NACO

National Association of Charterboat Operators

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Rulemaking To Revise Critical Habitat for Hawaiian Monk Seals

Proposed rule; notice of 6-month extension of the deadline for a final critical habitat determination.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), published a proposed rule in the Federal Register on June 2, 2011, proposing to revise critical habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and requesting information related to the proposed action. This document announces a 6-month extension of the deadline for a final determination on the proposed rule. Based on comments received during the public comment period, we find that substantial disagreement exists regarding the sufficiency and accuracy of the data and analyses used to support the scope of the proposed critical habitat designation in the Main Hawaiian Islands. Accordingly, we are extending the deadline for the final revision to critical habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal an additional 6 months to further analyze data and consider concerns raised by State, Federal, and other entities, and better inform our determinations for the final revision of Hawaiian monk seal critical habitat under the ESA.

DATES: A final revision will be made no later than December 2, 2012.

ADDRESSES: The proposed rule, maps, and other materials relating to this proposal can be found on the NFMS Pacific Island Region's Web site at http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/PRD/prd_critical_habitat.html.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jean Higgins, NMFS, Pacific Islands Regional Office, (808) 944-2157; Lance Smith, NMFS, Pacific Islands Regional Office, (808) 944-2258; or Dwayne Meadows, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources (301) 427-8403.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

On June 2, 2011, we published a proposed rule to revise critical 

habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) by 

extending the current designation in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands 

(NWHI) out to the 500-meter (m) depth contour and including Sand Island 

at Midway Islands; and by designating six new areas in the main 

Hawaiian Islands (MHI), pursuant to section 4 of the Endangered Species 

Act (ESA) (76 FR 32044; June 2, 2011). We received public comments in 

response to the proposed rule from June 2, 2011 through January 6, 

2012. Comments were received, through electronic submissions, letters 

and oral testimonies from public hearings held in Kaunakakai, Molokai; 

Kihei, Maui; Lihue, Kauai; Honolulu, Oahu; Hilo, Hawaii; and in Kailua 

Kona, Hawaii.

    Several commenters, including the Hawaii Department of Land and 

Natural Resources; the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management 

Council; the State of Hawaii's House Committee on Water, Land, and 

Ocean Resources; and the State of Hawaii's Senate Committee on Water, 

Land, and Housing, have strongly criticized the scope of the proposed 

critical habitat designation. In particular comments focused on the 

sufficiency of the analysis and the accuracy of the description of the 

six physical or biological features that are identified as essential 

for the conservation of the species, as well as whether the areas 

proposed are appropriate for designation. Additionally, comments 

suggested that our identification of essential features and the science 

upon which they are based, did not rely on the best available science 

to support the delineation of the proposed designation. We have 

considered these comments, and we find that substantial disagreement 

exists over the identification of the essential features that support 

the scope of the proposed designation of critical habitat in the Main 

Hawaiian Islands, and whether these features are essential for the 

conservation of the species.

 

Extension of Critical Habitat Revision Determination

 

    The ESA, section 4(b)(6), requires that we take one of three 

actions within 1 year of a proposed revision to critical habitat: (1) 

Finalize the proposed revision; (2) withdraw the proposed revision; or 

(3) extend the final revision to critical habitat by not more than 6 

months. Section 4(b)(6)(B)(i) allows a 6-month extension of the 1-year 

deadline for a final revision if there is substantial disagreement 

regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data relevant to 

the revision for the purposes of soliciting additional data.

    We have received multiple comments on the scope of the designation 

and the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data used to support 

this proposed rulemaking. In particular, commenters raised questions 

regarding the foraging ecology of Hawaiian monk seals in the main 

Hawaiian Islands and whether the areas proposed for designation address 

the foraging needs and preferences in this habitat. The State of 

Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources submitted a comment 

disagreeing with the identified physical and biological features and 

describing an alternative approach for considering foraging areas for 

this designation. We are presently working with the State to obtain 

further information regarding the data and analysis they used to 

support their evaluation of foraging areas. Additionally, the Western 

Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council submitted a comment 

disagreeing with the delineation of areas used by monk seals for 

foraging in the main Hawaiian Islands. NMFS has released just over 20 

GPS-equipped cellular transmitter tags on seals in the main Hawaiian 

Islands in the past two years; we believe that further analysis of this 

data will provide additional information bearing on this dispute and 

may be sufficient to resolve it.

    As a result of these comments, NMFS is extending the final revision 

to critical habitat for 6 months pursuant to section 4(b)(6)(B)(i). An 

additional 6 months will allow us to further evaluate the data used by 

the State, as well as analyze information received from GPS-equipped 

cellular transmitter tags in the main Hawaiian Islands. To ensure that 

the final rule is based solely on the best available scientific 

information, it is essential to resolve the substantial disagreement 

regarding the identification and analysis of the essential features 

which support the scope of the designation; therefore, we conclude that 

a 6-month extension of the final revision to critical habitat for the 

Hawaiian monk seal is warranted.

    Although not a basis for the extension, we will also use this 

period to further evaluate all comments received regarding the 

potential economic impacts of the proposed designation.

    In consideration of the disagreement surrounding the scope of this 

proposed designation, we extend the timeline for the final designation 

for an additional 6 months (until December 2, 2012) to resolve the 

disagreement.

 

Classification

 

Regulatory Planning and Review (E.O. 12866)

 

    This notice has been determined to be not significant for purposes 

of E.O. 12866. A draft Economic Analysis report and draft ESA section 

4(b)(2) report (NMFS, 2010b) were prepared to support the exclusion 

process under section 4(b)(2) of the ESA and our consideration of 

alternatives to this rulemaking as required under E.O. 12866. The draft 

Economic Analysis report (ECONorthwest, 2010) and draft ESA section 

4(b)(2) report (NMFS, 2010b) are available on the Pacific Islands 

Region Web site at http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/PRD/prd_critical_habitat.html.

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