[Federal Register Volume 60, Number 195 (Tuesday, October 10, 1995)]
[Notices]
[Pages 52653-52655]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 95-25001]



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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
[I.D. 081195B]


Small Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
McDonnell Douglas Aerospace Delta II Vehicles at Vandenberg Air Force 
Base, CA

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

ACTION: Notice of issuance of an incidental harassment authorization.

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

SUMMARY: In accordance with provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection 
Act (MMPA) as amended, notification is hereby given that an Incidental 
Harassment Authorization to take small numbers of harbor seals, 
California sea lions, and northern elephant seals by harassment 
incidental to launches of McDonnell Douglas Aerospace Delta II (MDA 
Delta II) vehicles at Space Launch Complex 2W (SLC-2W), Vandenberg Air 
Force Base, CA (Vandenberg) has been issued to the U.S. Air Force.

EFFECTIVE DATE: This authorization is effective from September 19, 
1995, until September 19, 1996.

ADDRESSES: The application and authorization are available for review 
in the following offices: Marine Mammal Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and 
the Southwest Region, NMFS, 501 West Ocean Blvd. Long Beach, CA 90802.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kenneth Hollingshead, Marine Mammal 
Division, Office of Protected Resources at 301-713-2055, or Irma 
Lagomarsino, Southwest Regional Office at 301-980-4016.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs 
the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but 
not intentional taking of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in 
a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified 


[[Page 52654]]
geographical region if certain findings are made and regulations are 
issued.
    Permission may be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a 
negligible impact on the species or stock(s); will not have an 
unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or 
stock(s) for subsistence uses; and the permissible methods of taking 
and requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such 
taking are set forth.
    On April 30, 1994, the President signed Public Law 103-238, The 
Marine Mammal Protection Act Amendments of 1994 (1994 Amendments). One 
part of this law added a new subsection 101(a)(5)(D) to the MMPA to 
establish an expedited process by which citizens of the United States 
can apply for an authorization to incidentally take small numbers of 
marine mammals by harassment for a period of up to one year. The MMPA 
defines ``harassment'' as:

     * * *any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which (a) has 
the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in 
the wild; or (b) 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.

    New subsection 101(a)(5)(D) establishes a 45-day time limit for 
NMFS review of an application followed by a 30-day public notice and 
comment period on any proposed authorizations for the incidental 
harassment of small numbers of marine mammals. Within 45 days of the 
close of the comment period, NMFS must either issue or deny issuance of 
the authorization.

Summary of Request

    On July 12, 1995, NMFS received an application from the U.S. Air 
Force requesting an authorization for the harassment of small numbers 
of harbor seals and potentially for other pinniped species incidental 
to launches of Delta II vehicles at SLC-2W, Vandenberg. These launches 
would place Department of Defense, National Aeronautic and Space 
Administration (NASA), and commercial, medium-weight payloads into 
polar or near-polar orbits. MDA/NASA intends to launch approximately 4-
5 Delta IIs during the period of this proposed 1-year authorization.
    Because SLC-2W is located north of most other launch complexes at 
Vandenberg, and because there are oil production platforms located off 
the coast to the south of SLC-2W, missions flown from SLC-2W cannot fly 
directly on their final southward course. The normal trajectory for a 
SLC-2W launch is 259.5 degrees west for the first 90 seconds, then a 
41-second dog-leg maneuver to bring the vehicle on its southward course 
of 196 degrees. This trajectory takes the launch vehicle away from the 
coast and nearly 30 miles west of San Miguel Island (SMI), the 
westernmost Channel Island (Air Force, 1995b)1. As a result of the 
noise associated with the launch itself, there is a potential to cause 
a startle response to those harbor seals and other pinnipeds that may 
haul out on the coastline of Vandenberg. Launch noise would be expected 
to occur over the coastal habitats in the vicinity of SLC-2W while low-
level sonic booms could be heard over the water in the area west of the 
Channel Islands.

    \1\ A list of references used in this document can be obtained 
by writing to the address provided above (see ADDRESSES).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A notice of receipt of the application and the proposed 
authorization was published on August 18, 1995 (60 FR 43120) and a 30-
day public comment period was provided on the application and proposed 
authorization. During the comment period, one letter was received. The 
comments contained in this letter are discussed in detail below. Other 
than information necessary to respond to the comments, additional 
background information on the activity and request can be found in the 
above-mentioned notice and needs not be repeated here.

Comments and Responses

    Comment 1. There are a number of cetacean species and other 
pinniped species (Guadalupe fur seals and Steller sea lions) that are 
likely to occur at least occasionally in areas where they could be 
subject to noise from rockets launched at Vandenberg. The Marine Mammal 
Commission (MMC) recommends NMFS consult with applicant to determine 
whether these species would be harassed.
    Response. There are three species of pinnipeds reported hauling out 
on occasion in the vicinity of SLC-2: harbor seals, California sea 
lions, and northern elephant seals. NMFS is unaware of other species of 
pinnipeds being in the vicinity of Vandenberg. For example, Steller sea 
lions have not been seen in the Channel Islands area since 1984 and 
Guadalupe fur seals, which breed in Mexico, are rarely seen in southern 
California. On the Channel Islands, the sonic boom signature is 
expected to be indistinguishable from ambient noise levels. Over water, 
the sonic boom is significantly less than that estimated to cause a 
temporary threshold shift injury and NMFS is unaware of any scientific 
evidence indicating that a behavioral response results from a single, 
low-frequency sonic boom. As stated in the proposed authorization, 
there is also no evidence that airborne noises from the launch itself 
will cause a startle effect on marine mammals in the water. Although 
the potential does exist that other marine mammal species will hear 
either the launch noise or the sonic boom, simply hearing the noise 
does not necessarily mean that the animals have been harassed.
    Comment 2. The notice of proposed authorization does not indicate 
whether long-term or cumulative studies have been or are being done to 
look at possible long-term, cumulative effects--e.g., decreases in the 
number of seals or the proportion of pups that haul out. Without such 
information, it is not reasonable to conclude that there are no 
cumulative effects or that any cumulative effects, like short-term 
effects, are likely to be negligible.
    Response. While NMFS is unaware of any long-term studies on the 
effects on pinnipeds from launch noises, monitoring at Vandenberg for 
Titan IV launches provides baseline information for future studies. 
However, the fact that these haul-outs remain active indicates that 
there are no immediately evident long-term, cumulative impacts. Launch 
noises are infrequent enough and divided between North and South 
Vandenberg so that these impacts will likely be less significant, 
cumulatively, than humans, pets and motorized vessels would be. 
Therefore, determining the long-term impacts from launch activities and 
resultant noise would be difficult.
    Comment 3. The MMPA prescribes requirements for monitoring and 
reporting to ensure that only small numbers of specified animals are 
harassed and that the effects of the harassment are negligible. The 
proposed authorization does not explain the rationale for proposing 
that only harbor seals in the vicinity of Purisima Point be monitored. 
NMFS also appears to have ignored that the cumulative effects may be 
non-negligible.
    Response. NMFS has modified the authorization to require monitoring 
launch noises at the nearest active pinniped haul-out to SLC-2 and at 
Purisima Point. Monitoring at these close-in locations is necessary 
because of the high noise level of the launch. More distant haulouts 
are likely to result in less frequent response by the seals with 
resultant fewer behavioral modifications to study. Launches during 

[[Page 52655]]
this 1-year authorization are unlikely to result in measureable 
cumulative effects. However, this will be a subject for future review 
as commercial payload launches from Vandenberg increase over the next 
few years.
    Comment 4. NMFS requires a report only at the end of the 
authorization period. The MMC recommends at a minimum the Air Force 
should report killed and injured animals immediately and that the 
authorization should be rescinded if a marine mammal is killed or 
injured as a result of the authorization.
    Response. NMFS will require as part of the authorization that the 
Air Force submit a monitoring report, no later than 90 days after each 
Delta II launch. Because no humans are allowed on the coastline 
adjacent to the launch pad during launches, launch effect observations 
are limited to time-lapse photography. This limits the cause and effect 
criterion necessary to revoke an authorization. If there are 
indications that more than harassment takings are occurring, NMFS will 
review the evidence to determine appropriate action.
    Comment 5. The MMC recommends that NMFS consult with the Air Force 
to determine whether a 5-year authorization under section 101(a)(5)(A) 
would be more appropriate.
    Response. NMFS agrees with this recommendation and several months 
ago discussed this option with the Air Force. The Air Force's 5-year 
authorization, which expires on September 23, 1996, is limited to Titan 
IV launches. We anticipate they will apply for a new 5-year 
authorization late this year or early next year, which should include 
all planned launches at Vandenberg. In the interim, while this new 
authorization request is being prepared and new regulations proposed, 
the Air Force will continue to apply for incidental harassment 
authorizations for launches.

Conclusion

    Based upon the information provided in the proposed authorization, 
NMFS has determined that the short-term impact of the launching of 
Delta II rockets is expected to result at worst, in a temporary 
reduction in utilization of the haulout as seals or sea lions leave the 
beach for the safety of the water. These launchings are not expected to 
result in any reduction in the number of pinnipeds, and they are 
expected to continue to occupy the same area. In addition, there will 
not be any impact on the habitat itself. Based upon studies conducted 
for previous space vehicle launches at Vandenberg, significant long-
term impacts on pinnipeds at Vandenberg and the northern Channel 
Islands are unlikely.
    Therefore, since NMFS is assured that the taking will not result in 
more than the harassment (as defined by the MMPA Amendments of 1994) of 
a small number of harbor seals, California sea lions, and northern 
elephant seals; would have only a negligible impact on the species, and 
would result in the least practicable impact on the stock, NMFS 
determined that the requirements of section 101(a)(5)(D) had been met 
and the incidental harassment authorization was issued.

    Dated: Ocotober 2, 1995.
Patricia A. Montanio,
Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 95-25001 Filed 10-6-95; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-F