compared with average October counts) was caused by construction activity or seasonal distribution. It is likely, however, that the latter is the case, as November represents the post-breeding and molting period, when harbor seals are less reliant on the haul-outs. PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Proposed Mitigation In order to issue an IHA under Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses. The DNR has proposed to continue mitigation measures, as stipulated in the previous IHAs, designed to minimize disturbance to harbor seals within the action area in consideration of timing, E:\FR\FM\30JYN1.SGM 30JYN1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 44590 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 146 / Monday, July 30, 2012 / Notices location, and equipment use. Foremost, pile, structure, and fill removal would only occur between November and March, outside of harbor seal pupping and molting seasons. Therefore, no impacts to pups from the specified activity during these sensitive time periods would occur. In addition, the following measures would be implemented: • The DNR would approach the action area slowly to alert seals to their presence from a distance and would begin pulling piles at the farthest location from the log booms used as harbor seal haul-out areas; • No piles within 30 yd (27 m) of the two main haul-out locations identified in the IHA application would be removed; • The contractor or observer would survey the operational area for seals before initiating activities and wait until the seals are at a sufficient distance (i.e., 50 ft [15 m]) from the activity so as to minimize the risk of direct injury from the equipment or from a piling or structure breaking free; • The DNR would require the contractor to initiate a vibratory hammer soft start at the beginning of each work day; and • The vibratory hammer power pack would be outfitted with a muffler to reduce in-air noise levels to a maximum of 80 dB. The soft start method involves a reduced energy vibration from the hammer for the first 15 seconds and then a 30-second waiting period. This method would be repeated twice before commencing with operations at full power. We considered but rejected one additional mitigation measure, the requirement to conduct a sound source verification study. We have in the past required some applicants to conduct such a study to ensure that the production of increased levels of sound is no greater than the level analyzed in estimating incidental take. However, as described previously in this document, source levels produced by the vibratory hammer would be no greater than 80 dB in-air and are conservatively estimated at approximately 155–165 dB underwater. The underwater source levels would likely be lower, as those are measured levels from installation of steel piles. Underwater source levels from this project would likely be less both because the action is extraction, not installation, and because of the pile material (timber rather than steel). Further, seals exposed to sound greater than 120 dB would likely be previously disturbed by the presence of crews and vessels and by vessel noise. We VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Jul 27, 2012 Jkt 226001 acknowledge that sound source verification would be preferred; however, the applicant is fundinglimited, and the significant expenditure required by such a study would result in a correspondingly lesser amount of restoration work able to be completed. The requirement of a sound source verification study would have limited utility for the harbor seals, would be impracticable for the applicant, and would result in less restoration accomplished. Thus, the end result would likely be a long-term net negative for the harbor seals considered in this document. We have carefully evaluated the applicant’s mitigation measures as proposed and considered their effectiveness in past implementation to preliminarily determine whether they are likely to effect the least practicable adverse impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures includes consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: (1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measure is expected to minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals, (2) the proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; (3) the practicability of the measure for applicant implementation, including consideration of personnel safety, and practicality of implementation. Injury, serious injury, or mortality to pinnipeds could likely only result from startling animals inhabiting the haul-out into a stampede reaction. Even in the event that such a reaction occurred, it is unlikely that it would result in injury, serious injury, or mortality, as the activities would occur outside of the pupping season, and access to the water from the haul-outs is relatively easy and unimpeded. However, DNR has proposed to approach haul-outs gradually from a distance, and would begin daily work at the farthest distance from the haul-out in order to eliminate the possibility of such events. During the previous years of work under our authorization, implementation of similar mitigation measures has resulted in no known injury, serious injury, or mortality (other than one event considered atypical and outside the scope of the mitigation measures considered in relation to disturbing seals from the haul-outs). Based upon the DNR’s record of management in the NRCA, as well as information from monitoring DNR’s implementation of the improved mitigation measures as prescribed under the previous IHAs, we have preliminarily determined that the PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 proposed mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable adverse impacts on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat. Proposed Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an ITA for an activity, Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that we must set forth ‘‘requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking’’. The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for IHAs must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present. DNR’s proposed monitoring plan adheres to protocols already established for Woodard Bay to the maximum extent practical for the specified activity. Monitoring of both the north and south haul-outs would occur for a total of 15 work days, during the first 5 days of project activities, when the contractors are mobilizing and starting use of the vibratory hammer; during 5 days when activities are occurring closest to the haul-out areas; and during 5 additional days, to include days when fill removal is occurring in Woodard Bay. It is not expected that Woodard Bay fill removal would result in seal disturbance; however, the stipulation that monitoring be conducted while this activity occurs is intended to ensure that such is the case. Monitoring of both haul-outs would be performed by at least one observer. The observer would (1) be on-site prior to crew and vessel arrival to determine the number of seals present pre-disturbance; (2) maintain a low profile during this time to minimize disturbance from monitoring; and (3) conduct monitoring beginning 30 minutes prior to crew arrival, during pile removal activities, and for 30 minutes after crew leave the site. The observer would record incidental takes (i.e., numbers of seals flushed from the haul-out). This information would be determined by recording the number of seals using the haul-out on each monitoring day prior to the start of restoration activities and recording the number of seals that flush from the haul-out or, for animals already in the water, display adverse behavioral reactions to vibratory extraction. A description of the disturbance source, the proximity in meters of the disturbance source to the disturbed animals, and observable behavioral reactions to specific disturbances would E:\FR\FM\30JYN1.SGM 30JYN1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 146 / Monday, July 30, 2012 / Notices mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES also be noted. In addition, the observer would record: • The number of seals using the haulout on each monitoring day prior to the start of restoration activities for that day; • Seal behavior before, during and after pile and structure removal; • Monitoring dates, times and conditions; • Dates of all pile and structure removal activities; and • After correcting for observation effort, the number of seals taken over the duration of the habitat restoration project. Within 30 days of the completion of the project, DNR would submit a monitoring report that would include a summary of findings and copies of field data sheets and relevant daily logs from the contractor. We considered but rejected an expanded monitoring plan that would require DNR to conduct monitoring as described but for every day of construction. We do not believe that monitoring need be conducted at all times during this low-level activity as there is no potential for serious injury or mortality and the probability of an animal being physically injured from the equipment is extremely low if not discountable. In addition, no other marine mammal species are likely to be present within the action area, and are therefore not likely to be affected by DNR’s activities. Similar to scientific research studies, when correcting for effort, the DNR should be able to adequately determine the number of animals taken and impacts of the project on marine mammals based on the proposed monitoring plan. Should extreme reactions of seals occur (e.g., apparent abandonment of the haul-out) at any time during the project, DNR will stop removal activities and consult with us. However, as described in this notice, based on previous scientific disturbance studies at NRCA, extreme reactions are not anticipated. Finally, as described previously, funding is limited for DNR’s important restoration work, requiring a balance between the level of monitoring that is necessary to adequately characterize disturbance of harbor seals and the significant funding required to implement monitoring. We feel that the proposed monitoring plan strikes the proper balance. Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment As described previously in this document, annual seal counts in Woodard Bay end by October. Seals utilize haul-out habitat from spring or summer until approximately October for breeding, pupping, and molting. After VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:34 Jul 27, 2012 Jkt 226001 October, numbers of individuals at the haul-outs are expected to decline throughout the winter. From 2006 to 2009, October counts averaged 171 and ranged between 79 and 275 (Lambourn, 2010). Under the previous IHAs, seals were monitored for 29 days during November and December of 2010 and 2011. In 2010, total peak counts ranged from 0 to 127 and averaged 52, while total peak counts in 2011 ranged from 0 to 77 and averaged 31 (Oliver and Calambokidis, 2011, 2012), confirming that seal numbers decline after October. It is unlikely that the fill removal operations taking place in Woodard Bay would result in seal disturbance, as they would be shielded by land from the harbor seal haul-outs and would have no associated vessel activity. DNR proposes that the estimated 20 days of pile and structure removal activity, as well as all fill removal activity occurring in Chapman Bay, may potentially result in incidental harassment of harbor seals. Using the average count from November-December 2010–11 (42) and the estimated number of total days of activity as described here (40) the result is an estimated incidental take of 1,680 harbor seals (40 days x 42 seals per day). We consider this to be a highly conservative estimate in comparison with the estimated actual take of 875 seals from 2010 and 231 seals from 2011, which is nonetheless based upon the best available information. Negligible Impact and Small Numbers Analysis and Determination We have 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.’’ In determining whether or not authorized incidental take will have a negligible impact on affected species stocks, we consider a number of criteria regarding the impact of the proposed action, including the number, nature, intensity, and duration of Level B harassment take that may occur. Although DNR’s restoration activities may harass pinnipeds hauled out in Woodard Bay, impacts are occurring to a small, localized group of animals. No mortality or injury is anticipated or proposed for authorization, nor will the proposed action result in long-term impacts such as permanent abandonment of the haul-out. Seals will likely become alert or, at most, flush into the water in reaction to the presence of crews and equipment. However, seals have been observed as PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 44591 becoming habituated to physical presence of work crews, and quickly reinhabit haul-outs upon cessation of stimulus. In addition, the proposed restoration actions may provide improved habitat function for seals, both indirectly through a healthier prey base and directly through restoration and maintenance of man-made haul-out habitat. No impacts would be expected at the population or stock level. No pinniped stocks known from the action area are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA or determined to be strategic or depleted under the MMPA. Recent data suggests that harbor seal populations have reached carrying capacity. Although the estimated take of 1,680 is 11 percent of the estimated population of 14,612 for the Washington Inland Waters stock of harbor seals, the number of individual seals harassed will be lower, with individual seals likely harassed multiple times. In addition, although the estimated take is based upon the best scientific information available, we consider the estimate to be highly conservative. For similar restoration activities in 2010–11, estimated actual take was much lower (875 seals over 35 work days in 2010 and 231 seals over 21 work days in 2011). Mitigation measures would minimize onset of sudden and potentially dangerous reactions and overall disturbance. In addition, restoration work is not likely to affect seals at both haul-outs simultaneously, based on location of the crew and barge. Further, although seals may initially flush into the water, based on previous disturbance studies and maintenance activity at the haul-outs, the DNR expects seals will quickly habituate to piling and structure removal operations. For these reasons no long term or permanent abandonment of the haul-out is anticipated. Much of the work proposed for 2012–13 consists of fill removal, which does not require inwater work or vessel support, and is largely located in Woodard Bay, which is shielded from the haul-out locations by land. The proposed action is not anticipated to result in injury, serious injury, or mortality to any harbor seal. The DNR would not conduct habitat restoration operations during the pupping and molting season; therefore, no pups would be affected by the proposed action and no impacts to any seals would occur as a result of the specified activity during these sensitive time periods. Based on the foregoing analysis, behavioral disturbance to pinnipeds in Woodard Bay would be of low intensity E:\FR\FM\30JYN1.SGM 30JYN1 44592 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 146 / Monday, July 30, 2012 / Notices and limited duration. To ensure minimal disturbance, DNR would implement the mitigation measures described previously, which we have preliminarily determined will serve as the means for effecting the least practicable adverse effect on marine mammal stocks or populations and their habitat. We preliminarily find that DNR’s restoration activities would result in the incidental take of small numbers of marine mammals, and that the requested number of takes will have no more than a negligible impact on the affected species and stocks. Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence Uses There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by this action. Endangered Species Act (ESA) There are no ESA-listed marine mammals found in the action area; therefore, no consultation under the ESA is required. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), as implemented by the regulations published by the Council on Environmental Quality (40 CFR parts 1500–1508), and NOAA Administrative Order 216–6, NMFS prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) to consider the direct, indirect and cumulative effects to the human environment resulting from issuance of an IHA to DNR. NMFS signed a Finding of No Significant Impact on October 27, 2010. NMFS has reviewed the proposed application and preliminarily determined that there are no substantial changes to the proposed action or new environmental impacts or concerns. Therefore, NMFS has determined that a new or supplemental EA or Environmental Impact Statement is likely unnecessary. Before making a final determination in this regard, NMFS will review public comments and information submitted by the public and others in response to this notice. The EA referenced above is available for review at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental.htm. Proposed Authorization As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to authorize the take of marine mammals incidental to DNR’s restoration activities, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. 17:34 Jul 27, 2012 Jkt 226001 Terminal Bldg., Second Floor, St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., 00802. See SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION for additional details. [FR Doc. 2012–18537 Filed 7–27–12; 8:45 am] FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: BILLING CODE 3510–22–P Delisse Ortiz or Karyl Brewster-Geisz at (301) 427–8503 (phone); or Jackie Wilson at (240) 338–3936, or (301) 713– 1917 (fax); or http:// www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/index.htm. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Atlantic HMS are managed under the dual authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq., and the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act, 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NMFS must ensure consistency with the National Standards and manage fisheries to maintain optimum yield, rebuild overfished fisheries, and prevent overfishing. Atlantic Tunas Convention Act authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to promulgate regulations, as may be necessary and appropriate, to implement the recommendations adopted by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. The authority to issue regulations under Magnuson-Stevens Act and Atlantic Tunas Convention Act has been delegated from the Secretary to the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA. The implementing regulations for Atlantic HMS are at 50 CFR part 635. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–BA75 Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Electronic Dealer Reporting System Workshop National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of public workshops. AGENCY: On June 28, 2011, NMFS published a proposed rule that considered requiring, among other things, Federal Atlantic swordfish, shark, and tunas dealers (except for dealers reporting Atlantic bluefin tuna) to report commercially-harvested Atlantic sharks, swordfish, and bigeye, albacore, yellowfin, and skipjack (BAYS) tunas through one centralized electronic reporting system. This electronic reporting system will allow dealers to submit Atlantic sharks, swordfish, and BAYS tuna data on a more real-time basis and more efficiently, which will reduce duplicative data submissions from different regions. We proposed to delay the effective date of the electronic reporting requirements until 2013 in order to give sufficient time for dealers to adjust to implementation of the new system and the additional requirements. On June 29, 2012, we announced the date and location for nine upcoming workshops in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic area to introduce the new reporting system to Highly Migratory Species (HMS) dealers. In this notice, we announce the date and location for an additional training workshop in the Caribbean. DATES: The additional training workshop for the new HMS electronic dealer system will be held on August 29, 2012, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. See SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION for additional details. ADDRESSES: The training workshop will be held in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands (U.S.V.I.) at the following address: Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Office of the Commissioner, 8100 Lindberg Bay, Suite #61, Cyril E. King Airport, SUMMARY: National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) VerDate Mar<15>2010 Dated: July 25, 2012. Helen M. Golde, Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Background The current regulations and infrastructure of the Atlantic HMS quota-monitoring systems result in a delay of several weeks or more before NMFS receives dealer data. This can affect management and monitoring of small Atlantic HMS quotas and short fishing seasons. As such, on June 28, 2011 (76 FR 37750), we published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that considered requiring, among other things, Federal Atlantic swordfish, shark, and tunas dealers (except for dealers reporting Atlantic bluefin tuna) to report commercially-harvested Atlantic sharks, swordfish, and BAYS tunas through one centralized electronic reporting system. Under this new system, dealers would submit HMS data electronically (instead of in a paper format) and include additional information that is necessary for management of HMS (e.g., vessel and logbook information). The electronic submission of data will eliminate the delay associated with mailing in hardcopy reports. In this manner, HMS landings data will be submitted on a more real-time basis, allowing for timely E:\FR\FM\30JYN1.SGM 30JYN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 146 (Monday, July 30, 2012)]
[Notices]
[Pages 44583-44592]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-18537]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XC107


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Piling and Fill Removal in Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation 
Area, Washington

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

ACTION: Notice; proposed incidental harassment authorization; request 
for comments.

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

SUMMARY: NMFS has received an application from the Washington State 
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for an incidental harassment 
authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental 
to restoration activities within the Woodard Bay Natural Resources 
Conservation Area (NRCA). Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act 
(MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an IHA to 
the DNR to incidentally take harbor seals, by Level B harassment only, 
during the specified activity.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than August 
29, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Michael 
Payne, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, 
Silver Spring, MD 20910. The mailbox address for providing email 
comments is ITP.Laws@noaa.gov. NMFS is not responsible for email 
comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. Comments 
sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 10-
megabyte file size.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm without change. All Personal Identifying Information 
(e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be 
publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or 
otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    An electronic copy of the application, a list of the references 
used in this document, and other supplemental documents 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 also be viewed, by appointment, 
during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ben Laws, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401.

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, a notice of a proposed authorization is 
published in the Federal Register to provide public notice and initiate 
a 30-day comment period.
    Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds 
that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or 
stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where 
relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements 
pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such takings 
are set forth. NMFS has defined `negligible impact' in 50 CFR 216.103 
as ``* * * an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot 
be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely 
affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of 
recruitment or survival.''
    Section 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 Level B 
harassment as defined below. 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 marine mammals. Within 45 days of the close of 
the comment period, NMFS must either issue or deny the authorization. 
If authorized, the IHA would be effective for one year from date of 
issuance.
    Except with respect to certain 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].''

Summary of Request

    On May 18, 2012, we received an application from the DNR for an IHA 
for the taking, by Level B harassment only, of small numbers of harbor 
seals (Phoca vitulina) incidental to activities conducted in 
association with an ongoing habitat restoration project within the 
Woodard Bay NRCA, Washington. DNR was first issued an IHA that was 
valid from November 1, 2010, through February 28, 2011 (75 FR 67951), 
and was subsequently issued a second IHA that was valid from November 
1, 2011, through February 28, 2012 (76 FR 67419). Restoration activity 
planned for 2012-13, depending upon final funding, includes removal of 
fill and associated materials in Woodard Bay and Chapman Bay and 
removal of creosote pilings and structure in Chapman Bay. Pilings would 
be removed by vibratory hammer extraction methods or by direct pull 
with cables. The superstructure materials would be removed by excavator 
and/or cables suspended from a barge-mounted crane. The proposed 
activities would occur only between November 1 through March 15 (2012-
13), and could require a maximum total of approximately 70 days.

Description of the Specified Activity

    The Woodard Bay NRCA, located within Henderson Inlet in southern 
Puget Sound, was designated by the Washington State Legislature in 1987 
to

[[Page 44584]]

protect a large, intact complex of nearshore habitats and related 
biological communities, and to provide opportunities for low-impact 
public use and environmental education for the people of Washington. 
The site includes the former Weyerhaeuser South Bay Log Dump, which 
operated from the 1920s until the 1980s. The remnant structures from 
the log dump, including several hundred creosoted timber pilings and a 
trestle and pier and associated fill, continue to negatively impact 
nearshore ecosystems protected by the conservation area. Therefore, the 
DNR has begun restoration activities in the NRCA to remove these 
dilapidated structures in order to enhance ecological structure and 
function as well as low-impact public use.
    However, certain remnant log booms are not planned for removal--
and, in fact, have been maintained--due to their function as habitat 
for harbor seals. These few remnant log boom structures have been 
utilized as haul-out habitat for resting, pupping and molting for more 
than 30 years, and play an important role in supporting a healthy 
population of harbor seals. Seals concentrate and primarily haul out at 
only two locations within the NRCA (see figures in DNR's application 
and Monitoring Report).
    These two different haul-out sites within NRCA are referred to as 
the north and south sites. The north site, located adjacent to the 
northern tip of the Chapman Bay Pier, is composed of several rows of 
log booms fastened to creosoted pilings. The south site, located east 
of the Chapman Bay Pier in the main operational area of the log dump, 
is composed of six log boom rows and one floating platform attached to 
creosoted pilings. The booms are utilized year-round by harbor seals of 
all ages and are ideal for harbor seal pupping due to easy access to 
water escape routes and the low platform for pups to get in and out of 
the water (Calambokidis et al., 1991; Lambourn et al., 2007). In recent 
years, the log boom haul-out area has decreased significantly because 
logs have decayed, sunk, or floated away (Lambourn et al., 2007), and 
attempts have been made to re-establish some of the lost haul-out area. 
These booms are situated in the vicinity of the piles and structure 
planned for removal. The DNR anticipates harbor seals may flush into 
the water upon crew arrival and onset of fill removal and pile and 
structure removal activities; hence, harbor seals may be behaviorally 
harassed during these activities. The DNR is thus requesting an IHA to 
take harbor seals, by Level B harassment only, incidental to the 
specified restoration activities. The proposed activities may result in 
behavioral disturbance of seals due to noise or visual stimuli from the 
vibratory hammer, work vessels, heavy equipment onshore, or work crews.
    Proposed restoration activities requested under the IHA are funding 
dependent. They include all or part of the following:

1. Fill Removal

     Remove 13,000 yd\3\ of fill from Woodard Bay
     Remove 325 yd\3\ of fill from Chapman Bay
     Remove associated creosoted timber, pilings, metal scraps 
and concrete abutment

2. Piling and Structure Removal

     Remove 10,000 ft\2\ of pier superstructure and 470 pilings 
from Chapman Bay Pier
     Remove 30 anchor piles from Chapman Bay
    Fill removal from Woodard and Chapman Bays would be accomplished 
from the uplands by heavy equipment and haul trucks. The creosoted 
pilings in the fill would be removed from the uplands by a crane-
mounted vibratory hammer. This portion of the project is estimated to 
take approximately 12-14 weeks to complete. The majority of fill 
removal work is located in Woodard Bay, which is separated from the 
harbor seal haul-out areas (located in Chapman Bay) by land. This work 
would likely result in less disturbance of harbor seals than would the 
work located in Chapman Bay. In addition, the material to be removed 
would be hauled offsite by the contractor via Whitham Road, which is 
the main road into the NRCA and which leads away from the haul-out area 
(see Figure 4 of DNR's application). Fill removal would largely occur 
above the Ordinary High Water Mark. Fill removal activities may occur 
between November 1 and March 15. Chapman Bay fill removal is roughly 
250 m from the south haul-out and 975 m from the north haul-out.
    Piling and structure removal work would be accomplished by barge 
and skiffs. The pilings would be removed by vibratory hammer or by 
direct pull with cables; both methods are suspended from a barge-
mounted crane. The vibratory hammer is a large steel device lowered on 
top of the pile, which then grips and vibrates the pile until it is 
loosened from the sediment. The pile is then pulled up by the hammer 
and placed on a barge. For direct pull, a cable is set around the 
piling to grip and lift the pile from the sediment. The superstructure 
materials would be removed by excavator and/or cables suspended from a 
barge-mounted crane.
    Approximately 500 12- to 24-in diameter pilings, along with 
associated pier superstructure, would be removed near but not directly 
adjacent to haul-outs. After vibration, a choker is used to lift the 
pile out of the water where it is placed on the barge for transport to 
an approved disposal site. Pilings that cannot be removed by hammer or 
cable, or that break during extraction, would be recorded via GPS for 
divers to relocate at the final phase of project activities. The divers 
would then cut the pilings at or below the mudline using underwater 
chainsaws. Operations would begin on the pilings and structures that 
are furthest from the seal haul-out so that there is an opportunity for 
the seals to adjust to the presence of the contractors and their 
equipment. Vibratory extraction operations may occur between November 1 
and January 15 and are expected to occur for approximately 20 days over 
the course of this work window. Other work days would be spent removing 
pier superstructure, which does not involve vibratory extraction, but 
has the potential to result in behavioral harassment due to the 
proximity to working crew. The portion of the Chapman Bay Pier that 
would be removed is approximately 100 m from the south haul-out area 
and 250 m from the north haul out.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    Harbor seals are the only marine mammal regularly found within the 
action area. Two Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) were observed, 
at a distance, swimming in Henderson Inlet during site restoration 
activities in 2010. There have been very few sightings of Steller sea 
lions in Henderson Inlet, and none were observed during subsequent 
restoration activities in 2011. They do not breed in Puget Sound, do 
not regularly use the action area, and, as such, are not likely to be 
affected by restoration activities. Steller sea lions are not 
considered further in this document.
    Species Description--Harbor seals, which are members of the Phocid 
family (true seals), inhabit coastal and estuarine waters and shoreline 
areas from Baja California, Mexico to western Alaska. For management 
purposes, differences in mean pupping date (i.e., birthing) (Temte, 
1986), movement patterns (Jeffries, 1985; Brown, 1988), pollutant loads 
(Calambokidis et al., 1985) and fishery interactions have led to the 
recognition of three separate harbor seal stocks along the west coast

[[Page 44585]]

of the continental U.S. (Boveng, 1988). The three distinct stocks are: 
(1) inland waters of Washington (including Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and 
the Strait of Juan de Fuca out to Cape Flattery), (2) outer coast of 
Oregon and Washington, and (3) California (Carretta et al., 2007). The 
inland waters of Washington stock is the only stock that may occur 
within the project area.
    The average weight for adult seals is about 180 lb (82 kg) and 
males are slightly larger than females. Male harbor seals weigh up to 
245 lb (111 kg) and measure approximately 5 ft (1.5 m) in length. The 
basic color of harbor seals' coat is gray and mottled but highly 
variable, from dark with light color rings or spots to light with dark 
markings (NMFS, 2008).
    Population Abundance--Estimated population numbers for the inland 
waters of Washington, including the Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and the 
Strait of Juan de Fuca out to Cape Flattery, have been most recently 
estimated at 14,612 individuals (Carretta et al., 2007). However, 
because the most recent abundance estimate is greater than 8 years old, 
there is no current estimate of abundance. Between 1983 and 1996, the 
annual rate of increase for this stock was 6 percent (Jeffries et al., 
1997). Based on this information and trends of other harbor seal 
stocks, the current abundance estimate is likely an underestimate. 
Based on the analyses of Jeffries et al. (2003) and Brown et al. 
(2005), both the Washington and Oregon coastal harbor seal stock have 
reached carrying capacity and are no longer increasing. Harbor seals 
are not listed as depleted nor considered strategic under the MMPA or 
as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The 
stock is within its Optimum Sustainable Population level (Jeffries et 
al., 2003). Harbor seals are considered the most abundant resident 
pinniped species in Puget Sound (Lance and Jeffries, 2009).
    The harbor seal population within the NRCA is considered one of the 
healthier ones in southern Puget Sound. Seal numbers have been 
monitored at the site since 1977, when there were less than 50 seals. 
In 1996, the highest count year, there were 600 seals. The average 
maximum annual count between 1977 and 2008 was 315 seals (Buettner et 
al., 2008). Annual seal counts end by October and numbers of 
individuals decline throughout the winter. From 2006 to 2009, October 
counts averaged 171 and ranged between 79 and 275 (Lambourn, 2010).
    Distribution--Harbor seals are coastal species, rarely found more 
than 12 mi (20 km) from shore, and frequently occupy bays, estuaries, 
and inlets (Baird, 2001). Individual seals have been observed several 
miles upstream in coastal rivers. Ideal harbor seal habitat includes 
haul-out sites, shelter during the breeding periods, and sufficient 
food (Bj[oslash]rge, 2002). Haul-out areas can include intertidal and 
subtidal rock outcrops, sandbars, sandy beaches, peat banks in salt 
marshes, and man-made structures such as log booms, docks, and 
recreational floats (Wilson, 1978; Prescott 1982; Schneider and Payne, 
1983; Gilber and Guldager, 1998; Jeffries et al., 2000). Human 
disturbance can affect haul-out choice (Harris et al., 2003).
    Behavior and Ecology--Harbor seals are typically seen in small 
groups resting on tidal reefs, boulders, mudflats, man-made structures, 
and sandbars. Harbor seals are opportunistic feeders that adjust their 
patterns to take advantage of locally and seasonally abundant prey 
(Payne and Selzer, 1989; Baird, 2001; Bj[oslash]rge, 2002). The harbor 
seal diet consists of fish and invertebrates (Bigg, 1981; Roffe and 
Mate, 1984; Orr et al., 2004). Although harbor seals in the Pacific 
Northwest are common in inshore and estuarine waters, they primarily 
feed at sea (Orr et al., 2004) during high tide. Researchers have found 
that they complete both shallow and deep dives during hunting depending 
on the availability of prey (Tollit et al., 1997). Their diet in Puget 
Sound consists of common prey resources such as hake, herring and adult 
and out-migrating juvenile salmonids.
    Harbor seals mate at sea and females give birth during the spring 
and summer, although the pupping season varies by latitude. In coastal 
and inland regions of Washington, pups are born from April through 
January. Pups are generally born earlier in the coastal areas and later 
in inland waters (Calambokidis and Jeffries, 1991; Jeffries et al., 
2000). Suckling harbor seal pups spend as much as forty percent of 
their time in the water (Bowen et al., 1999).
    The remnant log booms at the Woodard Bay NRCA support a year-round 
population of harbor seals, which use the boom structures for haul-out 
habitat to rest, pup, and molt in two primary locations; to the east 
and to the north of the Chapman Bay Pier (see Figure 4 in DNR's 
application). Haul-out behavior is shown to be affected by time of day 
and tide cycle, as well as factors related to seasonal weather patterns 
such as air temperature, wind speed, cloud cover, and sea conditions 
(Buettner et al., 2008). Annually, use of the log booms peaks from 
July, when females haul out to give birth to their pups, through 
October, during the late pupping season and molt (WA DNR, 2002).
    Acoustics--In air, harbor seal males produce a variety of low-
frequency (less than 4 kHz) vocalizations, including snorts, grunts, 
and growls. Male harbor seals produce communication sounds in the 
frequency range of 100-1,000 Hz (Richardson et al., 1995). Pups make 
individually unique calls for mother recognition that contain multiple 
harmonics with main energy below 0.35 kHz (Bigg, 1981; Thomson and 
Richardson, 1995). Harbor seals hear nearly as well in air as 
underwater and had lower thresholds than California sea lions (Zalophus 
californianus) (Kastak and Schusterman, 1998). Kastak and Schusterman 
(1998) reported airborne low frequency (100 Hz) sound detection 
thresholds at 65.4 dB re: 20 [mu]Pa for harbor seals. In air, they hear 
frequencies from 0.25-30 kHz and are most sensitive from 6-16 kHz 
(Richardson, 1995; Terhune and Turnbull, 1995; Wolski et al., 2003).
    Adult males also produce underwater sounds during the breeding 
season that typically range from 0.25-4 kHz (duration range: 0.1 s to 
multiple seconds; Hanggi and Schusterman, 1994). Hanggi and Schusterman 
(1994) found that there is individual variation in the dominant 
frequency range of sounds between different males, and Van Parijs et 
al. (2003) reported oceanic, regional, population, and site-specific 
variation that could be vocal dialects. In water, they hear frequencies 
from 1-75 kHz (Southall et al., 2007) and can detect sound levels as 
weak as 60-85 dB re: 1 [mu]Pa within that band. They are most sensitive 
at frequencies below 50 kHz; above 60 kHz sensitivity rapidly 
decreases.

Potential Effects on Marine Mammals

    Potential effects of DNR's proposed activities are likely to be 
limited to behavioral disturbance resulting from visual stimuli of 
seals at the two described log boom haul-outs. Other potential 
disturbance could result from the introduction of sound into the 
environment as a result of pile removal activities; however, this is 
unlikely to cause an appreciably greater amount of harassment in either 
numbers or degree, in part because it is anticipated that most seals 
would be disturbed initially by physical presence of crews, vessels, or 
heavy equipment or by sound from vessels.
    There is a general paucity of data on sound levels produced by 
vibratory extraction of timber piles; however, it is reasonable to 
assume that extraction would not result in higher sound

[[Page 44586]]

pressure levels (SPLs) than vibratory installation of piles. As such, 
we assume that source levels from the proposed activity would not be as 
high as average source levels for vibratory installation of 12- to 24-
in steel piles (155-165 dB; Caltrans, 2009). Our general in-water 
harassment thresholds for pinnipeds exposed to continuous noise, such 
as that produced by vibratory pile extraction, are 190 dB root mean 
square (rms) re: 1 [micro]Pa as the potential onset of Level A 
(injurious) harassment and 120 dB RMS re: 1 [micro]Pa as the potential 
onset of Level B (behavioral) harassment. These levels are considered 
precautionary and we are currently revising these thresholds to better 
reflect the most recent scientific data.
    Vibratory extraction would not result in sound levels near 190 dB; 
therefore, injury would not occur. However, underwater noise from 
vibratory extraction would likely exceed 120 dB in the vicinity of the 
haul-outs and may induce responses in-water such as avoidance or other 
alteration of behavior at time of exposure. However, seals flushing 
from haul-outs in response to small vessel activity and the presence of 
work crews would already be considered as `harassed'. We only consider 
a single incidence of harassment per individual in any given 24-hour 
period; therefore, additional incidents that may occur to the same 
individual from different stimuli are not considered additional takes.
    The airborne sound disturbance criteria for Level A harassment is 
90 dB RMS re: 20 [micro]Pa for harbor seals. Based on information on 
airborne source levels measured for pile driving with vibratory hammer, 
removal of wood piles is unlikely to exceed 90 dB (WA DNR, 2011); 
further, the vibratory hammer would be outfitted with a muffling device 
ensuring that airborne SPLs are no higher than 80 dB. Potential effects 
of the action on harbor seals are detailed in the following text.

Behavioral Disturbance

    Disturbance can result in a variety of effects, such as subtle or 
dramatic changes in behavior or displacement. Behavioral reactions of 
marine mammals are difficult to predict because they are dependent on 
numerous factors, including species, maturity, experience, activity, 
reproductive state, time of day, and weather. If a marine mammal does 
react to a stimulus by changing its behavior or moving a small 
distance, the impacts of that change may not be important to the 
individual, the stock, or the species as a whole. However, if marine 
mammals are displaced from an important feeding or breeding area for a 
prolonged period, impacts on the animals could be important. In 
general, pinnipeds seem more tolerant of, or at least habituate more 
quickly to, potentially disturbing stimuli than do cetaceans, and 
generally seem to be less responsive to exposure to industrial sound 
than most cetaceans.
    Because the few available studies show wide variation in response 
to stimuli, pinniped responses are difficult to quantify. The 
literature shows that a range of effects are possible, including no 
obvious visible response, or behavioral responses that may include 
annoyance and increased alertness, visual orientation towards the 
stimulus, investigation of the stimulus, change in movement pattern or 
direction, habituation, alteration of feeding and social interaction, 
or temporary or permanent avoidance of the affected area. Minor 
behavioral responses do not necessarily cause long-term effects to the 
individuals involved. Severe responses include panic, immediate 
movement away from the stimulus, and stampeding, which could 
potentially lead to injury or mortality (Southall et al., 2007).
    In their comprehensive review of available literature, Southall et 
al. (2007) reported that the limited data suggest exposures between 
approximately 90 and 140 dB generally do not appear to induce strong 
behavioral responses in pinnipeds, while higher levels of pulsed sound, 
ranging between 150 and 180 dB, will prompt avoidance of an area. For 
airborne sound Southall et al. (2007) note there is extremely limited 
data suggesting very minor, if any, observable behavioral responses by 
pinnipeds exposed to airborne pulses of 60 to 80 dB.
    Southall et al. (2007) noted that quantitative studies on 
behavioral reactions of pinnipeds to sound are rare, but described the 
following:
     Harris et al. (2001) observed the response of ringed (Pusa 
hispida), bearded (Erignathus barbatus), and spotted seals (Phoca 
largha) to underwater operation of a single air gun and an eleven-gun 
array. Received exposure levels were 160 to 200 dB. In some instances, 
seals exhibited no response to sound.
     Blackwell et al. (2004) observed ringed seals during 
impact installation of steel pipe pile. Received underwater SPLs were 
measured at 151 dB at 63 m. The seals exhibited either no response or 
only brief orientation response (defined as ``investigation or visual 
orientation'').
     In addition, Blackwell et al. (2004) studied the response 
of ringed seals within 500 m of impact driving of steel pipe pile to 
airborne sound. Received levels of airborne sound were measured at 93 
dB at a distance of 63 m. Seals had either no response or limited 
response to pile driving. Reactions were described as ``indifferent'' 
or ``curious.''
     Miller et al. (2005) observed responses of ringed and 
bearded seals to a seismic air gun array. Received underwater sound 
levels were estimated at 160 to 200 dB. There were fewer seals present 
close to the sound source during air gun operations in the first year, 
but in the second year the seals showed no avoidance. In some 
instances, seals were present in very close range of the sound. The 
authors concluded that there was ``no observable behavioral response'' 
to seismic air gun operations.
    Jacobs and Terhune (2002) observed harbor seal reactions to 
acoustic harassment devices (AHDs) with source level of 172 dB deployed 
around aquaculture sites. Seals were generally unresponsive to sounds 
from the AHDs. During two specific events, individuals came within 141 
and 144 ft (43 and 44 m) of active AHDs and failed to demonstrate any 
measurable behavioral response; estimated received levels based on the 
measures given were approximately 120 to 130 dB.
    Kastelein et al. (2006) exposed nine captive harbor seals in an 
approximately 82 x 98 ft (25 x 30 m) enclosure to non-pulse sounds used 
in underwater data communication systems (similar to acoustic modems). 
Test signals were frequency modulated tones, sweeps, and bands of sound 
with fundamental frequencies between 8 and 16 kHz; 128 to 130 3 dB source levels; 1- to 2-s duration (60-80 percent duty 
cycle); or 100 percent duty cycle. They recorded seal positions and the 
mean number of individual surfacing behaviors during control periods 
(no exposure), before exposure, and in 15-min experimental sessions (n 
= 7 exposures for each sound type). Seals generally swam away from each 
source at received levels of approximately 107 dB, avoiding it by 
approximately 16 ft (5 m), although they did not haul out of the water 
or change surfacing behavior. Seal reactions did not appear to wane 
over repeated exposure (i.e., there was no obvious habituation), and 
the colony of seals generally returned to baseline conditions following 
exposure. The seals were not reinforced with food for remaining in the 
sound field.
    Reactions of harbor seals to the simulated sound of a 2-megawatt 
wind power generator were measured by Koschinski et al. (2003). Harbor 
seals

[[Page 44587]]

surfaced significantly further away from the sound source when it was 
active and did not approach the sound source as closely. The device 
used in that study produced sounds in the frequency range of 30 to 800 
Hz, with peak source levels of 128 dB at 1 m at the 80- and 160-Hz 
frequencies.
    Vessel sounds do not seem to have strong effects on seals in the 
water, but the data are limited. When in the water, seals appear to be 
much less apprehensive about approaching vessels. Some would approach a 
vessel out of apparent curiosity, including noisy vessels such as those 
operating seismic airgun arrays (Moulton and Lawson, 2002). Gray seals 
(Halichoerus grypus) have been known to approach and follow fishing 
vessels in an effort to steal catch or the bait from traps. In 
contrast, seals hauled out on land often are quite responsive to nearby 
vessels. Terhune (1985) reported that northwest Atlantic harbor seals 
were extremely vigilant when hauled out and were wary of approaching 
(but less so passing) boats. Suryan and Harvey (1999) reported that 
Pacific harbor seals commonly left the shore when powerboat operators 
approached to observe the seals. Those seals detected a powerboat at a 
mean distance of 866 ft (264 m), and seals left the haul-out site when 
boats approached to within 472 ft (144 m).

Hearing Impairment and Other Physiological Effects

    Temporary or permanent hearing impairment is a possibility when 
marine mammals are exposed to very strong sounds. Hearing impairment is 
measured in two forms: Temporary threshold shift (TTS) and permanent 
threshold shift (PTS). PTS is considered injurious whereas TTS is not, 
as it is temporary and hearing is fully recoverable. Non-auditory 
physiological effects might also occur in marine mammals exposed to 
strong underwater sound. Possible types of non-auditory physiological 
effects or injuries that may occur in mammals close to a strong sound 
source include stress, neurological effects, bubble formation, and 
other types of organ or tissue damage. It is possible that some marine 
mammal species (i.e., beaked whales) may be especially susceptible to 
injury and/or stranding when exposed to strong pulsed sounds, 
particularly at higher frequencies. Neither auditory nor non-auditory 
physiological effects are anticipated to occur as a result of DNR 
activities.
    PTS is presumed to be likely if the hearing threshold is reduced by 
more than 40 dB (i.e., 40 dB of TTS). Due to the low source levels 
produced by vibratory extraction, NMFS does not expect that marine 
mammals will be exposed to levels that could elicit PTS; therefore, it 
will not be discussed further. The following subsection discusses in 
somewhat more detail the possibilities of TTS.
    TTS--TTS, reversible hearing loss caused by fatigue of hair cells 
and supporting structures in the inner ear, is the mildest form of 
hearing impairment that can occur during exposure to a strong sound 
(Kryter, 1985). While experiencing TTS, the hearing threshold rises and 
a sound must be stronger in order to be heard. TTS can last from 
minutes or hours to (in cases of strong TTS) days. For sound exposures 
at or somewhat above the TTS threshold, hearing sensitivity in both 
terrestrial and marine mammals recovers rapidly after exposure to the 
sound ends.
    We consider TTS to be a form of Level B harassment rather than 
injury, as it consists of fatigue to auditory structures rather than 
damage to them. Pinnipeds have demonstrated complete recovery from TTS 
after multiple exposures to intense sound, as described in the studies 
below (Kastak et al., 1999, 2005). The 190-dB injury criterion is not 
considered to be the level above which TTS might occur. Rather, it is 
the received level above which, in the view of a panel of bioacoustics 
specialists convened before TTS measurements for marine mammals became 
available, one could not be certain that there would be no injurious 
effects, auditory or otherwise, to pinnipeds. Few data on sound levels 
and durations necessary to elicit mild TTS have been obtained for 
marine mammals, and none of the published data concern TTS elicited by 
exposure to multiple pulses of sound.
    Human non-impulsive sound exposure guidelines are based on 
exposures of equal energy (the same sound exposure level [SEL]; SEL is 
reported here in dB re: 1 [micro]Pa\2\-s/re: 20 [micro]Pa\2\-s for in-
water and in-air sound, respectively) producing equal amounts of 
hearing impairment regardless of how the sound energy is distributed in 
time (NIOSH, 1998). Until recently, previous marine mammal TTS studies 
have also generally supported this equal energy relationship (Southall 
et al., 2007). Three newer studies, two by Mooney et al. (2009a,b) on a 
single bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) exposed to either 
playbacks of U.S. Navy mid-frequency active sonar or octave-band sound 
(4-8 kHz) and one by Kastak et al. (2007) on a single California sea 
lion exposed to airborne octave-band sound (centered at 2.5 kHz), 
concluded that for all sound exposure situations, the equal energy 
relationship may not be the best indicator to predict TTS onset levels. 
Generally, with sound exposures of equal energy, quieter sounds (lower 
SPL) of longer duration were found to induce TTS onset more than louder 
sounds (higher SPL) of shorter duration. Given the available data, the 
received level of a single seismic pulse (with no frequency weighting) 
might need to be approximately 186 dB SEL in order to produce brief, 
mild TTS.
    There are few known studies conducted on pinniped TTS responses to 
non-pulsed underwater or airborne sound. The first three studies 
described in the following text were performed in the same lab and on 
the same test subjects, and, therefore, the results may not be 
applicable to all pinnipeds or in field settings.
     Kastak and Schusterman (1996) studied the response of 
harbor seals to non-pulsed construction sound, reporting TTS of about 8 
dB.
     Kastak et al. (1999) reported TTS of approximately 4-5 dB 
in three species of pinnipeds (harbor seal, California sea lion, and 
northern elephant seal [Mirounga angustirostris]) after underwater 
exposure for approximately 20 minutes to sound with frequencies ranging 
from 100-2,000 Hz at received levels 60-75 dB above hearing threshold. 
This approach allowed similar effective exposure conditions to each of 
the subjects, but resulted in variable absolute exposure values 
depending on subject and test frequency. Recovery to near baseline 
levels was reported within 24 hours of sound exposure.
     Kastak et al. (2005) followed up on their previous work, 
exposing the same test subjects to higher levels of sound for longer 
durations. The animals were exposed to octave-band sound for up to 50 
minutes of net exposure. The study reported that the harbor seal 
experienced TTS of 6 dB after a 25-minute exposure to 2.5 kHz of 
octave-band sound at 152 dB (183 dB SEL).
     Bowles et al. (unpubl. data) exposed pinnipeds to 
simulated sonic booms (airborne sound). Harbor seals demonstrated TTS 
at 143 dB peak and 129 dB SEL.
     Kastak et al. (2004) used the same test subjects as in 
Kastak et al. (2005), exposing the animals to non-pulsed airborne sound 
(2.5 kHz octave-band sound) for 25 minutes. The harbor seal 
demonstrated 6 dB of TTS after exposure to 99 dB (131 dB SEL).
    The sound level necessary to cause TTS in pinnipeds depends on 
exposure duration; with longer exposure, the level necessary to elicit 
TTS is reduced (Schusterman et al., 2000; Kastak et al.,

[[Page 44588]]

2005, 2007). The literature has not drawn conclusions on levels of 
underwater non-pulsed sound (e.g., vibratory pile removal) likely to 
cause TTS. Although underwater sound levels produced by the DNR project 
may be approximately equal to the lower end of sound levels produced in 
studies that have induced TTS in pinnipeds, there is a general lack of 
controlled, quantifiable field studies related to this phenomenon, 
existing studies have had varied results, and there are no universally 
accepted standards for the amount of exposure time likely to induce TTS 
(Southall et al., 2007).
    While it may be inferred that TTS could theoretically result from 
the DNR project, it is highly unlikely, due to the source levels and 
duration of exposure possible. In summary, it is expected that elevated 
sound will have only a negligible probability of causing TTS in 
individual seals. Further, seals are likely to be disturbed via the 
approach of work crews and vessels long before the beginning of any 
pile removal operations and would be apprised of the advent of 
increased underwater sound via the soft start of the vibratory hammer. 
It is not expected that airborne sound levels would induce any form of 
behavioral harassment, much less TTS in individual pinnipeds.
    The DNR and other organizations, such as the Cascadia Research 
Collective, have been monitoring the behavior of harbor seals present 
within the NRCA since 1977. Past disturbance observations at Woodard 
Bay NRCA have shown that seal harassment results from the presence of 
non-motorized vessels (e.g., recreational kayaks and canoes), motorized 
vessels (e.g., fishing boats), and people (Calambokidis and Leathery, 
1991; Buettner et al., 2008). Calambokidis and Leathery (1991) found 
that the mean distance that seals entered the water in response to any 
type of vessel was 56 m. Most commonly seals were disturbed when 
vessels were 26 to 50 m from the haul-out; however, only at distances 
greater than 125 m was there a sharp decrease in the proportion of 
groups disturbed. Seals entered the water in response to people on foot 
at up to 256 m although, on many occasions, people were able to pass 
less than 100 m from seals without noticeable disturbance while 
intentionally maintaining a low profile (Calambokidis and Leathery, 
1991). Furthermore, the distances at which seals were disturbed varied 
significantly by vessel type; seals entered the water at a greater 
distance in response to non-motorized vessels as compared to motorized 
vessels. It is hypothesized that because the latter are more readily 
detectable than the former, seals are more readily aware of their 
presence at greater distances and do not react to the same extent upon 
close approach (Buettner et al., 2008).
    Buettner et al. (2008) also noted the difference in vigilance of 
seals based on float location during pupping season. For example, seals 
on floats located on the outer edges of the log boom area, which are 
thus subjected to greater amounts of vessel traffic, were indifferent 
to vessels unless the vessels came right up to the log booms. 
Contrarily, seals on the floats located in the central area of the log 
booms, and hence not exposed to as much traffic, were more vigilant and 
more sensitive to disturbances. These observations suggest that, while 
seals are susceptible to anthropogenic disturbance, a certain amount of 
habituation may occur at these haul-outs.
    During emergency maintenance operations on the haul-out in 2008, 
seals present on the log booms flushed when the vessel first entered 
the haul-out area, but appeared to become habituated quickly 
thereafter. Maintenance operations included installation of new log 
booms to restore habitat. Seals initially flushed in response to onset 
of work but quickly acclimated to crew presence and would haul out on 
booms directly adjacent to the small barge used during maintenance. 
Furthermore, Suryan and Harvey (1991) found that harbor seals hauled-
out at Puffin Island, WA, were more tolerant to subsequent harassments 
than they were to the initial harassment. However, sudden presence of a 
disturbance source (e.g., kayaker) can induce strong behavioral 
reactions.
    In summary, based on the preceding discussion and on observations 
of harbor seals during past management activities in Woodard Bay, NMFS 
has preliminarily determined that impacts to harbor seals during 
restoration activities would be limited to behavioral harassment of 
limited duration and limited intensity (i.e., temporary flushing at 
most) resulting from physical disturbance. It is anticipated that seals 
would be initially disturbed by the presence of crew and vessels 
associated with the habitat restoration project. Seals entering the 
water following such disturbance could also be exposed to underwater 
SPLs greater than 120 dB (i.e., constituting harassment); however, 
given the short duration and low energy of vibratory extraction of 12-
24 in timber piles, PTS would not occur and TTS is not likely. 
Abandonment of any portion of the haul-out is not expected either, as 
harbor seals have been documented as quickly becoming accustomed to the 
presence of work crews. During similar activities carried out under the 
previous IHAs, seals showed no signs of abandonment or of using the 
haul-outs to a lesser degree.

Anticipated Effects on Habitat

    Marine mammal habitat would be temporarily ensonified by low sound 
levels resulting from habitat restoration effort. The piles designated 
to be removed have been treated with creosote, a wood preservative that 
is also toxic to the environment. Removing these piles will have 
beneficial impacts to the NRCA, including marine mammal habitat, by 
preventing the leaching of creosote chemicals, including polycyclic 
aromatic hydrocarbons, into the marine environment. No log booms would 
be removed; therefore, no impacts to the physical availability of haul-
out habitat would occur. Any disturbance to substrate in the NRCA would 
be localized and of a temporary nature, resulting from the extraction 
of piles. As such, temporary impacts at most may be expected to the 
habitat of harbor seal prey species. No prey species are known to 
utilize the pilings themselves.

Summary of Previous Monitoring

    DNR complied with the mitigation and monitoring required under the 
previous authorizations. In accordance with the 2010-11 IHAs, DNR 
submitted final monitoring reports, which described the monitoring 
effort and observations made. DNR has not exceeded authorized levels of 
take by Level B harassment under the IHAs.
    Past IHAs have stipulated that monitoring be conducted on at least 
15 days of work, to include times when we considered disturbance to be 
most likely, such as:
     Initial construction days of the project;
     When the contractors were mobilizing to a new location; 
and
     When activities were occurring closest to the haul-out 
areas.
    At least one observer was stationed at each of two observation 
sites, to monitor both haul-out areas, on all monitoring days. 
Monitoring began 30 minutes prior to the contractor's start time (7 
a.m.) and ended 30 minutes after the contractor left the site. Counts 
were conducted every half hour unless there was a disturbance, in which 
case another count was conducted. Each of the two haul-outs was counted 
separately and added together for the total number of seals hauled out. 
In the event of harassment, observers recorded the nature of the 
activity, proximity to haul-outs, and the number of seals that

[[Page 44589]]

flushed into the water (i.e., were harassed). The take number was 
calculated by subtracting the number of seals hauled out after the 
disturbance from the most recent count prior to the disturbance.
    Harbor seal disturbances were recorded and broken down into 
disturbance types based on cause of disturbance. Each disturbance was 
given a code and proximity in meters from haul-outs was recorded (Table 
1). Proximity in relation to haul-outs was calculated using satellite 
imagery. Under the 2010-11 IHA, 356 takes by harassment were observed 
during the 14 days of observation (Table 1) resulting in a mean of 25 
seals disturbed per monitored day. Extrapolating that average out for 
all 35 days of restoration activity that occurred provides a total 
estimated take of 875, less than the authorized take (by Level B 
harassment) of 1,539. Under the 2011-12 IHA, 172 takes by harassment 
were observed during the 15 days of observation (Table 1) resulting in 
a mean of 11 seals disturbed per monitored day. Extrapolating that 
average out for all 21 days of restoration activity that occurred 
provides a total estimated take of 231, less than the authorized take 
(by Level B harassment) of 2,080. These extrapolated estimates may be 
biased high since monitored days were chosen in part to sample days 
with activities most likely to disturb seals.

                                     Table 1--Aggregate Harbor Seal Counts and Disturbances From Two Haul-Out Sites
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                              Pre-        Peak                     Proximity     Total
             Date                Year      Start    Finish            Conditions            activity     daily      Disturbance    to  haul-     daily
                                           time      time                                    count       count         code         out  (m)     takes
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Nov 1........................      2010      0930      1630  Overcast, rain.............            8         18  MS, PP........          <10          5
Nov 2........................      2010      0630      1800  Sunny......................           97        127  DB............         >300         69
Nov 9........................      2010      0630      1800  Overcast, rain.............           71         72  MS............         >160         31
Nov 12.......................      2010      0630      1730  Sunny......................           67        100  MS, MB........         >150         76
Nov 15.......................      2010      0630      1730  Overcast, rain.............           27         39  ..............         >130          0
Nov 16.......................      2010      0630      1700  Overcast, rain.............           40         54  BC............         <250         25
Nov 18.......................      2010      0630      1750  Partly cloudy..............            8         15  BC............         >130          6
Nov 19.......................      2010      0630      1730  Partly cloudy..............          121        127  MS............         >130         34
Nov 22.......................      2010      0630      1730  Partly cloudy, snow........           35         37  MS, BC........         >130         13
Dec 8........................      2010      0630      1730  Overcast, rain.............            1         17  ..............         >300          0
Dec 10.......................      2010      0630      1600  Partly cloudy..............           20         34  BC............         >100         30
Dec 16.......................      2010      0630      1730  Sunny......................           36         41  MS, VH........         >100         38
Dec 20.......................      2010      0630      1600  Overcast, rain.............            0          0  ..............         >130          0
Dec 21.......................      2010      0630      1700  Sunny......................           43         43  MS, DB........          >75         29
Nov 16.......................      2011      1200      1430  Fair.......................            1          1  ..............  ...........          0
Nov 17.......................      2011      0630      1630  Fair.......................           25         34  BC, MS........         <500          8
Nov 18.......................      2011      0630      1630  Fair.......................           26         77  BC............          <50          4
Nov 21.......................      2011      0630      1630  Rain.......................            0          1  ..............  ...........          0
Nov 22.......................      2011      0630      1630  Rain, wind.................            0          0  ..............  ...........          0
Nov 28.......................      2011      0630      1630  Fair.......................           41         45  BC, MS........         <150         44
Nov 29.......................      2011      0630      1630  Fair.......................           19         38  ..............  ...........          0
Nov 30.......................      2011      0630      1630  Fair.......................            6          6  ..............  ...........          0
Dec 1........................      2011      0630      1630  Fair.......................           27         47  BC............         <100         21
Dec 2........................      2011      0630      1630  Fair.......................           25         51  ..............  ...........          0
Dec 5........................      2011      1330      1630  Fair.......................           62         62  BC, MS........         <250         51
Dec 7........................      2011      0630      1630  Fair.......................           20         42  MS............         <100          7
Dec 8........................      2011      0630      1630  Fair.......................            1          4  ..............  ...........          0
Dec 9........................      2011      0630      1130  Fair.......................            0          0  ..............  ...........          0
Dec 14.......................      2011      0630      1630  Fair.......................           47         55  MS............         <250         37
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Activity codes: MS: motorized skiff; BC: Barge/Crane; VH: Vibratory hammer; PR: Pile removal; PP: Pile painting; MB: Mobilize barge; DB: Dive boat.

    Harbor seals were generally hauled out prior to the work day with 
the majority of seals at the south haul-out. The construction crew 
stayed at a distance of over 150 m from the haul-outs when maneuvering 
back and forth from shore to their barge anchored greater than 150 m 
offshore from the haul-outs. The seals appeared to be relatively 
unaffected by the movement of the crane barge at distances greater than 
150 m. The majority of incidental harassment takes were caused by the 
work skiff maneuvering back and forth, despite the distance from the 
haul-outs. Once the seals entered the water, the majority typically did 
not return to the haul-out during same-day monitoring effort, although 
there were never large groups of seals observed in the water after a 
disturbance. Seals that remained on the haul-out after a disturbance 
showed no signs of adverse behavior. Given that there have been no 
dedicated observations at the NRCA during this time of year (i.e., 
November-February) it is difficult to say whether the decreased number 
of harbor seals hauled out (as compared with average October counts) 
was caused by construction activity or seasonal distribution. It is 
likely, however, that the latter is the case, as November represents 
the post-breeding and molting period, when harbor seals are less 
reliant on the haul-outs.

Proposed Mitigation

    In order to issue an IHA under Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, 
NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such 
activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse 
impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular 
attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar 
significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for 
taking for certain subsistence uses.
    The DNR has proposed to continue mitigation measures, as stipulated 
in the previous IHAs, designed to minimize disturbance to harbor seals 
within the action area in consideration of timing,

[[Page 44590]]

location, and equipment use. Foremost, pile, structure, and fill 
removal would only occur between November and March, outside of harbor 
seal pupping and molting seasons. Therefore, no impacts to pups from 
the specified activity during these sensitive time periods would occur. 
In addition, the following measures would be implemented:
     The DNR would approach the action area slowly to alert 
seals to their presence from a distance and would begin pulling piles 
at the farthest location from the log booms used as harbor seal haul-
out areas;
     No piles within 30 yd (27 m) of the two main haul-out 
locations identified in the IHA application would be removed;
     The contractor or observer would survey the operational 
area for seals before initiating activities and wait until the seals 
are at a sufficient distance (i.e., 50 ft [15 m]) from the activity so 
as to minimize the risk of direct injury from the equipment or from a 
piling or structure breaking free;
     The DNR would require the contractor to initiate a 
vibratory hammer soft start at the beginning of each work day; and
     The vibratory hammer power pack would be outfitted with a 
muffler to reduce in-air noise levels to a maximum of 80 dB.
    The soft start method involves a reduced energy vibration from the 
hammer for the first 15 seconds and then a 30-second waiting period. 
This method would be repeated twice before commencing with operations 
at full power.
    We considered but rejected one additional mitigation measure, the 
requirement to conduct a sound source verification study. We have in 
the past required some applicants to conduct such a study to ensure 
that the production of increased levels of sound is no greater than the 
level analyzed in estimating incidental take. However, as described 
previously in this document, source levels produced by the vibratory 
hammer would be no greater than 80 dB in-air and are conservatively 
estimated at approximately 155-165 dB underwater. The underwater source 
levels would likely be lower, as those are measured levels from 
installation of steel piles. Underwater source levels from this project 
would likely be less both because the action is extraction, not 
installation, and because of the pile material (timber rather than 
steel). Further, seals exposed to sound greater than 120 dB would 
likely be previously disturbed by the presence of crews and vessels and 
by vessel noise. We acknowledge that sound source verification would be 
preferred; however, the applicant is funding-limited, and the 
significant expenditure required by such a study would result in a 
correspondingly lesser amount of restoration work able to be completed. 
The requirement of a sound source verification study would have limited 
utility for the harbor seals, would be impracticable for the applicant, 
and would result in less restoration accomplished. Thus, the end result 
would likely be a long-term net negative for the harbor seals 
considered in this document.
    We have carefully evaluated the applicant's mitigation measures as 
proposed and considered their effectiveness in past implementation to 
preliminarily determine whether they are likely to effect the least 
practicable adverse impact on the affected marine mammal species and 
stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures includes 
consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: (1) 
The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful 
implementation of the measure is expected to minimize adverse impacts 
to marine mammals, (2) the proven or likely efficacy of the specific 
measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; (3) the practicability 
of the measure for applicant implementation, including consideration of 
personnel safety, and practicality of implementation.
    Injury, serious injury, or mortality to pinnipeds could likely only 
result from startling animals inhabiting the haul-out into a stampede 
reaction. Even in the event that such a reaction occurred, it is 
unlikely that it would result in injury, serious injury, or mortality, 
as the activities would occur outside of the pupping season, and access 
to the water from the haul-outs is relatively easy and unimpeded. 
However, DNR has proposed to approach haul-outs gradually from a 
distance, and would begin daily work at the farthest distance from the 
haul-out in order to eliminate the possibility of such events. During 
the previous years of work under our authorization, implementation of 
similar mitigation measures has resulted in no known injury, serious 
injury, or mortality (other than one event considered atypical and 
outside the scope of the mitigation measures considered in relation to 
disturbing seals from the haul-outs). Based upon the DNR's record of 
management in the NRCA, as well as information from monitoring DNR's 
implementation of the improved mitigation measures as prescribed under 
the previous IHAs, we have preliminarily determined that the proposed 
mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least 
practicable adverse impacts on marine mammal species or stocks and 
their habitat.

Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an ITA for an activity, Section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that we must set forth ``requirements pertaining to the 
monitoring and reporting of such taking''. The MMPA implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for IHAs 
must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary 
monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the 
species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine 
mammals that are expected to be present.
    DNR's proposed monitoring plan adheres to protocols already 
established for Woodard Bay to the maximum extent practical for the 
specified activity. Monitoring of both the north and south haul-outs 
would occur for a total of 15 work days, during the first 5 days of 
project activities, when the contractors are mobilizing and starting 
use of the vibratory hammer; during 5 days when activities are 
occurring closest to the haul-out areas; and during 5 additional days, 
to include days when fill removal is occurring in Woodard Bay. It is 
not expected that Woodard Bay fill removal would result in seal 
disturbance; however, the stipulation that monitoring be conducted 
while this activity occurs is intended to ensure that such is the case. 
Monitoring of both haul-outs would be performed by at least one 
observer. The observer would (1) be on-site prior to crew and vessel 
arrival to determine the number of seals present pre-disturbance; (2) 
maintain a low profile during this time to minimize disturbance from 
monitoring; and (3) conduct monitoring beginning 30 minutes prior to 
crew arrival, during pile removal activities, and for 30 minutes after 
crew leave the site.
    The observer would record incidental takes (i.e., numbers of seals 
flushed from the haul-out). This information would be determined by 
recording the number of seals using the haul-out on each monitoring day 
prior to the start of restoration activities and recording the number 
of seals that flush from the haul-out or, for animals already in the 
water, display adverse behavioral reactions to vibratory extraction. A 
description of the disturbance source, the proximity in meters of the 
disturbance source to the disturbed animals, and observable behavioral 
reactions to specific disturbances would

[[Page 44591]]

also be noted. In addition, the observer would record:
     The number of seals using the haul-out on each monitoring 
day prior to the start of restoration activities for that day;
     Seal behavior before, during and after pile and structure 
removal;
     Monitoring dates, times and conditions;
     Dates of all pile and structure removal activities; and
     After correcting for observation effort, the number of 
seals taken over the duration of the habitat restoration project.
    Within 30 days of the completion of the project, DNR would submit a 
monitoring report that would include a summary of findings and copies 
of field data sheets and relevant daily logs from the contractor.
    We considered but rejected an expanded monitoring plan that would 
require DNR to conduct monitoring as described but for every day of 
construction. We do not believe that monitoring need be conducted at 
all times during this low-level activity as there is no potential for 
serious injury or mortality and the probability of an animal being 
physically injured from the equipment is extremely low if not 
discountable. In addition, no other marine mammal species are likely to 
be present within the action area, and are therefore not likely to be 
affected by DNR's activities. Similar to scientific research studies, 
when correcting for effort, the DNR should be able to adequately 
determine the number of animals taken and impacts of the project on 
marine mammals based on the proposed monitoring plan. Should extreme 
reactions of seals occur (e.g., apparent abandonment of the haul-out) 
at any time during the project, DNR will stop removal activities and 
consult with us. However, as described in this notice, based on 
previous scientific disturbance studies at NRCA, extreme reactions are 
not anticipated. Finally, as described previously, funding is limited 
for DNR's important restoration work, requiring a balance between the 
level of monitoring that is necessary to adequately characterize 
disturbance of harbor seals and the significant funding required to 
implement monitoring. We feel that the proposed monitoring plan strikes 
the proper balance.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    As described previously in this document, annual seal counts in 
Woodard Bay end by October. Seals utilize haul-out habitat from spring 
or summer until approximately October for breeding, pupping, and 
molting. After October, numbers of individuals at the haul-outs are 
expected to decline throughout the winter. From 2006 to 2009, October 
counts averaged 171 and ranged between 79 and 275 (Lambourn, 2010).
    Under the previous IHAs, seals were monitored for 29 days during 
November and December of 2010 and 2011. In 2010, total peak counts 
ranged from 0 to 127 and averaged 52, while total peak counts in 2011 
ranged from 0 to 77 and averaged 31 (Oliver and Calambokidis, 2011, 
2012), confirming that seal numbers decline after October. It is 
unlikely that the fill removal operations taking place in Woodard Bay 
would result in seal disturbance, as they would be shielded by land 
from the harbor seal haul-outs and would have no associated vessel 
activity. DNR proposes that the estimated 20 days of pile and structure 
removal activity, as well as all fill removal activity occurring in 
Chapman Bay, may potentially result in incidental harassment of harbor 
seals. Using the average count from November-December 2010-11 (42) and 
the estimated number of total days of activity as described here (40) 
the result is an estimated incidental take of 1,680 harbor seals (40 
days x 42 seals per day). We consider this to be a highly conservative 
estimate in comparison with the estimated actual take of 875 seals from 
2010 and 231 seals from 2011, which is nonetheless based upon the best 
available information.

Negligible Impact and Small Numbers Analysis and Determination

    We have 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.'' In determining whether or not authorized incidental take 
will have a negligible impact on affected species stocks, we consider a 
number of criteria regarding the impact of the proposed action, 
including the number, nature, intensity, and duration of Level B 
harassment take that may occur. Although DNR's restoration activities 
may harass pinnipeds hauled out in Woodard Bay, impacts are occurring 
to a small, localized group of animals. No mortality or injury is 
anticipated or proposed for authorization, nor will the proposed action 
result in long-term impacts such as permanent abandonment of the haul-
out. Seals will likely become alert or, at most, flush into the water 
in reaction to the presence of crews and equipment. However, seals have 
been observed as becoming habituated to physical presence of work 
crews, and quickly re-inhabit haul-outs upon cessation of stimulus. In 
addition, the proposed restoration actions may provide improved habitat 
function for seals, both indirectly through a healthier prey base and 
directly through restoration and maintenance of man-made haul-out 
habitat. No impacts would be expected at the population or stock level.
    No pinniped stocks known from the action area are listed as 
threatened or endangered under the ESA or determined to be strategic or 
depleted under the MMPA. Recent data suggests that harbor seal 
populations have reached carrying capacity.
    Although the estimated take of 1,680 is 11 percent of the estimated 
population of 14,612 for the Washington Inland Waters stock of harbor 
seals, the number of individual seals harassed will be lower, with 
individual seals likely harassed multiple times. In addition, although 
the estimated take is based upon the best scientific information 
available, we consider the estimate to be highly conservative. For 
similar restoration activities in 2010-11, estimated actual take was 
much lower (875 seals over 35 work days in 2010 and 231 seals over 21 
work days in 2011).
    Mitigation measures would minimize onset of sudden and potentially 
dangerous reactions and overall disturbance. In addition, restoration 
work is not likely to affect seals at both haul-outs simultaneously, 
based on location of the crew and barge. Further, although seals may 
initially flush into the water, based on previous disturbance studies 
and maintenance activity at the haul-outs, the DNR expects seals will 
quickly habituate to piling and structure removal operations. For these 
reasons no long term or permanent abandonment of the haul-out is 
anticipated. Much of the work proposed for 2012-13 consists of fill 
removal, which does not require in-water work or vessel support, and is 
largely located in Woodard Bay, which is shielded from the haul-out 
locations by land. The proposed action is not anticipated to result in 
injury, serious injury, or mortality to any harbor seal. The DNR would 
not conduct habitat restoration operations during the pupping and 
molting season; therefore, no pups would be affected by the proposed 
action and no impacts to any seals would occur as a result of the 
specified activity during these sensitive time periods.
    Based on the foregoing analysis, behavioral disturbance to 
pinnipeds in Woodard Bay would be of low intensity

[[Page 44592]]

and limited duration. To ensure minimal disturbance, DNR would 
implement the mitigation measures described previously, which we have 
preliminarily determined will serve as the means for effecting the 
least practicable adverse effect on marine mammal stocks or populations 
and their habitat. We preliminarily find that DNR's restoration 
activities would result in the incidental take of small numbers of 
marine mammals, and that the requested number of takes will have no 
more than a negligible impact on the affected species and stocks.

Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence 
Uses

    There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated 
by this action.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    There are no ESA-listed marine mammals found in the action area; 
therefore, no consultation under the ESA is required.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 
(42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), as implemented by the regulations published 
by the Council on Environmental Quality (40 CFR parts 1500-1508), and 
NOAA Administrative Order 216-6, NMFS prepared an Environmental 
Assessment (EA) to consider the direct, indirect and cumulative effects 
to the human environment resulting from issuance of an IHA to DNR. NMFS 
signed a Finding of No Significant Impact on October 27, 2010. NMFS has 
reviewed the proposed application and preliminarily determined that 
there are no substantial changes to the proposed action or new 
environmental impacts or concerns. Therefore, NMFS has determined that 
a new or supplemental EA or Environmental Impact Statement is likely 
unnecessary. Before making a final determination in this regard, NMFS 
will review public comments and information submitted by the public and 
others in response to this notice. The EA referenced above is available 
for review at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm.

Proposed Authorization

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
authorize the take of marine mammals incidental to DNR's restoration 
activities, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, 
and reporting requirements are incorporated.

    Dated: July 25, 2012.
Helen M. Golde,
Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-18537 Filed 7-27-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P