[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 236 (Tuesday, December 8, 2020)]
[Pages 79082-79116]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-26747]

[[Page 79081]]

Vol. 85


No. 236

December 8, 2020

Part II

Department of the Interior


Fish and Wildlife Service


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

Federal Register / Vol. 85 , No. 236 / Tuesday, December 8, 2020 / 

[[Page 79082]]



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 I[ntilde]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 

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.



    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 
    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

[[Page 79083]]

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 I[ntilde]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[deg] N, 148.4597[deg] W), and then transported to Kaktovik 
(located 113 mi [214 km] to the east at 70.1319[deg] N, 143.6239[deg] 
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, 

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).

[[Page 79084]]


    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 
    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

[[Page 79085]]

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 
    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 
    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

[[Page 79086]]

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[deg]. KIC is 
requiring its Operator to place a 25-m (82.5-ft) buffer on each side of 
slopes greater than 10[deg]. For areas that are defined denning 
critical habitat (16[deg] 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

[[Page 79087]]

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 
    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 

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 

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

[[Page 79088]]

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, Utqia[gdot]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.

[[Page 79089]]

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 
    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 

[[Page 79090]]

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 
     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 
     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 
     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

[[Page 79091]]

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'' 
    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 

    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).

[[Page 79092]]


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).

[[Page 79093]]


    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).

   Table 1--Summary of Encounters Within 1,600 m (1 mi) of the 24-Hour
 Occupancy Locations and Subsequent Encounter Rates for Coastal (a) and
                            Inland (b) Zones
                                      Ice season       Open-Water season
              Year                    encounters          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\.

[[Page 79094]]

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.

        Table 2--Definitions of Variables Used in Take Estimates
           Variable                            Definition
d............................  days of impact.
d............................  days in each season (open-water season =
                                116, ice season = 249).
S............................  proportion of the season an area of
                                interest is impacted.
B............................  bears encountered in an area of interest
                                for the entire season.
a............................  coastal exposure area.
a............................  inland exposure area.
r............................  occupancy rate.
e............................  coastal open-water season bear-encounter
                                rate in bears/season.
e............................  coastal ice season bear-encounter rate in
e............................  inland open-water season bear-encounter
                                rate in bears/season.
e............................  inland ice season bear-encounter rate in
t............................  ice season take rate.
t............................  open-water season take rate.
B............................  number of estimated Level B takes.
B............................  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 (Sp) that an area 
of interest (i.e., a buffered access route, seismic sub-block, or 

[[Page 79095]]

cleanup area) would be impacted with the following formula (Equation 

    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 (ac) and inland 
areas of impact (ai) 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 (Bes). 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 (ro) 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 ro=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 
ro=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.

                   Table 3--Values for the Variables Defined Above for Each Activity Category
               Variable                      Access road            Seismic activity          Summer cleanup
di...................................  See table 9 for days     See table 9 for days     3 days in coastal zone,
                                        per sub-block.           per sub-block.           12 days in inland
ds...................................  Open water = 116, Ice =  Open water = 116, Ice =  Open water = 116, Ice =
                                        249.                     249.                     249.
Sp...................................  0.008-0.012 unique to    0.008-0.012 unique to    0.012 in coastal zone,
                                        date and sub-block.      sub-block.               0.10 in inland zone.

[[Page 79096]]

Bes..................................  0.364-23.053 bears       0.32-4.39 bears unique   0.344 bears in coastal
                                        unique to date and sub-  to sub-block.            zone, 0.033 bears in
                                        block.                                            inland zone.
ac...................................  101-194 km\2\ unique to  7-37 km\2\ unique to     2.9 km\2\.
                                        sub-block.               sub-block.
ai...................................  35-103 km\2\ unique to   16-95 km\2\ unique to    2.9 km\2\.
                                        sub-block.               sub-block.
ro...................................  0.5....................  0.33 for advance crew..  1.
                                                                1 for main crew........
eco..................................  3.45 bears/km\2\/season  3.45 bears/km\2\/season  3.45 bears/km\2\/
eci..................................  0.118 bears/km\2\/       0.118 bears/km\2\/       0.118 bears/km\2\/
                                        season.                  season.                  season.
eio..................................  0.0116 bears/km\2\/      0.0116 bears/km\2\/      0.0116 bears/km\2\/
                                        season.                  season.                  season.
eii..................................  0.0104 bears/km\2\/      0.0104 bears/km\2\/      0.0104 bears/km\2\/
                                        season.                  season.                  season.
ti...................................  0.28...................  0.28...................  0.28.
to...................................  0.16...................  0.16...................  0.16.
Bt...................................  0.0004-0.038 bears       0.0002-0.008 bears       0.0005-0.001 bears
                                        unique to sub-block.     unique to sub-block.     unique to sub-block.
BT...................................  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 

[[Page 79097]]

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.

[[Page 79098]]


    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[deg]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).

[[Page 79099]]


    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).

[[Page 79100]]


    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).

[[Page 79101]]


    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).

      Table 4--Rate of Level B Take by Exposure Type (Altitude and Distance From Center of Flight Line) and Activities for Which These Rates Apply.
                                                                                                     Level B response
                                                    Up to (m)    Max estimated SPL     Up to (m)       rate for the
                    Aircraft                        altitude     in the zone (dBA)   distance from  distance category            Applicable to
                                                                                        center          (percent)
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.

[[Page 79102]]

    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).

[[Page 79103]]

    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 ([florin]). We then used flight 
frequency and number of days per season (ds) to calculate the seasonal 
proportion of flights (Sp; 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 (tLT). 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 tLT = 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 
(Dp(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 
(Dp(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 (Bes) for the 
landing/take off and traveling sections using both coastal 
(eci or co) and inland (eii or io) encounter 
rates within the coastal (ac) and inland (ai) exposure areas (Equation 

    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 (Bi). We then applied the 
appropriate aircraft take rates (ta) associated with each

[[Page 79104]]

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 
(Bt; Equation 10). Take associated with AIR surveys were analyzed 

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 
    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

[[Page 79105]]

(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 

 Table 7--Probability That a Discrete or Repeated Exposure Elicited a Response by Denning Polar Bears That Would
  Result in Level B, Level A, or Lethal Take. Level B Take was Applicable to Both Adults and Cubs, if Present;
 Level A and Lethal Take Were Applicable to Cubs Only and Were not Possible During the Den Establishment Period,
 Which Ended With the Birth of Cubs. Probabilities Were Calculated From the Analysis of 56 Case Studies of Polar
                                        Bear Responses to Human Activity.
             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 
    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

[[Page 79106]]

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 

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[oslash]n[oslash] 1970). Implantation is delayed 
until September to November (L[oslash]n[oslash] 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 

[[Page 79107]]

that polar bears are able to accommodate a wide variety of influences 
during den initiation if a minimum total denning duration can be 
    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 
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[oslash]n[oslash] 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. 
    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

[[Page 79108]]

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 
    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) = ([beta]0 + 
[egr]M)I(s[egr]M))[beta]2z(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 [thetas], 
[beta]0,[beta]1, [beta]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.

[[Page 79109]]


    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. 
    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 [mu] = 
81.0, [sigma] = 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

[[Page 79110]]

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.

[[Page 79111]]


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 

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)x100 = 
    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 

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.

[[Page 79112]]

    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.


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)x100[ap]0.33). 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

[[Page 79113]]

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 
    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, 
     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, 
     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.

 Table 9--Dates of Earliest Entry and Locations of Sub-Blocks \1\. Geographic Coordinates (X, Y, Datum WGS 1984 Alaska Polar Stereographic) and Earliest
                      Possible Access Dates Are Shown for Sub-Blocks Within Each Block of KIC's Seismic Survey in the Coastal Plain
                                                                 Number of days   Northwest corner  Northeast corner  Southwest corner  Southeast corner
          Sub-block No.              Date of earliest access        in block          (X, Y) m          (X, Y) m          (X, Y) m          (X, Y) m
Mobilization.....................  26 January 2020............                 6          See Figure 1 for designated access route to survey area

[[Page 79114]]

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    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 
    (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 
    (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 
    (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 
    (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 
    (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 

[[Page 79115]]

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 
    (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[deg] 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 
    (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 
    (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.

[[Page 79116]]

    (1) In-season monitoring reports.
    (i) Activity progress reports. KIC must:
    (A) Notify the Service at least 48 hours prior to the onset of 
    (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 
    (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 
    (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 
    (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]