Environmental Assessment of the Effects of Permit Issuance for Research and Recovery Activities on Steller Sea Lions
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Environmental Assessment of the Effects of Permit Issuance for Research and Recovery Activities on Steller Sea Lions
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    The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposes to issue permits and permit amendments for scientific research on Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in the wild, pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.), and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The purpose of the proposed permits and amendments is to allow an exemption to the moratoria on takes established under the MMPA and ESA. The permits would allow for takes of threatened and endangered Steller sea lions for scientific research purposes. The need for the research is related to monitoring the population status and better understanding the cause(s) of the population decline in order to develop conservation and protective measures to ensure Steller sea lion recovery. The objective of the proposed research is to collect information on life history, foraging behavior, habitat use, physiology, population status and trends, survival and reproductive rates, and condition of Steller sea lions in the North Pacific. Scientific research permits are generally categorically excluded from the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) requirements to prepare an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS) (NAO 216-6). However, when the activities that would be authorized in a scientific research permit would have uncertain environmental impacts or unique or unknown risks, would establish a precedent or decision in principle about future proposals, may result in cumulatively significant impacts, or may have any adverse effects upon endangered or threatened species and their habitats, the preparation of an EA or EIS is required. Because some of the proposed research may result in adverse effects on threatened and endangered Steller sea lions, NMFS determined that further environmental review was warranted to determine whether significant impacts could result from issuance of the proposed permits. Therefore, this document evaluates the relevant effects of a variety of scientific research activities on Steller sea lions under several alternative permitting options.
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