Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Boost-Backs and Landings of Rockets at Vandenberg Air Force Base, 34984-34994 [2016-12818]

Download as PDF 34984 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA also requires us to determine that the taking will not have an unmitigable adverse effect on the availability of marine mammal species or stocks for subsistence use. There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by this action. Thus, NMFS has determined that the total taking of affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for subsistence purposes. Endangered Species Act No marine mammal species listed under the ESA are anticipated to occur in the action area. Therefore, NMFS has determined that a section 7 consultation under the ESA is not required. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) We prepared an Environmental Assessment (DEA) analyzing the potential effects to the human environment from the issuance of an Authorization to Point Blue for their seabird research activities. The EA titled, Issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization to Point Blue Conservation Science and Partners to Take Marine Mammals by Harassment Incidental to Seabird Research Conducted in Central California is posted on our Web site at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/research.htm. NMFS provided relevant environmental information to the public through the notice of proposed Authorization (81 FR 15249, March 22, 2016) and considered public comments received prior to finalizing our EA and deciding whether or not to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). NMFS concluded that issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization would not significantly affect the quality of the human environment and prepared and issued a FONSI in accordance with NEPA and NOAA Administrative Order 216–6. NMFS’ EA and FONSI for this activity are available upon request (see ADDRESSES). sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Authorization As a result of these determinations, we have issued an Authorization to Point Blue for the take of marine mammals incidental to proposed seabird and pinniped research activities, provided they incorporate the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 Dated: May 26, 2016. Perry Gayaldo, Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2016–12816 Filed 5–31–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XE443 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Boost-Backs and Landings of Rockets at Vandenberg Air Force Base National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization. AGENCY: In accordance with the regulations implementing the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) as amended, notification is hereby given that we have issued an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to Space Explorations Technology Corporation (SpaceX), to incidentally harass, by Level B harassment only, marine mammals incidental to boost-backs and landings of Falcon 9 rockets at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and at a contingency landing location approximately 30 miles offshore. SUMMARY: This Authorization is effective from June 30, 2016, through June 29, 2017. DATES: FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jordan Carduner, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Availability An electronic copy of SpaceX’s IHA application and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in this document, may be obtained by visiting the Internet at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. 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 by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 commercial fishing) within a specified area, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals, providing that certain findings are made and the necessary prescriptions are established. The incidental taking of small numbers of marine mammals may be allowed only if NMFS (through authority delegated by the Secretary) finds that the total taking by the specified activity during the specified time period will (i) have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s) and (ii) not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant). Further, the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such taking must be set forth. The allowance of such incidental taking under section 101(a)(5)(A), by harassment, serious injury, death, or a combination thereof, requires that regulations be established. Subsequently, a Letter of Authorization may be issued pursuant to the prescriptions established in such regulations, providing that the level of taking will be consistent with the findings made for the total taking allowable under the specific regulations. Under section 101(a)(5)(D), NMFS may authorize such incidental taking by harassment only, for periods of not more than one year, pursuant to requirements and conditions contained within an IHA. The establishment of these prescriptions requires notice and opportunity for public comment. 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.’’ Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, section 3(18) of the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: ‘‘. . . any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment].’’ Summary of Request On July 28, 2015, we received a request from SpaceX for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1 34985 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities, including in-air boost-back maneuvers and landings of the First Stage of the Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California, and at a contingency landing location approximately 50 km (31 mi) offshore of VAFB. SpaceX submitted a revised version of the request on November 5, 2015. This revised version of the application was deemed adequate and complete. Acoustic stimuli, including sonic booms (overpressure of highenergy impulsive sound), landing noise, and possible explosions, resulting from boost-back maneuvers and landings of the Falcon 9 First Stage have the potential to result in take, in the form of Level B harassment, of six species of pinnipeds. Description of the Specified Activity A detailed description of the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery project is provided in the Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (81 FR 18574; March 31, 2016). Since that time, no changes have been made to the planned Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities. Therefore, a detailed description is not provided here. Please refer to that Federal Register notice for the description of the specific activity. Comments and Responses A notice of NMFS’s proposal to issue an IHA to SpaceX was published in the Federal Register on March 31, 2016 (81 FR 18574). That notice described, in detail, SpaceX’s activity, the marine mammal species that may be affected by the activity, and the anticipated effects on marine mammals. During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS received comments from the Marine Mammal Commission. The Marine Mammal Commission recommended that NMFS issue the IHA, subject to inclusion of the proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures. Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity There are six marine mammal species with expected occurrence in the project area (including at VAFB, on the NCI, and in the waters surrounding VAFB, the NCI and the contingency landing location) that are expected to be affected by the specified activities. These include the Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus), northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus), northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris), Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi), California sea lion (Zalophus californianus), and Pacific harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardsi). There are an additional 28 species of cetaceans with expected or possible occurrence in the project area. However, despite the fact that the ranges of these cetacean species overlap spatially with SpaceX’s planned activities, we have determined that none of the potential stressors associated with the planned activities (including exposure to debris strike, rocket fuel, and visual and acoustic stimuli, as described further in ‘‘Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals’’) are likely to result in take of cetaceans. As we have concluded that the likelihood of a cetacean being taken incidentally as a result of SpaceX’s planned activities is so low as to be discountable, cetaceans are not considered further in this authorization. Please see Table 3–1 in the IHA application for a complete list of species with expected or potential occurrence in the project area. A detailed description of the of the species likely to be affected by the dock construction project, including brief introductions to the species and relevant stocks as well as available information regarding population trends and threats, and information regarding local occurrence, were provided in the Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (81 FR 18574; March 31, 2016); since that time, we are not aware of any changes in the status of these species and stocks; therefore, detailed descriptions are not provided here. Please refer to that Federal Register notice for these descriptions. Please also refer to NMFS’ Web site for generalized species accounts, at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/ mammals. Table 1 lists the marine mammal species with expected potential for occurrence in the vicinity of the project during the project timeframe that are likely to be affected by the specified activities, and summarizes key information regarding stock status and abundance. Please see NMFS’ Stock Assessment Reports (SAR), available at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars, for more detailed accounts of these stocks’ status and abundance. TABLE 1—MARINE MAMMALS EXPECTED TO BE PRESENT IN THE VICINITY OF THE PROJECT LOCATION THAT ARE LIKELY TO BE AFFECTED BY THE SPECIFIED ACTIVITIES Species ESA Status/ MMPA status; strategic (Y/N) 1 Stock Stock abundance 2 Occurrence in project area Order Carnivora—Superfamily Pinnipedia Family Otariidae (eared seals and sea lions) Steller sea lion .................................................. California sea lion ............................................. Eastern U.S. DPS ............................................ U.S. stock ......................................................... –/D; Y –/–; N 60,131 296,750 Rare. Common. –/–; N –/–; N –/–; N T/D; Y 30,968 179,000 12,844 3 7,408 Common. Common. Common. Rare. sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Family Phocidae (earless seals) Harbor seal ....................................................... Northern elephant seal ..................................... Northern fur seal ............................................... Guadalupe fur seal ........................................... California stock ................................................. California breeding stock .................................. California stock ................................................. n/a ..................................................................... 1 ESA status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (–) indicates that the species is not listed under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one for which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds PBR or is determined to be declining and likely to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed under the ESA is automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock. 2 For certain stocks of pinnipeds, abundance estimates are based upon observations of animals (often pups) ashore multiplied by some correction factor derived from knowledge of the species (or similar species) life history to arrive at a best abundance estimate. 3 Abundance estimate for this stock is greater than ten years old and is therefore not considered current. We nevertheless present the most recent abundance estimate, as this represents the best available information for use in this document. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1 34986 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals The effects of noise from sonic booms resulting from the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery project have the potential to result in behavioral harassment of marine mammals in the vicinity of the action area. The Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (81 FR 18574; March 31, 2016) included a discussion of the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals, therefore that information is not repeated here; please refer to the Federal Register notice (81 FR 18574; March 31, 2016) for that information. No instances of hearing threshold shifts, injury, serious injury, or mortality are expected as a result of the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities. Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat The main impact associated with the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery project would be temporarily elevated sound levels and the associated direct effects on marine mammals. We do not anticipate that the planned activities would result in any temporary or permanent effects on the habitats used by the marine mammals in the action area, including the food sources they use (i.e. fish and invertebrates). The project would not result in permanent impacts to habitats used directly by marine mammals, such as haulout sites and are unlikely to result in long term or permanent avoidance of the exposure areas or loss of habitat. The planned activities are also not expected to result in any reduction in foraging habitat or adverse impacts to marine mammal prey. This is discussed in greater detail in the Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (81 FR 18574; March 31, 2016), therefore that information is not repeated here; please refer to that Federal Register notice for that information. sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Mitigation Measures In order to issue an IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses. SpaceX’s IHA application contains descriptions of the mitigation measures to be implemented during the specified activities in order to effect the least practicable adverse impact on the VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitats. These mitigation measures include the following: • Unless constrained by other factors including human safety or national security concerns, launches will be scheduled to avoid, whenever possible, boost-backs and landings during the harbor seal pupping season of March through June. We have carefully evaluated SpaceX’s planned mitigation and considered their likely effectiveness relative to implementation of similar mitigation measures in previously issued incidental take authorizations to determine whether they are likely to affect the least practicable impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included 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; and (3) The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation. Any mitigation measure(s) we prescribe should be able to accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of the general goals listed below: (1) Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal). (2) A reduction in the number (total number or number at biologically important time or location) of individual marine mammals exposed to stimuli expected to result in incidental take (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing takes by behavioral harassment only). (3) A reduction in the number (total number or number at biologically important time or location) of times any individual marine mammal would be exposed to stimuli expected to result in incidental take (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing takes by behavioral harassment only). (4) A reduction in the intensity of exposure to stimuli expected to result in incidental take (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing the severity of behavioral harassment only). (5) Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal habitat, paying particular attention to PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 the prey base, blockage or limitation of passage to or from biologically important areas, permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary disturbance of habitat during a biologically important time. (6) For monitoring directly related to mitigation, an increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation. Based on our evaluation of SpaceX’s planned measures, we have determined that the mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat. Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an IHA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth ‘‘requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.’’ The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) indicate that requests for incidental take authorizations must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the action area. Any monitoring requirement we prescribe should accomplish one or more of the following general goals: 1. An increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, both within defined zones of effect (thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation) and in general to generate more data to contribute to the analyses mentioned below; 2. An increase in our understanding of how many marine mammals are likely to be exposed to stimuli that we associate with specific adverse effects, such as behavioral harassment or hearing threshold shifts; 3. An increase in our understanding of how marine mammals respond to stimuli expected to result in incidental take and how anticipated adverse effects on individuals may impact the population, stock, or species (specifically through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival) through any of the following methods: • Behavioral observations in the presence of stimuli compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to accurately predict pertinent information, e.g., received level, distance from source); • Physiological measurements in the presence of stimuli compared to E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to accurately predict pertinent information, e.g., received level, distance from source); and • Distribution and/or abundance comparisons in times or areas with concentrated stimuli versus times or areas without stimuli. 4. An increased knowledge of the affected species; or 5. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of certain mitigation and monitoring measures. SpaceX submitted a monitoring plan as part of their IHA application. SpaceX’s marine mammal monitoring plan was created with input from NMFS and was based on similar plans that have been successfully implemented by other action proponents under previous authorizations for similar projects, specifically the USAF’s monitoring of rocket launches from VAFB. Monitoring protocols vary according to modeled sonic boom intensity and season. Sonic boom modeling will be performed prior to all boost-back events. PCBoom, a commercially available modeling program, or an acceptable substitute, will be used to model sonic booms. Launch parameters specific to each launch will be incorporated into each model. These include direction and trajectory, weight, length, engine thrust, engine plume drag, position versus time from initiating boost-back to additional engine burns, among other aspects. Various weather scenarios will be analyzed from NOAA weather records for the region, then run through the model. Among other factors, these will include the presence or absence of the jet stream, and if present, its direction, altitude and velocity. The type, altitude, and density of clouds will also be considered. From these data, the models will predict peak amplitudes and impact locations. sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Marine Mammal Monitoring Marine mammal monitoring procedures will consist of the following: • Should sonic boom model results indicate that a peak overpressure of 1.0 psf or greater is likely to impact VAFB, then acoustic and biological monitoring at VAFB will be implemented. • If it is determined that a sonic boom of 1.0 psf or greater is likely to impact one of the Northern Channel Islands between 1 March and 30 June; a sonic boom greater than 1.5 psf between 1 July and 30 September, and a sonic boom greater than 2.0 psf between 1 October and 28 February, then monitoring will be conducted at the haulout site closest to the predicted sonic boom impact area. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 • Monitoring would commence at least 72 hours prior to the boost-back and continue until at least 48 hours after the event. • Monitoring data collected would include multiple surveys each day that record the species; number of animals; general behavior; presence of pups; age class; gender; and reaction to booms or other natural or human-caused disturbances. Environmental conditions such as tide, wind speed, air temperature, and swell would also be recorded. • If the boost-back is scheduled for daylight; video recording of pinnipeds would be conducted during the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery in order to collect data on reactions to noise. • For launches during the harbor seal pupping season (March through June), follow-up surveys will be conducted within 2 weeks of the boost-back/ landing. Acoustic Monitoring Acoustic measurements of the sonic boom created during boost-back at the monitoring location will be recorded to determine the overpressure level. Reporting SpaceX will submit a report within 90 days after each Falcon 9 First Stage recovery event that includes the following information: • Summary of activity (including dates, times, and specific locations of Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities) • Summary of monitoring measures implemented • Detailed monitoring results and a comprehensive summary addressing goals of monitoring plan, including: Æ Number, species, and any other relevant information regarding marine mammals observed and estimated exposed/taken during activities; Æ Description of the observed behaviors (in both presence and absence of activities); Æ Environmental conditions when observations were made; and Æ Assessment of the implementation and effectiveness of monitoring measures. In addition to the above post-activity reports, a draft annual report will be submitted within 90 calendar days of the expiration of the IHA, or within 45 calendar days prior to the effective date of a subsequent IHA (if applicable). The annual report will summarize the information from the post-activity reports, including but not necessarily limited to: (a) Numbers of pinnipeds present on the haulouts prior to PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 34987 commencement of Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities; (b) numbers of pinnipeds that may have been harassed as noted by the number of pinnipeds estimated to have entered the water as a result of Falcon 9 First Stage recovery noise; (c) for pinnipeds that entered the water as a result of Falcon 9 First Stage recovery noise, the length of time(s) those pinnipeds remained off the haulout or rookery; and (d) any behavioral modifications by pinnipeds that likely were the result of stimuli associated with the planned activities. In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner not authorized by the IHA, such as a Level A harassment, or a take of a marine mammal species other than those authorized, SpaceX would immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources. The report would include the following information: • Time, date, and location (latitude/ longitude) of the incident; • Description of the incident; • Status of all Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities in the 48 hours preceding the incident; • Description of all marine mammal observations in the 48 hours preceding the incident; • Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; • Fate of the animal(s); and • Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if equipment is available). Activities would not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS would work with SpaceX to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. SpaceX would not be able to resume their activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or telephone. In the event that SpaceX discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead MMO determines the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), SpaceX would immediately report the incident to mail to: The Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS West Coast Region Stranding Coordinator. The report would include the same information identified in the paragraph above. Authorized activities would be able to continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work with SpaceX to E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1 34988 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices determine whether modifications in the activities are appropriate. In the event that SpaceX discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead MMO determines the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), SpaceX would report the incident to the Chief of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and NMFS West Coast Region Stranding Coordinator, within 24 hours of the discovery. SpaceX would provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, section 3(18) of the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: ‘‘. . . any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment].’’ All anticipated takes would be by Level B harassment only, resulting from noise associated with sonic booms and involving temporary changes in behavior. Estimates of the number of harbor seals, California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Steller sea lions, northern fur seals, and Guadalupe fur seals that may be harassed by the planned activities is based upon the number of potential events associated with Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities (maximum six per year) and the average number of individuals of each species that are present in areas that will be exposed to the activities at levels that are expected to result in Level B harassment. In order to estimate the potential incidents of take that may occur incidental to the specified activity, we must first estimate the extent of the sound field that may be produced by the activity and then incorporate information about marine mammal density or abundance in the project area. We first provide information on applicable thresholds for determining effects to marine mammals before describing the information used in estimating the sound fields, the available marine mammal density or abundance information, and the method of estimating potential incidences of take. It should be noted that estimates of Level B take described below are not necessarily estimates of the number of individual animals that are expected to be taken; a smaller number of individuals may accrue a number of incidences of harassment per individual than for each incidence to accrue to a new individual, especially if those individuals display some degree of residency or site fidelity and the impetus to use the site (e.g., because of foraging opportunities) is stronger than the deterrence presented by the harassing activity. Sound Thresholds Typically NMFS relies on the acoustic criteria shown in Table 2 to estimate the extent of take by Level A and/or Level B harassment that is expected as a result of an activity. If we relied on the acoustic criteria shown in Table 2, we would assume harbor seals exposed to airborne sound at levels at or above 90 dB rms re 20 mPa, and non-harbor seal pinnipeds exposed to airborne sound at levels at or above 100 dB rms re 20 mPa, would experience Level B harassment. However, in this case we have the benefit of more than 20 years of observational data on pinniped responses to the stimuli associated with the planned activities that we expect to result in harassment (sonic booms) in the particular geographic area of the planned activity (VAFB and the NCI). Therefore, we consider these data to be the best available information in regard to estimating take based on modeled exposures among pinnipeds to sounds associated with the planned activities. These data suggest that pinniped reactions to sonic booms are dependent on the species, the age of the animal, and the intensity of the sonic boom (see Table 3). TABLE 2—NMFS CRITERIA FOR ACOUSTIC IMPACTS TO MARINE MAMMALS Criterion Criterion definition Threshold In-Water Acoustic Thresholds Level A ....................... PTS (injury) conservatively based on TTS ................................................................................ Level B ....................... Level B ....................... Behavioral disruption for impulsive noise ................................................................................... Behavioral disruption for non-pulse noise .................................................................................. 190 180 160 120 dBrms for pinnipeds. dBrms for cetaceans. dBrms. dBrms. In-Air Acoustic Thresholds sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Level A ....................... Level B ....................... Level B ....................... PTS (injury) conservatively based on TTS ................................................................................ Behavioral disruption for harbor seals ....................................................................................... Behavioral disruption for non-harbor seal pinnipeds ................................................................. As described above, data from launch monitoring by the USAF on the NCI and at VAFB have shown that pinniped reactions to sonic booms are correlated to the level of the sonic boom. Low energy sonic booms (<1.0 psf) have resulted in little to no behavioral responses, including head raising and briefly alerting but returning to normal behavior shortly after the stimulus. More powerful sonic booms have VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 flushed animals from haulouts (but not resulted in any mortality or sustained decreased in numbers after the stimulus). Table 3 presents a summary of monitoring efforts at the NCI from 1999 to 2011. These data show that reactions to sonic booms tend to be insignificant below 1.0 psf and that, even above 1.0 psf, only a portion of the animals present react to the sonic boom. Therefore, for the purposes of estimating PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 None established. 90 dBrms. 100 dBrms. the extent of take that is likely to occur as a result of the planned activities, we assume that Level B harassment occurs when a pinniped (on land) is exposed to a sonic boom at or above 1.0 psf. Therefore the number of expected takes by Level B harassment is based on estimates of the numbers of animals that would be within the area exposed to sonic booms at levels at or above 1.0 psf. E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices 34989 TABLE 3—PINNIPED REACTIONS TO SONIC BOOMS AT SAN MIGUEL ISLAND Launch event Sonic boom level (psf) Location Species & associated reaction Calif. sea lion—866 alerted, 232 flushed into water; northern elephant seal—alerted but did not flush; northern fur seal—alerted but did not flush. Calif. sea lion—600 alerted, 12 flushed into water; northern elephant seal—alerted but did not flush; northern fur seal—alerted but did not flush. Calif. sea lion—60 flushed into water, no reaction from rest; Northern elephant seal—no reaction. Calif. sea lion—no reaction; northern elephant seal—no reaction; harbor seal—2 of 4 flushed into water. Calif. sea lion—no reaction; northern fur seal—no reaction; northern elephant seal—no reaction. Calif. sea lion—40% alerted, several flushed to water; northern elephant seal—no reaction. Calif. sea lion—10% alerted. northern elephant seal—no reaction. Calif. sea lion—no reaction. northern elephant seal—no reaction. harbor seal—1 of ∼25 flushed into water, no reaction from others. Calif. sea lion—5 of ∼225 alerted, none flushed. Athena II (27 April 1999) ......... 1.0 Adams Cove ........................... Athena II (24 September 1999) 0.95 Point Bennett .......................... Delta II 20 (November 2000) .. 0.4 Point Bennett .......................... Atlas II (8 September 2001) .... 0.75 Cardwell Point ......................... Delta II (11 February 2002) ..... 0.64 Point Bennett .......................... Atlas II (2 December 2003) ..... 0.88 Point Bennett .......................... Delta II Atlas V Delta II Atlas V Atlas V (15 July 2004) ............. (13 March 2008) ......... (5 May 2009) .............. (14 April 2011) ............ (3 April 2014) .............. 1.34 1.24 0.76 1.01 0.74 Adams Cove ........................... Cardwell Point ......................... West of Judith Rock ............... Cuyler Harbor ......................... Cardwell Point ......................... Atlas V (12 December 2014) .. 1.16 Point Bennett .......................... sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES The data recorded by USAF at VAFB and the NCI over the past 20 years has also shown that pinniped reactions to sonic booms vary between species. As described above, little or no reaction has been observed in harbor seals, California sea lions, northern fur seals and northern elephant seals when overpressures were below 1.0 psf (data on responses among Steller sea lions and Guadalupe fur seals is not available). At the NCI sea lions have reacted more strongly to sonic booms than most other species. Harbor seals also appear to be more sensitive to sonic booms than most other pinnipeds, often resulting in startling and fleeing into the water. Northern fur seals generally show little or no reaction, and northern elephant seals generally exhibit no reaction at all, except perhaps a headsup response or some stirring, especially if sea lions in the same area mingled with the elephant seals react strongly to the boom. No data is available on Steller sea lion or Guadalupe fur seal responses to sonic booms. Exposure Area As described above, SpaceX performed acoustic modeling to estimate overpressure levels that would be created during the return flight of the Falcon 9 First Stage (Wyle, Inc. 2015). The predicted acoustic footprint of the sonic boom was computed using the computer program PCBoom (Plotkin and Grandi 2002; Page et al. 2010). Modeling was performed for a landing at VAFB and separately for a contingency barge landing (see Figures 2–1, 2–2, 2–3 and 2–4 in the IHA application). VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 The model results predicted that sonic overpressures would reach up to 2.0 pounds psf in the immediate area around SLC–4W (see Figures 2–1 and 2– 2 in the IHA application) and an overpressure between 1.0 and 2.0 psf would impact the coastline of VAFB from approximately 8 km north of SLC– 4W to approximately 18 km southeast of SLC–4W (see Figures 2–1 and 2–2 in the IHA application). A substantially larger area, including the mainland, the Pacific Ocean, and the NCI would experience an overpressure between 0.1 and 1.0 psf (see Figure 2–1 in the IHA application). In addition, San Miguel Island and Santa Rosa Island may experience an overpressure up to 3.1 psf and the west end of Santa Cruz Island may experience an overpressure up to 1.0 psf (see Figures 2–1 and 2–3 in the IHA application). During a contingency barge landing event, an overpressure of up to 2.0 psf would impact the Pacific Ocean at the contingency landing location approximately 50 km offshore of VAFB. San Miguel Island and Santa Rosa Island would experience a sonic boom between 0.1 and 0.2 psf, while sonic boom overpressures on the mainland would be between 0.2 and 0.4 psf. SpaceX assumes that actual sonic booms that occur during the planned activities will vary slightly from the modeled sonic booms; therefore, when estimating take based on areas anticipated to be impacted by sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf, haulouts within approximately 8.0 km (5 miles) of modeled contour lines for sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf were included to be conservative. Therefore, in PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 estimating take for a VAFB landing, haulouts were included from the areas of Point Arguello and Point Conception, all of San Miguel Island, the northwestern half of Santa Rosa Island, and northwestern quarter of Santa Cruz Island (see Figure 2–2 and 2–3 in the IHA application). For a contingency landing event, sonic booms are far enough offshore so that only haulouts along the northwestern edge of San Miguel Island may be exposed to a 1.0 psf or greater sonic boom (see Figure 2– 4 in the IHA application). As modeling indicates that substantially more haulouts would be impacted by a sonic boom at or above 1.0 psf in the event of a landing at VAFB versus a landing at the contingency landing location, estimated takes are substantially higher in the event of a VAFB landing versus a barge landing. Description of Take Calculation The take calculations presented here rely on the best data currently available for marine mammal populations in the project location. Data collected from marine mammal surveys represent the best available information on the occurrence of the six pinniped species in the project area. The quality of information available on pinniped abundance in the project area is varies depending on species; some species, such as California sea lions, are surveyed regularly at VAFB and the NCI, while for others, such as northern fur seals, survey data is largely lacking. See Table 4 for total estimated incidents of take. Take estimates were based on E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1 sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 34990 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices ‘‘worst case scenario’’ assumptions, as follows: • All six Falcon 9 First Stage recovery actions are assumed to result in landings at VAFB, with no landings occurring at the contingency barge landing location. This is a conservative assumption as sonic boom modeling indicates landings at VAFB are expected to result in a greater number of exposures to sound resulting in Level B harassment than would be expected for landings at the contingency landing location offshore. Some landings may ultimately occur at the contingency landing location; however, the number of landings at each location is not known in advance. • All pinnipeds estimated to be in areas ensonified by sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf are assumed to be hauled out at the time the sonic boom occurs. This assumption is conservative as some animals may in fact be in the water with heads submerged when a sonic boom occurs and would therefore not be exposed to the sonic boom at a level that would result in Level B harassment. • Actual sonic booms that occur during the planned activities are assumed to vary slightly from the modeled sonic booms; therefore, when estimating take based on areas expected to be impacted by sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf, an additional buffer of 8.0 km (5 miles) was added to modeled sonic boom contour lines. Thus haulouts that are within approximately 8.0 km (5 miles) of modeled sonic booms at 1.0 psf and above were included in the take estimate. This is a conservative assumption as it expands the area of ensonification that would be expected to result in Level B harassment. California sea lion—California sea lions are common offshore of VAFB and haul out on rocks and beaches along the coastline of VAFB, though pupping rarely occurs on the VAFB coastline. They haulout in large numbers on the NCI and rookeries exist on San Miguel and Santa Cruz islands. Based on modeling of sonic booms from Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities, Level B harassment of California sea lions is expected to occur both at VAFB and at the NCI. Estimated take of California sea lions at VAFB was calculated using the largest count totals from monthly surveys of VAFB haulout sites from 2013–2015. These data were compared to the modeled sonic boom profiles. Counts from haulouts that were within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf, plus the buffer of 8km as described above, were included in take estimates; those haulouts outside the area expected to be VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf, plus the buffer of 8 km, were not included in the take estimate. The estimated number of California sea lion takes on the NCI and at Point Conception was derived from aerial survey data collected from 2002 to 2012 by the NOAA Southwest Fishery Science Center (SWFSC). The estimates are based on the largest number of individuals observed in the count blocks that fall within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km, based on sonic boom modeling. Estimates of Level B harassment for California sea lions are shown in Table 4. Harbor Seal—Pacific harbor seals are the most common marine mammal inhabiting VAFB, congregating on several rocky haul-out sites along the VAFB coastline. They also haul out, breed, and pup in isolated beaches and coves throughout the coasts of the NCI. Based on modeling of sonic booms from Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities, Level B harassment of harbor seals is expected to occur both at VAFB and at the NCI. Estimated take of harbor seals at VAFB was calculated using the largest count totals from monthly surveys of VAFB haulout sites from 2013–2015. These data were compared to the modeled sonic boom profiles. Counts from haulouts that were within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km were included in take estimates; those haulouts outside the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km were not included in the take estimate. The estimated number of harbor seal takes on the NCI and at Point Conception was derived from aerial survey data collected from 2002 to 2012 by the NOAA SWFSC. The estimates are based on the largest number of individuals observed in the count blocks that fall within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km, based on sonic boom modeling. It should be noted that total take estimates shown in Table 4 represent incidents of exposure to sound resulting in Level B harassment from the planned activities, and not estimates of the number of individual harbor seals exposed. As described above, harbor seals display a high degree of site fidelity to their preferred haulout sites, and are non-migratory, rarely traveling more than 50 km from their haulout sites. Thus, while the estimated abundance of the California stock of Pacific harbor seals is 30,968 (Carretta et al. 2015), a substantially smaller number of individual harbor seals is PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 expected to occur within the project area. The number of harbor seals expected to be taken by Level B harassment, per Falcon 9 First Stage recovery action, is 2,157 (Table 4). We expect that, because of harbor seals’ site fidelity to haulout locations at VAFB and the NCI, and because of their limited ranges, the same individuals are likely to be taken repeatedly over the course of the planned activities (six Falcon 9 First Stage recovery actions). Estimates of Level B harassment for harbor seals are shown in Table 4. Steller Sea Lion—Steller sea lions occur in small numbers at VAFB (maximum 16 individuals observed at any time) and on San Miguel Island (maximum 4 individuals recorded at any time). They have not been observed on the Channel Islands other than San Miguel Island and they not currently have rookeries on the NCI or at VAFB. Estimated take of Steller sea lions at VAFB was calculated using the largest count totals from monthly surveys of VAFB from 2013–2015. These data were compared to the modeled sonic boom profiles. Counts from haulouts that were within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km were included in take estimates; those haulouts outside the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km were not included in the take estimate. Estimates of Level B harassment for Steller sea lions are shown in Table 4. Northern elephant seal—Northern elephant seals haul out sporadically on rocks and beaches along the coastline of VAFB and at Point Conception, but they do not currently breed or pup at VAFB or at Point Conception. Northern elephant seals have rookeries on San Miguel Island and Santa Rosa Island. They are rarely seen on Santa Cruz Island and Anacapa Island. Based on modeling of sonic booms from Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities, Level B harassment of northern elephant seals is expected to occur both at VAFB and at the NCI. Estimated take of northern elephant seals at VAFB was calculated using the largest count totals from monthly surveys of VAFB haulout sites from 2013–2015. These data were compared to the modeled sonic boom profiles. Counts from haulouts that were within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km were included in take estimates; those haulouts outside the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km were not included in the take estimate. The estimated number of northern elephant E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1 34991 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices seal takes on the NCI and at Point Conception was derived from aerial survey data collected from 2002 to 2012 by the NOAA SWFSC. The estimates are based on the largest number of individuals observed in the count blocks that fall within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km, based on sonic boom modeling. As described above, monitoring data has shown that reactions to sonic booms among pinnipeds vary between species, with northern elephant seals consistently showing little or no reaction (Table 3). USAF launch monitoring data shows that northern elephant seals have never been observed responding to sonic booms. No elephant seal has been observed flushing to the water in response to a sonic boom. Because of the data showing that elephant seals consistently show little to no reaction to the sonic booms, we conservatively estimate that 10 percent of northern elephant seal exposures to sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf will result in Level B harassment. Estimates of Level B harassment for northern elephant seals are shown in Table 4. Note that the take estimate for northern elephant seals shown in Table 4 has been revised from the take estimate in the proposed IHA. Northern fur seal—Northern fur seals have rookeries on San Miguel Island, the only island in the NCI on which they have been observed. No haulout or rookery sites exist for northern fur seals at VAFB or on the mainland coast, thus take from sonic booms is only expected on San Miguel Island and not on the mainland. Comprehensive count data for northern fur seals on San Miguel Island are not available. Estimated take of northern fur seals was derived from northern fur seals pup and bull census data (Testa 2013), and personal communications with subject matter experts based at the NMFS National Marine Mammal Laboratory. Northern fur seal abundance on San Miguel Island varies substantially depending on the season, with a maximum of 6,000– 8,000 seals hauled out on the western end of the island and at Castle Rock (∼1 km northwest of San Miguel Island) during peak pupping season in July; the number of seals on San Miguel Island then decreases steadily from August until November, when very few seals are present. The number of seals on the island does not begin to increase again until the following June (pers. comm., T. Orr, NMFS NMML, to J. Carduner, NMFS, 2/27/16). As the dates of Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities are not known, the activities could occur when the maximum number or the minimum number of fur seals is present, depending on season. We therefore estimated an average of 5,000 northern fur seals would be present in the area affected by sonic booms above 1.0 psf. As described above, monitoring data has shown that reactions to sonic booms among pinnipeds vary between species, with northern fur seals consistently showing little or no reaction (Table 3). As described above, launch monitoring data shows that northern fur seals sometimes alert to sonic booms but have never been observed flushing to the water in response to sonic booms. Because of the data showing that fur seals consistently show little to no reaction to sonic booms, we conservatively estimate that 10 percent of northern fur seal exposures to sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf will result in Level B harassment. Estimates of Level B harassment for northern fur seals are shown in Table 4. Guadalupe fur seal—There are estimated to be approximately 20–25 individual Guadalupe fur seals that have fidelity to San Miguel Island. The highest number of individuals observed at any one time on San Miguel Island is thirteen. No haul-out or rookery sites exist for Guadalupe fur seals on the mainland coast, including VAFB. Comprehensive survey data on Guadalupe fur seals in the NCI is not readily available. Though we are aware of no data on Guadalupe fur seal responses to sonic booms, because of the data showing that northern fur seals consistently show little to no reaction to sonic booms, we conservatively estimate that 10 percent of Guadalupe fur seal exposures to sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf will result in Level B harassment. The estimated number of takes of Guadalupe fur seals was based the maximum number of Guadalupe fur seals observed at any one time on San Miguel Island (pers. comm., J. LaBonte, ManTech, to J. Carduner, NMFS, Feb 29, 2016). Estimates of Level B harassment for Guadalupe fur seals are shown in Table 4. Note that the take estimate for Guadalupe fur seals shown in Table 4 has been revised from the take estimate in the proposed IHA. As described above, the take estimates shown in Table 4 are considered reasonable estimates of the number of marine mammal exposures to sound resulting in Level B harassment that are likely to occur over the course of the project, and not necessarily the number of individual animals exposed. TABLE 4—NUMBER OF INCIDENTAL TAKES OF MARINE MAMMALS, AND PERCENTAGE OF STOCK ABUNDANCE, AS A RESULT OF THE PLANNED ACTIVITIES Estimated takes per Falcon 9 First Stage recovery action Species Geographic location Harbor Seal ............................................... VAFB a ...................................................... Pt. Conception b ........................................ San Miguel Island b .................................. Santa Rosa Island b .................................. Santa Cruz Island b .................................. VAFB a ...................................................... Pt. Conception .......................................... San Miguel Island c ................................... Santa Rosa Island c. Santa Cruz Island c. VAFB a ...................................................... Pt. Conception d ........................................ San Miguel Island c ................................... Santa Rosa Island c. Santa Cruz Island c. VAFB a ...................................................... Pt. Conception .......................................... sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES California Sea Lion ................................... Northern Elephant Seal ............................ Steller Sea Lion ........................................ VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Total estimated takes over the duration of the IHA ∧ Percentage of stock abundance estimated taken 366 488 752 412 139 416 n/a 9,000 12,942 *7 56,496 19 19 1 150 1,020 0.5 16 n/a 120 0.2 E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1 34992 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices TABLE 4—NUMBER OF INCIDENTAL TAKES OF MARINE MAMMALS, AND PERCENTAGE OF STOCK ABUNDANCE, AS A RESULT OF THE PLANNED ACTIVITIES—Continued Species Estimated takes per Falcon 9 First Stage recovery action Geographic location Northern Fur Seal ..................................... Guadalupe Fur Seal ................................. San Miguel Island ..................................... Santa Rosa Island .................................... Santa Cruz Island ..................................... VAFB ........................................................ Pt. Conception .......................................... San Miguel Island c ................................... Santa Rosa Island .................................... Santa Cruz Island ..................................... VAFB ........................................................ Pt. Conception .......................................... San Miguel Island e .................................. Santa Rosa Island .................................... Santa Cruz Island ..................................... Total estimated takes over the duration of the IHA ∧ 4 n/a n/a n/a n/a 500 n/a n/a n/a n/a 1 n/a n/a Percentage of stock abundance estimated taken 3,000 23 6 0.1 a VAFB monthly marine mammal survey data 2013–2015 (ManTech SRS Technologies, Inc. 2014, 2015 and VAFB, unpubl. data). Fisheries aerial survey data June 2002 and May 2004 (M. Lowry, NOAA Fisheries, unpubl. data). 2013; USAF 2013; pers. comm., T. Orr, NMFS NMML, to J. Carduner, NMFS, Feb 27, 2016. d NOAA Fisheries aerial survey data February 2010 (M. Lowry, NOAA Fisheries, unpubl. data). e DeLong and Melin 2000; J. Harris, NOAA Fisheries, pers. comm. ∧ Based on six Falcon 9 First Stage recovery actions, with SLC–4W landings, per year. * For harbor seals, estimated percentage of stock abundance taken is based on estimated number of individuals taken versus estimated total exposures. b NOAA c Testa sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Analyses and Determinations Negligible Impact Analysis 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.’’ A negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., populationlevel effects). An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes alone is not enough information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be ‘‘taken’’ through behavioral harassment, we consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context of any responses (e.g., critical reproductive time or location, migration), as well as the number and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes, the number of estimated mortalities, and effects on habitat. To avoid repetition, the discussion of our analyses applies to all the species listed in Table 4, given that the anticipated effects of this activity on these different marine mammal stocks are expected to be similar. There is no information about the nature or severity of the impacts, or the size, status, or structure of any of these species or stocks that would lead to a different analysis for this activity. VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 Activities associated with the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery project, as outlined previously, have the potential to disturb or displace marine mammals. Specifically, the specified activities may result in take, in the form of Level B harassment (behavioral disturbance) only, from in-air sounds generated from sonic booms. Potential takes could occur if marine mammals are hauled out in areas where a sonic boom above 1.0 psf occurs, which is considered likely given the modeled acoustic footprint of the planned activities and the occurrence of pinnipeds in the project area. Effects on individuals that are taken by Level B harassment, on the basis of reports in the literature as well as monitoring from similar activities that have received incidental take authorizations from NMFS, will likely be limited to reactions such as alerting to the noise, with some animals possibly moving toward or entering the water, depending on the species and the psf associated with the sonic boom. Repeated exposures of individuals to levels of sound that may cause Level B harassment are unlikely to result in hearing impairment or to significantly disrupt foraging behavior. In addition, it is expected that exposures of individuals to levels of sound that may cause Level B harassment will be very brief (a few seconds) and very infrequent (six total over the course of the Authorization). Thus, even repeated Level B harassment of some small subset of the overall stock is unlikely to result in any significant realized PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 decrease in fitness to those individuals, and thus would not result in any adverse impact to the stock as a whole. Level B harassment will be reduced to the level of least practicable impact through use of mitigation measures described above. If a marine mammal responds to a stimulus by changing its behavior (e.g., through relatively minor changes in locomotion direction/speed), the response may or may not constitute taking at the individual level, and is unlikely to affect the stock or the species as a whole. However, if a sound source displaces marine mammals from an important feeding or breeding area for a prolonged period, impacts on animals or on the stock or species could potentially be significant (e.g., Lusseau and Bejder, 2007; Weilgart, 2007). Flushing of pinnipeds into the water has the potential to result in mother-pup separation, or could result in stampede, either of which could potentially result in serious injury or mortality and thereby could potentially impact the stock or species. However, based the best available information, which in this case is over 20 years of monitoring data from the project location as described below, no serious injury or mortality of marine mammals is anticipated as a result of the planned activities. Even in the instances of pinnipeds being behaviorally disturbed by sonic booms from rocket launches at VAFB, no evidence has been presented of abnormal behavior, injuries or mortalities, or pup abandonment as a E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1 sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices result of sonic booms (SAIC 2013). These findings came as a result of more than two decades of surveys at VAFB and the NCI (MMCG and SAIC, 2012). Post-launch monitoring generally reveals a return to normal patterns within minutes up to an hour or two of each launch, regardless of species. For instance, eight space vehicle launches occurred from north VAFB, near the Spur Road and Purisima Point haul-out sites, during the period 7 February 2009 through 6 February 2014. Of these eight Delta II and Taurus launches, three occurred during the harbor seal pupping season. The continued use of the Spur Road and Purisima Point haulout sites indicates that it is unlikely that these rocket launches (and associated sonic booms) resulted in long-term disturbances of pinnipeds using the haulout sites. Moreover, adverse cumulative impacts from launches were not observed at this site. San Miguel Island represents the most important pinniped rookery in the lower 48 states, and as such extensive research has been conducted there for decades. From this research, as well as stock assessment reports, it is clear that VAFB operations (including associated sonic booms) have not had any significant impacts on San Miguel Island rookeries and haulouts (SAIC 2012). Based on this extensive record, we believe the likelihood of serious injury or mortality of any marine mammal as a result of the planned activities is so low as to be discountable. Thus we do not anticipate Level A harassment will occur as a result of the planned activities and we do not authorize take in the form of Level A harassment. The activities analyzed here are substantially similar to other activities that have received MMPA incidental take authorizations previously, including Letters of Authorization for USAF launches of space launch vehicles at VAFB, which have occurred for over 20 years with no reported injuries or mortalities to marine mammals, and no known long-term adverse consequences to marine mammals from behavioral harassment. As described above, several cetacean species occur within the project area, however no cetaceans are expected to be affected by the planned activities. In summary, this negligible impact analysis is founded on the following factors: 1. The possibility of injury, serious injury, or mortality may reasonably be considered discountable; 2. The anticipated incidences of Level B harassment consist of, at worst, temporary modifications in behavior (i.e., short distance movements and VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 34993 occasional flushing into the water with return to haulouts within at most two days), which are not expected to adversely affect the fitness of any individuals; 3. The considerable evidence, based on over 20 years of monitoring data, suggesting no long-term changes in the use by pinnipeds of rookeries and haulouts in the project area as a result of sonic booms; and 4. The presumed efficacy of planned mitigation measures in reducing the effects of the specified activity to the level of least practicable impact. In combination, we believe that these factors, as well as the available body of evidence from other similar activities, demonstrate that the potential effects of the specified activity will be short-term on individual animals. Though the project area does represent an important pupping area for several species that may be taken, the specified activity is not expected to impact rates of recruitment or survival and will therefore not result in population-level impacts. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the monitoring and mitigation measures, we find that the total marine mammal take from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks. seals is 30,968 (Carretta et al. 2015), a substantially smaller number of individual harbor seals is expected to occur within the project area. We expect that, because of harbor seals’ site fidelity to locations at VAFB and the NCI, and because of their limited ranges, the same individuals are likely to be taken repeatedly over the course of the planned activities (maximum of six Falcon 9 First Stage recovery actions). Therefore the number of exposures to Level B harassment over the course of the authorization (the total number of takes shown in Table 4) is expected to accrue to a much smaller number of individuals. The maximum number of harbor seals expected to be taken by Level B harassment, per Falcon 9 First Stage recovery action, is 2,157. As we believe the same individuals are likely to be taken repeatedly over the course of the planned activities, we use the estimate of 2,157 individual animals taken per Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activity for the purposes of estimating the percentage of the stock abundance likely to be taken. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring measures, we find that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken relative to the populations of the affected species or stocks. Small Numbers Analysis The numbers of authorized takes would be considered small relative to the relevant stocks or populations (23 percent for northern fur seals; 19 percent for California sea lions; 7 percent for Pacific harbor seals; less than 1 percent each for northern elephant seals, Guadalupe fur seals and Steller sea lions). But, it is important to note that the number of expected takes does not necessarily represent of the number of individual animals expected to be taken. Our small numbers analysis accounts for this fact. Multiple exposures to Level B harassment can accrue to the same individuals over the course of an activity that occurs multiple times in the same area (such as SpaceX’s planned activity). This is especially likely in the case of species that have limited ranges and that have site fidelity to a location within the project area, as is the case with Pacific harbor seals. As described above, harbor seals are non-migratory, rarely traveling more than 50 km from their haul-out sites. Thus, while the estimated abundance of the California stock of Pacific harbor Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence Uses Potential impacts resulting from the planned activities will be limited to individuals of marine mammal species located in areas that have no subsistence requirements. Therefore, no impacts on the availability of marine mammal species or stocks for subsistence use are expected. PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 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), the USAF prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) to consider the direct, indirect and cumulative effects to the human environment resulting from the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery project. NMFS made the USAF’s EA available to the public for review and comment, concurrently with the publication of the proposed IHA, on the NMFS Web site (at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/ incidental/), in relation to its suitability E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1 34994 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 105 / Wednesday, June 1, 2016 / Notices for adoption by NMFS in order to assess the impacts to the human environment of issuance of an IHA to SpaceX. Also in compliance with NEPA and the CEQ regulations, as well as NOAA Administrative Order 216–6, NMFS has reviewed the USAF’s EA, determined it to be sufficient, and adopted that EA and signed a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on May 6, 2016. Endangered Species Act (ESA) There is one marine mammal species (Guadalupe fur seal) listed under the ESA with confirmed occurrence in the area expected to be impacted by the planned activities. The NMFS West Coast Region Protected Resources Division has determined that the NMFS Permits and Conservation Division’s authorization of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities are not likely to adversely affect the Guadalupe fur seal. Therefore, formal ESA section 7 consultation on this authorization is not required. Authorization NMFS has issued an IHA to SpaceX for the potential harassment of small numbers of six marine mammal species incidental to the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery project in California and in the Pacific Ocean offshore California, provided the previously mentioned mitigation. Dated: May 25, 2016. Perry Gayaldo, Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2016–12818 Filed 5–31–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XE503 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Seabird Monitoring and Research in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, 2016 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization. sradovich on DSK3TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES AGENCY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) regulations, we, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), hereby give notification that NMFS has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to Glacier Bay SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 21:59 May 31, 2016 Jkt 238001 National Park (Glacier Bay NP), to take marine mammals, by Level B harassment, incidental to conducting seabird monitoring and research activities in Alaska, May through September, 2016. DATES: Effective May 16, 2016 through September 30, 2016. ADDRESSES: The public may obtain an electronic copy of Glacier Bay NP’s application, supporting documentation, the authorization, and a list of the references cited in this document by visiting: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ permits/incidental.htm#applications. In the case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed here (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert Pauline, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS (301) 427– 8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals of a species or population stock, by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if, after NMFS provides a notice of a proposed authorization to the public for review and comment: (1) NMFS makes certain findings; and (2) the taking is limited to harassment. An Authorization shall be granted for the incidental taking of small numbers of marine mammals if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant). The Authorization must also set forth the permissible methods of taking; other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species or stock and its habitat; and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such taking. 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.’’ Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as: Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 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 January 12, 2016, NMFS received an application from Glacier Bay NP requesting that we issue an Authorization for the take of marine mammals, incidental to conducting monitoring and research studies on glaucus-winged gulls (Larus glaucescens) within Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska. NMFS determined the application complete and adequate on February 25, 2016. NMFS previously issued two Authorizations to Glacier Bay NP for the same activities in 2014 and 2015 (79 FR 56065, September 18, 2014 and 80 FR 28229, May 18, 2015). Glacier Bay NP proposes to conduct ground-based and vessel-based surveys to collect data on the number and distribution of nesting gulls within five study sites in Glacier Bay, AK. Glacier Bay NP proposes to complete up to five visits per study site, from May through September, 2016. The activities are within the vicinity of pinniped haulout sites and the following aspects of the proposed activities are likely to result in the take of marine mammals: Noise generated by motorboat approaches and departures; noise generated by researchers while conducting ground surveys; and human presence during the monitoring and research activities. NMFS anticipates that take by Level B harassment only, of individuals of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) would result from the specified activity. Although Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) may be present in the action area, Glacier Bay NP has proposed to avoid any site used by Steller sea lions, therefore, take is not requested for this species. Description of the Specified Activity Overview Glacier Bay NP proposes to identify the onset of gull nesting; conduct midseason surveys of adult gulls, and locate and document gull nest sites within the following study areas: Boulder, Lone, and Flapjack Islands, and Geikie Rock. Each of these study sites contains harbor seal haulout sites and Glacier Bay NP E:\FR\FM\01JNN1.SGM 01JNN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 105 (Wednesday, June 1, 2016)]
[Notices]
[Pages 34984-34994]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-12818]


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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE443


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Boost-Backs and Landings of Rockets 
at Vandenberg Air Force Base

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

ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization.

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

SUMMARY: In accordance with the regulations implementing the Marine 
Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) as amended, notification is hereby given 
that we have issued an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to 
Space Explorations Technology Corporation (SpaceX), to incidentally 
harass, by Level B harassment only, marine mammals incidental to boost-
backs and landings of Falcon 9 rockets at Vandenberg Air Force Base in 
California, and at a contingency landing location approximately 30 
miles offshore.

DATES: This Authorization is effective from June 30, 2016, through June 
29, 2017.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Availability

    An electronic copy of SpaceX's IHA application and supporting 
documents, as well as a list of the references cited in this document, 
may be obtained by visiting the Internet at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/. In case of problems accessing these documents, 
please call the contact listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT.

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 by U.S. 
citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial 
fishing) within a specified area, the incidental, but not intentional, 
taking of small numbers of marine mammals, providing that certain 
findings are made and the necessary prescriptions are established.
    The incidental taking of small numbers of marine mammals may be 
allowed only if NMFS (through authority delegated by the Secretary) 
finds that the total taking by the specified activity during the 
specified time period will (i) have a negligible impact on the species 
or stock(s) and (ii) not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where 
relevant). Further, the permissible methods of taking and requirements 
pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such taking 
must be set forth.
    The allowance of such incidental taking under section 101(a)(5)(A), 
by harassment, serious injury, death, or a combination thereof, 
requires that regulations be established. Subsequently, a Letter of 
Authorization may be issued pursuant to the prescriptions established 
in such regulations, providing that the level of taking will be 
consistent with the findings made for the total taking allowable under 
the specific regulations. Under section 101(a)(5)(D), NMFS may 
authorize such incidental taking by harassment only, for periods of not 
more than one year, pursuant to requirements and conditions contained 
within an IHA. The establishment of these prescriptions requires notice 
and opportunity for public comment.
    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.'' Except with respect to certain activities 
not pertinent here, section 3(18) of the MMPA defines ``harassment'' 
as: ``. . . any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the 
potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
[Level A harassment]; or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine 
mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of 
behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, 
breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering [Level B 
harassment].''

Summary of Request

    On July 28, 2015, we received a request from SpaceX for 
authorization to take marine mammals incidental to

[[Page 34985]]

Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities, including in-air boost-back 
maneuvers and landings of the First Stage of the Falcon 9 rocket at 
Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California, and at a contingency 
landing location approximately 50 km (31 mi) offshore of VAFB. SpaceX 
submitted a revised version of the request on November 5, 2015. This 
revised version of the application was deemed adequate and complete. 
Acoustic stimuli, including sonic booms (overpressure of high-energy 
impulsive sound), landing noise, and possible explosions, resulting 
from boost-back maneuvers and landings of the Falcon 9 First Stage have 
the potential to result in take, in the form of Level B harassment, of 
six species of pinnipeds.

Description of the Specified Activity

    A detailed description of the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery project 
is provided in the Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (81 FR 
18574; March 31, 2016). Since that time, no changes have been made to 
the planned Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities. Therefore, a 
detailed description is not provided here. Please refer to that Federal 
Register notice for the description of the specific activity.

Comments and Responses

    A notice of NMFS's proposal to issue an IHA to SpaceX was published 
in the Federal Register on March 31, 2016 (81 FR 18574). That notice 
described, in detail, SpaceX's activity, the marine mammal species that 
may be affected by the activity, and the anticipated effects on marine 
mammals. During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS received 
comments from the Marine Mammal Commission. The Marine Mammal 
Commission recommended that NMFS issue the IHA, subject to inclusion of 
the proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

    There are six marine mammal species with expected occurrence in the 
project area (including at VAFB, on the NCI, and in the waters 
surrounding VAFB, the NCI and the contingency landing location) that 
are expected to be affected by the specified activities. These include 
the Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus), northern fur seal 
(Callorhinus ursinus), northern elephant seal (Mirounga 
angustirostris), Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi), 
California sea lion (Zalophus californianus), and Pacific harbor seal 
(Phoca vitulina richardsi). There are an additional 28 species of 
cetaceans with expected or possible occurrence in the project area. 
However, despite the fact that the ranges of these cetacean species 
overlap spatially with SpaceX's planned activities, we have determined 
that none of the potential stressors associated with the planned 
activities (including exposure to debris strike, rocket fuel, and 
visual and acoustic stimuli, as described further in ``Potential 
Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals'') are likely to 
result in take of cetaceans. As we have concluded that the likelihood 
of a cetacean being taken incidentally as a result of SpaceX's planned 
activities is so low as to be discountable, cetaceans are not 
considered further in this authorization. Please see Table 3-1 in the 
IHA application for a complete list of species with expected or 
potential occurrence in the project area.
    A detailed description of the of the species likely to be affected 
by the dock construction project, including brief introductions to the 
species and relevant stocks as well as available information regarding 
population trends and threats, and information regarding local 
occurrence, were provided in the Federal Register notice for the 
proposed IHA (81 FR 18574; March 31, 2016); since that time, we are not 
aware of any changes in the status of these species and stocks; 
therefore, detailed descriptions are not provided here. Please refer to 
that Federal Register notice for these descriptions. Please also refer 
to NMFS' Web site for generalized species accounts, at: 
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals.
    Table 1 lists the marine mammal species with expected potential for 
occurrence in the vicinity of the project during the project timeframe 
that are likely to be affected by the specified activities, and 
summarizes key information regarding stock status and abundance. Please 
see NMFS' Stock Assessment Reports (SAR), available at 
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars, for more detailed accounts of these stocks' 
status and abundance.

  Table 1--Marine Mammals Expected To Be Present in the Vicinity of the Project Location That Are Likely To Be
                                      Affected by the Specified Activities
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                        ESA Status/ MMPA
             Species                     Stock          status; strategic       Stock      Occurrence in project
                                                            (Y/N) \1\       abundance \2\           area
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Order Carnivora--Superfamily Pinnipedia
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                  Family Otariidae (eared seals and sea lions)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Steller sea lion................  Eastern U.S. DPS...  -/D; Y                      60,131  Rare.
California sea lion.............  U.S. stock.........  -/-; N                     296,750  Common.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         Family Phocidae (earless seals)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Harbor seal.....................  California stock...  -/-; N                      30,968  Common.
Northern elephant seal..........  California breeding  -/-; N                     179,000  Common.
                                   stock.
Northern fur seal...............  California stock...  -/-; N                      12,844  Common.
Guadalupe fur seal..............  n/a................  T/D; Y                   \3\ 7,408  Rare.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ ESA status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (-) indicates that the species
  is not listed under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one
  for which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds PBR or is determined to be declining and likely
  to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed under the ESA is
  automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock.
\2\ For certain stocks of pinnipeds, abundance estimates are based upon observations of animals (often pups)
  ashore multiplied by some correction factor derived from knowledge of the species (or similar species) life
  history to arrive at a best abundance estimate.
\3\ Abundance estimate for this stock is greater than ten years old and is therefore not considered current. We
  nevertheless present the most recent abundance estimate, as this represents the best available information for
  use in this document.


[[Page 34986]]

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals

    The effects of noise from sonic booms resulting from the Falcon 9 
First Stage recovery project have the potential to result in behavioral 
harassment of marine mammals in the vicinity of the action area. The 
Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (81 FR 18574; March 31, 
2016) included a discussion of the effects of anthropogenic noise on 
marine mammals, therefore that information is not repeated here; please 
refer to the Federal Register notice (81 FR 18574; March 31, 2016) for 
that information. No instances of hearing threshold shifts, injury, 
serious injury, or mortality are expected as a result of the Falcon 9 
First Stage recovery activities.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

    The main impact associated with the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery 
project would be temporarily elevated sound levels and the associated 
direct effects on marine mammals. We do not anticipate that the planned 
activities would result in any temporary or permanent effects on the 
habitats used by the marine mammals in the action area, including the 
food sources they use (i.e. fish and invertebrates). The project would 
not result in permanent impacts to habitats used directly by marine 
mammals, such as haulout sites and are unlikely to result in long term 
or permanent avoidance of the exposure areas or loss of habitat. The 
planned activities are also not expected to result in any reduction in 
foraging habitat or adverse impacts to marine mammal prey. This is 
discussed in greater detail in the Federal Register notice for the 
proposed IHA (81 FR 18574; March 31, 2016), therefore that information 
is not repeated here; please refer to that Federal Register notice for 
that information.

Mitigation Measures

    In order to issue an IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, 
NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such 
activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on 
such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to 
rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on 
the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain 
subsistence uses.
    SpaceX's IHA application contains descriptions of the mitigation 
measures to be implemented during the specified activities in order to 
effect the least practicable adverse impact on the affected marine 
mammal species and stocks and their habitats. These mitigation measures 
include the following:
     Unless constrained by other factors including human safety 
or national security concerns, launches will be scheduled to avoid, 
whenever possible, boost-backs and landings during the harbor seal 
pupping season of March through June.
    We have carefully evaluated SpaceX's planned mitigation and 
considered their likely effectiveness relative to implementation of 
similar mitigation measures in previously issued incidental take 
authorizations to determine whether they are likely to affect the least 
practicable impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and 
their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included 
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; and
    (3) The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation.
    Any mitigation measure(s) we prescribe should be able to 
accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on 
current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of 
the general goals listed below:
    (1) Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals 
wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal).
    (2) A reduction in the number (total number or number at 
biologically important time or location) of individual marine mammals 
exposed to stimuli expected to result in incidental take (this goal may 
contribute to 1, above, or to reducing takes by behavioral harassment 
only).
    (3) A reduction in the number (total number or number at 
biologically important time or location) of times any individual marine 
mammal would be exposed to stimuli expected to result in incidental 
take (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing takes by 
behavioral harassment only).
    (4) A reduction in the intensity of exposure to stimuli expected to 
result in incidental take (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to 
reducing the severity of behavioral harassment only).
    (5) Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal 
habitat, paying particular attention to the prey base, blockage or 
limitation of passage to or from biologically important areas, 
permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary disturbance of habitat 
during a biologically important time.
    (6) For monitoring directly related to mitigation, an increase in 
the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more 
effective implementation of the mitigation.
    Based on our evaluation of SpaceX's planned measures, we have 
determined that the mitigation measures provide the means of effecting 
the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and 
their habitat.

Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an IHA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth ``requirements pertaining to 
the monitoring and reporting of such taking.'' The MMPA implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) indicate that requests for 
incidental take authorizations must include the suggested means of 
accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result 
in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or 
impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be 
present in the action area.
    Any monitoring requirement we prescribe should accomplish one or 
more of the following general goals:
    1. An increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, both 
within defined zones of effect (thus allowing for more effective 
implementation of the mitigation) and in general to generate more data 
to contribute to the analyses mentioned below;
    2. An increase in our understanding of how many marine mammals are 
likely to be exposed to stimuli that we associate with specific adverse 
effects, such as behavioral harassment or hearing threshold shifts;
    3. An increase in our understanding of how marine mammals respond 
to stimuli expected to result in incidental take and how anticipated 
adverse effects on individuals may impact the population, stock, or 
species (specifically through effects on annual rates of recruitment or 
survival) through any of the following methods:
     Behavioral observations in the presence of stimuli 
compared to observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to 
accurately predict pertinent information, e.g., received level, 
distance from source);
     Physiological measurements in the presence of stimuli 
compared to

[[Page 34987]]

observations in the absence of stimuli (need to be able to accurately 
predict pertinent information, e.g., received level, distance from 
source); and
     Distribution and/or abundance comparisons in times or 
areas with concentrated stimuli versus times or areas without stimuli.
    4. An increased knowledge of the affected species; or
    5. An increase in our understanding of the effectiveness of certain 
mitigation and monitoring measures.
    SpaceX submitted a monitoring plan as part of their IHA 
application. SpaceX's marine mammal monitoring plan was created with 
input from NMFS and was based on similar plans that have been 
successfully implemented by other action proponents under previous 
authorizations for similar projects, specifically the USAF's monitoring 
of rocket launches from VAFB.
    Monitoring protocols vary according to modeled sonic boom intensity 
and season. Sonic boom modeling will be performed prior to all boost-
back events. PCBoom, a commercially available modeling program, or an 
acceptable substitute, will be used to model sonic booms. Launch 
parameters specific to each launch will be incorporated into each 
model. These include direction and trajectory, weight, length, engine 
thrust, engine plume drag, position versus time from initiating boost-
back to additional engine burns, among other aspects. Various weather 
scenarios will be analyzed from NOAA weather records for the region, 
then run through the model. Among other factors, these will include the 
presence or absence of the jet stream, and if present, its direction, 
altitude and velocity. The type, altitude, and density of clouds will 
also be considered. From these data, the models will predict peak 
amplitudes and impact locations.

Marine Mammal Monitoring

    Marine mammal monitoring procedures will consist of the following:
     Should sonic boom model results indicate that a peak 
overpressure of 1.0 psf or greater is likely to impact VAFB, then 
acoustic and biological monitoring at VAFB will be implemented.
     If it is determined that a sonic boom of 1.0 psf or 
greater is likely to impact one of the Northern Channel Islands between 
1 March and 30 June; a sonic boom greater than 1.5 psf between 1 July 
and 30 September, and a sonic boom greater than 2.0 psf between 1 
October and 28 February, then monitoring will be conducted at the 
haulout site closest to the predicted sonic boom impact area.
     Monitoring would commence at least 72 hours prior to the 
boost-back and continue until at least 48 hours after the event.
     Monitoring data collected would include multiple surveys 
each day that record the species; number of animals; general behavior; 
presence of pups; age class; gender; and reaction to booms or other 
natural or human-caused disturbances. Environmental conditions such as 
tide, wind speed, air temperature, and swell would also be recorded.
     If the boost-back is scheduled for daylight; video 
recording of pinnipeds would be conducted during the Falcon 9 First 
Stage recovery in order to collect data on reactions to noise.
     For launches during the harbor seal pupping season (March 
through June), follow-up surveys will be conducted within 2 weeks of 
the boost-back/landing.

Acoustic Monitoring

    Acoustic measurements of the sonic boom created during boost-back 
at the monitoring location will be recorded to determine the 
overpressure level.

Reporting

    SpaceX will submit a report within 90 days after each Falcon 9 
First Stage recovery event that includes the following information:

 Summary of activity (including dates, times, and specific 
locations of Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities)
 Summary of monitoring measures implemented
 Detailed monitoring results and a comprehensive summary 
addressing goals of monitoring plan, including:
    [cir] Number, species, and any other relevant information regarding 
marine mammals observed and estimated exposed/taken during activities;
    [cir] Description of the observed behaviors (in both presence and 
absence of activities);
    [cir] Environmental conditions when observations were made; and
    [cir] Assessment of the implementation and effectiveness of 
monitoring measures.

    In addition to the above post-activity reports, a draft annual 
report will be submitted within 90 calendar days of the expiration of 
the IHA, or within 45 calendar days prior to the effective date of a 
subsequent IHA (if applicable). The annual report will summarize the 
information from the post-activity reports, including but not 
necessarily limited to: (a) Numbers of pinnipeds present on the 
haulouts prior to commencement of Falcon 9 First Stage recovery 
activities; (b) numbers of pinnipeds that may have been harassed as 
noted by the number of pinnipeds estimated to have entered the water as 
a result of Falcon 9 First Stage recovery noise; (c) for pinnipeds that 
entered the water as a result of Falcon 9 First Stage recovery noise, 
the length of time(s) those pinnipeds remained off the haulout or 
rookery; and (d) any behavioral modifications by pinnipeds that likely 
were the result of stimuli associated with the planned activities.
    In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly 
causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner not authorized by the 
IHA, such as a Level A harassment, or a take of a marine mammal species 
other than those authorized, SpaceX would immediately cease the 
specified activities and immediately report the incident to the Chief 
of the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources. The report would include the following information:
     Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the 
incident;
     Description of the incident;
     Status of all Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities in 
the 48 hours preceding the incident;
     Description of all marine mammal observations in the 48 
hours preceding the incident;
     Species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
     Fate of the animal(s); and
     Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if 
equipment is available).
    Activities would not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS would work with SpaceX to 
determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further 
prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. SpaceX would not be able to 
resume their activities until notified by NMFS via letter, email, or 
telephone.
    In the event that SpaceX discovers an injured or dead marine 
mammal, and the lead MMO determines the cause of the injury or death is 
unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a 
moderate state of decomposition), SpaceX would immediately report the 
incident to mail to: The Chief of the Permits and Conservation 
Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the NMFS West Coast 
Region Stranding Coordinator.
    The report would include the same information identified in the 
paragraph above. Authorized activities would be able to continue while 
NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS would work with 
SpaceX to

[[Page 34988]]

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

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

    Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent here, 
section 3(18) of the MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: ``. . . any act of 
pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a 
marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; 
or (ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal 
stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, 
including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, 
feeding, or sheltering [Level B harassment].''
    All anticipated takes would be by Level B harassment only, 
resulting from noise associated with sonic booms and involving 
temporary changes in behavior. Estimates of the number of harbor seals, 
California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Steller sea lions, 
northern fur seals, and Guadalupe fur seals that may be harassed by the 
planned activities is based upon the number of potential events 
associated with Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities (maximum six 
per year) and the average number of individuals of each species that 
are present in areas that will be exposed to the activities at levels 
that are expected to result in Level B harassment.
    In order to estimate the potential incidents of take that may occur 
incidental to the specified activity, we must first estimate the extent 
of the sound field that may be produced by the activity and then 
incorporate information about marine mammal density or abundance in the 
project area. We first provide information on applicable thresholds for 
determining effects to marine mammals before describing the information 
used in estimating the sound fields, the available marine mammal 
density or abundance information, and the method of estimating 
potential incidences of take. It should be noted that estimates of 
Level B take described below are not necessarily estimates of the 
number of individual animals that are expected to be taken; a smaller 
number of individuals may accrue a number of incidences of harassment 
per individual than for each incidence to accrue to a new individual, 
especially if those individuals display some degree of residency or 
site fidelity and the impetus to use the site (e.g., because of 
foraging opportunities) is stronger than the deterrence presented by 
the harassing activity.

Sound Thresholds

    Typically NMFS relies on the acoustic criteria shown in Table 2 to 
estimate the extent of take by Level A and/or Level B harassment that 
is expected as a result of an activity. If we relied on the acoustic 
criteria shown in Table 2, we would assume harbor seals exposed to 
airborne sound at levels at or above 90 dB rms re 20 [micro]Pa, and 
non-harbor seal pinnipeds exposed to airborne sound at levels at or 
above 100 dB rms re 20 [micro]Pa, would experience Level B harassment. 
However, in this case we have the benefit of more than 20 years of 
observational data on pinniped responses to the stimuli associated with 
the planned activities that we expect to result in harassment (sonic 
booms) in the particular geographic area of the planned activity (VAFB 
and the NCI). Therefore, we consider these data to be the best 
available information in regard to estimating take based on modeled 
exposures among pinnipeds to sounds associated with the planned 
activities. These data suggest that pinniped reactions to sonic booms 
are dependent on the species, the age of the animal, and the intensity 
of the sonic boom (see Table 3).

                          Table 2--NMFS Criteria for Acoustic Impacts to Marine Mammals
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              Criterion                      Criterion definition                       Threshold
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          In-Water Acoustic Thresholds
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level A..............................  PTS (injury) conservatively      190 dBrms for pinnipeds.
                                        based on TTS.
                                                                        180 dBrms for cetaceans.
Level B..............................  Behavioral disruption for        160 dBrms.
                                        impulsive noise.
Level B..............................  Behavioral disruption for non-   120 dBrms.
                                        pulse noise.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           In-Air Acoustic Thresholds
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Level A..............................  PTS (injury) conservatively      None established.
                                        based on TTS.
Level B..............................  Behavioral disruption for        90 dBrms.
                                        harbor seals.
Level B..............................  Behavioral disruption for non-   100 dBrms.
                                        harbor seal pinnipeds.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    As described above, data from launch monitoring by the USAF on the 
NCI and at VAFB have shown that pinniped reactions to sonic booms are 
correlated to the level of the sonic boom. Low energy sonic booms (<1.0 
psf) have resulted in little to no behavioral responses, including head 
raising and briefly alerting but returning to normal behavior shortly 
after the stimulus. More powerful sonic booms have flushed animals from 
haulouts (but not resulted in any mortality or sustained decreased in 
numbers after the stimulus). Table 3 presents a summary of monitoring 
efforts at the NCI from 1999 to 2011. These data show that reactions to 
sonic booms tend to be insignificant below 1.0 psf and that, even above 
1.0 psf, only a portion of the animals present react to the sonic boom. 
Therefore, for the purposes of estimating the extent of take that is 
likely to occur as a result of the planned activities, we assume that 
Level B harassment occurs when a pinniped (on land) is exposed to a 
sonic boom at or above 1.0 psf. Therefore the number of expected takes 
by Level B harassment is based on estimates of the numbers of animals 
that would be within the area exposed to sonic booms at levels at or 
above 1.0 psf.

[[Page 34989]]



                         Table 3--Pinniped Reactions to Sonic Booms at San Miguel Island
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Sonic boom
             Launch event                 level (psf)            Location          Species & associated reaction
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Athena II (27 April 1999).............             1.0  Adams Cove...............  Calif. sea lion--866 alerted,
                                                                                    232 flushed into water;
                                                                                    northern elephant seal--
                                                                                    alerted but did not flush;
                                                                                    northern fur seal--alerted
                                                                                    but did not flush.
Athena II (24 September 1999).........            0.95  Point Bennett............  Calif. sea lion--600 alerted,
                                                                                    12 flushed into water;
                                                                                    northern elephant seal--
                                                                                    alerted but did not flush;
                                                                                    northern fur seal--alerted
                                                                                    but did not flush.
Delta II 20 (November 2000)...........             0.4  Point Bennett............  Calif. sea lion--60 flushed
                                                                                    into water, no reaction from
                                                                                    rest; Northern elephant
                                                                                    seal--no reaction.
Atlas II (8 September 2001)...........            0.75  Cardwell Point...........  Calif. sea lion--no reaction;
                                                                                    northern elephant seal--no
                                                                                    reaction; harbor seal--2 of
                                                                                    4 flushed into water.
Delta II (11 February 2002)...........            0.64  Point Bennett............  Calif. sea lion--no reaction;
                                                                                    northern fur seal--no
                                                                                    reaction; northern elephant
                                                                                    seal--no reaction.
Atlas II (2 December 2003)............            0.88  Point Bennett............  Calif. sea lion--40% alerted,
                                                                                    several flushed to water;
                                                                                    northern elephant seal--no
                                                                                    reaction.
Delta II (15 July 2004)...............            1.34  Adams Cove...............  Calif. sea lion--10% alerted.
Atlas V (13 March 2008)...............            1.24  Cardwell Point...........  northern elephant seal--no
                                                                                    reaction.
Delta II (5 May 2009).................            0.76  West of Judith Rock......  Calif. sea lion--no reaction.
Atlas V (14 April 2011)...............            1.01  Cuyler Harbor............  northern elephant seal--no
                                                                                    reaction.
Atlas V (3 April 2014)................            0.74  Cardwell Point...........  harbor seal--1 of ~25 flushed
                                                                                    into water, no reaction from
                                                                                    others.
Atlas V (12 December 2014)............            1.16  Point Bennett............  Calif. sea lion--5 of ~225
                                                                                    alerted, none flushed.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The data recorded by USAF at VAFB and the NCI over the past 20 
years has also shown that pinniped reactions to sonic booms vary 
between species. As described above, little or no reaction has been 
observed in harbor seals, California sea lions, northern fur seals and 
northern elephant seals when overpressures were below 1.0 psf (data on 
responses among Steller sea lions and Guadalupe fur seals is not 
available). At the NCI sea lions have reacted more strongly to sonic 
booms than most other species. Harbor seals also appear to be more 
sensitive to sonic booms than most other pinnipeds, often resulting in 
startling and fleeing into the water. Northern fur seals generally show 
little or no reaction, and northern elephant seals generally exhibit no 
reaction at all, except perhaps a heads-up response or some stirring, 
especially if sea lions in the same area mingled with the elephant 
seals react strongly to the boom. No data is available on Steller sea 
lion or Guadalupe fur seal responses to sonic booms.

Exposure Area

    As described above, SpaceX performed acoustic modeling to estimate 
overpressure levels that would be created during the return flight of 
the Falcon 9 First Stage (Wyle, Inc. 2015). The predicted acoustic 
footprint of the sonic boom was computed using the computer program 
PCBoom (Plotkin and Grandi 2002; Page et al. 2010). Modeling was 
performed for a landing at VAFB and separately for a contingency barge 
landing (see Figures 2-1, 2-2, 2-3 and 2-4 in the IHA application).
    The model results predicted that sonic overpressures would reach up 
to 2.0 pounds psf in the immediate area around SLC-4W (see Figures 2-1 
and 2-2 in the IHA application) and an overpressure between 1.0 and 2.0 
psf would impact the coastline of VAFB from approximately 8 km north of 
SLC-4W to approximately 18 km southeast of SLC-4W (see Figures 2-1 and 
2-2 in the IHA application). A substantially larger area, including the 
mainland, the Pacific Ocean, and the NCI would experience an 
overpressure between 0.1 and 1.0 psf (see Figure 2-1 in the IHA 
application). In addition, San Miguel Island and Santa Rosa Island may 
experience an overpressure up to 3.1 psf and the west end of Santa Cruz 
Island may experience an overpressure up to 1.0 psf (see Figures 2-1 
and 2-3 in the IHA application). During a contingency barge landing 
event, an overpressure of up to 2.0 psf would impact the Pacific Ocean 
at the contingency landing location approximately 50 km offshore of 
VAFB. San Miguel Island and Santa Rosa Island would experience a sonic 
boom between 0.1 and 0.2 psf, while sonic boom overpressures on the 
mainland would be between 0.2 and 0.4 psf.
    SpaceX assumes that actual sonic booms that occur during the 
planned activities will vary slightly from the modeled sonic booms; 
therefore, when estimating take based on areas anticipated to be 
impacted by sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf, haulouts within 
approximately 8.0 km (5 miles) of modeled contour lines for sonic booms 
at or above 1.0 psf were included to be conservative. Therefore, in 
estimating take for a VAFB landing, haulouts were included from the 
areas of Point Arguello and Point Conception, all of San Miguel Island, 
the northwestern half of Santa Rosa Island, and northwestern quarter of 
Santa Cruz Island (see Figure 2-2 and 2-3 in the IHA application). For 
a contingency landing event, sonic booms are far enough offshore so 
that only haulouts along the northwestern edge of San Miguel Island may 
be exposed to a 1.0 psf or greater sonic boom (see Figure 2-4 in the 
IHA application). As modeling indicates that substantially more 
haulouts would be impacted by a sonic boom at or above 1.0 psf in the 
event of a landing at VAFB versus a landing at the contingency landing 
location, estimated takes are substantially higher in the event of a 
VAFB landing versus a barge landing.

Description of Take Calculation

    The take calculations presented here rely on the best data 
currently available for marine mammal populations in the project 
location. Data collected from marine mammal surveys represent the best 
available information on the occurrence of the six pinniped species in 
the project area. The quality of information available on pinniped 
abundance in the project area is varies depending on species; some 
species, such as California sea lions, are surveyed regularly at VAFB 
and the NCI, while for others, such as northern fur seals, survey data 
is largely lacking. See Table 4 for total estimated incidents of take. 
Take estimates were based on

[[Page 34990]]

``worst case scenario'' assumptions, as follows:
     All six Falcon 9 First Stage recovery actions are assumed 
to result in landings at VAFB, with no landings occurring at the 
contingency barge landing location. This is a conservative assumption 
as sonic boom modeling indicates landings at VAFB are expected to 
result in a greater number of exposures to sound resulting in Level B 
harassment than would be expected for landings at the contingency 
landing location offshore. Some landings may ultimately occur at the 
contingency landing location; however, the number of landings at each 
location is not known in advance.
     All pinnipeds estimated to be in areas ensonified by sonic 
booms at or above 1.0 psf are assumed to be hauled out at the time the 
sonic boom occurs. This assumption is conservative as some animals may 
in fact be in the water with heads submerged when a sonic boom occurs 
and would therefore not be exposed to the sonic boom at a level that 
would result in Level B harassment.
     Actual sonic booms that occur during the planned 
activities are assumed to vary slightly from the modeled sonic booms; 
therefore, when estimating take based on areas expected to be impacted 
by sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf, an additional buffer of 8.0 km (5 
miles) was added to modeled sonic boom contour lines. Thus haulouts 
that are within approximately 8.0 km (5 miles) of modeled sonic booms 
at 1.0 psf and above were included in the take estimate. This is a 
conservative assumption as it expands the area of ensonification that 
would be expected to result in Level B harassment.
    California sea lion--California sea lions are common offshore of 
VAFB and haul out on rocks and beaches along the coastline of VAFB, 
though pupping rarely occurs on the VAFB coastline. They haulout in 
large numbers on the NCI and rookeries exist on San Miguel and Santa 
Cruz islands. Based on modeling of sonic booms from Falcon 9 First 
Stage recovery activities, Level B harassment of California sea lions 
is expected to occur both at VAFB and at the NCI. Estimated take of 
California sea lions at VAFB was calculated using the largest count 
totals from monthly surveys of VAFB haulout sites from 2013-2015. These 
data were compared to the modeled sonic boom profiles. Counts from 
haulouts that were within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic 
boom above 1.0 psf, plus the buffer of 8km as described above, were 
included in take estimates; those haulouts outside the area expected to 
be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf, plus the buffer of 8 km, 
were not included in the take estimate. The estimated number of 
California sea lion takes on the NCI and at Point Conception was 
derived from aerial survey data collected from 2002 to 2012 by the NOAA 
Southwest Fishery Science Center (SWFSC). The estimates are based on 
the largest number of individuals observed in the count blocks that 
fall within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 
1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km, based on sonic boom modeling. Estimates 
of Level B harassment for California sea lions are shown in Table 4.
    Harbor Seal--Pacific harbor seals are the most common marine mammal 
inhabiting VAFB, congregating on several rocky haul-out sites along the 
VAFB coastline. They also haul out, breed, and pup in isolated beaches 
and coves throughout the coasts of the NCI. Based on modeling of sonic 
booms from Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities, Level B harassment 
of harbor seals is expected to occur both at VAFB and at the NCI. 
Estimated take of harbor seals at VAFB was calculated using the largest 
count totals from monthly surveys of VAFB haulout sites from 2013-2015. 
These data were compared to the modeled sonic boom profiles. Counts 
from haulouts that were within the area expected to be ensonified by a 
sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km were included in take 
estimates; those haulouts outside the area expected to be ensonified by 
a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km were not included in 
the take estimate. The estimated number of harbor seal takes on the NCI 
and at Point Conception was derived from aerial survey data collected 
from 2002 to 2012 by the NOAA SWFSC. The estimates are based on the 
largest number of individuals observed in the count blocks that fall 
within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf 
plus a radius of 8 km, based on sonic boom modeling.
    It should be noted that total take estimates shown in Table 4 
represent incidents of exposure to sound resulting in Level B 
harassment from the planned activities, and not estimates of the number 
of individual harbor seals exposed. As described above, harbor seals 
display a high degree of site fidelity to their preferred haulout 
sites, and are non-migratory, rarely traveling more than 50 km from 
their haulout sites. Thus, while the estimated abundance of the 
California stock of Pacific harbor seals is 30,968 (Carretta et al. 
2015), a substantially smaller number of individual harbor seals is 
expected to occur within the project area. The number of harbor seals 
expected to be taken by Level B harassment, per Falcon 9 First Stage 
recovery action, is 2,157 (Table 4). We expect that, because of harbor 
seals' site fidelity to haulout locations at VAFB and the NCI, and 
because of their limited ranges, the same individuals are likely to be 
taken repeatedly over the course of the planned activities (six Falcon 
9 First Stage recovery actions). Estimates of Level B harassment for 
harbor seals are shown in Table 4.
    Steller Sea Lion--Steller sea lions occur in small numbers at VAFB 
(maximum 16 individuals observed at any time) and on San Miguel Island 
(maximum 4 individuals recorded at any time). They have not been 
observed on the Channel Islands other than San Miguel Island and they 
not currently have rookeries on the NCI or at VAFB. Estimated take of 
Steller sea lions at VAFB was calculated using the largest count totals 
from monthly surveys of VAFB from 2013-2015. These data were compared 
to the modeled sonic boom profiles. Counts from haulouts that were 
within the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf 
plus a radius of 8 km were included in take estimates; those haulouts 
outside the area expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 
psf plus a radius of 8 km were not included in the take estimate. 
Estimates of Level B harassment for Steller sea lions are shown in 
Table 4.
    Northern elephant seal--Northern elephant seals haul out 
sporadically on rocks and beaches along the coastline of VAFB and at 
Point Conception, but they do not currently breed or pup at VAFB or at 
Point Conception. Northern elephant seals have rookeries on San Miguel 
Island and Santa Rosa Island. They are rarely seen on Santa Cruz Island 
and Anacapa Island. Based on modeling of sonic booms from Falcon 9 
First Stage recovery activities, Level B harassment of northern 
elephant seals is expected to occur both at VAFB and at the NCI.
    Estimated take of northern elephant seals at VAFB was calculated 
using the largest count totals from monthly surveys of VAFB haulout 
sites from 2013-2015. These data were compared to the modeled sonic 
boom profiles. Counts from haulouts that were within the area expected 
to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km 
were included in take estimates; those haulouts outside the area 
expected to be ensonified by a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius 
of 8 km were not included in the take estimate. The estimated number of 
northern elephant

[[Page 34991]]

seal takes on the NCI and at Point Conception was derived from aerial 
survey data collected from 2002 to 2012 by the NOAA SWFSC. The 
estimates are based on the largest number of individuals observed in 
the count blocks that fall within the area expected to be ensonified by 
a sonic boom above 1.0 psf plus a radius of 8 km, based on sonic boom 
modeling.
    As described above, monitoring data has shown that reactions to 
sonic booms among pinnipeds vary between species, with northern 
elephant seals consistently showing little or no reaction (Table 3). 
USAF launch monitoring data shows that northern elephant seals have 
never been observed responding to sonic booms. No elephant seal has 
been observed flushing to the water in response to a sonic boom. 
Because of the data showing that elephant seals consistently show 
little to no reaction to the sonic booms, we conservatively estimate 
that 10 percent of northern elephant seal exposures to sonic booms at 
or above 1.0 psf will result in Level B harassment. Estimates of Level 
B harassment for northern elephant seals are shown in Table 4. Note 
that the take estimate for northern elephant seals shown in Table 4 has 
been revised from the take estimate in the proposed IHA.
    Northern fur seal--Northern fur seals have rookeries on San Miguel 
Island, the only island in the NCI on which they have been observed. No 
haulout or rookery sites exist for northern fur seals at VAFB or on the 
mainland coast, thus take from sonic booms is only expected on San 
Miguel Island and not on the mainland. Comprehensive count data for 
northern fur seals on San Miguel Island are not available. Estimated 
take of northern fur seals was derived from northern fur seals pup and 
bull census data (Testa 2013), and personal communications with subject 
matter experts based at the NMFS National Marine Mammal Laboratory. 
Northern fur seal abundance on San Miguel Island varies substantially 
depending on the season, with a maximum of 6,000-8,000 seals hauled out 
on the western end of the island and at Castle Rock (~1 km northwest of 
San Miguel Island) during peak pupping season in July; the number of 
seals on San Miguel Island then decreases steadily from August until 
November, when very few seals are present. The number of seals on the 
island does not begin to increase again until the following June (pers. 
comm., T. Orr, NMFS NMML, to J. Carduner, NMFS, 2/27/16). As the dates 
of Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities are not known, the 
activities could occur when the maximum number or the minimum number of 
fur seals is present, depending on season. We therefore estimated an 
average of 5,000 northern fur seals would be present in the area 
affected by sonic booms above 1.0 psf.
    As described above, monitoring data has shown that reactions to 
sonic booms among pinnipeds vary between species, with northern fur 
seals consistently showing little or no reaction (Table 3). As 
described above, launch monitoring data shows that northern fur seals 
sometimes alert to sonic booms but have never been observed flushing to 
the water in response to sonic booms. Because of the data showing that 
fur seals consistently show little to no reaction to sonic booms, we 
conservatively estimate that 10 percent of northern fur seal exposures 
to sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf will result in Level B harassment. 
Estimates of Level B harassment for northern fur seals are shown in 
Table 4.
    Guadalupe fur seal--There are estimated to be approximately 20-25 
individual Guadalupe fur seals that have fidelity to San Miguel Island. 
The highest number of individuals observed at any one time on San 
Miguel Island is thirteen. No haul-out or rookery sites exist for 
Guadalupe fur seals on the mainland coast, including VAFB. 
Comprehensive survey data on Guadalupe fur seals in the NCI is not 
readily available. Though we are aware of no data on Guadalupe fur seal 
responses to sonic booms, because of the data showing that northern fur 
seals consistently show little to no reaction to sonic booms, we 
conservatively estimate that 10 percent of Guadalupe fur seal exposures 
to sonic booms at or above 1.0 psf will result in Level B harassment. 
The estimated number of takes of Guadalupe fur seals was based the 
maximum number of Guadalupe fur seals observed at any one time on San 
Miguel Island (pers. comm., J. LaBonte, ManTech, to J. Carduner, NMFS, 
Feb 29, 2016). Estimates of Level B harassment for Guadalupe fur seals 
are shown in Table 4. Note that the take estimate for Guadalupe fur 
seals shown in Table 4 has been revised from the take estimate in the 
proposed IHA.
    As described above, the take estimates shown in Table 4 are 
considered reasonable estimates of the number of marine mammal 
exposures to sound resulting in Level B harassment that are likely to 
occur over the course of the project, and not necessarily the number of 
individual animals exposed.

  Table 4--Number of Incidental Takes of Marine Mammals, and Percentage of Stock Abundance, as a Result of the
                                               Planned Activities
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                             Estimated takes   Total estimated
                                                              per Falcon 9     takes over the     Percentage of
              Species                 Geographic location      First Stage     duration of the   stock abundance
                                                             recovery action   IHA [supcaret]    estimated taken
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Harbor Seal........................  VAFB \a\.............               366            12,942               * 7
                                     Pt. Conception \b\...               488
                                     San Miguel Island \b\               752
                                     Santa Rosa Island \b\               412
                                     Santa Cruz Island \b\               139
California Sea Lion................  VAFB \a\.............               416            56,496                19
                                     Pt. Conception.......               n/a
                                     San Miguel Island \c\             9,000
                                     Santa Rosa Island \c\
                                     Santa Cruz Island \c\
Northern Elephant Seal.............  VAFB \a\.............                19             1,020               0.5
                                     Pt. Conception \d\...                 1
                                     San Miguel Island \c\               150
                                     Santa Rosa Island \c\
                                     Santa Cruz Island \c\
Steller Sea Lion...................  VAFB \a\.............                16               120               0.2
                                     Pt. Conception.......               n/a

[[Page 34992]]

 
                                     San Miguel Island....                 4
                                     Santa Rosa Island....               n/a
                                     Santa Cruz Island....               n/a
Northern Fur Seal..................  VAFB.................               n/a             3,000                23
                                     Pt. Conception.......               n/a
                                     San Miguel Island \c\               500
                                     Santa Rosa Island....               n/a
                                     Santa Cruz Island....               n/a
Guadalupe Fur Seal.................  VAFB.................               n/a                 6               0.1
                                     Pt. Conception.......               n/a
                                     San Miguel Island \e\                 1
                                     Santa Rosa Island....               n/a
                                     Santa Cruz Island....               n/a
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\a\ VAFB monthly marine mammal survey data 2013-2015 (ManTech SRS Technologies, Inc. 2014, 2015 and VAFB,
  unpubl. data).
\b\ NOAA Fisheries aerial survey data June 2002 and May 2004 (M. Lowry, NOAA Fisheries, unpubl. data).
\c\ Testa 2013; USAF 2013; pers. comm., T. Orr, NMFS NMML, to J. Carduner, NMFS, Feb 27, 2016.
\d\ NOAA Fisheries aerial survey data February 2010 (M. Lowry, NOAA Fisheries, unpubl. data).
\e\ DeLong and Melin 2000; J. Harris, NOAA Fisheries, pers. comm.
[supcaret] Based on six Falcon 9 First Stage recovery actions, with SLC-4W landings, per year.
* For harbor seals, estimated percentage of stock abundance taken is based on estimated number of individuals
  taken versus estimated total exposures.

Analyses and Determinations

Negligible Impact Analysis

    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.'' A negligible impact finding is based on the 
lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or 
survival (i.e., population-level effects). An estimate of the number of 
Level B harassment takes alone is not enough information on which to 
base an impact determination. In addition to considering estimates of 
the number of marine mammals that might be ``taken'' through behavioral 
harassment, we consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any 
responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context of any responses 
(e.g., critical reproductive time or location, migration), as well as 
the number and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes, the number 
of estimated mortalities, and effects on habitat.
    To avoid repetition, the discussion of our analyses applies to all 
the species listed in Table 4, given that the anticipated effects of 
this activity on these different marine mammal stocks are expected to 
be similar. There is no information about the nature or severity of the 
impacts, or the size, status, or structure of any of these species or 
stocks that would lead to a different analysis for this activity.
    Activities associated with the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery 
project, as outlined previously, have the potential to disturb or 
displace marine mammals. Specifically, the specified activities may 
result in take, in the form of Level B harassment (behavioral 
disturbance) only, from in-air sounds generated from sonic booms. 
Potential takes could occur if marine mammals are hauled out in areas 
where a sonic boom above 1.0 psf occurs, which is considered likely 
given the modeled acoustic footprint of the planned activities and the 
occurrence of pinnipeds in the project area. Effects on individuals 
that are taken by Level B harassment, on the basis of reports in the 
literature as well as monitoring from similar activities that have 
received incidental take authorizations from NMFS, will likely be 
limited to reactions such as alerting to the noise, with some animals 
possibly moving toward or entering the water, depending on the species 
and the psf associated with the sonic boom. Repeated exposures of 
individuals to levels of sound that may cause Level B harassment are 
unlikely to result in hearing impairment or to significantly disrupt 
foraging behavior. In addition, it is expected that exposures of 
individuals to levels of sound that may cause Level B harassment will 
be very brief (a few seconds) and very infrequent (six total over the 
course of the Authorization). Thus, even repeated Level B harassment of 
some small subset of the overall stock is unlikely to result in any 
significant realized decrease in fitness to those individuals, and thus 
would not result in any adverse impact to the stock as a whole. Level B 
harassment will be reduced to the level of least practicable impact 
through use of mitigation measures described above.
    If a marine mammal responds to a stimulus by changing its behavior 
(e.g., through relatively minor changes in locomotion direction/speed), 
the response may or may not constitute taking at the individual level, 
and is unlikely to affect the stock or the species as a whole. However, 
if a sound source displaces marine mammals from an important feeding or 
breeding area for a prolonged period, impacts on animals or on the 
stock or species could potentially be significant (e.g., Lusseau and 
Bejder, 2007; Weilgart, 2007). Flushing of pinnipeds into the water has 
the potential to result in mother-pup separation, or could result in 
stampede, either of which could potentially result in serious injury or 
mortality and thereby could potentially impact the stock or species. 
However, based the best available information, which in this case is 
over 20 years of monitoring data from the project location as described 
below, no serious injury or mortality of marine mammals is anticipated 
as a result of the planned activities.
    Even in the instances of pinnipeds being behaviorally disturbed by 
sonic booms from rocket launches at VAFB, no evidence has been 
presented of abnormal behavior, injuries or mortalities, or pup 
abandonment as a

[[Page 34993]]

result of sonic booms (SAIC 2013). These findings came as a result of 
more than two decades of surveys at VAFB and the NCI (MMCG and SAIC, 
2012). Post-launch monitoring generally reveals a return to normal 
patterns within minutes up to an hour or two of each launch, regardless 
of species. For instance, eight space vehicle launches occurred from 
north VAFB, near the Spur Road and Purisima Point haul-out sites, 
during the period 7 February 2009 through 6 February 2014. Of these 
eight Delta II and Taurus launches, three occurred during the harbor 
seal pupping season. The continued use of the Spur Road and Purisima 
Point haulout sites indicates that it is unlikely that these rocket 
launches (and associated sonic booms) resulted in long-term 
disturbances of pinnipeds using the haulout sites. Moreover, adverse 
cumulative impacts from launches were not observed at this site. San 
Miguel Island represents the most important pinniped rookery in the 
lower 48 states, and as such extensive research has been conducted 
there for decades. From this research, as well as stock assessment 
reports, it is clear that VAFB operations (including associated sonic 
booms) have not had any significant impacts on San Miguel Island 
rookeries and haulouts (SAIC 2012). Based on this extensive record, we 
believe the likelihood of serious injury or mortality of any marine 
mammal as a result of the planned activities is so low as to be 
discountable. Thus we do not anticipate Level A harassment will occur 
as a result of the planned activities and we do not authorize take in 
the form of Level A harassment.
    The activities analyzed here are substantially similar to other 
activities that have received MMPA incidental take authorizations 
previously, including Letters of Authorization for USAF launches of 
space launch vehicles at VAFB, which have occurred for over 20 years 
with no reported injuries or mortalities to marine mammals, and no 
known long-term adverse consequences to marine mammals from behavioral 
harassment. As described above, several cetacean species occur within 
the project area, however no cetaceans are expected to be affected by 
the planned activities.
    In summary, this negligible impact analysis is founded on the 
following factors:
    1. The possibility of injury, serious injury, or mortality may 
reasonably be considered discountable;
    2. The anticipated incidences of Level B harassment consist of, at 
worst, temporary modifications in behavior (i.e., short distance 
movements and occasional flushing into the water with return to 
haulouts within at most two days), which are not expected to adversely 
affect the fitness of any individuals;
    3. The considerable evidence, based on over 20 years of monitoring 
data, suggesting no long-term changes in the use by pinnipeds of 
rookeries and haulouts in the project area as a result of sonic booms; 
and
    4. The presumed efficacy of planned mitigation measures in reducing 
the effects of the specified activity to the level of least practicable 
impact.
    In combination, we believe that these factors, as well as the 
available body of evidence from other similar activities, demonstrate 
that the potential effects of the specified activity will be short-term 
on individual animals. Though the project area does represent an 
important pupping area for several species that may be taken, the 
specified activity is not expected to impact rates of recruitment or 
survival and will therefore not result in population-level impacts. 
Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the monitoring and mitigation 
measures, we find that the total marine mammal take from SpaceX's 
Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activities will have a negligible impact 
on the affected marine mammal species or stocks.

Small Numbers Analysis

    The numbers of authorized takes would be considered small relative 
to the relevant stocks or populations (23 percent for northern fur 
seals; 19 percent for California sea lions; 7 percent for Pacific 
harbor seals; less than 1 percent each for northern elephant seals, 
Guadalupe fur seals and Steller sea lions). But, it is important to 
note that the number of expected takes does not necessarily represent 
of the number of individual animals expected to be taken. Our small 
numbers analysis accounts for this fact. Multiple exposures to Level B 
harassment can accrue to the same individuals over the course of an 
activity that occurs multiple times in the same area (such as SpaceX's 
planned activity). This is especially likely in the case of species 
that have limited ranges and that have site fidelity to a location 
within the project area, as is the case with Pacific harbor seals.
    As described above, harbor seals are non-migratory, rarely 
traveling more than 50 km from their haul-out sites. Thus, while the 
estimated abundance of the California stock of Pacific harbor seals is 
30,968 (Carretta et al. 2015), a substantially smaller number of 
individual harbor seals is expected to occur within the project area. 
We expect that, because of harbor seals' site fidelity to locations at 
VAFB and the NCI, and because of their limited ranges, the same 
individuals are likely to be taken repeatedly over the course of the 
planned activities (maximum of six Falcon 9 First Stage recovery 
actions). Therefore the number of exposures to Level B harassment over 
the course of the authorization (the total number of takes shown in 
Table 4) is expected to accrue to a much smaller number of individuals. 
The maximum number of harbor seals expected to be taken by Level B 
harassment, per Falcon 9 First Stage recovery action, is 2,157. As we 
believe the same individuals are likely to be taken repeatedly over the 
course of the planned activities, we use the estimate of 2,157 
individual animals taken per Falcon 9 First Stage recovery activity for 
the purposes of estimating the percentage of the stock abundance likely 
to be taken.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring 
measures, we find that small numbers of marine mammals will be taken 
relative to the populations of the affected species or stocks.

Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence 
Uses

    Potential impacts resulting from the planned activities will be 
limited to individuals of marine mammal species located in areas that 
have no subsistence requirements. Therefore, no impacts on the 
availability of marine mammal species or stocks for subsistence use are 
expected.

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), the 
USAF prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) to consider the direct, 
indirect and cumulative effects to the human environment resulting from 
the Falcon 9 First Stage recovery project. NMFS made the USAF's EA 
available to the public for review and comment, concurrently with the 
publication of the proposed IHA, on the NMFS Web site (at 
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/), in relation to its 
suitability

[[Page 34994]]

for adoption by NMFS in order to assess the impacts to the human 
environment of issuance of an IHA to SpaceX. Also in compliance with 
NEPA and the CEQ regulations, as well as NOAA Administrative Order 216-
6, NMFS has reviewed the USAF's EA, determined it to be sufficient, and 
adopted that EA and signed a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) 
on May 6, 2016.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

    There is one marine mammal species (Guadalupe fur seal) listed 
under the ESA with confirmed occurrence in the area expected to be 
impacted by the planned activities. The NMFS West Coast Region 
Protected Resources Division has determined that the NMFS Permits and 
Conservation Division's authorization of SpaceX's Falcon 9 First Stage 
recovery activities are not likely to adversely affect the Guadalupe 
fur seal. Therefore, formal ESA section 7 consultation on this 
authorization is not required.

Authorization

    NMFS has issued an IHA to SpaceX for the potential harassment of 
small numbers of six marine mammal species incidental to the Falcon 9 
First Stage recovery project in California and in the Pacific Ocean 
offshore California, provided the previously mentioned mitigation.

    Dated: May 25, 2016.
Perry Gayaldo,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2016-12818 Filed 5-31-16; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P