[Federal Register Volume 64, Number 195 (Friday, October 8, 1999)]
[Pages 54866-54868]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 99-26390]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
[I.D. 080599C]

Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals 
Incidental to Rocket Launches

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and

[[Page 54867]]

Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of issuance of a modification to a letter of 


SUMMARY: NMFS has amended the Letter of Authorization (LOA) issued on 
April 2, 1999, to the 30th Space Wing, U.S. Air Force at 
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California (Vandenberg), to include an 
additional rocket type to its list of launch vehicles authorized to 
harass seals and sea lions incidental to launch activities.

DATES: Effective from October 14, 1999, through April 2, 2000.

ADDRESSES: A copy of the request for modification, the LOA and the 
supporting documentation are available for review during regular 
business hours in the following offices: Office of Protected Resources, 
NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, and the 
Southwest Region, NMFS, 501 West Ocean Boulevard, Suite 4200, Long 
Beach, CA 90802.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kenneth R. Hollingshead, Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 713-2055, or Christina Fahy, NMFS, 
(562) 980-4023.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.; the MMPA) directs NMFS to 
allow, on request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small 
numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified 
activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified 
geographical region if certain findings are made and regulations are 
issued. Under the MMPA, the term ``taking'' means to harass, hunt, 
capture, or kill or to attempt to harass, hunt, capture or kill marine 
    Permission may be granted for periods up to 5 years if NMFS finds, 
after notification and opportunity for public comment, that the taking 
will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s) of marine 
mammals and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses. In 
addition, NMFS must prescribe regulations that include permissible 
methods of taking and other means effecting the least practicable 
adverse impact on the species and its habitat and on the availability 
of the species for subsistence uses, paying particular attention to 
rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. The 
regulations must include requirements pertaining to the monitoring and 
reporting of such taking. Regulations governing the taking of seals and 
sea lions incidental to missile and rocket launches, aircraft flight 
test operations, and helicopter operations at Vandenberg were published 
on March 1, 1999 (64 FR 9925), and remain in effect until December 31, 
    In accordance with the MMPA, as amended, and implementing 
regulations, a 1-year LOA to take small numbers of seals and sea lions 
was issued on April 2, 1999, to the 30th Space Wing (64 FR 
17145, April 8, 1999). On August 3, 1999, the 30th Space 
Wing requested NMFS to amend the LOA to include a new rocket, the 
Minotaur, to the list of rockets authorized to take harbor seals and 
California sea lions incidental to activities at Vandenberg. The U.S. 
Air Force did not request NMFS to increase the number of annual 
launches from Vandenberg that are authorized to take marine mammals 
under the LOA.

Comments and Responses

    On August 18, 1999 (64 FR 44893), NMFS published a notice of 
receipt of, and requested public comment on, the request. During the 
15-day public comment period, one letter was received. The U.S. Marine 
Mammal Commission noted that it had no objection to NMFS' issuance of 
the requested modification.

Discussion and Analysis

    Spaceport Systems International (SSI) wants to begin launching the 
OSP Space Launch Vehicle, the Minotaur rocket, from the California 
Commercial Spaceport (CCS) on Vandenberg. The Minotaur contains 2 
segments of Minuteman II solid-fuel motors and 2 Orion upperstage 
motors. According to SSI, the sound emitted during the launch should be 
no more than what a Minuteman II would emit.
    Because this is a new launch vehicle, it was not included in the 
LOA issued to Vandenberg on April 2, 1999. Therefore, in order for NMFS 
to authorize the takings by harassment incidental to this new rocket, 
NMFS must be assured that the takings will not exceed the level of 
incidental harassment considered when it made its negligible impact 
finding on March 1, 1999 (64 FR 9925). First, Vandenberg is authorized 
to harass pinnipeds incidental to 10 missile launches from North 
Vandenberg and 20 rocket launches annually from South Vandenberg. This 
authorized level of launches for incidental takes of marine mammals 
will not be modified by NMFS to add this additional rocket to the LOA. 
Second, as mentioned previously, the Minotaur rocket consists of the 
first two segments of Minuteman II solid-fuel motors and two Orion 
upperstage motors. For incidental takes of pinnipeds on the Vandenberg 
coastline, only the first one or two motors are important for assessing 
impacts along the California coast. The Minotaur, like the Minuteman II 
missiles launched from North Vandenberg, use Thiokol first-stage rocket 
motor with 202,600 pounds (lbs) of thrust and a second-stage motor made 
by Aerojet with 60,000 lbs of thrust. As a result, launch noises would 
be similar to those expected at North Vandenberg during a Minuteman II 
    Third, Vandenberg has requested a small take of harbor seals (and 
possibly a few California sea lions) by incidental harassment for this 
rocket launched from the CCS, an area close to Space Launch Complex 
(SLC)-6. While the CCS was identified in the 30th Space 
Wing's July 11, 1997, application for a small take authorization and in 
the U.S. Air Force's Programmatic Operations Environmental Assessment 
for small takes of marine mammals, because the CCS was under 
construction at the time, no rocket types were identified for launching 
at that time of the application to NMFS. As a result, an incidental 
take assessment could not be made for this location by either NMFS or 
the 30th Space Wing during the rulemaking. However, impacts 
to pinnipeds from launches at nearby SLC-6 by Lockheed Martin's family 
of Athena rockets was analyzed on July 21, 1998 (63 FR 39055) and 
previously (see 60 FR 24840, May 10, 1995).
    Finally, because the Minotaur rocket's first stage solid-fuel 
booster is half the size of the first-stage booster of the Athena 1 
launched from SLC-6, it can be expected to impact the nearby harbor 
seal haulouts to a lesser, but unknown, level than the Athena. NMFS 
estimated that the Athena rocket would, under typical conditions, 
result in a sound pressure level of 127 dB (107 dBA) re 20 Pa 
at the harbor seal haulouts at Rocky
    Point, which are about 1.5 mi (2.4 km) to the south and southwest 
of SLC-6. This level is sufficient to cause harbor seals to leave the 
beach at Point Arguello, Rocky Point, and Boathouse Flats. However, 
because the CCS is only 1 mile (1.6 km) from the closest haulout at 
Rocky Point whereas SLC-6 is approximately 2.5 mi (4.0 km) away from 
the nearest haulout, NMFS expects that SPLs from the launch of the 
Minotaur will be similar to levels expected from the Athena rocket at 
the Rocky Point haulout.
    Because the addition of the Minotaur rocket to the launch list at 
Vandenberg will not result in an increase in the

[[Page 54868]]

number of launches authorized to take pinnipeds under the LOA, NMFS 
does not expect additional cumulative impacts to occur and therefore, 
NMFS has determined that the takes will remain small and not have more 
than a negligible impact on seals and sea lions at Vandenberg.

Monitoring and Reporting

    Because this is a new launch vehicle, the 30th Space 
Wing is required under the LOA to measure the noise profiles from the 
rocket at the time of its first launch and to monitor impacts on marine 
mammals at nearby active, pinniped haulouts.

    Dated: October 4, 1999.
Art Jeffers,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 99-26390 Filed 10-7-99; 8:45 am]