50 CFR § 18.126 - Mitigation.

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§ 18.126 Mitigation.

(a) Mitigation measures for all Letters of Authorization (LOAs). Holders of an LOA must implement policies and procedures to conduct activities in a manner that affects the least practicable adverse impact on Pacific walruses and/or polar bears, their habitat, and the availability of these marine mammals for subsistence uses. Adaptive management practices, such as temporal or spatial activity restrictions in response to the presence of marine mammals in a particular place or time or the occurrence of Pacific walruses and/or polar bears engaged in a biologically significant activity (e.g., resting, feeding, denning, or nursing, among others), must be used to avoid interactions with and minimize impacts to these animals and their availability for subsistence uses.

(1) All holders of an LOA must:

(i) Cooperate with the Service's Marine Mammals Management Office and other designated Federal, State, and local agencies to monitor and mitigate the impacts of oil and gas industry activities on Pacific walruses and polar bears. Where information is insufficient to evaluate the potential effects of activities on walruses, polar bears, and the subsistence use of these species, holders of an LOA may be required to participate in joint monitoring and/or research efforts to address these information needs and ensure the least practicable impact to these resources.

(ii) Designate trained and qualified personnel to monitor for the presence of Pacific walruses and polar bears, initiate mitigation measures, and monitor, record, and report the effects of oil and gas industry activities on Pacific walruses and/or polar bears.

(iii) Have an approved Pacific walrus and polar bear safety, awareness, and interaction plan on file with the Service's Marine Mammals Management Office and onsite and provide polar bear awareness training to certain personnel. Interaction plans must include:

(A) The type of activity and where and when the activity will occur (i.e., a summary of the plan of operation);

(B) A food, waste, and other “bear attractants” management plan;

(C) Personnel training policies, procedures, and materials;

(D) Site-specific walrus and polar bear interaction risk evaluation and mitigation measures;

(E) Walrus and polar bear avoidance and encounter procedures; and

(F) Walrus and polar bear observation and reporting procedures.

(2) All applicants for an LOA must contact affected subsistence communities and hunter organizations to discuss potential conflicts caused by the activities and provide the Service documentation of communications as described in § 18.122.

(b) Mitigation measures for onshore activities. Holders of an LOA must undertake the following activities to limit disturbance around known polar bear dens:

(1) Attempt to locate polar bear dens. Holders of an LOA seeking to carry out onshore activities during the denning season (November-April) must conduct two separate surveys for occupied polar bear dens in all denning habitat within 1.6 km (1 mi) of proposed activities using aerial infrared (AIR) imagery. Further, all denning habitat within 1.6 km (1 mi) of areas of proposed seismic surveys must be surveyed three separate times with AIR technology.

(i) The first survey must occur between the dates of November 25 and December 15, the second between the dates of December 5 and December 31, and the third (if required) between the dates of December 15 and January 15.

(ii) AIR surveys will be conducted during darkness or civil twilight and not during daylight hours. Ideal environmental conditions during surveys would be clear, calm, and cold. If there is blowing snow, any form of precipitation, or other sources of airborne moisture, use of AIR detection is not advised. Flight crews will record and report environmental parameters including air temperature, dew point, wind speed and direction, cloud ceiling, and percent humidity, and a flight log will be provided to the Service within 48 hours of the flight.

(iii) A scientist with experience in the in-air interpretation of AIR imagery will be on board the survey aircraft to analyze the AIR data in real-time. The data (infrared video) will be made available for viewing by the Service immediately upon return of the survey aircraft to the base of operations.

(iv) All observed or suspected polar bear dens must be reported to the Service prior to the initiation of activities.

(2) Observe the exclusion zone around known polar bear dens. Operators must observe a 1.6-km (1-mi) operational exclusion zone around all putative polar bear dens during the denning season (November-April, or until the female and cubs leave the areas). Should previously unknown occupied dens be discovered within 1 mile of activities, work must cease, and the Service contacted for guidance. The Service will evaluate these instances on a case-by-case basis to determine the appropriate action. Potential actions may range from cessation or modification of work to conducting additional monitoring, and the holder of the authorization must comply with any additional measures specified.

(3) Use the den habitat map developed by the USGS. A map of potential coastal polar bear denning habitat can be found at: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/asc/science/polar-bear-maternal-denning?qt-science_center_objects=4#qt-science_center_objects. This measure ensures that the location of potential polar bear dens is considered when conducting activities in the coastal areas of the Beaufort Sea.

(4) Polar bear den restrictions. Restrict the timing of the activity to limit disturbance around dens, including putative and known dens.

(c) Mitigation measures for operational and support vessels.

(1) Operational and support vessels must be staffed with dedicated marine mammal observers to alert crew of the presence of walruses and polar bears and initiate adaptive mitigation responses.

(2) At all times, vessels must maintain the maximum distance possible from concentrations of walruses or polar bears. Under no circumstances, other than an emergency, should any vessel approach within an 805-m (0.5-mi) radius of walruses or polar bears observed on land or ice.

(3) Vessel operators must take every precaution to avoid harassment of concentrations of feeding walruses when a vessel is operating near these animals. Vessels should reduce speed and maintain a minimum 805-m (0.5-mi) operational exclusion zone around feeding walrus groups. Vessels may not be operated in such a way as to separate members of a group of walruses (i.e., greater than two) from other members of the group. When weather conditions require, such as when visibility drops, vessels should adjust speed accordingly to avoid the likelihood of injury to walruses.

(4) Vessels bound for the Beaufort Sea ITR region may not transit through the Chukchi Sea prior to July 1. This operating condition is intended to allow walruses the opportunity to move through the Bering Strait and disperse from the confines of the spring lead system into the Chukchi Sea with minimal disturbance. It is also intended to minimize vessel impacts upon the availability of walruses for Alaska Native subsistence hunters. Exemption waivers to this operating condition may be issued by the Service on a case-by-case basis, based upon a review of seasonal ice conditions and available information on walrus and polar bear distributions in the area of interest.

(5) All vessels must avoid areas of active or anticipated walrus or polar bear subsistence hunting activity as determined through community consultations.

(6) In association with marine activities, we may require trained marine mammal monitors on the site of the activity or onboard ships, aircraft, icebreakers, or other support vessels or vehicles to monitor the impacts of oil and gas industry activity on polar bear and Pacific walruses.

(d) Mitigation measures for aircraft.

(1) Operators of support aircraft shall, at all times, conduct their activities at the maximum distance possible from concentrations of walruses or polar bears.

(2) Aircraft operations within the ITR area will maintain an altitude of 1,500 ft above ground level when safe and operationally possible.

(3) Under no circumstances, other than an emergency, will aircraft operate at an altitude lower than 457 m (1,500 ft) within 805 m (0.5 mi) of walruses or polar bears observed on ice or land. Helicopters may not hover or circle above such areas or within 805 m (0.5 mi) of such areas. When weather conditions do not allow a 457-m (1,500-ft) flying altitude, such as during severe storms or when cloud cover is low, aircraft may be operated below this altitude. However, when weather conditions necessitate operation of aircraft at altitudes below 457 m (1,500 ft), the operator must avoid areas of known walrus and polar bear concentrations and will take precautions to avoid flying directly over or within 805 m (0.5 mile) of these areas.

(4) Plan all aircraft routes to minimize any potential conflict with active or anticipated walrus or polar bear hunting activity as determined through community consultations.

(e) Mitigation measures for the subsistence use of walruses and polar bears. Holders of an LOA must conduct their activities in a manner that, to the greatest extent practicable, minimizes adverse impacts on the availability of Pacific walruses and polar bears for subsistence uses.

(1) Community consultation. Prior to receipt of an LOA, applicants must consult with potentially affected communities and appropriate subsistence user organizations to discuss potential conflicts with subsistence walrus and polar bear hunting caused by the location, timing, and methods of operations and support activities (see § 18.122 for details). If community concerns suggest that the activities may have an adverse impact on the subsistence uses of these species, the applicant must address conflict avoidance issues through a plan of cooperation as described in paragraph (e)(2) of this section.

(2) Plan of cooperation (POC). When appropriate, a holder of an LOA will be required to develop and implement a Service-approved POC.

(i) The POC must include a description of the procedures by which the holder of the LOA will work and consult with potentially affected subsistence hunters and a description of specific measures that have been or will be taken to avoid or minimize interference with subsistence hunting of walruses and polar bears and to ensure continued availability of the species for subsistence use.

(ii) The Service will review the POC to ensure that any potential adverse effects on the availability of the animals are minimized. The Service will reject POCs if they do not provide adequate safeguards to ensure the least practicable adverse impact on the availability of walruses and polar bears for subsistence use.

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