Marine Mammals; Incidental Take During Specified Activities; Proposed Incidental Harassment Authorization for Polar Bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

Cited as:85 FR 79082
Court:Fish And Wildlife Service
Publication Date:08 Dec 2020
Record Number:2020-26747
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Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 236 / Tuesday, December 8, 2020 / Notices
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Fish and Wildlife Service
[Docket No. FWS–R7–ES–2020–0129;
FXES111607MRG01–212–FF07CAMM00]
Marine Mammals; Incidental Take
During Specified Activities; Proposed
Incidental Harassment Authorization
for Polar Bears in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge, Alaska
AGENCY
: Fish and Wildlife Service,
Interior.
ACTION
: Notice of receipt of application
and proposed incidental harassment
authorization; availability of draft
environmental assessment; request for
comments.
SUMMARY
: We, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, have received a
request under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act of 1972 from the
Kaktovik In
˜upiat Corporation (KIC), for
authorization to take by harassment
small numbers of polar bears incidental
to seismic survey and associated
activities scheduled to occur between
January 21, 2021, and September 30,
2021. KIC has requested this
authorization for incidental take of polar
bears that may result from three-
dimensional (3D) seismic surveys in the
Marsh Creek East Program Area of the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The
project will consist of activities such as
over-flights for aerial infrared surveys in
January 2021 and February 2021 to look
for maternal polar bear dens; staging
and mobilization of vehicles and
equipment; small crew surveys for
hazards, ice integrity, and snow depth
assessment; seismic surveys via a sled
camp with rubber-tracked vibrator
trucks; camp setup and mobilization;
aerial activities for crew and supply
transport; digital elevation modeling for
river-crossing slope analysis; and
cleanup activities during the summer of
2021. We estimate that this project may
result in the nonlethal incidental take of
up to three polar bears. This proposed
authorization, if finalized, will be for
take of three polar bears by Level B
harassment only. No take by injury or
death to polar bears is likely and
therefore such take is not included in
this proposed authorization.
DATES
: Comments on this proposed
Incidental Harassment Authorization
and the accompanying draft
environmental assessment must be
received by January 7, 2021.
ADDRESSES
: Document availability: You
may view this proposed authorization,
the application package, supporting
information, draft environmental
assessment, and the list of references
cited herein at http://
www.regulations.gov under Docket No.
FWS–R7–ES–2020–0129, or these
documents may be requested as
described under
FOR FURTHER
INFORMATION CONTACT
. You may submit
comments on the proposed
authorization by one of the following
methods:
U.S. Mail: Public Comments
Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS–R7–
ES–2020–0129, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg
Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.
Electronic Submission: Federal
eRulemaking Portal at: http://
www.regulations.gov. Follow the
instructions for submitting comments to
Docket No. FWS–R7–ES–2020–0129.
We will post all comments at http://
www.regulations.gov. You may request
that we withhold personal identifying
information from public review;
however, we cannot guarantee that we
will be able to do so. See Request for
Public Comments for more information.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT
:
Charles Hamilton, Marine Mammal
Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, MS 341, 1011 East Tudor Road,
Anchorage, Alaska 99503, by email at
R7mmmRegulatory@fws.gov or by
telephone at 1–800–362–5148. Persons
who use a telecommunications device
for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal
Relay Service (FRS) at 1–800–877–8339,
24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION
:
Background
Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine
Mammal Protection Act of 1972
(MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361, et seq.)
authorizes the Secretary of the Interior
(Secretary) to allow, upon request, the
incidental but not intentional
harassment 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
region during a period of not more than
1 year. Incidental harassment may be
authorized only if statutory and
regulatory procedures are followed and
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(hereafter, ‘‘the Service’’ or ‘‘we’’) make
the following findings: (i) Take is of a
small number of animals, (ii) take will
have a negligible impact on the species
or stock, and (iii) take will not have an
unmitigable adverse impact on the
availability of the species or stock for
subsistence uses by coastal-dwelling
Alaska Natives.
The term ‘‘take,’’ as defined by the
MMPA, means to harass, hunt, capture,
or kill, or to attempt to harass, hunt,
capture, or kill any marine mammal (16
U.S.C. 1362(13)). Harassment, as
defined by the MMPA, means any act of
pursuit, torment, or annoyance that (i)
has the potential to injure a marine
mammal or marine mammal stock in the
wild (the MMPA calls this ‘‘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 (the MMPA calls this ‘‘Level
B harassment’’).
The terms ‘‘negligible impact,’’ ‘‘small
numbers,’’ and ‘‘unmitigable adverse
impact’’ are defined in the Code of
Federal Regulations at 50 CFR 18.27, the
Service’s regulations governing take of
small numbers of marine mammals
incidental to specified activities.
‘‘Negligible impact’’ is defined 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. ‘‘Small
numbers’’ is defined as a portion of a
marine mammal species or stock whose
taking would have a negligible impact
on that species or stock. However, we
do not rely on that definition here, as it
conflates the terms ‘‘small numbers’’
and ‘‘negligible impact,’’ which we
recognize as two separate and distinct
requirements (see Natural Res. Def.
Council, Inc. v. Evans, 232 F. Supp. 2d
1003, 1025 (N.D. Cal. 2003)). Instead, in
our small numbers determination, we
evaluate whether the number of marine
mammals likely to be taken is small
relative to the size of the overall
population. ‘‘Unmitigable adverse
impact’’ is defined as an impact
resulting from the specified activity (1)
that is likely to reduce the availability
of the species to a level insufficient for
a harvest to meet subsistence needs by
(i) causing the marine mammals to
abandon or avoid hunting areas, (ii)
directly displacing subsistence users, or
(iii) placing physical barriers between
the marine mammals and the
subsistence hunters; and (2) that cannot
be sufficiently mitigated by other
measures to increase the availability of
marine mammals to allow subsistence
needs to be met.
If the requisite findings are made, we
shall issue an Incidental Harassment
Authorization (IHA), which may set
forth the following: (i) Permissible
methods of taking; (ii) other means of
effecting the least practicable impact on
marine mammals and their habitat,
paying particular attention to rookeries,
mating grounds, and areas of similar
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significance, and on the availability of
marine mammals for taking for
subsistence uses by coastal-dwelling
Alaska Natives; and (iii) requirements
for monitoring and reporting take.
Summary of Request
In August 2020, the Kaktovik In
˜upiat
Corporation (hereafter referred to as
‘‘KIC’’ or ‘‘the applicant’’) submitted a
request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service’s (hereafter referred to as
‘‘USFWS’’ or ‘‘the Service’’) Marine
Mammal Management (MMM) office for
authorization to take polar bears (Ursus
maritimus, hereafter ‘‘polar bears’’).
After discussions with the Service about
the scope and potential impacts to polar
bears, as well as the feasibility of
various mitigation measures and
modifications of the project design, KIC
submitted an updated request on
October 24, 2020, and October 28, 2020.
This proposed incidental harassment
authorization is in response to KIC’s
October 28, 2020, request.
KIC expects that take by incidental
harassment may occur during their
planned three-dimensional (3D) seismic
survey, and associated activities, of
portions of the coastal plain area of the
1002 region (hereafter referred to as the
‘‘Coastal Plain’’) in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge (ANWR; hereafter
referred to as ‘‘the Refuge’’). Specific
work will occur within the Marsh Creek
East Program Area (hereafter ‘‘Program
Area’’), to be accessed via a tundra
access route within the Refuge
measuring 78.23 km (48.61 mi). The
area of this tundra access route
(inclusive of a 100-m [328-ft] buffer on
each side) is 15.64 km
2
(6.04 mi
2
). All
work is expected to occur during a
period of 8 months and 10 days,
commencing January 21, 2021, and
concluding by September 30, 2021.
Equipment will be initially staged at
Deadhorse, Alaska (located at 70.2002°
N, 148.4597° W), and then transported
to Kaktovik (located 113 mi [214 km] to
the east at 70.1319° N, 143.6239° W) via
the access route. The timing of
mobilization is contingent on the
accumulation of sufficient snow cover
along the access route, and travel cannot
commence prior to January 26, 2021;
crew will be staged on gravel pads
allowing for tundra access and resupply.
All mobile equipment and vehicles
will be equipped with navigation
systems primarily for hazard
identification and logistics. Tracked and
wheeled tundra-specific vehicles will be
used as the main transport and for sled-
camps during the activities. It is
expected that the camps will move
every 5 to 7 days depending on the
survey progress and snow cover. At the
end of the planned seismic surveys, all
equipment will travel back to the
Deadhorse or Kaktovik pads. As trail
locations may depend on the snow
coverage and terrain conditions during
mobilization, the KIC operators
(hereafter ‘‘the Operator’’) will consider
and coordinate with companies for use
of existing or planned trails.
The original KIC request was received
on August 17, 2020. Additional details
regarding the project specifics,
activities, and locations were requested
from KIC by the Service on August 30,
2020, and received on September 1,
2020. Additional information on the
proposed seismic acquisition blocks was
requested by the Service and received at
a meeting with KIC on September 4,
2020. Geographic Information System
(GIS) Shapefiles for use in ArcGIS Pro
were received by the Service on
September 9, 2020. Additional
information pertaining to the planned
aircraft activities for the proposed
project was received on September 14,
2020. The Service and representatives
from KIC held numerous meetings
(including August 26 and 27, 2020;
September 4, 10, and 29, 2020; and
October 19, 2020) to discuss project
details, potential impacts to polar bears,
and the feasibility of various mitigation
measures and modifications to the
project design. Two updated requests
were received by the Service on October
24 and 28, 2020. This proposed IHA is
in response to KIC’s October 28, 2020,
request.
Description of Specified Activities and
Geographic Area
The specified activities (hereafter the
‘‘project’’) consists of transportation (via
air and ground-based methods), various
surveys (aerial infrared [AIR] surveys,
handheld/vehicle forward-looking
infrared [FLIR or IR] surveys,
environmental, 3D seismic), camping,
temporary developments (i.e., airstrips),
and potential environmental activities
(i.e., water withdrawal, river/ice
crossing, summer cleanup activities).
The area in which these specified
activities will occur is referred to as the
Marsh Creek East Program Area
(Program Area). The Program Area is
within the area established under
section 1002 of the Alaska National
Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980
(ANILCA) of the Refuge. The Refuge is
the largest National Wildlife Refuge in
the United States with an area of
78,051.88 km
2
(30,136 mi
2
). Of this
total area, KIC owns 372.31 km
2
(143.75
mi
2
) of surface land within the Refuge,
pursuant of the Alaska Native Claims
Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. The
Program Area includes surface land
owned by KIC, sub-surface land owned
by the Arctic Slope Regional
Corporation (ASRC), and land and
waters owned by the Department of the
Interior (DOI). The geographic region of
the seismic survey activities will extend
from the Kajutakrok Creek in the west
to Pokok Bay in the east, and from the
coastline to 40 km (25 mi) inland. The
specified geographic region of the
activities is expected to cover a total of
1,441.82 km
2
(556.69 mi
2
),
incorporating the seismic area of
1,426.18 km
2
(550.65 mi
2
) and a 1.6-km
(1-mi) buffer (figure 1).
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Seismic activities will include
operations in all of the following
townships: U006N036E, U007N036E,
U008N033E, U008N034E, U008N035E,
U008N036E. Seismic operations will
further include operations in parts of
the following townships: U005N035E,
U005N036E, U005N037E, U006N035E,
U006N037E, U007N031E, U007N032E,
U007N033E, U007N034E, U007N035E,
U007N037E, U008N031E, U008N032E,
U008N037E, U009N032E, U009N033E,
U009N034E, U009N035E, U009N036E.
KIC will conduct activities starting
January 21, 2021, and ending September
30, 2021, during which data collection
will be performed using a variety of
equipment and methods. The operations
will primarily occur during 2021 winter,
starting with three aerial infrared
surveys for polar bear maternal dens
between January 2021 and early
February 2021 (surveys will not begin
before January 21, 2021, nor extend past
February 13, 2021). Mobilization of the
seismic survey equipment and crew will
begin once the tundra opens to winter
travel (but not before January 26, 2021).
Three AIR surveys are to be performed
before moving into the access route or
seismic survey area. Seismic operations
will commence as soon as February 1,
2021, if all AIR surveys are performed
before this time, and will conclude by
May 25, 2021, or the close of the winter
travel season, whichever is first. To
maintain the safety of field personnel,
work days are subject to change based
on weather, equipment delays, polar
bear presence, or discovery of a
maternal den at survey sites.
At the end of the snow season or the
close of tundra travel (July or August),
whichever is first, KIC will contract one
helicopter and crew to travel over the
Program Area to collect any refuse or
debris that may have been inadvertently
left during the winter activities. These
cleanup activities are expected to
continue for approximately 15 days,
including possible weather days. The
cleanup area will not exceed the
completed portion of the winter
operating zone in the Program Area.
Standard aircraft operational limitations
will apply, and weather delays, flight
ceilings, etc., will be at the discretion of
the flight contractor.
All project-related travel outside of
the 1002 region of the Refuge will occur
in areas for which regulations
authorizing the incidental take of polar
bears already exist, and are not
considered in this draft IHA (50 CFR
part 18, subpart J; 81 FR 52275, August
5, 2016). Incidental take of polar bears
caused by this work is expected to be
authorized by a Letter of Authorization
(LOA).
All field personnel will be fully
trained in bear safety awareness and
will utilize appropriate deterrence
methods (see 50 CFR 18.34 for further
information) should deterrence of polar
bears become necessary. Additional
information is provided in the
Mitigation and Monitoring, Proposed
Authorization section below and in the
Polar Bear Avoidance and Interaction
Plan incorporated by reference in KIC’s
application (appendix A in KIC 2020).
The following project descriptions
(Mobilization and Site access through
Summer Cleanup Activities) have been
inserted directly from KIC’s Application
for Incidental Harassment
Authorization for the Marsh Creek East
3D Seismic Program North Slope,
Alaska (KIC 2020). Additional details
can be found in the application and are
incorporated by reference.
Mobilization and Site Access
Equipment will be staged at existing
facilities in Deadhorse. Camp and
equipment will be transported via an
overland access route from Deadhorse to
the Program Area. The portion of the
route within the Refuge measures 78.23
km (48.61 mi). Using a 100-m (328-ft)
buffer on each side, the area of the
tundra access route in the Refuge is
15.64 km
2
(6.04 mi
2
). Upon entry, data
acquisition will begin immediately in
the western portion of the Program
Area. Specific areas and dates of
progressing through the Program are
described in Section 3.0 (KIC 2020).
Mobilization will begin in January 2021
at which time KIC estimates there will
be sufficient snow cover for
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mobilization and all permits for tundra
travel from the State of Alaska have
been received. All mobile equipment
will have a navigation system installed
for logistics and hazard identification.
All transit outside of the 1002 Area will
be covered under the existing 2016–
2021 Beaufort Sea Incidental Take
Regulations (ITR) and permitted under
separate cover.
Tracked and wheeled tundra vehicles
will be used to transport the sled camp
along the tundra. The camp will remain
close to the survey activities and will
move every 5 to 7 days depending on
the survey progress and snow cover.
When the survey is completed, the
camp and equipment will travel along
the tundra back to a Deadhorse or
Kaktovik pad location. Snow-packed
trails will be made throughout the
Program Area. The location of these
trails will depend on snow coverage and
terrain conditions. The Operator will
attempt to coordinate with companies to
use any existing or planned trails.
Survey and Ice Check
Prior to the start of seismic data
collection, a smaller crew performs a
survey for hazards, including ice
integrity of rivers, lakes, and sea ice.
One of the highest risk potentials for
arctic operations is properly verifying
the integrity of the ice. This will be
done by ‘‘ice checking units’’ consisting
of a Tucker vehicle capable of
supporting 24-hour operations, manned
by two personnel. Snow machines may
also be used for survey and ice check
operations. The survey units will be
equipped with ground-penetrating radar
systems (GPR), which are extremely
accurate on freshwater. In addition,
each ice check unit is equipped with
battery-operated ice auger, which is
used to verify the calibration of the GPR,
measure ice depths on sea ice, or verify
depths where the GPR units cannot
reach. Freeboard testing (ice
stabilization) is also conducted when
working on floating ice to ensure the ice
has the strength to safely hold the
equipment. Tucker vehicles that are
conducting the advance ice check
operations will also have a handheld or
vehicle-mounted FLIR device to scan at
tributary crossings for potential dens in
defined polar bear denning habitat.
Preliminary trails or snail trails will be
established for wherever the vibrators
must travel on the sea ice, lakes, or
rivers, which will minimize the
potential for breaking through the ice.
Surveyors will also map each hazard
that is discovered and placed into our
navigation system that allows each
vehicle to display the Program Area,
hazards, and avoidance areas.
Snow surveys will be conducted to
substantiate depths and will be recorded
for equipment movement efforts. Snow
survey crews will move out ahead of the
main crew by approximately 7–20 days,
accessing the Program Area. The crew
includes camp trailers, fuelers, Steigers,
Tuckers, and support trailers and
consists of three to four crews of two
personnel per crew. These crews work
independently of each other to check ice
conditions, identify and mark hazards,
and scout safe routes for seismic
operations. Depending on the number of
locations needed to be verified, crews
can complete and travel up to 16 km (10
mi) per day. At the end of each day,
crews return to camp. Once operations
are too far from camp, the camp is
moved to stay close to operations. When
the main camp arrives with the
recording crew, the advance camp will
merge with main camp.
Seismic Acquisition
The method of seismic acquisition is
Source Driven Shooting (SDS). Seismic
operations will be conducted utilizing
rubber tracked/buggy vibrators with a
rectangular base plate and wireless,
autonomous recording channels (nodes).
Wireless nodes will be laid out by crews
on foot and through the use of rubber-
tracked tundra-travel-approved vehicles.
Using the SDS methodology, multiple
vibrators can collect data at the same
time. This methodology means that only
a single vibrator is required to travel
down any source line, thereby reducing
risk of compaction or damage to the
tundra and the footprint of operations.
Vibrators will only operate on snow-
covered tundra or grounded sea ice.
There are two sizes of vibrators used for
this survey: Large vibrators with a
weight of 44,000 kilograms (kg; 97,000
pounds [lb]) and small vibrators
(Univibes) with a weight of 12,475 kg
(27,500 lb). The lighter Univibes are
utilized to further reduce potential
disturbance in narrow riverbeds and on
ungrounded lakes, risk from working in
areas that do not have grounded landfast
ice, and noise levels.
Seismic operations continue for 24
hours per work day and are based on
two 12-hour shifts. Communications
with the crews while out in the field
will be via very high frequency radio
systems and wireless data transfer
radios.
Survey Design
The goal of the program is to collect
seismic data across the entire Program
Area to inform stakeholders on the
potential for oil and gas over the period
of the IHA. The duration is expected to
take one winter season as data is only
collected when the snow cover and ice
thickness are sufficient to support
operations. The method of collecting
data over this area is by collecting data
over a patch of recording channels and
moving the patch progressively
throughout the area. It takes
approximately 5–7 days to pick and re-
layout the spread over the entire patch
area, the crews move continuously on to
the next patch progressively, including
the camps and materials.
The method for collecting data is to
establish a spread of source lines and
receiver lines over a set area (or patch).
The camp is typically set in the center
of the patch. The crews establish source
lines and receiver lines within an
acquisition spread. This spread is
approximately 248 km
2
(95 mi
2
), or 8
km wide by 31 km long (5 mi wide by
19 mi long), with a camp for the crew
at the center of the spread. As the
vibrators move, the nodes behind the
vibrations are retrieved, the data are
downloaded, and the nodes are replaced
ahead of the source lines. This method
allows for efficient data collection over
the winter season.
Vibrators typically operate within a
distinct area proximal to each other.
Geophone receiver lines are spaced
approximately at 201 m (660 ft) and run
perpendicular to source lines that are
spaced approximately 402 m (1,320 ft)
apart. Up to five receiver lines could be
placed on the ground at one time.
Wireless nodes will be laid out by crews
on foot and through the use of rubber-
tracked tundra-travel-approved vehicles.
Each station will be placed individually
and will be surveyed by global
positioning system (GPS) upon
deployment. All GPS data are entered
into a database.
During the acquisition phase of the
project, occupancy of camp will be at its
highest consisting of approximately 160
to 180 people. Approximately 7 Tuckers
will be working on layout and pickup,
and approximately 12 large vibrators
and 4 small vibrators (Univibes) with 1
person each could be working on source
lines. The lighter Univibes will be
utilized to further reduce potential
disturbance in narrow riverbeds and on
ungrounded lakes, risk from working in
areas that do not have grounded landfast
ice, and noise levels.
Camp Facilities
The camp can accommodate up to 180
personnel. Equipment included at camp
stations include long haul fuel tractors,
remote fuelers, water maker, incinerator,
resupply and survival sleigh, tractors,
loaders, and Tuckers. Camp locations
are selected based on environmental
conditions. Typically, once the camp
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reaches the Program Area, a site will be
picked based on topography and snow
conditions. When good conditions
allow, the camp may stay at current
location up to 7 days. Typically, the
camp will move 1.6–3.2 km (1–2 mi)
every 5–7 days, which could be four to
six camp moves per month. The camp
will generally remain in the center of
the spread, moving as the spread moves.
A maximum footprint for a large camp
is approximately 91x122 m (300x400 ft).
The mobilization of the camp or
camps will be from the existing gravel
roads, starting off a gravel pad located
outside of the Program Area. A
predetermined route will be used to
move equipment to the project location.
The camp will travel in a single-file
configuration pulled by a rubber-tracked
Steiger or CAT. Each string of camp has
5 trailers, and typically a camp consists
of 8 strings, but can consist of up to 10
strings. Camp trails during the project
will be scouted out in advance by a
project manager or survey personnel to
avoid hazards and to measure and
ascertain proper snow depth. To
mitigate any tundra damage, the sleigh
camp could be moved up to 3.2 km (2
mi) every 5–7 days, depending on the
weather, snow covering, and the
advancement of the project. Sanitary
conditions in the kitchen and diner and
washrooms will be maintained in full
compliance with governmental
regulations. Gray water will be filtered
to meet the discharge requirements of
the Alaska Department of
Environmental Conservation (ADEC)
Alaska Pollutant Discharge Elimination
System (APDES) permit prior to
discharge. The Operators holds a
current APDES discharge permit for this
purpose.
Temporary Snow Airstrips
The program will need airstrips to
transport crews on crew change days
and to allow personnel, food, and
potentially fuel (in emergency
situations) to be delivered to the remote
camp. The Program Area has few lakes;
therefore, tundra airstrip is most likely
to be used. Airstrips will be located
close to camp locations. Airstrips will
be within a couple of miles of camp to
ensure efficiency. The footprint of
prepacked airstrips could be up to
approximately 22.8 m (75 ft) wide and
701 to 1,066 m (2,300 to 3,500 ft) long
for the aircraft to land. The length of the
airstrip will depend on which plane is
to be used. Aircraft will use either
wheels or skis to land. Estimated air
traffic will be approximately two trips
per week, or as operations require.
Having temporary airstrips will save
several hours of tundra travel. The
Operator will create a flat area on
predetermined grounded ice or tundra
with sufficient snow cover to serve as a
landing strip to receive the aircraft for
crew changes. Planes may be wheeled or
on skis, whichever will be the safest fit
for the current environment. An
advance scouting trip will identify
grounded lakes, if any, and/or tundra
locations that can be used for this
purpose. The landing strip will only be
on areas that have adequate space for
safely landing aircraft. On lakes, a
rubber-tracked Steiger with a blade will
clear the snow down for the aircraft to
land. Black bags filled with snow will
be placed along the side of the berm to
delineate the edge of the landing strip
along with lighting. Airstrips on snow-
covered tundra will be constructed
similarly. On tundra areas, a flat area
with sufficient snow cover will be
identified by advanced scouting. If
determined adequate, the Operator will
utilize groomers to pack a landing strip
and will delineate the landing strip
similar to those on grounded lakes.
After the crews and camps have
moved to a different location, the
airstrips will not be maintained unless
they are needed again. After use of the
strip is no longer necessary, the crews
will inspect the location and record the
area that was used by GPS location to
be included in the final reporting.
River Crossings
There may be areas where floating ice
is encountered that may not safely
support the weight of some equipment.
In these cases, the Operator will permit
this activity with the State of Alaska
Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G)
to apply water to increase the thickness
of the ice to establish temporary river
crossings. There also may be areas on
rivers, streams, and lakes that need to be
protected with snow for traversing from
tundra to ice for crossing. As identified
in section 10 of their application, KIC
has committed to several mitigation
measures specifically for drainages
through reduction of the number of
source lines crossing major drainages by
using a slope analysis tool (KIC 2020).
The slopes along these lines can be
measured during the preplanning and
advance crew phases of the operations.
Equipment will only cross these areas at
the lowest possible relief points, as
vibrators are not able to shake on slopes
greater than 10°. KIC is requiring its
Operator to place a 25-m (82.5-ft) buffer
on each side of slopes greater than 10°.
For areas that are defined denning
critical habitat (16° slope and height of
1.6 m [5.2 ft]), a 100-m (328-ft) buffer
will be used. The area will be mapped
using digital elevation modeling (DEM)
data for slopes. Ramp areas or transits
across these areas will be cleared by the
advance ice check crews with handheld
or truck-mounted FLIR prior to
movement.
The Operator will make snow ramps
in these areas and establish that the ice
is grounded or the ice is of sufficient ice
depth to cross. Scouting by the Operator
will determine locations of river
crossings based on the best available
information from advanced scouting,
environmental and terrain conditions,
local knowledge, surveys, and
operational safety.
Water Withdrawal
Potable water will be produced at
camp with a skid-mounted snow melter.
The primary source of water is melting
snow; if, however, conditions are
inadequate, snow-melting activities can
be supplemented by withdrawing water
from lakes through the ADEC-approved
water system. KIC has worked with the
Operator to identify lakes and
withdrawal that will require permits if
used. If lakes are used, ADF&G-
approved water withdrawal pumps will
be used. If there is not an adequate
source of snow and water withdrawal
from lakes is not possible, water may
need to be transported to each camp
from an approved source.
Fuel Supply and Storage
Long-haul sleigh tanks will be used
for fueling. All fuel will be ultralow
sulfur for vehicles and equipment. Fuel
will be delivered using overland
Rolligon or rubber-tracked carriers. In
the event the supply is disrupted by
weather or other unforeseen events, fuel
may also be delivered by aircraft to a
public airstrip; temporary airstrips may
be required for these occasions if
needed in emergency situations.
Offloading fuel from aircraft will be
done in accordance with the Operator’s
approved fueling procedure. Fueling
storages and fueling activity will be
located at least 30.5 m (100 ft) from any
water body. All equipment fuel
locations will be tracked and recorded.
KIC fueling procedures include spill
management practices such as drip pan
placement under any vehicle parked
and placement of vinyl liners with foam
dikes under all valves or connections to
diesel fuel tanks. All fuel tanks are
double-wall tank construction. Fuel dye
is added to all fuel as part of spill
detection.
All spills, no matter what the size, are
recorded and cleaned up. The Operator
holds a Spill Prevention
Countermeasure Control (SPCC) plan for
fueling and fuel storage operations
associated with seismic operations. This
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SPCC plan is site-specific and will be
amended for each new project. All
reportable spills will be communicated
through the proper agencies and
reporting requirements.
Waste Management
Food waste generated by the field
operations will be stored in vehicles
until the end of the shift. The garbage
will then be consolidated at camp in
wildlife-resistant containers for further
disposal. All food waste generated in
camp will also be collected and stored
in the same consolidation area. A skid-
mounted incinerator will be used for
daily garbage waste. This equipment
falls within the regulatory requirements
of 40 CFR part 60. The cyclonator will
use an average of 3.8 to 7.6 liters (1 to
2 gallons) of fuel per hour while in use.
The use of electricity is for the motor to
the unit that maintains the air-to-fuel
mixture. Data will be collected to
provide the required records on a
calendar basis of description and weight
of camp waste burned.
Any waste generated by seismic
operations will be properly stored and
disposed of in accordance with
applicable permit stipulations and
Operator controls. Food waste is
continually incinerated to avoid
attracting wildlife. Gray water generated
from the mobile camp will be
discharged according to general permit
AKG332000 and 18 AAC 83.210 and
APDES discharge limits. Toilets are
‘‘PACTO’’ type to eliminate ‘‘black
water.’’ Ash from the incinerator will be
back-hauled to the North Slope Borough
(NSB) disposal facility in Deadhorse.
The sleigh camp will move
approximately every 5–7 days
depending on weather conditions. An
inspection by the Health, Safety, and
Environment Advisor will be done after
camp has left to ensure that the area is
clean of all debris.
Summer Cleanup Activities
After all snow is gone, KIC will
contract one helicopter to perform
flyovers of the Program Area looking for
any debris that may have been left
behind in July or August of 2021. The
cleanup crew will also inspect all camp
locations and any area that had an
unplanned release or tundra
disturbance. Each source and receiver
line will be inspected. This phase of the
project will require one helicopter,
based in Kaktovik, for approximately 15
days, including possible weather days.
The area of the cleanup will be
determined by the completed portion
from that winter’s acquisition and will
not go beyond the Program Area. An
aircraft use plan will be developed to
minimize impacts on subsistence
hunting and activities through
consultation with local stakeholders and
ensuring regulatory compliance. The
coastal portion of summer activities
(within 2 km of the coast) is targeted to
be completed by July 19, and all
cleanup activities will be completed by
mid-August.
On-the-Ground Safety and Preparations
Safety of the personnel will remain a
top priority of all work within the
Refuge. The optimal strategy to reduce
dangerous interactions with a polar bear
is through a detailed bear plan, as well
as sufficient training and a high level of
awareness for all field personnel when
at work sites. Specific guidelines and
suggestions on interacting with polar
bears can be viewed at https://
www.fws.gov/alaska/pages/marine-
mammals/polar-bear/interaction-
guidelines.
All activities will be performed under
the guidance of a detailed bear
interaction and avoidance plan
developed by KIC and approved by the
Service prior to beginning field
activities (see appendix A of KIC 2020).
The Service will provide KIC with the
most up-to-date Polar Bear Observation
Form in which to record sightings of
bears within 24 hours to fw7_mmm_
reports@fws.gov. Details on monitoring
guidelines and reporting requirements
can be read in Proposed Authorization,
Monitoring, and Reporting
Requirements. Attractants and waste
will be minimized to reduce likelihood
of bear presence. All field personnel
will be up-to-date in their bear
awareness and safety training. The
Service can require the presence of a
bear guard or subsistence advisor if
deemed necessary and appropriate,
which will then add one to two staff to
the survey crew sizes. Further details on
safety and mitigation techniques can be
read in Mitigation and Monitoring and
Avoidance and Minimization.
Description of Marine Mammals in the
Specified Area
The polar bear is the only marine
mammal under the Service’s
jurisdiction that occupies the Refuge
region. Polar bears are distributed
throughout the circumpolar Arctic in 19
subpopulations, also known as stocks.
Two polar bear stocks occur in Alaska,
the Southern Beaufort Sea (SBS) and
Chukchi/Bering Sea (CBS) stocks.
Together, the two stocks range
throughout the Beaufort, Chukchi, and
Bering Seas, including nearshore
habitats. The stocks overlap seasonally
in the eastern Chukchi and western
Beaufort Seas. Management of the SBS
stock is shared between the United
States and Canada, and management of
the CBS stock is shared between the
United States and the Russian
Federation. Detailed descriptions of the
SBS and CBS polar bear stocks can be
found in the Polar Bear (Ursus
maritimus) Draft Revised Stock
Assessment Reports (SARs) (announced
at 82 FR 28526, June 22, 2017), and
available at https://www.fws.gov/alaska/
pages/marine-mammals/polar-bear.
Once finalized, these revised SARs will
replace the current SARs last revised in
2010 and available at https://
www.fws.gov/alaska/pages/marine-
mammals/polar-bear.
On May 15, 2008, the Service listed
polar bears as threatened under the
Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA;
16 U.S.C. 1531, et seq.) due to loss of
sea-ice habitat caused by climate change
(73 FR 28212). The Service later
published a final special rule under
section 4(d) of the ESA for the polar
bear (78 FR 11766, February 20, 2013)
that provides measures necessary and
advisable for the conservation of polar
bears. Specifically, the 4(d) rule: (a)
Adopts conservation regulatory
requirements of the MMPA and the
Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild
Fauna and Flora for the polar bear as
appropriate regulatory provisions, in
most instances; (b) provides that
incidental, nonlethal take of polar bears
resulting from activities outside the
polar bear’s current range is not
prohibited under the ESA; (c) clarifies
that the special rule does not alter the
section 7 consultation requirements of
the ESA; and (d) applies the standard
ESA protections for threatened species
when an activity is not covered by an
MMPA or CITES authorization or
exemption.
The Service designated critical habitat
for polar bear populations in the United
States effective January 6, 2011 (75 FR
76086, December 7, 2010). Critical
habitat identifies geographic areas that
contain features that are essential for the
conservation of a threatened or
endangered species and that may
require special management or
protection. Polar bear critical habitat
units include barrier island habitat, sea-
ice habitat (both described in geographic
terms), and terrestrial denning habitat (a
functional determination). Barrier island
habitat includes coastal barrier islands
and spits along Alaska’s coast; it is used
for denning, refuge from human
disturbance, resting, feeding, and travel
along the coast. Sea-ice habitat is
located over the continental shelf, and
it includes water 300 m (984 ft) or less
in depth. Terrestrial denning habitat
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includes lands within 32 km (20 mi) of
the northern coast of Alaska between
the Canadian border and the Kavik
River and within 8 km (5 mi) of the
coast between the Kavik River and
Barrow. The total area designated as
critical habitat covers 484,734 km
2
(187,157 mi
2
), and is entirely within the
lands and waters of the United States.
The specified geographic area of this
proposed IHA is estimated to contain
approximately 1,608.11 km
2
(620.89
mi
2
) of critical habitat inclusive of
barrier islands, sea ice habitat, and
denning habitat. Polar bear critical
habitat is described in detail in the final
rule (75 FR 76086, December 7, 2010).
It should be noted that designation of
polar bear denning critical habitat is not
intended to identify actual denning sites
but rather to identify the essential
features that support denning habitat.
KIC is planning to perform work during
winter months, the primary period
when polar bears are denning or on the
sea ice hunting seals.
Polar bears may occur anywhere
within the specified geographic area of
this proposed IHA. SBS polar bears
historically spent the entire year on the
sea ice hunting for seals, with the
exception of a relatively small
proportion of denning adult females that
would come ashore during autumn and
overwinter to den. However, over the
last two decades, the SBS has
experienced a marked decline in
summer sea-ice extent, along with a
pronounced lengthening of the open-
water season (period of time between
sea ice break-up and freeze-up) (Stroeve
et al. 2014; Stern and Laidre 2016). The
dramatic changes in the extent and
phenology of sea-ice habitat have
coincided with evidence suggesting that
use of terrestrial habitat has increased
during summer and prior to denning,
including in the Refuge.
The most recent population estimate
for SBS polar bears was approximately
900 individuals in 2010 (Bromaghin et
al. 2015, Atwood et al. 2020). This
number represents an approximately 30
percent decline in SBS polar bear
abundance between 1986 and 2010
(Amstrup et al. 1986, Regehr et al. 2006,
Bromaghin et al. 2015); however, the
population appears to have remained
stable from 2010 to 2015 (Atwood et al.
2020). In addition, analyses of more
than 20 years of data on the size and
body condition of SBS polar bears
demonstrated declines for most sex and
age classes and a significant negative
relationship between annual sea ice
availability and body condition (Rode et
al. 2010). These lines of evidence
suggest that the SBS subpopulation is
declining due to sea ice loss. Schliebe
et al. (2008) determined that an average
of 4.0 percent of the SBS subpopulation
of polar bears were on land in autumn
during 2000 to 2005, and that the
percentage increased when sea ice was
farther from the coast. More recently,
Atwood et al. (2016) determined that
the percentage of radio-collared adult
females coming ashore in summer and
fall increased from 5.8 to 20 percent
between 2000 and 2014. Over the same
period, the mean duration of the open-
water season increased by 36 days and
the mean length of stay on land by polar
bears increased by 31 days (Atwood et
al. 2016). While on shore, the
distribution of polar bears is largely
influenced by the opportunity to feed on
the remains of subsistence-harvested
bowhead whales. Most polar bears are
aggregated at three sites along the coast,
Utqiag
˙vik (formerly Barrow), Cross
Island, and Kaktovik, a community
located on Barter Island just off the
Coastal Plain (Rogers et al. 2015;
McKinney et al. 2017; Wilson et al.
2017).
In addition to increased use of land
during the open-water season, SBS polar
bears have also increasingly used land
for maternal denning. Olson et al. (2017)
examined the choice of denning
substrate (land compared to sea ice) by
adult females between 1985 and 2013
and determined that the frequency of
land-based denning increased over time,
constituting 34.4 percent of all dens
from 1985 to 1995, 54.6 percent from
1996 to 2006, and 55.2 percent from
2007 to 2013. Additionally, the
frequency of land denning was directly
related to the distance that sea ice
retreated from the coast. From 1985 to
1995 and 2007 to 2013, the average
distance from the coast to 50 percent sea
ice concentration in September (when
sea ice extent reaches its annual
minimum) increased 351 ± 55 km
(218.10 ± 34.17 mi), while the distance
to 15 percent sea ice concentration
increased by 275 ± 54 km (170.88 ±
33.55 mi). Rode et al. (2018) determined
that reproductive success was greater for
females occupying land-based dens
compared to ice-based dens, which may
be an additional factor contributing to
the increase in land-based denning.
Land-based dens are mostly distributed
along the central and eastern coast of
Alaska’s Beaufort Sea, including the
Coastal Plain (Durner et al. 2010).
Durner and Atwood (2018) estimate
there is approximately 79.6 km
2
(30.7
mi
2
) of maternal denning habitat
available to polar bears in the Coastal
Plain.
The proportion of SBS polar bears
found in the Coastal Plain at any given
time is not known. Though polar bears
can be found throughout the Coastal
Plain year-round, their density and
distribution across the area differs
across seasons. Polar bear density is
greatest in summer and fall (i.e., the
open-water period, typically mid-July
through mid-November), along the shore
and barrier islands. During late fall and
winter (generally late mid-November to
March), non-denning polar bears (i.e.,
adult and subadult males, adult females
with and without dependent young, and
subadult females) may travel throughout
the Coastal Plain, though likely in lower
numbers than would be expected along
the coast during the open-water period.
In late fall (generally late October
through November), pregnant females
will begin to excavate and enter dens
distributed throughout the Coastal Plain
in areas where snow accumulates, such
as along coastal bluffs or riverbanks.
Denning female polar bears give birth to
cubs, on average, December 15th, and
remain in their dens until they emerge
in spring (generally March and April).
Polar bears in all life stages may travel
throughout the Coastal Plain in spring
and early summer (generally March to
June).
Mitigation and Monitoring
KIC has proposed to reduce the effects
of its action by implementing mitigation
and monitoring measures described in
chapter 10 of its application, in its Polar
Bear Avoidance and Interaction Plan
(appendix A of the application), and in
its Plan of Cooperation (POC; appendix
B of the application). These measures
have been incorporated into Proposed
Authorization, (B) Avoidance and
Minimization, and (E) Reporting
Requirements, which KIC will be
required to implement as part of its
project if an IHA is issued.
The MMPA requires incidental take
authorizations to prescribe, where
applicable, permissible methods of
taking and other means of effecting the
least practicable impact on the affected
stock. In our analysis, we considered the
availability and feasibility (economic
and technological) of equipment,
methods, and manners of conducting
the proposed seismic acquisition and
other specified activities in order to
effect the least practicable adverse
impact upon the SBS stock of polar
bears, their habitat, and their
availability for subsistence uses. In
doing do, we paid particular attention to
polar bear denning habitat in the action
area given the significance of this
habitat and life stage to polar bears.
The Service’s efforts to identify means
to achieve the least practicable adverse
impact began immediately upon receipt
of KIC’s initial request for an IHA.
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Specifically, the Service began working
with KIC to revise its request by
subdividing acquisition blocks and
establishing dates no earlier than which
work would begin in each block. The
purpose of this was to, where feasible,
delay acquisition in blocks with greater
overlap with polar bear denning habitat.
As demonstrated in Wilson and Durner,
spatial and temporal project planning
has the greatest impact on reducing
potential impacts to denning polar
bears.
In addition to avoiding work in polar
bear denning areas until later in the
season when more mothers and cubs
will have naturally emerged from their
dens, the Service also worked with KIC
to revise its request by placing a 1-mile
buffer around known dens and
prohibiting activities with the potential
to disturb denning bears within that
buffer. The Service also worked with
KIC to incorporate into its request the
use of additional AIR surveys to detect
polar bear dens. Dens of a depth greater
than 100 cm are not able to be detected.
Durner et al. (2003) reported the mean
den roof thicknesses for 22 polar bear
dens in northern Alaska was 72 ± 87 cm,
and ranged from as little as 10 cm to
more than 400 cm. Snow depth over
many dens, therefore, is likely near, or
above, the limits of FLIR detection
capabilities, regardless of weather
(Smith et al. 2020). A single AIR survey
(as was proposed in KIC’s original
request) is able to detect 45 percent of
the dens that are less than 100 cm deep.
In order to increase the likelihood of
detecting dens, and then being able to
protect them with a 1-mile buffer, KIC’s
latest request proposes to conduct three
AIR surveys of the action area before
work proceeds. Three AIR surveys
increases the likelihood of detecting
dens at less than 100 cm deep to 98
percent. Detecting and then placing a 1-
mile buffer around known polar bear
dens is an accepted means of effecting
the least practicable impact on denning
polar bears and therefore the SBS polar
bear stock.
Additionally, after coordination with
the Service, KIC modified its project
design to incorporate reduced line
density and reduced crossings in areas
of high elevation change near streams
and rivers. These high relief areas
contain conditions suitable for polar
bear denning, so reducing activity in
these areas is an appropriate method to
help achieve the least practicable
adverse impact. In addition, prior to
conducting work in high relief stream or
river crossings, KIC will use handheld
FLIR to investigate if a polar bear den
is present and if so will protect it with
a 1-mile buffer.
The Service also worked with KIC to
develop and incorporate into its request
a plan for management of food, waste,
and other potential attractants.
Development and implementation of
such a plan is a means of reducing
impacts on SBS polar bears as it reduces
the likelihood that bears will be
attracted to camps and other project-
related infrastructure. This has
immediate benefits in reducing the
potential for interactions between
project personnel and polar bears that
could result in injury to humans or
bears. In addition, it helps reduce the
potential for polar bears to associate
humans and human activities with
positive food rewards that could result
in them seeking out human
establishments later in life.
The above measures reduce the
potential for overlap between KIC’s
seismic acquisition and polar bears and
therefore reduces the potential for
exposing polar bears to potential
disturbance. The required attractant
management and human polar bear
interaction plans reduce the probability
and severity of negative consequences to
polar bears exposed to KIC’s operations.
These methods, implemented in the
past, have proven to be both practical
and effective. The Service has
determined that these mitigation
measures constitute the means of
effecting the least practicable impact to
SBS polar bears.
We also evaluated potential
alternative mitigation measures but
determined they do not warrant
inclusion in this proposed IHA. The
Service considered the use of dogs as an
alternative mitigation measure to
identify polar bear dens; however, it
was determined that, given the large
area to be surveyed and the limited
availability of trained dogs, this
mitigation measure was not practicable
for the proposed project. The Service
also considered a requirement that the
work be conducted outside of polar bear
denning season, but this approach
would be in direct conflict with ground
temperature and snow cover
requirements for tundra access.
Additionally, we considered applying
minimum flight altitudes without
exception; however, this requirement is
not practicable given cloud and fog
conditions encountered in the project
area.
Mitigation techniques to achieve the
least practicable impact are detailed
below in Proposed Authorization, (B)
Avoidance and Minimization,
paragraphs (a) General avoidance
measures, (b) Mitigation measures for
onshore activities, and (c) Mitigation
measures for aircraft. Additionally, all
measures outlined in the application
(KIC 2020), including the appendices
with the Monitoring and Mitigation Plan
and Plan of Cooperation, are
incorporated by reference herein.
Types of Incidental Take
Lethal Take
Human activity may result in
biologically significant impacts to polar
bears. In the most serious interactions,
human actions can result in mortality of
polar bears, especially in situations
where human life is at risk. On the
North Slope, unintentional mortality
has occurred during efforts to deter
polar bears from a work area for safety
and from direct chemical exposure (81
FR 52276, August 5, 2016). Incidental
lethal take could also result from a
vehicle collision or collapse of a den if
it were run over by a vehicle.
Harassment of a female during the
denning season may cause the female to
either abandon her den prematurely
with cubs or abandon her cubs in the
den before the cubs can survive on their
own. Either scenario may result in lethal
take of the cubs.
Level A Harassment
Human activity may also result in the
injury of polar bears. Level A
harassment, for nonmilitary readiness
activities, is defined as any act of
pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has
the potential to injure a marine mammal
or marine mammal stock in the wild.
Take by Level A harassment can be
caused by numerous actions, including
the incorrect use of a deterrent
projectile, a vehicle collision, or a den
collapse that impairs the animal or
reduces its likelihood of survival or
reproduction. Other examples include,
but are not limited to, separation of
mothers from dependent cub(s)
(Amstrup 2003), activities that result in
mothers leaving the den early (Amstrup
and Gardner 1994, Rode et al. 2018), or
prolonged or repeated interruptions in
nursing or resting (cubs), both of which
can negatively affect cub survival.
Level B Harassment
Level B Harassment for nonmilitary
readiness activities means any act of
pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has
the potential to disturb a marine
mammal in the wild by causing
disruption of behavioral patterns,
including, but not limited to, migration,
breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or
sheltering. Reactions that disrupt
biologically significant behaviors for the
affected animal meet the criteria for take
by Level B harassment under the
MMPA. Reactions that indicate take by
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Level B harassment of polar bears in
response to human activity include, but
are not limited to, the following
examples:
Fleeing (running or swimming away
from a human or a human activity);
Displaying a stress-related behavior
such as jaw or lip-popping, front leg
stomping, vocalizations, circling,
intense staring, or salivating;
Abandoning or avoiding preferred
movement corridors such as ice floes,
leads, polynyas, a segment of coast line,
or barrier islands;
Using a longer or more difficult
route of travel instead of the intended
path;
Interrupting breeding, sheltering,
feeding, or hunting;
Moving away at a fast pace (adult)
and cubs struggle to keep up;
Ceasing to nurse or rest (cubs);
Ceasing to rest repeatedly or for a
prolonged period (adults);
Loss of hunting opportunity due to
disturbance of prey; or
Any interruption in normal denning
behavior that does not cause injury, den
abandonment, or early departure of the
family group from the den site.
This list is not meant to encompass all
possible behaviors; other behavioral
responses may equate to take by Level
B harassment. Relatively minor
reactions such as increased vigilance or
a short-term change in direction of
travel are not likely to disrupt
biologically important behavioral
patterns, and the Service does not view
such minor reactions as resulting in a
take by Level B harassment. It is also
important to note that depending on the
duration and severity of the above-
described behaviors, such responses
could constitute take by Level A
harassment (e.g., repeatedly disrupting a
polar bear versus a single interruption).
Estimating Incidental Take
The general approach for quantifying
take in this proposed IHA was as
follows: (1) Determine the number of
animals in the project area; (2) assess
the likelihood, nature, and degree of
exposure of these animals to project-
relative activities; (3) evaluate these
animals’ probable responses; and (4)
calculate how many of these responses
constitute take. Our evaluation of take
included quantifying the number of
responses that met the criteria for lethal
take, Level A harassment (potential
injury), or Level B harassment (potential
disruption of a biologically significant
behavioral pattern), factoring in the
degree to which effective mitigation
measures will reduce the amount or
consequences of take. To better account
for differences in how various aspects of
the project could impact polar bears, we
performed separate take estimates for
Surface-Level Impacts, Aircraft
Activities, and Impacts to Denning
Bears. These analyses are described in
more detail in the subsections below.
Once these various types of take were
quantified, the next steps were to: (5)
Determine whether the total take will be
of a small number relative to the size of
the stock; and (6) determine whether the
total take will have a negligible impact
on the stock, both of which are
determinations required under the
MMPA.
Analysis of Surface-Level Impact
Individual polar bears can be affected
by activities of the oil and gas industry
(‘‘Industry’’) in numerous ways during
the open-water and ice-covered seasons.
During the early portion of the open-
water season (June and mid-July), most
polar bears occur in offshore areas
associated with multiyear pack ice.
However, in the latter portion of the
open-water season (mid-July to mid-
November), polar bears are attracted to
whale carcasses deposited at bone piles
following subsistence whaling activities
in Alaska Native communities. During
this time, polar bears can be found in
large numbers and high densities on
barrier islands, along the coastline, and
in the nearshore waters of the Beaufort
Sea, particularly on and around Barter
Island. Alternatively, as sea ice recedes
over the deeper waters of the Arctic
Ocean, some bears may abandon the sea
ice for shore. During late fall, winter,
spring, and early summer (generally
mid-November to mid-July), non-
denning polar bears may travel
throughout the Coastal Plain, though in
lower numbers than would be expected
along the coast during the open-water
period. Non-denning polar bear
responses will vary by the type,
duration, intensity, and location of the
source of disturbance.
Disturbance from surface-level
activities associated with the proposed
project would originate primarily from
camp activities and mobile sources such
as vehicle and aircraft traffic, 3D winter
seismic surveys, and summer cleanup
work. The noises, sights, and smells
produced by the project could elicit
variable responses from polar bears.
Noise disturbance can originate from
either stationary or mobile sources.
Stationary sources include construction,
maintenance, repair and remediation
activities, operations at production
facilities, gas flaring, and drilling
operations from either onshore or
offshore facilities. Mobile sources
include aircraft traffic, open-water
winter vibroseis programs, geotechnical
surveys, ice road construction, vehicle
traffic, and tracked vehicles and
snowmobiles.
Noise may act as a deterrent to polar
bears entering work areas, conversely
camp odors could attract them (see 50
CFR 18.34 for further guidance).
Attracting polar bears to these locations
could result in human-bear encounters,
unintentional harassment, intentional
hazing, or possible lethal take in defense
of human life. When disturbed by noise,
animals may respond behaviorally (e.g.,
escape response) or physiologically
(e.g., increased heart rate, hormonal
response) (Harms et al. 1997; Tempel
and Gutierrez 2003). Noise produced by
Industry activities during the open-
water and ice-covered seasons could
disturb polar bears. The available
studies of polar bear behavior indicate
that polar bears can be sensitive to noise
disturbance based on previous
interactions, sex, age, and maternal
status (Anderson and Aars 2008; Dyck
and Baydack 2004). Additionally,
habituation may impact individual bear
behavior. A more detailed description of
the impact of noise on polar bear
hearing can be found below in Analysis
of Aircraft Impact.
Encounter Rate
The most comprehensive dataset of
human-polar bear encounters along the
coast of Alaska consists of records of
Industry encounters during activities on
the North Slope. This database is
referred to as the ‘‘LOA database’’
because it aggregates data reported by
the oil and gas industry to the Service
pursuant to the terms and conditions of
LOAs, issued under current and
previous incidental take regulations (50
CFR part 18, subpart J). While KIC’s
project area does not spatially overlap
with the activities that inform the LOA
database, the LOA database does
include data from the same types of
activities as specified in KIC’s request
and serves as a reasonable proxy for
how polar bears may interact with KIC’s
project. We have used the LOA database
in conjunction with bear density
projections for the entire coastline to
generate quantitative encounter rates in
the project area. We used records from
2014–2018 to conduct the analyses
described below. These records were
entered into a larger LOA database,
which included the date and time of the
encounter, a general description,
number of bears encountered, latitude
and longitude, weather variables, and a
take determination made by the Service.
If latitude and longitude were not
supplied in the initial report, we
georeferenced the encounter using the
location description and a map of North
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Slope infrastructure. We also calculated
distance to shore for each encounter
record using a shapefile of the coastline
and the dist2Line function found in the
R geosphere package.
Spatially Partitioning the North Slope
Into ‘‘Coastal’’ and ‘‘Inland’’ Zones
Polar bear encounters along the
Alaskan coast exhibit a high degree of
spatial autocorrelation, with the vast
majority of encounters occurring along
the shore or immediately offshore
(Atwood et al. 2015, Wilson et al. 2017).
Thus, encounter rates for inland
operations should be significantly lower
than those for offshore or coastal
operations. To partition the North Slope
into ‘‘coastal’’ and ‘‘inland’’ zones, we
calculated the distance to shore for all
encounter records in the period 2014–
2018 in the Service’s LOA database.
Linked sightings of the same bear(s)
were removed from the analysis, and
individual records were created for each
bear encountered. However, because we
were only able to identify and remove
repeated sightings that were designated
as linked within the database, it is likely
that some repeated encounters of the
same bear remained in our analysis. Of
the 1,713 bears encountered from 2014
through 2018, 1,140 (66.5 percent) of the
bears were offshore. While these bears
were encountered offshore, the
encounters were reported by onshore or
island operations (i.e., docks, drilling
and production islands, or causeways).
We examined the distribution of bears
that were onshore and up to 10 km (6.2
mi) inland to determine the distance at
which encounters sharply decreased
(figure 2).
The histogram illustrates a steep
decline in human-polar bear encounters
at 2 km (1.2 mi) from shore. Using this
data, we divided the North Slope into
the ‘‘coastal zone,’’ which includes
offshore operations and up to 2 km (1.2
mi) inland, and the ‘‘inland zone,’’
which includes operations more than 2
km (1.2 mi) inland.
Dividing the Year Into Seasons
The Service’s LOA database was also
used to divide the year into seasons of
high bear activity and low bear activity.
Below is a histogram of all bear
encounters from 2014 through 2018 by
day of the year (Julian date). Two clear
seasons of polar bear encounters can be
seen: An ‘‘open water season’’ that
begins in mid-July and ends in mid-
November, and an ‘‘ice season’’ that
begins in mid-November and ends in
mid-July. The 200th and 315th days of
the year were used to delineate these
seasons when calculating encounter
rates (figure 3).
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North Slope Encounter Rates
Encounter rates in bears/season/km
2
were calculated using a subset of the
Industry encounter records maintained
in the Service’s LOA database. The following formula was used to calculate
encounter rate (Equation 1):
The subset consisted of encounters in
areas that were constantly occupied
year-round to prevent artificially
inflating the denominator of the
equation and negatively biasing the
encounter rate. To identify constantly
occupied North Slope locations, we
gathered data from a number of sources.
We used past LOA applications to find
descriptions of projects that occurred
anywhere within 2015–2018 and the
final LOA reports to determine the
projects that proceeded as planned and
those that were never completed.
Finally, we relied upon the institutional
knowledge of our staff, who have
worked with operators and inspected
facilities on the North Slope. To
determine the area around industrial
facilities in which a polar bear can be
seen and reported, we queried the LOA
database for records that included the
distance to an encountered polar bear. It
is important to note that these values
may represent the closest distance a
bear came to the observer, or the
distance at initial contact. The
histogram of these values shows a drop
in the distance at which a polar bear is
encountered at roughly 1,600 m (1 mi)
(figure 4).
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Using this information, we buffered
the 24-hour occupancy locations listed
above by 1,600 m (1 mi) and calculated
an overall search area for both the
coastal and inland zones. The coastal
and inland occupancy buffer shapefiles
were then used to select encounter
records that were associated with 24-
hour occupancy locations, resulting in
the number of bears encountered per
zone. These numbers were then
separated into open-water and ice
seasons (table 1).
T
ABLE
1—S
UMMARY OF
E
NCOUNTERS
W
ITHIN
1,600 m (1 mi)
OF THE
24-H
OUR
O
CCUPANCY
L
OCATIONS AND
S
UBSEQUENT
E
NCOUNTER
R
ATES FOR
C
OASTAL
(a)
AND
I
NLAND
(b) Z
ONES
Year Ice season encounters Open-Water season encounters
(A) Coastal Zone (Area = 133 km
2
)
2014 ................................................................... 2 ........................................................................ 193.
2015 ................................................................... 8 ........................................................................ 49.
2016 ................................................................... 4 ........................................................................ 227.
2017 ................................................................... 7 ........................................................................ 313.
2018 ................................................................... 13 ...................................................................... 205.
Average ............................................................. 6.8 ..................................................................... 197.4.
Seasonal Encounter Rate ................................. 0.05 bears/km
2
................................................. 1.48 bears/km
2
.
(B) Inland Zone (Area = 267 km
2
)
2014 ................................................................... 3 ........................................................................ 3.
2015 ................................................................... 0 ........................................................................ 0.
2016 ................................................................... 0 ........................................................................ 2.
2017 ................................................................... 3 ........................................................................ 0.
2018 ................................................................... 0 ........................................................................ 2.
Average ............................................................. 1.2 ..................................................................... 1.4.
Seasonal Encounter Rate ................................. 0.004 bears/km
2
............................................... 0.005 bears/km
2
.
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Correction for Increased Bear Density in
the Project Area
Distribution patterns of polar bears
along the coast of the SBS were
estimated by Wilson et al. (2017) using
a Bayesian hierarchical model based on
14 years of aerial surveys in late
summer and early fall. The model
estimated 140 polar bears per week
along the coastline (a measurement that
included barrier islands), with the
highest density occurring on Barter
Island, which is within the project area.
In order to correct the encounter rates
for the higher density of polar bears in
this area, we calculated the proportional
relationship between bear density in the
North Slope area and the project area.
Wilson et al. (2017) divided the
coastline into 10 equally sized grids.
The North Slope area for which the
above encounter rates are calculated
falls within grids 4–7, and the Marsh
Creek-East 3D seismic survey project
area falls within grids 8 and 9. Wilson
et al. (2017) found 40 percent of the
bears along the coastline were estimated
to occur in grids 4–7, and 40 percent
were estimated to occur in grids 8 and
9. When accounting for the length of
coastline in these segments, we found
the number of bears in grids 8 and 9 to
be 2.33 times higher than the number of
bears in grids 4–7. We therefore
multiplied the North Slope coastal and
inland encounter rates described above
by 2.33 during the open-water and ice
seasons.
Take Rate
Level B take rate, or the probability
that an encountered bear will
experience either incidental or
intentional Level B take, was calculated
using the 2014–2018 dataset from the
LOA database. A binary logistic
regression of take regressed upon
distance to shore was not significant (p
= 0.65), supporting the use of a single
take rate for both the coastal and inland
zones. However, a binary logistic
regression of take regressed upon day of
the year was significant. This
significance held when encounters were
binned into either ice or open-water
seasons (p<0.0015). We calculated the
take rate for each season separately and
found the combined rate of incidental
and intentional Level B take to be 0.28
(i.e., 28 percent of encounters end in
take) during the ice season, and 0.16
during the open-water season.
Take Area
As noted above, we have calculated a
bear density depending on the distance
from shore and season, and a take rate
depending on season. In order to
estimate take from the project activities,
we must calculate the area affected by
project activities to such a degree that
take is likely. This is sometimes referred
to as a zone or area of influence.
Behavioral response rates of polar bears
to disturbances are highly variable, but
disturbances within 805 m (0.5 mi) are
generally more likely to cause take by
Level B harassment than those at greater
distances. Observational data to support
the relationship between distance to
bears and disturbance is limited. During
the Service’s coastal aerial surveys, most
polar bears that responded in a way that
indicated possible take by Level B
harassment (polar bears that were
running when detected or began to run
or swim in response to the aircraft) did
so at 760 m (0.47 mi) or less (as
measured from the ninetieth percentile
horizontal detection distance from the
flight line). Similarly, Andersen and
Aars (2008) found that polar bears began
to walk or run away from approaching
snowmobiles at a mean distance of 843
m (0.52 mi). The authors also found
females with cubs responded by
walking or running away at a distance
of 1.5 km (0.95 mi). Conversely, Dyck
and Baydack (2004) found females
showed decreased vigilance in the
presence of vehicles on the tundra.
Furthermore, in their summary of polar
bear behavioral response to icebreaking
vessels in the Chukchi Sea, Smultea et
al. (2016) found no difference between
reactions of males, females with cubs, or
females without cubs. Thus, while
further research into the reaction of
polar bears to anthropogenic
disturbance may indicate a greater zone
of potential impact is appropriate, the
current literature suggests 805 m (0.5
mi) will likely encompass the majority
of polar bear takes.
Estimated Take
We used the spatio-temporally
specific encounter rates and temporally
specific take rates derived above, in
conjunction with the spatially and
temporally specific project proposal
from KIC, to calculate estimated take.
The activities proposed by KIC can be
grouped into three categories: An access
route, seismic activity, and summer
cleanup activities. The distribution of
personnel and equipment across the
project area is different for each of these
categories, thus they differ slightly.
Table 2 provides the definition for each
variable used in the take formulas.
T
ABLE
2—D
EFINITIONS OF
V
ARIABLES
U
SED IN
T
AKE
E
STIMATES
Variable Definition
d
i
........................................... days of impact.
d
s
.......................................... days in each season (open-water season = 116, ice season = 249).
S
p
......................................... proportion of the season an area of interest is impacted.
B
es
........................................ bears encountered in an area of interest for the entire season.
a
c
.......................................... coastal exposure area.
a
i
........................................... inland exposure area.
r
o
........................................... occupancy rate.
e
co
......................................... coastal open-water season bear-encounter rate in bears/season.
e
ci
......................................... coastal ice season bear-encounter rate in bears/season.
e
io
......................................... inland open-water season bear-encounter rate in bears/season.
e
ii
.......................................... inland ice season bear-encounter rate in bears/season.
t
i
............................................ ice season take rate.
t
o
........................................... open-water season take rate.
B
t
.......................................... number of estimated Level B takes.
B
T
......................................... total bears taken for activity type.
The variables defined above were
used in a series of formulas to
ultimately estimate the total take from
surface-level interactions. Encounter
rates were originally calculated as bears
encountered per square kilometer per
season (see North Slope Encounter
Rates above). Therefore, we calculated
the proportion of the season (S
p
) that an
area of interest (i.e., a buffered access
route, seismic sub-block, or summer
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cleanup area) would be impacted with
the following formula (Equation 2).
The area of impact to non-denning
bears from linear (access route)
activities was calculated by buffering
the access route by 805 m (0.5 mi) on
each side, creating a 1,610-m (1.0-mi)
corridor of impact. We calculated the
area of access road impact in both the
coastal and inland zones for each camp
movement, as the access road grows in
length with each advance of the camp.
To determine the area of impact for the
on-the-ground portion of summer
cleanup activities, the maximum size of
a camp (91x122 m; 300x400 ft) was
buffered by 1,610 m (1 mi) to account
for personnel venturing outside the
immediate camp area to pick up debris,
resulting in a 2.9-km
2
impact area. KIC
will use only one cleanup crew, thus
only 2.9 km
2
will be impacted at any
given time. The areas of impact were
then clipped (a function that retains
only overlapping areas) by coastal and
inland zone shapefiles in ArcGIS Pro to
determine the coastal areas of impact
(a
c
) and inland areas of impact (a
i
) for
each activity category. Impact areas
were multiplied by the appropriate
encounter rate to obtain the number of
bears expected to be encountered in the
area of interest per season (B
es
). The
equation below (Equation 3) provides an
example of the calculation of bears
encountered in the ice season for an
area of interest in the coastal zone.
The rate of occupancy (r
o
) of each
operation category was determined
using the description of activities
provided by the applicant. KIC has
stated they may use the access road up
to once a day. We have estimated this
use will lead to up to 50 percent
occupancy of the access road impact
area at any given time. Advance crews
activity was assigned an occupancy rate
of r
o
=0.33, as they will be present in
only one third of the survey block at any
given time. Both the main seismic and
summer cleanup activities were
assigned r
o
=1, as these areas will be
impacted constantly. To generate the
number of estimated Level B takes for
each area of interest, we multiplied the
number of bears in the area of interest
per season by the proportion of the
season the area is occupied, the rate of
occupancy, and the take rate (Equation
4).
The total number of Level B takes for
surface-level interactions was calculated by adding the takes for each activity
type (table 3). A total of one Level B take of polar bears are anticipated from
surface-level activities.
T
ABLE
3—V
ALUES FOR THE
V
ARIABLES
D
EFINED
A
BOVE FOR
E
ACH
A
CTIVITY
C
ATEGORY
Variable Access road Seismic activity Summer cleanup
d
i
.................................................... See table 9 for days per sub-
block. See table 9 for days per sub-
block. 3 days in coastal zone, 12 days in
inland zone.
d
s
.................................................... Open water = 116, Ice = 249 ....... Open water = 116, Ice = 249 ....... Open water = 116, Ice = 249.
S
p
................................................... 0.008–0.012 unique to date and
sub-block. 0.008–0.012 unique to sub-block 0.012 in coastal zone, 0.10 in in-
land zone.
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T
ABLE
3—V
ALUES FOR THE
V
ARIABLES
D
EFINED
A
BOVE FOR
E
ACH
A
CTIVITY
C
ATEGORY
—Continued
Variable Access road Seismic activity Summer cleanup
B
es
.................................................. 0.364–23.053 bears unique to
date and sub-block. 0.32–4.39 bears unique to sub-
block. 0.344 bears in coastal zone,
0.033 bears in inland zone.
a
c
.................................................... 101–194 km
2
unique to sub-block 7–37 km
2
unique to sub-block ..... 2.9 km
2
.
a
i
.................................................... 35–103 km
2
unique to sub-block 16–95 km
2
unique to sub-block ... 2.9 km
2
.
r
o
.................................................... 0.5 ................................................. 0.33 for advance crew ..................
1 for main crew ............................. 1.
e
co
.................................................. 3.45 bears/km
2
/season ................. 3.45 bears/km
2
/season ................. 3.45 bears/km
2
/season.
e
ci
................................................... 0.118 bears/km
2
/season ............... 0.118 bears/km
2
/season ............... 0.118 bears/km
2
/season.
e
io
................................................... 0.0116 bears/km
2
/season ............. 0.0116 bears/km
2
/season ............. 0.0116 bears/km
2
/season.
e
ii
.................................................... 0.0104 bears/km
2
/season ............. 0.0104 bears/km
2
/season ............. 0.0104 bears/km
2
/season.
t
i
..................................................... 0.28 ............................................... 0.28 ............................................... 0.28.
t
o
..................................................... 0.16 ............................................... 0.16 ............................................... 0.16.
B
t
.................................................... 0.0004–0.038 bears unique to
sub-block. 0.0002–0.008 bears unique to
sub-block. 0.0005–0.001 bears unique to
sub-block.
B
T
................................................... 0.70 Level B takes ........................ 0.25 Level B takes ........................ 0.0017 Level B takes.
Total Level B takes due to
surface interactions is 1
bear.
Analysis of Aircraft Impact to Surface
Bears
Potential Impacts From KIC Aircraft
Activities
Behavioral responses can be seen
from acute exposure to high sound
levels or from long periods of exposure
to lower sound levels. Prolonged
exposure over time can lead to a chronic
stress response (see Level B Harassment)
that may inhibit necessary life activities
for polar bears (see Level A
Harassment). Both the sound levels and
durations of exposure from KIC’s
aircraft will depend primarily on a polar
bear’s vertical distance from the aircraft.
Airborne sound attenuation rates are
affected by characteristics of the
atmosphere and topography, but can be
conservatively generalized for line
sources (such as flight lines) over
acoustically ‘‘hard’’ surfaces like water
(rather than ‘‘soft’’ surfaces like snow)
by a loss of 3 dB per doubling of
distance from the source. At this
attenuation rate, a sound registering 90
dB directly below a flyover at 91 to 152
m (300 to 500 ft) above sea level (ASL)
will attenuate to 80 dB in 1 to 1.5 km
(0.6 to 0.9 mi). The same noise level will
attenuate to 68 dB within 15 to 24 km
(9 to 15 mi).
Sound frequencies produced by KIC’s
aircraft will likely fall within the
hearing range of polar bears (see
Nachtigall et al. 2007) and will be
audible to animals during flyovers.
During FAA testing, the test aircraft
produced sound at all frequencies
measured (50 Hz to 10 kHz) (Healy
1974; Newman 1979). At frequencies
centered at 5 kHz, jets flying at 300 m
(984 ft) produced
1
3
octave band noise
levels of 84 to 124 dB, propeller-driven
aircraft produced 75 to 90 dB, and
helicopters produced 60 to 70 dB
(Richardson et al. 1995).
Observations of polar bears during fall
coastal surveys, which flew at much
lower altitudes than is required of
Industry aircraft (see Estimating Take
Rates of Aircraft Activities), indicate
that the reactions of non-denning polar
bears is typically varied but limited to
short-term changes in behavior ranging
from no reaction to running away.
Larson et al. 2020 has recently
determined ‘‘a 20.0 percent probability
(95 percent CI = 05.1 ¥ 34.9) of eliciting
increased vigilance, a 57.4 percent
probability (95 percent CI = 38.9 ¥
75.9) of initiating rapid movement, and
a 22.6 percent probability (95 percent CI
= 06.8 ¥ 38.4) of causing den
abandonment’’ in polar bears when
exposed to aircraft activity. This finding
indicates the potential that aircraft
activities can cause the take of both
surface and denning bears via a
biologically significant response.
Aircraft activities can impact bears over
all seasons; however, during the
summer and fall seasons, aircraft have
the potential to disturb both individuals
and congregations of polar bears. Polar
bears are onshore during this time of
year and spend the majority of their
time resting and limiting their
movements on land. Exposure to aircraft
traffic at this time of year is expected to
result in changes in behavior, such as
going from resting to walking or
running, and therefore has the potential
to be more energetically costly
compared to other times of year.
Mitigation measures, such as minimum
flight elevations over polar bears,
habitat areas of concern, and flight
restrictions around known polar bear
habitat will be required to achieve least
practicable adverse impact of the
likelihood that polar bears are disturbed
by aircraft.
KIC has requested authorization for
Level B incidental harassment of polar
bears. Polar bears in the project area will
likely be exposed to the visual and
auditory stimulation associated with
KIC’s flight plans. If polar bears are
disturbed, it may be more likely due to
the airborne noise associated with KIC’s
take-offs and landings, or possibly the
noise in tandem with the sight of the
aircraft during flight. These impacts are
likely to be minimal and not long-
lasting to surface bears. KIC’s flights
will generate noise that is louder and
recurs more frequently than noise from
regular air traffic due to the survey’s
particular aircraft and flight pattern,
taking off and landing multiple times
per day. Flyovers may cause disruptions
in the polar bear’s normal behavioral
patterns, thereby resulting in incidental
take by Level B harassment. Sudden
changes in direction, elevation, and
movement may also increase the level of
noise produced from the helicopter,
especially at lower altitudes. This
increased level of noise could result in
a Level B take and adverse behavioral
modifications from polar bears in the
area. Mitigation measures, such as
minimum flight elevations over polar
bears and restrictions on sudden
changes to helicopter movements and
direction, will be required to reduce the
likelihood that polar bears are disturbed
by aircraft. Once mitigated, such
disturbances are expected to have no
more than short-term, temporary, and
minor impacts on individuals.
Estimating Take Rates of Aircraft
Activities
To predict how polar bears will
respond to aircraft overflights during
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North Slope oil and gas work, we first
developed a behavioral response curve
to determine various exposure areas at
which polar bears may react to aircraft
noise. We then developed an aircraft
noise profile using noise mapping
software and Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) test values for
aircraft noise in A-weighted decibels
(dBA). With the noise profile and
exposure distances, we then developed
a Level B take rate response curve to
determine the estimated take rate within
each exposure area based on the noise
levels of the aircraft.
The behavioral response curve plots
the decibel level and distance at which
polar bears exposed to aircraft noise
show behavioral responses that indicate
take by Level B harassment. To develop
the behavioral response curve, we
examined existing data on the
behavioral responses of polar bears
during aircraft surveys conducted by the
Service along with the U.S. Geological
Survey (USGS) between August and
October during most years from 2000 to
2014 (Wilson et al. 2017, Atwood et al.
2015, and Schliebe et al. 2008).
Behavioral responses due to sight and
sound of the aircraft have both been
incorporated into this analysis as there
was no ability to differentiate between
the two response sources during aircraft
survey observations. Aircraft types used
for surveys during the study included a
fixed-wing Aero-Commander from 2000
to 2004, an R–44 helicopter from 2012
to 2014, and an A-Star helicopter for a
portion of the 2013 surveys. During
surveys, all aircraft flew at an altitude
of approximately 90 m (295 ft), and at
a speed of 150 to 205 km per hour (km/
h) or 93 to 127 mi per hour (mi/h).
Reactions indicating possible take by
Level B harassment were recorded when
a polar bear was observed running from
the aircraft or began to run or swim in
response to the aircraft. Of 951 polar
bears observed during coastal aerial
surveys, 162 showed these reactions,
indicating that the percentage of Level
B take during these low-altitude coastal
survey flights was 17 percent.
Detailed data on the behavioral
responses of polar bears to the aircraft
were available for only the flights
conducted between 2000 and 2004 (n =
581). The Aero Commander 690, also
known as the Turbo Commander, was
used during this period. The horizontal
detection distance from the flight line
was recorded for 108 polar bears that
reacted by running or swimming away
from aircraft, indicating a Level B
harassment. Using these data, we
parameterized a logistic function to
predict distances at which bears
responded (R
2
= 0.99; Equation 5).
Accordingly, the approximate sum of
the declining response rates from the
center of the flight line to 400 m (0.25
mi) was 0.87 and to 800 m (0.5 mi) was
0.92. This calculation indicates that the
majority (92 percent) of polar bears with
responses to aircraft indicating take by
Level B harassment responded within
800 m, whereas 8 percent of Level B
take occurred beyond that (1 ¥ 0.92 =
0.08) (figure 5). The response distances
(400 m [0.25 mi], 800 m [0.5 mi], and
2,000 m [1.2 mi]) were then combined
with the sound produced by the aircraft,
based on altitude, to determine the level
of noise at which polar bears are likely
to exhibit a behavioral response.
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The intensity of response within each
exposure area will be affected by the
altitude and aircraft type. To predict
how polar bears might respond to
different levels of noise within each
exposure area, we evaluated the sound
levels at the source that were generated
during the coastal surveys using the
Aero Commander. Sound waves
propagate as a sphere and follow the
‘‘inverse square law’’ of attenuation. A
general rule is that the level reduces by
6 dB per doubling of distance. The
source sound levels of the Aero
Commander were back-calculated from
the FAA test values based on this
generalized modelling approach.
Specifically, we used noise mapping
software by MAS Environmental, Ltd.
(2020), to generate a geometric
spreading loss model with attenuation
by atmospheric absorption according to
International Organization for
Standardization (ISO) 9613–2
methodology (ISO 1996).
Parameters for estimating the source
sound pressure levels include the
received sound levels, frequency
distribution of aircraft sound, and
atmospheric conditions. The received
sound pressure level for the Aero
Commander 690 flying at an altitude of
305 m (1,000 ft) and maximum
continuous power (approximately 525
km/hr or 326 m/hr [Twin Commander
Aircraft]) was 76.4 dBA measured at
ground level (FAA 2012). The Aero
Commander’s noise levels have also
been measured during a gliding flight
path at 152.4 m (500 ft) altitude and
airspeeds up to 324 km/hr (201 mi/hr),
during which the aircraft produced a
maximum of 75.4 dB (Healy 1974).
Frequency distribution of broadband
aircraft sound was generalized from
figure 2 in Bajdek et al. (2016).
Environmental parameters were based
on average Prudhoe Bay weather
conditions (Thorsen 2020) of –11°C, 82
percent humidity, and a ‘‘ground factor’’
of 0 for hard ground, ice, and water.
Based on these parameters, the source
levels of the Aero Commander were
estimated to be 132.5 dB during the test
flights conducted by the FAA.
The noise levels that would have been
received by polar bears on the ground
surface during the USFWS/USGS
coastal surveys were then estimated
using the same geometric spreading loss
model for attenuation at a flight altitude
of 90 m (295 ft). The model outputs
indicated that polar bears under the
center of the flight line were likely to
have been exposed to approximately
80.4 dBA, while those at 400 m (0.25
mi) from the centerline were likely
exposed to approximately 65.3 dBA
(figure 6).
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Model outputs incorporated A-
weighting. A-weighting reduces the
decibel levels perceived outside of the
best hearing range of human beings and
was applied herein as a conservative
reduction of decibel levels for polar
bears due to the high degree of overlap
in the frequency ranges of hearing
(figure 7).
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Aircraft flight for the oil and gas
Industry on the North Slope seldom
occur at cruising altitudes less than
152.4 m (500 ft). But, the estimated rate
of Level B take at less than 152.4 m (500
ft) was assumed to be appropriate for
takeoffs and landings. The sound source
levels of the Aero commander and
corresponding behavioral response rates
at various distances from the center line
of flight path were used to inform the
spatiotemporally explicit Level B take
rate response curve (figure 8). We were
then able to apply this take rate
response curve to noise profiles
calculated for other types of aircraft. For
winter and summer activities, we used
the De Havilland DH6–300 Twin Otter
and noise tests conducted for this
aircraft by the FAA (2012). Although the
Bell 206 is planned to be used during
summer operations, there was a lack of
information to inform the sound
propagation model. We do know,
however, that the estimated dBA at 400
ft above ground level for the Bell 206 is
less than what is estimated for the Twin
Otter (82.4 dBA [NPS 2007] and 89.7
dBA respectively). Therefore, there is
likely a slight overestimation of take in
regards to summer activities. Decibel
levels from flights at various altitudes
were estimated using the geometric
spreading model, and the resulting take
rate was predicted from the response
curve (table 4).
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The sound level at which all polar
bears would respond was set to 132.5
dBA based on thresholds identified for
possible hearing damage due to sound
exposure for proxy marine mammal
species identified by Kastak et al.
(2007), Southall (2019), and Finneran
(2015).
T
ABLE
4—R
ATE OF
L
EVEL
B T
AKE BY
E
XPOSURE
T
YPE
(A
LTITUDE AND
D
ISTANCE
F
ROM
C
ENTER OF
F
LIGHT
L
INE
)
AND
A
CTIVITIES FOR
W
HICH
T
HESE
R
ATES
A
PPLY
.
Aircraft Up to (m)
altitude
Max estimated
SPL in the zone
(dBA)
Up to (m)
distance from
center
Level B response
rate for the
distance category
(percent)
Applicable to
Twin Otter ................................... 90 95.2 0–399 68.6 Takeoffs/landings (<300 ft)
Twin Otter ................................... 90 79.1 400–799 14.1 Takeoffs/landings (<300 ft)
Twin Otter ................................... 90 71.5 800–2,000 3.8 Takeoffs/landings (<300 ft)
Twin Otter ................................... 152.4 89.7 0–399 48.7 Flights 500–1,000 ft
Twin Otter ................................... 152.4 78.6 400–799 13.1 Flights 500–1,000 ft
Twin Otter ................................... 152.4 71.3 800–2,000 3.7 Flights 500–1,000 ft
Twin Otter ................................... 457 82.3 0–399 22.2 Flights 1,000–1,500 ft
Twin Otter ................................... 457 76.8 400–799 9.8 Flights 1,000–1,500 ft
Twin Otter ................................... 457 70.7 800–2,000 3.3 Flights 1,000–1,500 ft
General Approach to Estimating Take
for Aircraft Activities
Aircraft information was determined
using details provided in the
application, including flight paths,
flight take-offs and landings, altitudes,
and aircraft type. We marked the
approximate flight path start and stop
points using ArcGIS Pro (version 2.4.3),
and the paths were drawn.
For winter activities, we started the
flight paths at the Deadhorse airport and
ended them at the centroid of each sub-
block using a frequency of 3 flights per
week totaling approximately 62 flights
during the winter season. A portion of
this flight path lies within the
authorization area for the 2016–2021
Beaufort Sea ITR and was excluded
from this analysis. For summer cleanup
activities, we started flight paths at
Barter Island Airport and extended one
flight path approximately 160 km (99
mi) into the coastal zone, extended one
flight path approximately 160 km (99
mi) into the inland zone, and added an
additional flight path in the inland zone
to serve as the basis for inland tundra
landing analysis. Because Barter Island
Airport is within the coastal zone, we
did not have to draw a separate tundra
landing path to analyze coastal
landings. These flight paths were
analyzed based on the coastal portion of
summer cleanup activities occurring
prior to July 19th and lasting for 3 days
before moving inland for the remaining
12 days occurring after July 19th. A total
of 32 tundra landings per day were also
included in the analysis.
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Flight segments flown at lower
altitudes were estimated to have greater
impact on encountered polar bears due
to higher received sound levels. For
example, received sound levels are
higher from aircraft flying at 91 m (300
ft) than at 305 m (1,000 ft). To account
for this, once the flight paths were
generated, flights were broken up into
segments for landing, take-off, and
traveling. For winter activities, the take-
off area and a portion of the travel
segment of the flight path resides within
the area covered by the 2016–2021
Beaufort Sea ITR and is excluded from
KIC’s IHA request and this analysis.
‘‘Landing’’ and ‘‘take-off’’ areas were
marked along the flight paths at each
end point to designate low-altitude
areas. The ‘‘traveling area’’ is considered
the point in which an aircraft is likely
to be at its maximum altitude (altitudes
of 152.4 m (500 ft) up to 457 m (1,500
ft) depending on the aircraft activity).
The distance considered the ‘‘landing’’
area is based on approximately 4.83 km
(3 mi) per 305 m (1,000 ft) of altitude
descent speed. For all flight paths at or
exceeding an altitude of 152.4 m (500
ft), the ‘‘take-off’’ area was marked as
2.41 km (1.5 mi) based on flight logs
found through FlightAware, which
noted that ascent to maximum flight
altitude took approximately half the
time of the average descent. We then
applied exposure areas along the flight
paths (see section Estimating Take Rates
of Aircraft Activities). These areas
consisted of 0–399 m (0.25 mi), 400–799
m (0.50 mi), and 800–2,000 m (1.2 mi)
distances from the center of the flight
path.
After these exposure areas were
determined, we differentiated the
coastal and inland zones. The coastal
zone was the area offshore and within
2 km (1.2 mi) of the coastline (see
section Spatially Partitioning the North
Slope into ‘‘coastal’’ and ‘‘inland’’
zones), and the inland zone is anything
greater than 2 km (1.2 mi) from the
coastline. We calculated the areas in
square kilometers for each exposure area
within the coastal zone and the inland
zone for all take-offs, landings, and
traveling areas (with the exception of
winter aircraft activities authorized
through an LOA and excluded from
KIC’s request). For flights that involve
an inland and a coastal airstrip, we
considered landings to occur at airstrips
within the coastal zone, such as Barter
Island. Seasonal encounter rates
developed for both the coastal and
inland zones (see section Search Effort
Buffer) were applied to the appropriate
segments of each flight path.
Surface encounter rates are calculated
based on the number of bears per season
(see section Search Effort Buffer). To
apply these rates to aircraft activities,
we needed to calculate a proportion of
the season in which aircraft were flown.
However, the assumption involved in
using a seasonal proportion is that the
area is impacted for an entire day (i.e.,
for 24 hours). Therefore, in order to
prevent estimating impacts along the
flight path over periods of time where
aircraft are not present, we calculated a
proportion of the day the area will be
impacted by aircraft activities for each
season (table 5).
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The number of times each flight path
was flown (i.e., flight frequency) was
determined from the application. We
used the description combined with the
approximate number of weeks and
months within the open-water season
and the ice season to determine the total
number of flights per season for each
year (ƒ). We then used flight frequency
and number of days per season (d
s
) to
calculate the seasonal proportion of
flights (S
p
; Equation 6).
After we determined the seasonal
proportion of flights, we estimated the
amount of time an aircraft would be
impacting the landing/take-off areas
within a day (t
LT
). Assuming an aircraft
is not landing at the same time another
is taking off from the same airstrip, we
estimated the amount of time an aircraft
would be present within the landing or
take-off zone would be t
LT
= 10 minutes.
We then calculated how many minutes
within a day an aircraft would be
impacting an area and divided by the
number of minutes within a 24-hour
period (1,440 minutes). This determined
the proportion of the day in which a
landing/take-off area is impacted by an
aircraft for each season (D
p(LT)
; Equation
7).
To estimate the amount of time an
aircraft would be impacting the travel
areas (, we calculated the minimum
amount of time it would take for an
aircraft to travel the maximum exposure
area at any given time, 4 km (2.49 mi).
We made this estimate using average
aircraft speeds at altitudes less than 305
m (1,000 ft) to account for slower flights
at lower altitudes, such as summer
cleanup activities, and determined it
would take approximately 2 minutes.
We then determined how many 4-km
(2.49-mi) segments are present along
each traveling path (x). We determined
the total number of minutes an aircraft
would be impacting any 4-km (2.49-mi)
segment along the travel area in a day
and divided by the number of minutes
in a 24-hour period. This calculation
determined the proportion of the day in
which an aircraft would impact an area
while traveling during each season
(D
p(TR)
; Equation 8).
We then used an aircraft noise profile
and the parametric behavioral response
curve (see section Estimating Take Rates
of Aircraft Activities) to determine the
appropriate take rate in each exposure
area (up to 400 m [0.25 mi], 800 m [0.5
mi], and 2,000 m [1.2 mi] from the
center of the flight line; see Estimating
Take Rates of Aircraft Activities). The
take rate areas were then calculated
separately for the landing and take-off
areas along each flight path as well as
the traveling area for flights with
altitudes at or exceeding 152.4 m (500
ft).
To estimate number of polar bears
taken due to aircraft activities, we first
calculated the number of bears
encountered (B
es
) for the landing/take
off and traveling sections using both
coastal (e
ci or co
) and inland (e
ii or io
)
encounter rates within the coastal (a
c
)
and inland (a
i
) exposure areas (Equation
9).
Using the calculated number of
coastal and inland bears encountered for
each season, we applied the daily
seasonal proportion for both landings/
take-offs and traveling areas to
determine the daily number of bears
impacted due to aircraft activities (B
i
).
We then applied the appropriate aircraft
take rates (t
a
) associated with each
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exposure area at the altitude intervals of
<91.4 m (<300 ft; take-offs and
landings), 152.4 m (500 ft) to 305 m
(1,000 ft), and 305 m (1,000 ft) to 457
m (1,500 ft) (see section Estimating Take
Rates of Aircraft Activities) resulting in
a number of bears taken during each
season (B
t
; Equation 10). Take associated
with AIR surveys were analyzed
separately.
Analysis Approach for Estimating Take
During Aerial Infrared Surveys
Typically during every ice season
Industry conducts polar bear surveys
using AIR. These surveys are not
conducted along specific flight paths
and generally overlap previously flown
areas within the same trip. The altitudes
for these surveys can also vary. Given
the above, the take estimates for surface
bears during AIR surveys were analyzed
using a different methodology.
Rather than estimate potential flight
paths, we used the provided survey
blocks to serve as a basis for our flight
areas. We then estimated the area of
each block that was within the coastal
and inland zones. We accounted for
three survey trips consisting of
approximately 7 days each, and
calculated the daily proportion of the
ice season in which AIR surveys were
impacting the direct area (see General
Approach to Estimating Take for
Aircraft Activities). Using the seasonal
bear encounter rates for the appropriate
zones multiplied by the proportion of
the day the areas were impacted for the
season AIR surveys were flown, we
determined the number of bears
encountered. Because the altitude is
variable (ranging from 152.4 m [500 ft]—
305 m [1,000 ft] or greater), we
calculated a constant take rate based on
the Twin Otter’s noise profile. We
averaged take rates associated with three
categorical exposure areas measured as
the perpendicular distance to the center
of the flight line at ground level. The
exposure areas were 0–399 m (0–0.25
mi), 400–799 m (0.25–0.5 mi), and 800–
2,000 m (0.5–1.2 mi) for altitudes of
152.4 m (500 ft)—305 m (1,000 ft). We
then applied this take rate to the
number of bears encountered per zone
to determine number of bears taken for
the project’s duration.
Estimated Take From Aircraft Activities
Using the approach described in
General Approach to Estimating Take
for Aircraft Activities and Analysis
Approach for Estimating Take during
Aerial Infrared Surveys, we were able to
estimate the total number of bears taken
by the aircraft activities during the KIC
project Marsh Creek East 3D seismic
project (table 6).
Analysis of Impact to Denning Bears
To assess the likelihood and degree of
exposure and predict probable
responses of denning polar bears to
activities proposed in the application,
we characterized, evaluated, and
prioritized a series of definitions and
rules in a predictive model. We used
information from published sources as
well as information submitted to the
Service by the Industry on denning
chronology, behavior, and cub survival
(i.e., case studies). We considered all
available scientific and observational
data on polar bear denning behavior and
effects of disturbance to that behavior.
In the models discussed below, we
define the following terms: (1) Exposure
means any human activity within 1,610
m (1 mi) of a polar bear or active den.
In the case of aircraft, an overflight
within 1,500 feet (0.3 mi) above ground
level; (2) Discrete exposure means an
exposure that occurs only once; (3)
Repeated exposure means an exposure
that occurs more than once; and (4)
Response probability means the
probability that an exposure resulted in
a response by denning polar bears.
Additionally, we applied the following
rules to our review of the case studies:
(1) Any exposure that did not result
in a Level A or lethal take could result
in a Level B harassment take.
Consequently, multiple exposures could
result in multiple Level B harassment
takes.
(2) If dates of exposure were not
explicit in a case study and the type of
exposure could be daily (e.g., the den
was located within 1,610 m (1 mi) of an
ice road versus exposed to an aerial den
survey), we assumed exposures
occurred daily.
(3) In the event of an exposure that
resulted in a disturbance to denning
bears, take was assigned for each bear
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(i.e., female and each cub) associated
with that den.
(4) In the absence of additional
information, we assumed dens did not
contain cubs prior to December 1, but
did contain cubs on or after December
1. (5) If an exposure occurred and the
female subsequently abandoned her den
after cubs were born (i.e., after
December 1), we assigned a lethal take
for each cub.
(6) If an exposure occurred during the
early denning period and bears emerged
from the den before cubs reached 60
days of age, we assigned a lethal take for
each cub. In the absence of information
about cub age, den emergences that
occurred between December 1 and
February 15 were considered to be early
emergences and resulted in a lethal take
of each cub.
(7) If an exposure occurred during the
late denning period and bears emerged
from the den after cubs reached 60 days
of age but before their intended (i.e.,
undisturbed) emergence date, we
assigned a serious injury (i.e., an injury
likely to result in mortality) Level A
harassment take for each cub. In the
absence of information about cub age
and intended emergence date (which
was known only for simulated dens),
den emergences that occurred between
(and including) February 16 and March
14 were considered to be early
emergences and resulted in a serious
injury Level A harassment take of each
cub. If a den emergence occurred after
March 14 but was clearly linked to an
exposure, we considered the emergence
to be early and resulted in a serious
injury Level A harassment take of each
cub.
(8) For dens where emergence was not
classified as early, if an exposure
occurred during the post-emergence
period and bears departed the den site
prior to their intended (i.e.,
undisturbed) departure date, we
assigned a non-serious Level A
harassment take for each cub. In the
absence of information about the
intended departure date (which was
known only for simulated dens), den
site departures that occurred <9 days
after the emergence date were
considered to be early departures and
resulted in a non-serious Level A
harassment take of each cub. Lethal take
of cubs could occur if a female
abandoned them at the den site even
after they spent 9 days at the den post-
emergence.
We used details from 85 disturbance
events from 56 polar bear dens to
generate probabilities for model
outcomes (table 7). Below, we provide
definitions for terms used in this
analysis category, a general overview of
each denning stage, and the rules
established for the model.
T
ABLE
7—P
ROBABILITY
T
HAT A
D
ISCRETE OR
R
EPEATED
E
XPOSURE
E
LICITED A
R
ESPONSE BY
D
ENNING
P
OLAR
B
EARS
T
HAT
W
OULD
R
ESULT IN
L
EVEL
B, L
EVEL
A,
OR
L
ETHAL
T
AKE
. L
EVEL
B T
AKE WAS
A
PPLICABLE TO
B
OTH
A
DULTS
AND
C
UBS
,
IF
P
RESENT
; L
EVEL
A
AND
L
ETHAL
T
AKE
W
ERE
A
PPLICABLE TO
C
UBS
O
NLY AND
W
ERE NOT
P
OSSIBLE
D
URING THE
D
EN
E
STABLISHMENT
P
ERIOD
, W
HICH
E
NDED
W
ITH THE
B
IRTH OF
C
UBS
. P
ROBABILITIES
W
ERE
C
AL
-
CULATED
F
ROM THE
A
NALYSIS OF
56 C
ASE
S
TUDIES OF
P
OLAR
B
EAR
R
ESPONSES TO
H
UMAN
A
CTIVITY
.
Exposure type Period Level B Level A Lethal
Discrete ........................................................... Den Establishment ......................................... 0.667 NA NA
Early Denning ................................................. NA NA 0.000
Late Denning .................................................. 0.091 0.909 0.000
Post-emergence ............................................. 0.000 0.600 0.400
Repeated ......................................................... Den Establishment ......................................... 0.000 NA NA
Early Denning ................................................. 0.000 NA 0.222
Late Denning .................................................. 0.650 0.200 0.050
Post-emergence ............................................. 0.250 0.625 0.125
We further define the following
exposure categories for clarification
based on polar bear response: (1) No
response indicates a physiological and/
or behavioral reaction by a polar bear to
an exposure that is so minor that it may
be discounted as having no effect; (2) A
likely physiological response would be
indicated by an alteration in the normal
physiological function of a polar bear
(e.g., elevated heart rate or stress
hormone levels) that is typically
unobservable, but is likely to occur in
response to an exposure; and (3) An
observed behavioral response is when
changes in behavior are observed in
response to an exposure. Changes can be
minor or significant. For example, a
resting bear raising its head and sniffing
the air in response to a vehicle driving
along a road is a minor behavioral
response to exposure to vehicle activity.
If a female nursing cubs-of-the-year
stops nursing and runs away from a
flying aircraft, that activity would
constitute a significant behavioral
response to the exposure.
Defining the terms used to describe
the timing for the den emergence period
as well as the den entry period was a
relevant consideration within the
models: (1) The entrance date was
considered the date that a female bear
first enters a maternal den after
excavation is complete; (2) The
emergence is the time where a maternal
den is first opened and a bear is exposed
directly to external conditions; and (3)
The departure date is typically the date
when the bears leave the den site to
return to the sea ice. If a bear leaves the
den site after a disturbance but later
returns, we considered the initial
movement to be the departure date.
Although a bear may exit the den
completely at emergence, we considered
even partial-body exits (e.g., only a
bear’s head protruding above the surface
of the snow) to represent emergence in
order to maintain consistency with
dates derived from temperature sensors
on collared bears (e.g., Rode et al. 2018).
For dens located near regularly
occurring human activity, we
considered the first day a bear was
observed near a den to be the emergence
date.
Several denning stages were also
considered in the models, which might
impact the outcome: (1) The den
establishment period was considered
the period of time between the start of
maternal den excavation and the birth of
the cubs. Unless evidence indicates
otherwise, all dens that are excavated by
adult females in the fall or winter are
presumed to be maternal dens. In the
absence of other information, this
period is defined as denning activity
prior to December 1. (2) The early
denning period was considered the
period of time from the birth of the cubs
until the point where they reach 60 days
of age and are capable of surviving
outside the den. In the absence of other
information, this period is defined as
any denning activity occurring between
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December 1 and February 13. (3) The
late denning stage was determined to be
the period of time between when cubs
reach 60 days of age and den emergence.
In the absence of other information, this
period of time was defined as any
denning activity occurring between
February 14 and den emergence. (4) The
post-emergence period was determined
to be the period of time between den
emergence and den site departure.
The negative outcomes of disturbance
were categorized as follows: (1) Cub
abandonment: Occurs when a female
leaves all or part of her litter, either in
the den or on the surface, at any stage
of the denning process. We classified
events where a female left her cubs but
later returned (or was returned by
humans) as cub abandonment. (2) Early
departure: Departure of the denning
female with her cubs from the den site
post-emergence that occurs as the result
of an exposure. (3) Early emergence:
Den emergence that occurs as the result
of an exposure.
Den Establishment
‘‘Den Establishment’’ occurs in
autumn between den excavation and
birth of cub(s). Mating takes place in the
spring (March–May) (Ramsay and
Stirling 1986; L<n< 1970). Implantation
is delayed until September to November
(L<n< 1972; Deroche et al., 1992), and
timing of implantation likely depends
on female body condition, as is the case
for other Ursids (Robbins et al. 2012).
Gestation is probably around 60 days, as
suggested by Tsubota et al. (1987) for
brown bears, and cubs are born in early
to mid-winter (Ramsay and Stirling
1988). Pregnant female polar bears begin
scouting for, excavating, and occupying
a den near the time of implantation. For
polar bears of the SBS, the den
establishment phase extends between
October and December. Durner et al.
(2001) and Amstrup (2003) documented
den excavation activities throughout
this time. Data from USGS (2018) and
Rode et al. (2018) found no significant
difference in den entrance dates
between SBS and CBS populations, and
estimated a mean den entrance date of
November 15 ± 1.9 days (n = 215).
In the case studies, the beginning of
the den establishment period was
variable and based on the behavior of
the bear being observed (i.e.,
constructing a den). November 30th was
selected as the end of the den
establishment period, and December 1
as the beginning of the ‘‘Early Denning’’
phase unless the observed behavior of
the bear indicated it was still in the den
establishment phase. These dates
correlate well with available
information on timing of denning and
parturition. Curry et al. (2015) found the
mean and median birth dates for captive
polar bears in the Northern Hemisphere
were both November 29. Messier et al.
(1994) estimated, based on activity level
of females in maternity dens, that by
December 15 most births already had
occurred among polar bears of the
Canadian Arctic archipelago.
Much of what is known of the effects
of disturbance during early denning
comes from studies of polar bears
captured in the autumn. Capture is a
severe form of disturbance and is not
typical of disturbance that is likely to
occur during oil and gas activities, but
bear responses to capture events provide
some information that can help inform
our understanding of how polar bears
respond to disturbance. Ramsay and
Stirling (1986) reported that 10 of 13
pregnant female polar bears that were
captured and collared at dens in
October or November abandoned their
existing dens. The polar bears instead
moved a median distance of 24.5 km,
excavated, and occupied new dens
within a day or two after their release.
The remaining 3 polar bears reentered
their initial dens or different dens <2
km from their initial den soon after
being released. Amstrup (1993, 2003)
documented in Alaska a similar
response and reported 5 polar bears that
abandoned den sites following human
disturbances during autumn and
subsequently denned elsewhere.
The observed high rate of den
abandonment during autumn capture
efforts suggests that polar bears have a
low tolerance threshold for intense
disturbance during den initiation and
are willing to expend energy to avoid
further disturbance. During the den
establishment period, the female is
scouting for, excavating, and occupying
a den while pregnant. A disturbance
during den establishment may cost the
female polar bear energy and fat
reserves. While denning, female Ursids
do not eat or drink, instead relying
solely on body fat (Nelson et al. 1983;
Spady et al. 2007). Female body
condition during denning affects the
size of cubs at emergence from the den,
and larger cubs have better survival
rates (Derocher and Stirling 1996;
Robbins et al. 2012). Therefore,
disturbances that cause additional
energy expenditures in fall could have
latent effects on cubs in spring.
During any disturbance event, a polar
bear must expend energy that would
otherwise be invested in denning.
Abandoning a den site requires energy
to travel and excavate a new den, and
polar bears, subject to capture and
release, were willing to expend this
energy in addition to the energy
required for recovery from capture.
Among Ursids, recovery from capture
and immobilization requires from 3
days to 6 weeks (Cattet et al. 2008;
Thiemann et al. 2013; Rode et al. 2014).
The available research does not
conclusively demonstrate whether
capture or den abandonment during den
initiation is consequential for survival
and reproduction. Ramsay and Stirling
(1986) reported that captures of females
did not significantly affect numbers and
mean weights of cubs, but the overall
mean litter size and weights of cubs of
previously handled mothers
consistently tended to be slightly lower
than those of mothers not previously
handled. Amstrup (1993) could see no
significant effect of handling on cub
weight, litter size, or survival. Seal et al.
(1970) reported no loss of pregnancy
among captive Ursids following
repeated chemical immobilization and
handling. However, Lunn et al. (2004)
concluded that handling and
observations of pregnant female polar
bears in the autumn resulted in
significantly lighter female, but not
male, cubs in spring. Swenson et al.
(1997) found that female grizzly bears
(U. arctos horribilis) that abandoned a
den site lost cubs significantly more
often than those that did not.
Polar bears may be willing to abandon
a den site during den initiation because
the pregnant female has less investment
in a den site at this time than at later
stages, and she may be able to re-den
with fewer consequences than at later
times during denning (Amstrup 1993).
Amstrup (1993) and Lunn et al. (2004)
supported the hypotheses that, after
giving birth, females are likely to be
more invested in the denning process
and less likely to abandon a den site.
Den establishment is influenced by
environmental variables, which suggests
that polar bears may be able to tolerate
low-level disruptions to the den
establishment process. Environmental
variables affecting Ursid den
establishment include the number and
timing of snowfall events (Zedrosser et
al. 2006; Evans et al. 2016; Pigeon et al.
2016), accumulation of snowpack
(Amstrup and Gardner 1994; Durner et
al. 2003, 2006), temperature (Rode et al.
2018), and timing of sea ice freeze-up
(Webster et al. 2014). Environmental
variability across the polar bear’s range
results in a high degree of variability in
den initiation dates among
subpopulations (see summary data in
Escajeda et al. 2018). For example,
Ferguson et al. (2000) observed females
entering their dens on eastern Baffin
Island in the 1990s considerably earlier
than reported by Harington (1968) for
polar bears in the 1960s. This suggests
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that polar bears are able to
accommodate a wide variety of
influences during den initiation if a
minimum total denning duration can be
achieved.
Although additional energy
expenditures from disturbance would be
compounded by natural food restriction
during denning, we have determined
that, before giving birth, females will be
able to accommodate the effects of a
low-level disturbance without
experiencing injury or a reduction in
likelihood of her or her cub’s survival.
This conclusion is based on evidence
that den initiation is influenced by a
variety of factors, and polar bears appear
to tolerate many of these influences
without experiencing lethal or Level A
effects on denning success. Energy
reserves are biologically significant for
denning polar bears. Therefore, a polar
bear will experience Level B take if it
responds to anthropogenic exposures by
devoting energetic resources or
sufficient time to behaviors that disrupt
the progression of normal denning.
Early Denning
We defined early denning as the
period of time from the birth of cubs
until they are capable of surviving
outside of the den. In the absence of
other information, this period is defined
as any denning activity that occurs
between December 1 and February 13
when cubs are on average presumed to
be 60 days old (Messier et al. 1994).
Although cubs grow quickly and may
weigh 10–12 kg upon emergence from
the den in the spring, sufficient time (2
months) is needed prior to den
emergence for adequate development
(Harington 1968, L<n< 1970, Amstrup
1993, Amstrup and Gardner 1994, Smith
et al. 2007, Rode et al. 2018). Polar bear
cubs are among the most undeveloped
mammals at birth (Ramsay and
Dunbrack 1986). Altricial, newborn
polar bears have little fur, are blind, and
weigh 0.6 kg (Blix and Lentfer 1979).
At birth, cubs have limited fat reserves
and thin natal fur, which provides little
thermoregulatory value (Blix and
Lentfer 1979, Kenny and Bickel 2005).
However, roughly 2 weeks after birth
their ability to thermoregulate begins to
improve as they grow longer guard hairs
and an undercoat (Kenny and Bickel
2005). As development continues, cubs
first open their eyes at an average age of
35 days (Kenny and Bickel 2005). At
60–70 days of age, cubs achieve
sufficient musculoskeletal development
to walk (Kenny and Bickel 2005);
however, movements may still be
clumsy at this time (Harington 1968).
Based on the abovementioned
developmental milestones, we define
the minimum amount of time required
in the den prior to emergence to be 60
days; longer denning periods have been
found to increase cub survival
probabilities (Rode et al. 2018).
Currently no studies have directly
examined birth dates of polar bear cubs
in the wild; however, several studies
have estimated parturition based on
indirect metrics. Messier et al. (1994)
found that the activity levels of radio-
collared females dropped significantly
in mid-December, leading the authors to
conclude that a majority of births
occurred before or around December 15.
Additionally, Van de Velde et al.
(2003) evaluated information from
historic records of bears legally
harvested in dens. Their findings
suggest that cubs were born between
early December and early January.
Based on the cumulative evidence
presented in these studies, we assume
that the average birth date of polar bear
cubs is December 15; however, births
could occur as early as December 1 or
as late as January 15. Therefore, we
defined the early denning period as the
time when it was first possible to have
cubs in the den (December 1) until 60
days after the average birth date
(February 13). Due to the variability of
birth dates, we selected December 15 as
the most appropriate metric for this
analysis given most cubs are born
around mid-December (Messier et al.
1994).
Given that cubs are largely
undeveloped during early denning (i.e.,
unable to thermoregulate, see, or walk),
den abandonment and early den
departure due to disturbance are both
assumed to result in lethal take of cubs.
Late Denning
We defined late denning as the time
period from when cubs reach 60 days of
age until the date of natural emergence
from the den (i.e., emergence without
disturbance). In a study of marked polar
bears in the CBS and SBS
subpopulations, Rode et al. (2018)
report all females that denned through
the end of March had 1 cub when re-
sighted 100 days after den emergence.
Conversely, roughly half of the females
that emerged from dens before the end
of February did not produce cubs or had
cubs that did not survive to emergence,
suggesting that later den emergence may
result in a greater likelihood of cub
survival (Rode et al. 2018). Date of
emergence was also identified as the
most important variable determining
cub survival (Rode et al. 2018). For land
denning bears in the SBS, the median
emergence date was March 15 (Rode et
al. 2018, USGS 2018).
Any disturbance to denning bears is
costly as the amount of time females
spend in dens has been found to
influence reproductive success (i.e., cub
production and survival) (Elowe and
Dodge 1989, Amstrup and Gardner
1994, Rode et al. 2018). If a female
leaves a den (with or without the cubs)
prematurely, decreased cub survival is
likely (Linnell et al. 2000) for reasons
including, for example, susceptibility to
cold temperatures (Blix and Lentfer
1979, Hansson and Thomassen 1983,
Van de Velde et al. 2003) or predation
(Derocher and Wiig 1999) and mobility
limitations (Frame et al. 2007, Habib
and Kumar 2007, Tablado and Jenni
2017). While den abandonment is the
most extreme response to disturbance,
lower level responses including
increased heart rate (Craighead et al.
1976, Laske et al. 2011) or increased
body temperature (Reynolds et al. 1986)
can result in significant energy
expenditure (Karpovich et al. 2009,
Geiser 2013, Evans et al. 2016).
We divided the period of time polar
bears spend in dens into two phases:
Early denning and late denning. The
late denning phase differs from the early
denning phase in that the cubs are more
developed, e.g., they are larger in size,
able to see and walk, and have grown
some fur for insulation. While any
disturbance to cubs while within a den
is considered detrimental, we
distinguished between these two phases
because the cubs of females disturbed in
the late denning phase may survive,
whereas cub survival is highly unlikely
if a den is disturbed in the early phase
and the female abandons the den. In the
absence of other information, late
denning is defined as any denning
activity occurring between February 14
and median den emergence (March 15).
While exact birth date of wild polar
bears cubs is unknown, most births are
estimated to occur between early
December and late January (Blix and
Lentfer 1979, Messier at al. 1994, Van de
Velde et al. 2003). For our purposes, we
assumed the average cub birth date is
December 15 (Messier et al. 1994).
During the late denning period there
were five possible outcomes to
disturbance: Cub abandonment, early
emergence, behavioral response, likely
physiological response, or insufficient
information.
Post-Emergence Period
This denning stage is defined as the
period of time after the female polar
bear first emerges from her den up to
her final departure from the den site.
Polar bears are known to remain at or
near den sites for up to 30 days after
emergence before heading out to the sea
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ice (Harington 1968, Jonkel et al. 1972,
Kolenosky and Prevett 1980, Hansson
and Thomassen 1983, Ovsyanikov 1998,
Robinson 2014). Behaviors observed
when outside the den include: Walking
short distances away from the den,
foraging on vegetation, digging, rolling,
grooming, nursing, playing, sitting,
standing, and repeatedly reentering the
den (Harington 1968, Jonkel et al. 1972,
Hansson and Thomassen 1983,
Ovsyanikov 1998, Smith et al. 2007,
2013). While mothers outside the den
spend most of their time inactive, cubs
tend to be more active (Robinson 2014).
These behaviors likely reflect the need
for an adjustment period that allows for
improving cub mass and strength and
their acclimation to the harsh
environmental conditions that will be
encountered once they depart for the sea
ice (Harington 1968, Lentfer and Hensel
1980, Hansson and Thomassen 1983,
Messier et al. 1994). Departure from the
den site before this adjustment period
may hinder a cub’s ability to travel
(Ovsyanikov 1998), thereby increasing
the chances for cub abandonment
(Haroldson et al. 2002) or susceptibility
to predation (Derocher and Wiig 1999,
Amstrup et al. 2006).
While considerable variation exists in
the duration of time that bears spend at
dens post-emergence, it remains unclear
whether a minimum or maximum
number of days is required to prevent
negative consequences to cub survival.
For 25 dens observed in the Beaufort
Sea region from 2002 through 2010, a
mean post-emergence duration of 8.3
days was noted (see table 1 in Smith et
al. 2007, table 1 in Smith et al. 2010,
table 1.1 in Robinson 2014). Therefore,
in the absence of information on the
intended departure date (which was
known only for simulated dens), we
considered a ‘‘normal’’ duration at the
den site between first emergence and
departure to be 8 days and classified
departures that occurred post emergence
‘‘early’’ if they occurred <9 days after
emergence. If the adult female left the
den site (with or without cubs) after a
disturbance but later returned, we
considered the initial movement to be
the departure date.
During review of the case studies,
early departures during post emergence
were classified as a non-serious level A
harassment for each cub, and a Level B
take (potential to disturb) for the adult
female. We classified these instances as
non-serious Level A harassment because
cubs were at an age where they could
effectively thermoregulate and keep up
with their mother as they headed
towards the sea ice. We acknowledge,
however, that there must be some
survival consequence for cubs to stay at
the den site for a period of time given
that the adult female’s long fasting
period should lead her to want to reach
sea ice to begin hunting as soon as
possible. Thus, an early departure from
the den site could have potential
survival consequences for cubs.
However, if following exposure the
female left without her cubs, we
classified this as ‘‘cub abandonment,’’
which is assigned a lethal take for each
cub and Level B take for the adult
female.
Post-emergent departure information
was not used to assess disturbances
when an incident(s) resulted in an early
emergence during the late (or early)
denning period; rather, the final
outcomes from these incidents were
classified as ‘‘early emergence,’’ in
keeping with the decision criteria to use
the most severe outcome when an
incident has more than one outcome
classification (e.g., early emergence and
early departure).
Methods for Modeling the Effects of Den
Disturbance
Den Simulation
We simulated dens across the Coastal
Plain of the Refuge on areas identified
as denning habitat (Durner et al. 2006).
To simulate dens on the landscape, we
relied on the estimated number of dens
in the Coastal Plain provided by
Atwood et al. (2020). The mean
estimated number of dens in the Coastal
Plain was 14 dens (95 percent CI: 5–30;
Atwood et al. 2020). For each iteration
of the model (described below), we
drew a random sample from a gamma
distribution for the number of dens in
the Refuge based on the above
parameter estimates, which allowed
uncertainty in the number of dens in
each area to be perpetuated through the
modeling process. Specifically, we used
the method of moments (Hobbs and
Hooten 2015) to develop the shape and
rate parameters and modeled the
number of dens in the Coastal Plain as
Gamma (14
2
/6.3
2
,14/6.3
2
).
Because not all areas in the Coastal
Plain are equally used for denning, and
some areas do not contain the requisite
topographic attributes required for
sufficient snow accumulation for den
excavation, we did not simply randomly
place dens on the landscape. Instead,
we followed a similar approach to that
used by Wilson and Durner (2020). For
each iteration of the model, we
randomly distributed dens across areas
within the focal area identified as
denning habitat (Durner et al. 2006),
with the probability of a den occurring
at a given location being proportional to
the density of dens predicted by a
kernel density map (figure 9). The
kernel density map was developed by
using known den locations in northern
Alaska identified either by GPS-collared
bears or through systematic surveys for
denning bears (Durner et al. 2020). To
approximate the distribution of dens we
used a scaled adaptive kernel density
estimator applied to n observed den
locations, which took the form
where the adaptive bandwidth h(s) = (b
0
+ b
1
I(S
i
eM)I(seM))b
2
z(s) for the location
of the ith den and each location in the
study area. An east-west gradient scaled
the density and bandwidth to account
for lower sampling effort in western
areas, and the indicator functions
allowed the bandwidth to vary abruptly
between the mainland M and barrier
islands. The kernel k was the Gaussian
kernel, and the parameters q, b
0
,b
1
, b
2
,
were chosen so that the density estimate
approximated the observed density of
dens and our understanding of likely
den locations in areas with low
sampling effort.
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BILLING CODE 4333–15–C
For each simulated den, we assigned
dates of key denning events: Den
entrance, birth of cubs, when cubs
reached 60 days of age, den emergence,
and departure from the den site after
emergence. These events represent the
chronology of each den under
undisturbed conditions. We selected the
entrance date for each den from a
normal distribution parameterized by
entrance dates of radio-collared bears in
the SBS subpopulation that denned on
land included in Rode et al. (2018) and
published in USGS (2018; n = 52, mean
= November 11, SD = 18 days); we
truncated this distribution to ensure that
all simulated dates occurred within the
range of observed values (i.e.,
September 12 to December 22) +/¥ 1
week. We selected a date of birth for
each litter from a normal distribution of
mean of 348 (i.e., corresponding to the
ordinal date for December 15) and
standard deviation of 10. The mean
corresponds to the date around when
most cubs are thought to be born
(Messier et al. 1994), and a standard
deviation of 10 was used because it
allowed the tails of the normal
distribution to occur at approximately
the earliest (December 1) and latest
(January 15) dates expected for cubs to
be born (Messier et al. 1994, Van de
Velde et al. 2003).
To ensure that birth dates remained
within the range of December 1 to
January 15, we restricted draws from the
normal distribution to occur within this
range. We selected the emergence date
as a random draw from an asymmetric
Laplace distribution with parameters m
= 81.0, s = 4.79, and p = 0.79 estimated
from the empirical emergence dates in
Rode et al. (2018) and published in
USGS (2018, n = 52) of radio-collared
bears in the SBS subpopulation that
denned on land using the mleALD
function from package ‘ald’ (Galarza and
Lachos 2018) in program R (R Core
Development Team 2019, 2020). We
constrained simulated emergence dates
to occur within the range of observed
emergence dates (Jan 9 to Apr 9) +/¥ 1
week and not to occur prior to cubs
reaching an age of 60 days. Finally, we
assigned the number of days each family
group spent at the den site post-
emergence based on values reported in
three behavioral studies, Smith et al.
(2007, 2013) and Robinson (2014),
which monitored dens near the target
area immediately after emergence (n =
25 dens).
Specifically, we used the mean (8.3)
and SD (5.6) of the dens monitored in
these studies to parameterize a gamma
distribution using the method of
moments (Hobbs and Hooten 2015) with
a shape parameter equal to 8.3
2
/5.6
2
and
a rate parameter equal to 8.3/5.6
2
; we
selected a post-emergence, pre-
departure time for each den from this
distribution. Additionally, we assigned
each den a litter size by drawing the
number of cubs from a multinomial
distribution with probabilities derived
from litter sizes (n = 25 litters) reported
in Smith et al. (2007, 2010, 2013) and
Robinson (2014). Because there is some
probability that a female naturally
emerges with 0 cubs, we also wanted to
ensure this scenario was captured. It is
difficult to parameterize the probability
of litter size equal to 0 because it is
rarely observed. We therefore assumed
that dens in the USGS (2018) dataset
had denning durations less than the
shortest den duration where a female
was later observed with cubs (i.e., 79
days). There were only 3 bears in the
USGS (2018) data that met this criteria,
leading to an assumed probability of a
litter size of 0 at emergence being 0.07.
We therefore assigned the probability of
0, 1, 2, or 3 cubs as 0.07, 0.15, 0.71, and
0.07, respectively.
Seismic Activities
The model developed by Wilson and
Durner (2020) provides a template for
estimating the level of potential impact
to denning polar bears from proposed
activities while also considering the
natural denning ecology of polar bears
in the region. The approach developed
by Wilson and Durner (2020) also
allows for the incorporation of
uncertainty in both the metric
associated with denning bears and in
the timing and spatial patterns of
proposed activities when precise
information on those activities is
unavailable. Below we describe how the
model was applied based on
information provided in the request.
The application from KIC indicates
that winter seismic surveys will occur
over an area of approximately 1,430 km
2
in the central portion of the Coastal
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Plain (figure 9). The seismic acquisition
area is broken into 21 sub-blocks that
are assigned specific dates before which
the model assumes no activity will
occur (figure 9) and which will require
2–3 days from which to acquire seismic
data. KIC requested obtaining incidental
take authorization for starting at the
northwestern sub-block and then
moving through the rest of the sub-
blocks in a clockwise manner.
Access to the seismic acquisition
blocks will occur along a land-based
route beginning near the northwestern
corner of the Refuge and reaching the
northwestern corner of the
northwestern-most sub-block (figure 9).
The route can deviate up to 250 m south
and 500 m north of the proposed route.
This does not imply that the entire area
can be used to access the survey area,
but rather the linear access route can
occur anywhere within that region.
The application states that crews will
first enter the Refuge along the access
route on January 26, 2021, and have
continuous activity along the access
route until the end of the acquisition
period (May 15, 2021). Crews are
proposed to arrive at the seismic blocks
on February 1, 2021, and begin activities
associated with seismic acquisition.
Crews would then move sequentially
through the sub-blocks according to the
number of days required to fully survey
the sub-block as indicated in the
application. The results of this analysis
rely on the access route not being used
prior to January 26 and having crews
enter the acquisition area no earlier than
February 1.
Aerial Infrared Surveys
The application indicates that three
complete aerial infrared (AIR) surveys of
denning habitat along the access route
and seismic blocks will occur prior to
activity commencing in those areas. For
the analysis, we assumed that
independent aerial infrared surveys
occurred on January 21, 23, and 25,
2021. However, surveys could occur as
late as February 13, 2021, without
affecting take estimates, as long as they
occurred prior to activity commencing
in an area.
We applied the same approach as
Wilson and Durner (2020) to simulate if
a den was detected during an AIR
survey, including the assumption that
dens with snow depths >100 cm would
be unavailable for detection by AIR
(Amstrup et al. 2004, Robinson 2014).
For those dens that were detected
during a simulated AIR survey, we
assumed effective mitigation measures
would be put in place to avoid further
disturbance to the den until after bears
emerged from and departed the den (i.e.,
a 1,610-m buffer around dens where
activity is prohibited). We also assumed
that dens would not be run over given
the condition in the application
restricting driving over embankments,
when possible, and using vehicle-based
infrared sensors to survey areas where
vehicles will intersect denning habitat.
Model Implementation
For each iteration of the model, we
first determined which (undetected)
dens were exposed to activity associated
with the access route and seismic
operations inside the Refuge. We
assumed that any den within 1.61 km (1
mi) of infrastructure or human activities
was exposed (MacGillivray et al. 2003,
Larson et al. 2020), excluding those
detected during AIR surveys. We then
identified the stage in the denning cycle
when the exposure occurred based on
the date range of the activities to which
the den was exposed: Early denning
(i.e., birth of cubs until they are 60 days
old), late denning (i.e., date cubs are 60
days old until den emergence), and
post-emergence (i.e., the date of den
emergence until permanent departure
from the den site). We then determined
whether the exposure elicited a
response by the denning bear based on
probabilities derived from the reviewed
case studies (table 7). Level B take was
applicable to both adults and cubs, if
present, whereas Level A and lethal take
were only applicable to cubs.
For dens exposed to activities
associated with seismic surveys, we
applied a multinomial distribution with
the probabilities of different levels of
take for that period associated with
continuous activity (table 7). If the
probabilities summed to <1, the
remainder was assigned to a no-
response class. After a Level A or lethal
take was simulated to occur, a den was
not allowed to be disturbed again during
the subsequent denning periods because
the outcome of that denning event was
already determined.
The level of take associated with a
disturbance varied according to the
severity and timing of the exposure
(table 7). Exposures that resulted in
abandonment of cubs (during late
denning or post-emergence) or
emergence from dens prior to cubs
reaching 60 days of age were considered
lethal takes of cubs. If a disturbance
resulted in den emergence prior to the
date assigned to the den in the absence
of disturbance, the level of take was
considered serious Level A. If a post-
emergence exposure resulted in bears
leaving the den site prior to the non-
exposure departure date, the outcome
was classified as a non-serious Level A
take for each cub. Adult females also
received Level B takes for any
disturbance that resulted in Level B
takes for cubs. Cubs could similarly be
applied a Level B take during the late
denning and post-emergence time
periods if only a behavioral response
was simulated to have occurred.
We developed the code to run this
model in program R (R Core
Development Team 2020) and ran
10,000 iterations of the model (i.e.,
Monte Carlo simulation) to derive the
estimated number of dens disturbed and
associated levels of take for starting at
the northwestern block and moving
clockwise (figure 9).
Model Results
We estimated an average of 2.74 (95
percent CI: 0–7, median=2) land-based
dens in the area of proposed activity.
For seismic surveys, starting in the
northwestern block (figure 9), we
estimated a mean of 1.26 (95 percent CI:
0–8, median=0) Level B takes would
occur. We estimated a mean of 0.45 (95
percent CI: 0–3, median=0) serious
Level A or Lethal takes during the
proposed project, with a probability of
1 Serious Level A or Lethal take
occurring during the project being 0.21.
Sum of Take From All Sources
The applicant will conduct seismic
work over the entire project area within
one winter season. A summary of total
numbers of estimated take via Level B
harassment during the duration of the
project by season and take category is
provided in table 8. The potential for
lethal or Level A take was explored and
estimated to be 0.45 lethal or Level A
takes of polar bears.
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Critical Assumptions
In order to conduct this analysis and
estimate the potential amount of Level
B take, several critical assumptions were
made.
Level B take by harassment is equated
herein with behavioral responses that
indicate harassment or disturbance.
There are likely to be a proportion of
animals that respond in ways that
indicate some level of disturbance but
do not experience significant biological
consequences. A correction factor was
not applied, although we considered
using the rate of Level B take reported
by Service biologists during polar bear
surveys conducted between 2008 and
2015 (below 0.01 percent; USFWS and
USGS, unpublished data). In 2016, the
Service applied such a correction factor
when analyzing behavioral responses in
polar bears; however, we have not
included this correction factor in our
current analysis. Consequently, the
reported rate of take prior to 2016 may
not represent the current definition;
therefore, it was not deemed appropriate
for use in determining the ratio of
behavioral response to Level B take. The
analysis’ lack of a correction factor may
result in overestimation of take.
Our estimates do not account for
variable responses by age and sex;
however, sensitivity of denning bears
was incorporated into the analysis. The
available information suggests that polar
bears are generally resilient to low
levels of disturbance. Females with
dependent young and juvenile polar
bears are physiologically the most
sensitive (Andersen and Aars 2008) and
most likely to experience take from
disturbance. There is not enough
information on composition of the SBS
polar bear population in the KIC survey
area to incorporate individual
variability based on age and sex or to
predict its influence on take estimates.
Our estimates are derived from a variety
of sample populations with various age
and sex structures, and we assume the
exposed population will have a similar
composition and therefore the response
rates are applicable.
The estimates of behavioral response
presented here do not account for the
individual movements of animals away
from the KIC survey area or habituation
of animals to the survey noise. Our
assessment assumes animals remain
stationary; i.e., density does not change.
There is not enough information about
the movement of polar bears in response
to specific disturbances to refine this
assumption. This situation could result
in overestimation of take; however, we
cannot account for take resulting from a
polar bear moving into less preferred
habitat due to disturbance.
Potential Impacts on the Polar Bear
Stock
The KIC project is predicted to result
in up to 3 Level B takes of polar bears
in 8 months and 10 days (table 8). The
most recent population size estimate for
the SBS stock was approximately 907
polar bears in 2010 (Bromaghin et al.
2015, Atwood et al. 2020). The greatest
proportion of the stock that may
experience Level B harassment in a
given year during KIC’s activities is 0.33
percent ((3÷907)×100 = 0.0033).
Denning polar bears encountered
during KIC’s winter activities may be in
a sensitive physiological state or may be
less tolerant of disturbance, resulting in
a heightened stress response. Nutrient-
deprived females or dependent young
that are disturbed during or shortly after
denning may take longer to recover and
could remain sensitive to additional
environmental stressors for some time
after the encounter. Up to eight denning
females may be present in the project
area during the course of KIC’s proposed
work (see Analysis of Impact to Denning
Bears, Model Results). The number of
adult females in the SBS stock is
estimated at 316 based on Bromaghin et
al. (2015) and Atwood et al. (2020). The
proportion denning in the project area
might therefore constitute up to 2.5
percent of the breeding stock.
Noise levels are not expected to reach
levels capable of causing harm. Animals
in the area are neither expected to incur
hearing impairment (i.e., Temporary
Threshold Shift or Permanent Threshold
Shift), nor level A harassment. Aircraft
noise may cause behavioral
disturbances (i.e., Level B harassment).
Polar bears exposed to sound produced
by the project are likely to respond with
temporary behavioral modification or
displacement. With the adoption of the
measures proposed in KIC’s mitigation
and monitoring plan and required by
this proposed IHA, we conclude that the
only anticipated effects from noise
generated by the proposed project
would be the short-term temporary
behavioral alteration of polar bears.
Animals that encounter the proposed
activities may exert more energy than
they would otherwise due to temporary
cessation of feeding, increased
vigilance, and retreat from the project
area, but we expect that most would
tolerate this exertion without
measurable effects on health or
reproduction. In sum, we do not
anticipate injuries or mortalities to
result from KIC’s operation, and none
will be authorized. The takes that are
anticipated would be from short-term
Level B harassment in the form of
startling reactions or temporary
displacement.
Potential Impacts on Subsistence Uses
The proposed activities will occur
near marine subsistence harvest areas
used by Alaska Natives from the village
of Kaktovik. From 2008 to 2017, 16
polar bears were reported harvested for
subsistence use in and around Kaktovik,
the majority of which were taken within
16 km (10 mi) of Kaktovik. Harvest
occurs year-round, but peaks in
September, with about 60 percent of the
total taken during this month. October
and November are also high harvest
months.
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The proposed project has the
potential to disrupt subsistence
activities if activities occur after the
beginning of August near Kaktovik;
however, KIC has proposed to conduct
helicopter-based cleanup activities prior
to the main subsistence hunting season.
If activities were to be delayed, the
applicant’s activities may disrupt hunter
access, displace polar bears, and polar
bears may be more vigilant during
periods of disturbance, which could
affect hunting success rates.
Additionally, KIC’s aircraft may
temporarily displace polar bears,
resulting in changes to availability of
polar bears for subsistence use during
the project period. Through
implementation of the Plan of
Cooperation (POC), and spatial temporal
planning, impacts to subsistence
hunting are not anticipated.
While KIC’s activities may have a
temporary effect on polar bear
distribution, it will not alter the ability
of Alaska Native residents of Kaktovik
to harvest polar bears in the long term.
KIC will coordinate with Alaska Native
villages and Tribal organizations to
identify and avoid the potential short-
term conflicts. KIC has developed a POC
specifying the particular steps that will
be taken to minimize any effects the
project might have on subsistence
harvest. The POC is available online at
https://www.regulations.gov and may be
requested as described under
FOR
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT
. The POC
also describes KIC’s intentions for
stakeholder engagement and for
communicating information to oversight
agencies. These measures are likely to
reduce potential conflicts and to
facilitate continued communication
between KIC and subsistence users of
polar bears, ensuring availability of the
species at a level sufficient for harvest
to meet subsistence needs.
The proposed project will be
completed by August 2021 and therefore
avoids significant overlap with peak
polar bear subsistence harvest months.
KIC’s activities will not preclude access
to hunting areas or interfere in any way
with individuals wishing to hunt.
Findings
Small Numbers
For small numbers analyses, the
statute and legislative history do not
expressly require a specific type of
numerical analysis, leaving the
determination of ‘‘small’’ to the agency’s
discretion. In this case, we propose a
finding that the KIC project may result
in approximately 3 takes by harassment
of polar bears from the SBS stock. This
figure represents about 0.33 percent of
the stock (USFWS 2010, Bromaghin et
al. 2015, Atwood et al. 2020)
((3÷907)×1000.33). Based on these
numbers, we propose a finding that the
KIC project will take only a small
number of animals.
Negligible Impact
We propose a finding that any
incidental take by harassment resulting
from the proposed project cannot be
reasonably expected to, and is not
reasonably likely to adversely affect the
SBS stock of polar bears through effects
on annual rates of recruitment or
survival. The proposed project would
therefore have no more than a negligible
impact on the stock. In making this
finding, we considered the best
available scientific information,
including: the biological and behavioral
characteristics of the species, the most
recent information on species
distribution and abundance within the
area of the specified activities, the
potential sources of disturbance caused
by the project, and the potential
responses of animals to this disturbance.
In addition, we reviewed material
supplied by the applicant, other
operators in Alaska, our files and
datasets, published reference materials,
and consulted species experts.
Polar bears are likely to respond to
proposed activities with temporary
behavioral modification or
displacement. These reactions are
unlikely to have consequences for the
health, reproduction, or survival of
affected animals. Sound production is
not expected to reach levels capable of
causing harm, and Level A harassment
is not expected to occur. Most animals
will respond to disturbance by moving
away from the source, which may cause
temporary interruptions of foraging,
resting, or other natural behaviors.
Affected animals are expected to resume
normal behaviors soon after exposure,
with no lasting consequences. Some
animals may exhibit more severe
responses typical of Level B harassment,
such as fleeing or ceasing feeding. These
responses could have significant
biological impacts for a few affected
individuals, but most animals will also
tolerate this type of disturbance without
lasting effects. Thus, although the KIC
project may result in approximately 3
takes by Level B harassment of polar
bears from the SBS stock, we do not
expect this type of harassment to affect
annual rates of recruitment or survival
or result in adverse effects on the
species or stocks.
Our proposed finding of negligible
impact applies to incidental take
associated with the proposed activities
as mitigated by the avoidance and
minimization measures identified in
KIC’s mitigation and monitoring plan
and in this authorization. These
mitigation measures are designed to
minimize interactions with and impacts
to polar bears. These measures, and the
monitoring and reporting procedures,
are required for the validity of our
finding and are a necessary component
of the IHA. For these reasons, we
propose a finding that the 2021 KIC
project will have no more than a
negligible impact on polar bears.
Impact on Subsistence
We propose a finding that the
anticipated harassment caused by KIC’s
activities would not have an
unmitigable adverse impact on the
availability of polar bears for taking for
subsistence uses. In making this finding,
we considered the timing and location
of the proposed activities and the timing
and location of polar bear subsistence
harvest activities in the area of the
proposed project. We also considered
the applicant’s consultation with
subsistence communities, proposed
measures for avoiding impacts to
subsistence harvest, and development of
a POC, should any adverse impacts be
identified. Further information on
impacts to subsistence can be found in
Potential Impacts on Subsistence Uses.
Required Determinations
National Environmental Policy Act
(NEPA)
We have prepared a draft
environmental assessment in
accordance with the NEPA (42 U.S.C.
4321 et seq.). We have preliminarily
concluded that authorizing the
nonlethal, incidental, unintentional take
of up to three polar bears from the SBS
stock by Level B harassment in Alaska
during activities conducted by KIC and
its subcontractors in 2021 would not
significantly affect the quality of the
human environment, and that the
preparation of an environmental impact
statement for this incidental take
authorization is not required by section
102(2) of NEPA or its implementing
regulations. We are accepting comments
on the draft environmental assessment
as specified above in
DATES
and
ADDRESSES
.
Endangered Species Act
Under the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1536(a)(2)),
all Federal agencies are required to
ensure the actions they authorize are not
likely to jeopardize the continued
existence of any threatened or
endangered species or result in
destruction or adverse modification of
critical habitat. Prior to issuance of this
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IHA, the Service will complete intra-
Service consultation under section 7 of
the ESA on our proposed issuance of an
IHA. These evaluations and findings
will be made available on the Service’s
website at https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/
report/biological-opinion and added to
Docket No. FWS–R7–ES–2020–0129 at
regulations.gov when completed.
It is our responsibility to
communicate and work directly on a
Government-to-Government basis with
federally recognized Alaska Native
Tribes and organizations in developing
programs for healthy ecosystems. We
seek their full and meaningful
participation in evaluating and
addressing conservation concerns for
protected species. It is our goal to
remain sensitive to Alaska Native
culture, and to make information
available to Alaska Natives. Our efforts
are guided by the following policies and
directives: (1) The Native American
Policy of the Service (January 20, 2016);
(2) the Alaska Native Relations Policy
(currently in draft form); (3) Executive
Order 13175 (January 9, 2000); (4)
Department of the Interior Secretarial
Orders 3206 (June 5, 1997), 3225
(January 19, 2001), 3317 (December 1,
2011), and 3342 (October 21, 2016); (5)
the Alaska Government-to-Government
Policy (a departmental memorandum
issued January 18, 2001); and (6) the
Department of the Interior’s policies on
consultation with Alaska Native Tribes
and organizations.
We have evaluated possible effects of
the proposed activities on federally
recognized Alaska Native Tribes and
organizations. Through the IHA process
identified in the MMPA, the applicant
has presented a communication process,
including a POC, with the Native
organizations and communities most
likely to be affected by their work. KIC
has engaged these groups in
informational meetings.
We invite continued discussion,
either about the project and its impacts,
or about our coordination and
information exchange throughout the
IHA/POC process. The Service will
contact Tribal organizations in
Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, and Arctic Village,
as well as relevant ANSCA corporations,
to inform them of the availability of this
proposed authorization and offer them
the opportunity to consult.
Proposed Authorization
We propose to authorize the nonlethal
take by Level B harassment of three
animals from the Beaufort Sea stock of
polar bears. Authorized take will be
limited to disruption of behavioral
patterns that may be caused by aircraft
overflights, seismic surveys, and
support activities conducted by KIC in
the 1002 area of the Refuge, from
January to September 30, 2021. We
anticipate no take by injury or death to
polar bears resulting from these
activities.
A. General Conditions for Issuance of
the Proposed IHA
(1) Activities must be conducted in
the manner described in the request for
an IHA and in accordance with all
applicable conditions and mitigations
measures. The taking of polar bears
whenever the required conditions,
mitigation, monitoring, and reporting
measures are not fully implemented as
required by the IHA will be prohibited.
Failure to follow measures specified
may result in the modification,
suspension, or revocation of the IHA.
(2) If project activities cause
unauthorized take (i.e., take of more
than three polar bears or take of one or
more polar bear through methods not
described in the IHA), KIC must take the
following actions: (i) Cease its activities
immediately (or reduce activities to the
minimum level necessary to maintain
safety); (ii) report the details of the
incident to the Service within 48 hours;
and (iii) suspend further activities until
the Service has reviewed the
circumstances and determined whether
additional mitigation measures are
necessary to avoid further unauthorized
taking.
(3) All operations managers, vehicle
operators, and aircraft pilots must
receive a copy of the IHA and maintain
access to it for reference at all times
during project work. These personnel
must understand, be fully aware of, and
be capable of implementing the
conditions of the IHA at all times during
project work.
(4) The IHA will apply to activities
associated with the proposed project as
described in this document and in KIC’s
amended application. Changes to the
proposed project without prior
authorization may invalidate the IHA.
(5) KIC’s IHA application will be
approved and fully incorporated into
the IHA, unless exceptions are
specifically noted herein or in the final
IHA. The application includes:
KIC’s original request for an IHA,
dated August 17, 2020 (KIC 2020);
The letters requesting additional
information, dated August 30, 2020,
September 4, 2020, and October 26,
2020;
KIC’s responses to requests for
additional information from the Service,
dated September 1, 9, and 14, 2020, and
October 27, 2020;
The letters requesting an
amendment to the original application,
dated August 30, 2020, and October 23,
2020;
Updated applications from KIC,
dated October 24 and 28, 2020;
The Polar Bear Avoidance and
Interaction Plan (Appendix A in KIC
2020);
The Plan of Cooperation (Appendix
B in KIC 2020).
(6) Operators will allow Service
personnel or the Service’s designated
representative to visit project work sites
to monitor impacts to polar bears and
subsistence uses of polar bears at any
time throughout project activities so
long as it is safe to do so. ‘‘Operators’’
are all personnel operating under KIC’s
authority, including all contractors and
subcontractors.
B. Avoidance and Minimization
KIC must implement the following
policies and procedures to avoid
interactions with and minimize to the
greatest extent practicable any adverse
impacts on polar bears, their habitat,
and the availability of these marine
mammals for subsistence uses.
(a) General avoidance measures.
(1) Avoidance and minimization
policies and procedures shall include
temporal or spatial activity restrictions
in response to the presence of polar
bears engaged in a biologically
significant activity (e.g., resting, feeding,
denning, or nursing, among others).
Dates of access to survey sub-blocks are
detailed in table 9, below.
T
ABLE
9—D
ATES OF
E
ARLIEST
E
NTRY AND
L
OCATIONS OF
S
UB
-B
LOCKS
1
. G
EOGRAPHIC
C
OORDINATES
(X, Y, Datum
WGS 1984 Alaska Polar Stereographic)
AND
E
ARLIEST
P
OSSIBLE
A
CCESS
D
ATES
A
RE
S
HOWN FOR
S
UB
-B
LOCKS
W
ITHIN
E
ACH
B
LOCK OF
KIC’
S
S
EISMIC
S
URVEY IN THE
C
OASTAL
P
LAIN
Sub-block No. Date of earliest access Number of days
in block Northwest corner
(X, Y) m Northeast corner
(X, Y) m Southwest corner
(X, Y) m Southeast corner
(X, Y) m
Mobilization ....... 26 January 2020 ............... 6 See Figure 1 for designated access route to survey area
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T
ABLE
9—D
ATES OF
E
ARLIEST
E
NTRY AND
L
OCATIONS OF
S
UB
-B
LOCKS
1
. G
EOGRAPHIC
C
OORDINATES
(X, Y, Datum
WGS 1984 Alaska Polar Stereographic)
AND
E
ARLIEST
P
OSSIBLE
A
CCESS
D
ATES
A
RE
S
HOWN FOR
S
UB
-B
LOCKS
W
ITHIN
E
ACH
B
LOCK OF
KIC’
S
S
EISMIC
S
URVEY IN THE
C
OASTAL
P
LAIN
—Continued
Sub-block No. Date of earliest access Number of days
in block Northwest corner
(X, Y) m Northeast corner
(X, Y) m Southwest corner
(X, Y) m Southeast corner
(X, Y) m
1.1 ..................... 1 February 2021 ............... 2 2223374–225114 2228717–221397 2224397–235331 2229482–235046
1.2 ..................... 3 February 2021 ............... 3 2228717–221397 2233761–219327 2229482–235046 2234629–234756
1.3 ..................... 6 February 2021 ............... 3 2233761–219327 2238136–216352 2234629–234756 2239158–234501
1.4 ..................... 9 February 2021 ............... 3 2239158–234501 2242370–214588 2239158–234501 2243481–234257
1.5 ..................... 12 February 2021 ............. 3 2242370–214588 2246042–213443 2243481–234257 2247187–234047
1.6 ..................... 15 February 2021 ............. 3 2246042–213443 2249447–211741 2247187–234047 2250687–233849
1.7 ..................... 18 February 2021 ............. 3 2249447–211741 2253010–212947 2250687–233849 2254187–233650
1.8 ..................... 21 February 2021 ............. 3 2253010–212947 2256907–212795 2254187–233650 2258099–233427
1.9 ..................... 24 February 2021 ............. 3 2256907–212795 2259678–210417 2258099–233427
2260056–244262 2261603–244174
1.10 ................... 27 February 2021 ............. 3 2259678–210417 2262159–210463 2261603–244174 2264074–244033
1.11 ................... 1 March 2021 .................... 3 2262159–210463 2264925–211912 2264074–244033 2266751–243881
1.12 ................... 4 March 2021 .................... 3 2264925–211912 2267701–213530 2266751–243881 2269428–243728
1.13 ................... 7 March 2021 .................... 3 2267701–213530 2270898–215289 2269428–243728 2272517–243551
1.14 ................... 10 March 2021 .................. 3 2270898–215289 2274285–216733 2272517–243551 2275811–243362
1.15 ................... 13 March 2021 .................. 2 2274285–216733 2275966–217272 2275811–243362 2277459–243267
2.1 ..................... 15 March 2021 .................. 3 2275966–217272 2279558–218691 2277459–243267 2280960–243066
2.2 ..................... 18 March 2021 .................. 2 2279558–218691 2281556–219294 2280960–243066 2282918–242953
3.1 ..................... 20 March 2021 .................. 3 2276598–235467 2282467–235129 2277556–252164 2283429–251826
3.2 ..................... 23 March 2021 .................. 3 2270627–235809 2276598–235467 2271583–252506 2277556–252164
3.3 ..................... 26 March 2021 .................. 3 2264657–236150 2270627–235809 2265610–252848 2271583–252506
3.4 ..................... 29 March 2021 .................. 3 2259611–236438 2264657–236150 2260561–253136 2265610–252848
1 The sub-blocks are formed by straight-line connections following this order: southwest, southeast, northeast, and northwest, except where
borders of sub-blocks follow the coastline. In these instances, the sub-block boundaries roughly follow the coastline, including barrier islands
where present.
(2) KIC must cooperate with the
Service and other designated Federal,
State, and local agencies to monitor and
mitigate the impacts of their activities
on polar bears.
(3) Trained and qualified personnel
must be designated to monitor for the
presence of polar bears, initiate
mitigation measures, and monitor,
record, and report the effects of the
proposed activities on polar bears. KIC
must provide polar bear awareness
training to all personnel with the
Service playing a major role in
delivering this training.
(4) An approved polar bear safety,
awareness, and interaction plan must be
on file with the Service MMM and
available onsite. The interaction plan
must include:
(i) A description of the activity (i.e.,
a summary of the plan of operation);
(ii) A food, waste, and other
attractants management plan;
(iii) Personnel training policies,
procedures, and materials;
(iv) Site-specific polar bear interaction
risk evaluation and mitigation measures;
(v) Polar bear avoidance and
encounter procedures; and
(vi) Polar bear observation and
reporting procedures.
(5) KIC 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 (D)
Measures to Reduce Impacts to
Subsistence Users.
(b) Mitigation measures for onshore
activities. KIC must undertake the
following activities to limit disturbance
around known polar bear dens:
(1) Attempt to locate polar bear dens.
Prior to carrying out activities in known
or suspected polar bear denning habitat
during the denning season (November to
April), KIC must make efforts to locate
occupied polar bear dens within and
near areas of operation, utilizing
appropriate tools, such as AIR cameras
and vehicle-mounted FLIR, among
others. All observed or suspected polar
bear dens must be reported to the
Service prior to the initiation of
activities. ‘‘Suitable denning habitat’’ is
defined as terrain with features of slope
greater than or equal to 16 degrees, and
of height greater than or equal to 1.3 m
(4.3 ft).
(i) Prior to the start of project
activities, and no earlier than January 1
(or date of issuance of the IHA,
whichever is later), and no later than
February 13, three AIR polar bear den
detection surveys will be conducted.
Each survey must cover the entire
project area. Exact dates will be
determined by weather such that the
surveys are conducted during the best
practicable atmospheric and surface
snow conditions.
(A) Surveys will be conducted during
darkness or civil twilight and not during
daylight hours. 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.
(B) An experienced scientist will be
on board the survey aircraft to analyze
the AIR data in real-time. The data
(infrared video) will be available for
viewing by the Service immediately
upon return of the survey aircraft to the
base of operations in Deadhorse, Alaska.
Data will be transmitted electronically
to the Service in Anchorage for review.
(C) If a suspected den site is located,
KIC will immediately consult with the
Service to analyze the data and
determine if additional surveys or
mitigation measures are required. All
located dens will be subject to the 1.6-
km (1.0-mi) exclusion zone as described
in paragraph (b)(4) of this section.
(ii) Vehicle-mounted and hand-held
infrared radar units will be used to
locate polar bear dens when personnel
or vehicles are advancing along the
transit corridor or entering new terrain
within the seismic survey area. If a
suspected den site is located, KIC will
immediately consult with the Service to
analyze the data and determine if
additional surveys or mitigation
measures are required. All located dens
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will be subject to the 1.6 km (1.0 mi)
setback buffer as described in paragraph
(b)(4) of this section.
(2) Construction or use of transit
routes cannot deviate more than 250 m
south or 500 m north of the centerline
of the routes shown in figure 1 in
Methods for Modeling the Effects of Den
Disturbance. Deviations beyond these
limits invalidate the assumptions of the
analyses, and resulting take estimates,
and would invalidate this authorization.
All identified mitigation measures will
be applied. If the infrared surveys
cannot be completed as described, work
in that area will not proceed.
(3) Where suitable denning habitat, as
defined in paragraph (5) of this section,
is identified, KIC will plot survey lines
such that a 100-m (330-ft) exclusion
buffer exists on either side of the survey
midline. Ramp areas or transits across
rivers occurring in suitable denning
habitat will be cleared with hand-held
or truck-mounted FLIR prior to
movement. Crossings will also take
place at the lowest possible relief
points. Coordinates for crossings will be
installed in all navigation systems to
ensure that drivers use plotted
crossings.
(4) Avoid the exclusion zone around
known polar bear dens. Operators must
avoid a 1.6-km (1.0-mi) operational
exclusion zone around all known polar
bear dens during the denning season
(November to April, or until the female
and cubs leave the area). Should
previously unknown occupied dens be
discovered within 1.6 km (1.0 mi) of
activities, work must immediately cease
and the Service contacted for guidance.
All personnel and vehicles are to be
moved beyond 1.6 km (1.0 mi) from the
den. 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; KIC
must comply with any additional
measures specified.
(5) Use the den habitat map
developed by the USGS. A map of
potential coastal polar bear denning
habitat can be found at: https://
alaska.usgs.gov/products/
data.php?dataid=201. This measure
ensures that the location of potential
polar bear dens is considered when
conducting activities in the Coastal
Plain. A 100-m (330-ft) buffer will be
placed on each side of defined denning
critical habitat (16° slope and height of
1.6 m [5.2 ft]). The critical habitat will
be entered into the navigation system
that allows each vehicle to display the
Program Area, hazards, and avoidance
areas.
(c) Mitigation measures for aircraft.
(1) Operators of support aircraft
should, at all times, conduct their
activities at the maximum distance
possible from polar bears.
(2) Aircraft must not operate at an
altitude lower than 457 m (1,500 ft)
within 805 m (0.5 mi) of polar bears
observed on ice, land, or in water.
Helicopters may not hover, circle, or
land within this distance. 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 for the minimum
duration necessary to maintain safety.
(3) Aircraft operators must not fly
directly over or within 805 m (0.5 mile)
of areas of known polar bear
concentrations on Barter Island, Bernard
Spit, and Jago Spit between September
1 and October 31 except along standard
approach and departure routes to or
from the Kaktovik airport during
arrivals and departures.
(4) Aircraft routes must be planned to
minimize any potential conflict with
active or anticipated polar bear hunting
activity as determined through
community consultations.
(5) KIC must not land in the Barter
Island, Bernard Spit, Jago Spit, and Arey
Island complex (other than at the
Kaktovik airport) from September 7 to
30.
(6) Aircraft will not land within 805
m (0.5 mi) of a polar bear(s).
(7) If a polar bear is observed while
the aircraft is grounded, personnel will
board the aircraft and leave the area.
The pilot will also avoid flying over the
polar bear.
(8) Aircrafts should avoid performing
any evasive and sudden maneuvers,
especially when traveling at lower
altitudes. The Service recommends that
if a bear is spotted within the landing
zone or work area, aircraft operators
travel away from the site, and slowly
increase altitude to 1,500 ft or a level
that is safest and viable given current
traveling conditions.
(9) Aircraft may not be operated in
such a way as to separate members of
a group of polar bears from other
members of the group.
C. Monitoring
(1) Implement the Service-approved
polar bear avoidance and interaction
plan to monitor the project’s effects on
polar bears and subsistence uses and to
evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation
measures.
(2) Provide trained, qualified, and
Service-approved onsite observers to
carry out monitoring and mitigation
activities identified in the polar bear
avoidance and interaction plan, with the
Service playing a major role in
delivering this training to all personnel.
(3) Cooperate with the Service and
other designated Federal, State, and
local agencies to monitor the impacts of
project activities on polar bears. Where
information is insufficient to evaluate
the potential effects of activities on
polar bears and the subsistence use of
this species, KIC may be required to
participate in joint monitoring efforts to
address these information needs and
ensure the least practicable impact to
this resource.
(4) Allow Service personnel or the
Service’s designated representative to
visit project work sites to monitor
impacts to polar bears and subsistence
use at any time throughout project
activities so long as it is safe to do so.
D. Measures for Subsistence Use of
Polar Bears
KIC must conduct its activities in a
manner that, to the greatest extent
practicable, minimizes adverse impacts
on the availability of polar bears for
subsistence uses.
(1) KIC will conduct community
consultation as specified in (D)
Measures to Reduce Impacts to
Subsistence Users.
(2) KIC has provided a Service-
approved POC as described in (D)
Measures to Reduce Impacts to
Subsistence Users.
Prior to conducting the work, KIC will
take the following steps to reduce
potential effects on subsistence harvest
of polar bears: (i) Avoid work in areas
of known polar bear subsistence harvest;
(ii) discuss the planned activities with
subsistence stakeholders including the
North Slope Borough (NSB), the Native
Village of Kaktovik, the City of
Kaktovik, subsistence users in Kaktovik,
community members of Kaktovik, the
State of Alaska, the Service, the Bureau
of Land Management (BLM), and other
interested parties on a Federal, State,
and local regulatory level; (iii) identify
and work to resolve concerns of
stakeholders regarding the project’s
effects on subsistence hunting of polar
bears; (iv) if any unresolved or ongoing
concerns remain, modify the POC in
consultation with the Service and
subsistence stakeholders to address
these concerns; and (v) develop
mitigation measures that will reduce
impacts to subsistence users and their
resources.
E. Reporting Requirements
KIC must report the results of
monitoring and mitigation to the Service
MMM via email at: fw7_mmm_reports@
fws.gov.
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(1) In-season monitoring reports.
(i) Activity progress reports. KIC must:
(A) Notify the Service at least 48
hours prior to the onset of activities;
(B) Provide the Service weekly
progress reports summarizing activities.
Reports must include GPS/GIS tracks of
all vehicles including scout vehicles in
.kml or .shp format with time/date
stamps and metadata.
(C) Notify the Service within 48 hours
of project completion or end of the work
season.
(ii) Polar bear observation reports.
KIC must report, within 48 hours, all
observations of polar bears and potential
polar bear dens during any project
activities including AIR surveys. Upon
request, monitoring report data must be
provided in a common electronic format
(to be specified by the Service).
Information in the observation report
must include, but is not limited to:
(A) Date and time of each observation;
(B) Locations of the observer and
bears (GPS coordinates if possible);
(C) Number of polar bears;
(D) Sex and age class—adult,
subadult, cub (if known);
(E) Observer name and contact
information;
(F) Weather, visibility, and if at sea,
sea state, and sea-ice conditions at the
time of observation;
(G) Estimated closest distance of polar
bears from personnel and facilities;
(H) Type of work being conducted at
time of sighting;
(I) Possible attractants present;
(J) Polar bear behavior—initial
behavior when first observed (e.g.,
walking, swimming, resting, etc.);
(K) Potential reaction—behavior of
bear potentially in response to presence
or activity of personnel and equipment;
(L) Description of the encounter;
(M) Duration of the encounter; and
(N) Mitigation actions taken.
(2) Notification of human–bear
interaction incident report. KIC must
report all human–bear interaction
incidents immediately, and not later
than 48 hours after the incident. A
human–bear interaction incident is any
situation in which there is a possibility
for unauthorized take. For instance,
when project activities exceed those
included in an IHA, when a mitigation
measure was required but not enacted,
or when injury or death of a polar bear
occurs. Reports must include:
(i) All information specified for an
observation report in paragraphs
(1)(ii)(A–N) of this section;
(ii) A complete detailed description of
the incident; and
(iii) Any other actions taken.
Injured, dead, or distressed polar
bears that are clearly not associated with
project activities (e.g., animals found
outside the project area, previously
wounded animals, or carcasses with
moderate to advanced decomposition or
scavenger damage) must also be
reported to the Service immediately,
and not later than 48 hours after
discovery. Photographs, video, location
information, or any other available
documentation must be included.
(3) Final report. The results of
monitoring and mitigation efforts
identified in the polar bear avoidance
and interaction plan must be submitted
to the Service for review within 90 days
of the expiration of this IHA. Upon
request, final report data must be
provided in a common electronic format
(to be specified by the Service).
Information in the final report must
include, but is not limited to:
(i) Copies of all observation reports
submitted under the IHA;
(ii) A summary of the observation
reports;
(iii) A summary of monitoring and
mitigation efforts including areas, total
hours, total distances, and distribution;
(iv) Analysis of factors affecting the
visibility and detectability of polar bears
during monitoring;
(v) Analysis of the effectiveness of
mitigation measures;
(vi) A summary and analysis of the
distribution, abundance, and behavior
of all polar bears observed; and
(vii) Estimates of take in relation to
the specified activities.
Request for Public Comments
If you wish to comment on this
proposed authorization, the associated
draft environmental assessment, or both
documents, you may submit your
comments by any of the methods
described in
ADDRESSES
. Please identify
if you are commenting on the proposed
authorization, draft environmental
assessment or both, make your
comments as specific as possible,
confine them to issues pertinent to the
proposed authorization, and explain the
reason for any changes you recommend.
Where possible, your comments should
reference the specific section or
paragraph that you are addressing. The
Service will consider all comments that
are received before the close of the
comment period (see
DATES
). The
Service does not anticipate extending
the public comment period beyond the
30 days required under section
101(a)(5)(D)(iii) of the MMPA.
Comments, including names and
street addresses of respondents, will
become part of the administrative record
for this proposal. Before including your
address, telephone number, email
address, or other personal identifying
information in your comment, be
advised that your entire comment,
including your personal identifying
information, may be made publicly
available at any time. While you can ask
us in your comments to withhold from
public review your personal identifying
information, we cannot guarantee that
we will be able to do so.
Gregory Siekaniec,
Regional Director, Alaska Region.
[FR Doc. 2020–26747 Filed 12–7–20; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4333–15–P
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