[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 60 (Monday, March 30, 2015)]
[Notices]
[Pages 16626-16628]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-07262]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Final Updated Framework for the National System of Marine 
Protected Areas and Response to Comments

AGENCY: National Marine Protected Areas Center, Office of National 
Marine Sanctuaries, National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric

[[Page 16627]]

Administration, Department of Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of availability of the final updated Framework for the 
National System of Marine Protected Areas of the United States and 
response to comments on Draft Updated Framework.

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SUMMARY: The Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior 
(DOI) jointly propose an updated Framework for the National System of 
Marine Protected Areas of the United States (Framework). The Framework 
is required by Executive Order 13158 on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). 
This Framework provides overarching guidance for collaborative efforts 
among federal, state, commonwealth, territorial, tribal and local 
governments and stakeholders to implement an effective National System 
of MPAs (National System) from existing sites, build management 
capacity among MPA programs, coordinate collaborative efforts to 
address common management issues and identify ecosystem-based gaps in 
the protection of significant natural and cultural resources for 
possible future action by the nation's MPA authorities. This document 
updates the previous version of the Framework, completed in November 
2008, using experience gained implementing the National System and 
advice from the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee and 
MPA programs.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lauren Wenzel, Acting Director, 
National Marine Protected Areas Center, 301-713-7265 or 
lauren.wenzel@noaa.gov.
    Copies of the updated Framework can be downloaded or viewed on the 
Internet at marineprotectedareas.noaa.gov. Copies can also be obtained 
through the contact person noted above.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

I. Background on MPA Framework

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) 
National Marine Protected Areas Center (MPA Center), within the Office 
of National Marine Sanctuaries, in cooperation with the Department of 
the Interior (DOl), completed the Framework for the National System of 
Marine Protected Areas of the United States (Framework) to meet 
requirements under Executive Order 13158 on Marine Protected Areas 
(Order) in November 2008. NOAA and DOI updated this Framework to 
reflect five years of implementation experience as well as advice from 
MPA management agencies and the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory 
Committee. The purpose of this notice is to notify the public of the 
availability of the updated Framework and to respond to public comment 
received on a draft update published October 27, 2014.
    Executive Order 13158 calls for the development of a National 
System of MPAs to ``enhance the conservation of our Nation's natural 
and cultural marine heritage and the ecologically and economically 
sustainable use of the marine environment for future generations.'' 
Established in November 2008, the National System provides a mechanism 
for MPA managers to voluntarily collaborate on shared management 
challenges; strengthen linkages among sites to enhance the management 
of marine resources; and build management capacity.
    This proposed updated Framework is streamlined for greater clarity 
and readability, has an increased focus on the functions of the 
National System, and describes the role of the MPA Center in 
coordinating and supporting the National System. It also includes 
substantial revisions to the criteria for cultural resources, adding a 
criterion that allows MPAs created by tribes and indigenous people to 
be eligible for the National System.

II. Comments and Responses

    On October 27, 2014, NOAA and DOI (agencies) published the updated 
Framework for public comment (79 FR 63899). By the end of the two-month 
comment period, five individual submissions had been received. Several 
of the comments raised more than one issue, so related comments have 
been summarized and grouped below into thematic categories. For each of 
the categories listed below, a summary of comments is provided, and a 
corresponding response provides an explanation and rationale about 
changes that were or were not made in the final updated Framework.

MPA Networks and New MPAs

    Comment: The updated Framework puts a greater emphasis on expanding 
MPA networks and creating new MPAs, moving the focus from more pressing 
needs of existing sites. Moreover, the focus on ecosystem connectivity 
may not be appropriate for existing MPAs, and may not serve a larger 
conservation purpose.
    Response: The development of MPA networks is a widely recognized 
marine conservation tool, acknowledged to be effective in providing the 
spatial links needed to maintain ecosystem processes and connectivity, 
as well as improving resilience of ecosystems and the communities that 
depend on them. NOAA and DOI believe that encouraging the science-based 
creation of MPA networks is fundamental to fulfilling the goals of the 
National System of MPAs. This focus on enhancing ecosystem connectivity 
will actually help realize the achievement of existing conservation 
objectives of MPAs.
    The updated Framework notes the importance of fostering effective 
management of existing MPAs as well as identifying priorities for 
conservation where new MPAs may be an appropriate solution. 
Contributing to planning for new MPAs is not a major focus of the 
updated Framework, but part of an overall approach to developing an 
effective and representative National System of MPAs.

Defining and Implementing ``Avoid Harm'' Provision

    Comment: The updated Framework should provide more clarity 
regarding definitions and implementation of the requirement in 
Executive Order 13158 for federal agencies to ``avoid harm'' to the 
resources protected by an MPA.
    Response: The updated Framework notes that the Executive Order does 
not provide new legal authority for any federal agency or the MPA 
Center to review activities of any other federal agency or to create 
different standards for existing reviews. Instead, the implementation 
of Section 5, and the national policy it articulates, is achieved using 
existing legal authorities that shape how federal action agencies 
identify, review, mitigate, or otherwise alter their activities based 
on impacts to natural or cultural resources of National System MPAs. 
NOAA and DOI believe that given the importance of individual agency 
authorities in implementing this requirement of Executive Order 13158, 
no single definition of ``harm'' is possible. The important context of 
each agency's authorities will govern agencies' analyses of harm, 
including major versus minor or direct versus indirect harm.
    The language in the Executive Order that stipulates that federal 
agencies avoid harm ``to the maximum extent practicable'' allows for 
the consideration of important social and economic implications of 
proposed activities within an MPA. Where appropriate, and upon request 
by one or more agency, the MPA Center may provide technical assistance 
(e.g., guidance on best practices), coordination, or facilitation to 
agencies

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seeking to avoid harm to National System MPAs.

Social and Economic Importance of the Marine Environment

    Comment: The updated Framework lacks a discussion about the social 
and economic importance of the marine environment to local communities 
and economies.
    Response: The agencies have modified the Framework to more fully 
acknowledge the social and economic importance of the marine 
environment in the section on ``Benefits of an Effective National 
System'' as well as the introduction.

Role of Regional Planning Bodies

    Comment: The updated Framework should not reference linkages 
between the National System of MPAs in assisting Regional Planning 
Bodies in potential work to plan new MPAs, as these Bodies have not 
been established by statute and could unnecessarily restrict access for 
certain human uses.
    Response: Regional Planning Bodies (RPBs) were called for in the 
Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, and 
are a key component of the National Ocean Policy and the Framework for 
Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning. Insofar as the RPBs, or 
equivalent regional planning efforts may consider MPAs and other forms 
of place-based conservation within the broader mosaic of ocean 
management, NOAA and DOI will provide expertise on MPA issues and 
provide information and tools to support decisions about place-based 
management. The Framework has been updated to recognize that regional 
planning bodies are but one type of regional marine management 
initiative, and they are referenced as such.

National System of MPAs and Magnuson-Stevens Act

    Comment: The updated Framework should clarify that MPAs must be 
managed in a manner consistent with existing laws. NOAA and DOI should 
clarify that the concept of ``sustainable fisheries'' is to be 
implemented within the context of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act.
    Response: The purpose of the updated Framework is to provide a 
common reference for all federal, state, territorial and tribal 
programs who wish to participate in the National System of MPAs. As 
such, it must address all authorities relevant to MPA governance, not 
solely the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. 
The updated Framework makes clear that it is to be implemented in the 
context of existing authorities.

Monitoring and Evaluation

    Comment: Monitoring and evaluation efforts to determine the 
effectiveness of the current National System of MPAs should be a 
priority. The MPA Center should provide an analytical basis for 
identifying which MPAs that are accomplishing their goals and which are 
not. The MPA Center should publish a biennial ``State of the National 
System'' report as called for in the Executive Order.
    Response: The role of the MPA Center related to monitoring and 
evaluation is to build the capacity of federal and state marine 
protected area programs to more effectively manage natural and cultural 
marine resources, and to serve as a unique and neutral source of marine 
protected area-related science, information and tools for coastal and 
ocean decision-makers. Individual MPA programs are responsible for 
conducting their own monitoring and evaluation, and assessing progress 
toward program and site-level goals. Periodically, the MPA Center may 
undertake an evaluation of the National System itself, with the aim of 
identifying opportunities for improving the collaboration among the 
nation's MPA programs, including addressing gaps in spatial protection 
for important areas. For example, in October 2013, the MPA Center 
published, Marine Protected Areas of the United States: Conserving Our 
Oceans, One Place at a Time--a summary of the state of all US MPAs and 
of the National System.

Tribal Representation

    Comment: The updated Framework should consider including more than 
one tribal representative to the National System Programs Workgroup. 
Tribal interests are diverse, and having a single representative 
appointed to speak for other tribes is a concern.
    Response: The updated Framework states that there will be one 
member of the National System Workgroup for each participating MPA 
program. Therefore, each tribal government formally participating in 
the National System of MPAs would have membership on the Workgroup. In 
addition, the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee advises 
NOAA and DOI on issues related to cultural resource management, 
including areas managed by and important to tribes, and has established 
a Cultural Heritage Resources Workgroup to provide expertise on these 
issues.

Funding

    Summary: NOAA should be realistic about what funding will be 
available and what can be accomplished with existing funding. It should 
also include an estimate of funding needed to guide implementation of 
the updated Framework.
    Response: NOAA and DOI believe that the updated Framework is not 
intended to be an implementation plan, and detailed information on 
funding is not appropriate for this document. The updated Framework 
does note that implementation of activities will be dependent on levels 
of funding.

    Dated: March 11, 2015.
Daniel J. Basta,
Director, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, National Ocean 
Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
[FR Doc. 2015-07262 Filed 3-27-15; 8:45 am]
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