Occupancy of Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled

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Greg Wahl, Project Lead,
USDA-Forest Service
Olympic National Forest
1835 Black Lake Blvd SW
Olympia, WA 98512
Susan North
Conservation Manager
Seattle Audubon Society
8050 35th Ave. NE
Seattle, WA 98115
Comments Submitted To: [email protected]
RE: Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range Special-Use Permit Application
Dear Mr. Wahl,
In response to the scoping notice released by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Pacific Ranger
District on September 26, 2014, the Seattle Audubon Society provides the following comments
on the U.S. Navy’s (Navy) application for a special-use permit to conduct the Pacific Northwest
Electronic Warfare Range project on National Forest lands.
According to the Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range Environmental Assessment
(hereafter EA), the Navy concludes that exposing the federally threatened Northern Spotted
Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) and the federally threatened Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus
marmoratus) to electromagnetic radiation “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect”
either species. The Navy also concludes that there will be “no effect” on the federally
threatened Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus). We concur with the Navy
that Western Snowy Plover will not be affected by this action. However, we disagree with the
Navy that the action “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” the Northern Spotted Owl
and Marbled Murrelet. The Navy has drawn this conclusion without proper analysis of the
effects of the action on each species. The Seattle Audubon Society believes that the Navy has
been remiss in drawing a “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” conclusion without
sufficient justification, and we request the development of a full Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS) to analyze these effects thoroughly. Furthermore, any “may affect”
determination for federally listed species requires concurrence from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (USFWS) (50 C.F.R. 402.14(a)). The Seattle Audubon Society has been unable to confirm
such concurrence to date. We request public dissemination of documentation demonstrating
that the Navy has consulted with USFWS on the proposed action, and that USFWS has
concurred with the conclusions reached in the EA. If such a consultation has yet to occur, we
urge the development of a formal Biological Opinion by USFWS.
Summary of Action
Mobile Electronic Warfare Training System (MEWTS) Mobile Emitters
The Navy requests permission from USFS to deploy three Mobile Electronic Warfare Training
System (MEWTS) vehicle-mounted electromagnetic emitters along national forest roads leading
to 15 sites on Olympic National Forest and Washington Department of Natural Resources
(WDNR) lands (12 and 3 sites respectively), during 260 days each year. These emitters will
transmit electromagnetic radiation to naval aircraft to mimic conditions pilots might face in
combat.
According to the EA, two types of emitters will be included on each mobile unit: (1) Travelling
Wave Tube Amplifiers, which emit electromagnetic radiation at 4–8 gigahertz (GHz); and, (2)
Magnetron Mobile Emitters, which emit electromagnetic radiation at 6.7–7.4 GHz (U.S. Navy
2014, p. 3.1-2). Each mobile emitter antennae will be mounted 4.2 meters (m) (14 feet (ft))
above the ground (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.1-5). The action level environment (defined as public
areas where individuals have no knowledge or control of their exposure) of the Traveling Wave
Tube Amplifiers is approximately 30.8 m (101.1 ft), while the action level environment of the
Magnetron Mobile Emitters is 8.9 m (29.3 ft) (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.1-4). A “fixed beam” will be
utilized. The dimensions of the beam were not described; therefore, we were unable to
calculate the area to be affected. The EA states the mobile emitters will be located on existing
cleared open area on ridges and cliffs, with the direction of emissions pointed in a
west/northwest direction (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 2-4). In sum, the range of radiation emitted is 4–8
GHz, which is within the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (300 megahertz
(MHz)–300 GHz) (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.1-2). The action level environment affected by each
mobile unit is within 30.8 m (101.1 ft) of each mobile emitter (area unknown), beginning at a
height 4.2 m (14 ft) from the ground.
The three mobile units are to be deployed to three of fifteen available sites during 260 days
each year for 8–16 hours per day, with nine hours of actual operating time per vehicle per day
(27 total hours per day across the three sites). The three mobile units will rotate daily among
the 15 available sites. Thus, 1/5 of sites will be in use each day, meaning every fifth day, the
same site will again be in use. According to the EA, mobile emitters will transmit
electromagnetic radiation for a total of 2,340 hours per site per year, and 7,020 hours across
three sites each year (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 2-6). This provides a total electromagnetic radiation
exposure of 35,100 hours across all 15 sites each year (2,340 hrs/site/yr x 15 sites), which is
never explicitly stated in the EA. In sum, an undefined area 30.8 m (101.1) ft west of each
mobile unit site will be exposed to 4–8 GHz of electromagnetic radiation for 2,340
hours/year, with 9 hours of exposure occurring every fifth day.
Mobile Remote Emitter Simulator (MRES) Magnetron
The Navy also plans to install and operate one fixed (Mobile Remote Emitter Simulator) MRES
emitter at Naval Station Everett Annex Pacific Beach. This fixed emitter will be (20 m) 66 ft in
height, and can transmit 64 simultaneous pulses at 2–18 GHz (pulsed or in waves) (U.S. Navy
2014, p. 3.1-2). The action-level environment, also undefined in area, will be exposed 217.5 m
(713.7 ft) west of the fixed emitter (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.1-4). The fixed emitter beam will be
pointed in a westerly direction, into the air (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.1-15). The Navy failed to
clearly identify the hours of operating time expected for the fixed emitter per day and per year,
although repeatedly refers to Table 2.1-1 in the EA, which describes hours of operation of
mobile emitters (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.2-23, 25). We assume this is an error, though we will
accept the estimate of 9 hours of operating time per day to determine an annual estimate of
2,340 hours per year (9 hours x 260 operating days) at the fixed emitter site. We encourage the
Navy to more clearly identify the hours of operation expected for the fixed emitter. In sum, an
undefined area 217.5 m (713.7 ft) west of the fixed MRES emitter will be exposed to 2–18
GHz of electromagnetic radiation for 2,340 hours per year. We are unable to determine the
significance of “64 simultaneous pulses” though if this suggests a magnification of emissions by
64 times one pulse, then it would appear that an undefined area 217.5 m (713.7 ft) west of the
fixed MRES emitter will be exposed to 2–18 GHz of electromagnetic radiation for an equivalent
of 149,760 hours pulsed per year (2,340 hours /year/pulse x 64 simultaneous pulses).
Occupancy of Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet
According to a map (Figure 3.2-5) provided in the EA, 7 of the 15 mobile unit sites are within
federally designated critical habitat for Northern Spotted Owl (sites 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 13, and 15)
(U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.2-16). The EA states that a large and virtually isolated Northern Spotted
Owl population may be found throughout the Olympic Peninsula portion of the project area
(U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.2-16). Neither presence/absence surveys, nor an evaluation of Northern
Spotted Owl nesting sites were provided in the EA.
According to a map (Figure 3.2-6) provided in the EA, 11 of the 15 mobile unit sites are within
federally designated critical habitat for Marbled Murrelet (sites 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, 13, 14, and
15) (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.2-19). This map also shows that 8 of the 15 mobile unit sites are in
close proximity (unknown distance) to areas used by Marbled Murrelet, indicated by subcanopy
behavior, above canopy behavior, and downy young or eggshell (sites 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 14, and
16) (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.2-19). The EA concludes that there are no known Marbled Murrelet
nesting sites that will be affected by mobile emitters, citing a 2011 habitat suitability model
(Raphael et al. 2011) (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.2-18). Presence/absence surveys were not
conducted. Figure 3.2-6 also shows a cluster of Marbled Murrelet points indicating both subcanopy behavior and above canopy behavior near the fixed MRES fixed emitter site.
Effects to Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet
According to the EA, electromagnetic radiation can affect wildlife depending upon three
factors: (1) the type of radiation; (2) the duration of exposure; and, (3) the species receiving the
radiation.
Our expectation is that the Navy would carefully review each of the three factors that it stated
can cause electromagnetic radiation to affect wildlife, specifically addressing each factor as it
relates to Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet. Instead, the Navy concludes that
exposure of Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet to electromagnetic radiation “may
affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” either species, presenting three arguments to
support this conclusion (U.S. Navy 2014, p. 3.2-26).
First, the Navy states that studies demonstrating a negative effect of electromagnetic radiation
on birds were based upon “continual and long-duration” exposure to electromagnetic
radiation, and that because units are mobile, exposure will be minimized. Second, the Navy
states that both Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet will fly through the action area
rapidly, minimizing any exposure to flight effects. Third, the Navy states that the directional
beam pattern minimizes exposure to radiation. The Navy also states that one of two individuals
in each vehicle will be tasked with observing the general training site from inside the vehicle for
the presence of people or animals. Thus, if any people or animals are present in an area while
training is occurring, the mobile emitter crews will cease operations, and if necessary, relocate.
Each of these points attempts to address factor 2 above: duration of exposure.
Duration of Exposure
Unfortunately, the Navy has presented no argument to support its conclusions that the
duration of exposure will not adversely affect each species. First, “continual and long-duration”
exposure is never defined, and no comparison is made of the amount of exposure time that
studies have suggested can cause adverse effects to birds with the expected exposure time of
the mobile emitters. We question how the Navy was able to conclude that 9 hours of exposure
to electromagnetic radiation (per site per day) does not qualify as continual and long-term.
Furthermore, there is no analysis of the planned repeated exposure of 2,340 hours per site per
year. As the Navy has not performed surveys to determine presence/absence, but is locating
many mobile emitter sites within occupied and critical habitat, we would expect both Northern
Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet to occur nearby, at least for some portion of time for this
action.
With regards to the Navy’s second statement (both Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled
Murrelet will fly through the action area rapidly, minimizing any exposure to flight effects), the
Navy has ignored each species biology and behavioral patterns as they relate to duration of
exposure. Instead the Navy provides a very general assessment of non-soaring bird flight
patterns. The time period of electromagnetic radiation exposure should also be compared with
the likelihood of encountering either species in a stationary position during the day. Northern
Spotted Owl is a mostly nocturnal species that forages opportunistically during the day (USFWS
2011, p. A-9; Forsman et al. 1984, Sovern et al. 1994). Thus, the species is in a mostly inactive,
motionless, and cryptic position during the day, maximizing the potential for inadvertent, longterm exposure. Additionally, during the nesting season, both males and female Marbled
Murrelets incubate a single egg in alternating 24-hour shifts. Thus, there is ample opportunity
for each species to receive a long-term exposure that may adversely affect individuals, as well
as nesting success.
Additionally, potential effects to chicks and fledglings should be analyzed. The potential
negative effects of electromagnetic radiation on nesting birds and nesting success is
acknowledged through citations provided by the Navy (“Effects on birds may include reduced
nesting success (Fernie and Reynolds 2005, Balmori 2009) and various behavioral and
physiological responses to electromagnetic fields (Fernie et al. 2000, Fernie and Bird 2001),
such as disruption of normal sleep-wake cycles through interference with pineal gland and
hormonal imbalance.”). However, the Navy does not analyze such potential effects in the
context of Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet adults, chicks, or fledglings. The Navy
limits its analysis to consider only the issue of duration of exposure as it relates to birds in flight,
and cites one study (Bruderer et al. 1999) that did not find electromagnetic radiation (in the
microwave range) to affect the flight patterns of nocturnal birds. As such, the Bruderer et al.
(1999) citation is insufficient evidence to support the Navy’s conclusions that neither Marbled
Murrelet nor Northern Spotted Owl will be adversely affected, as this study focuses on the
movement of birds and this during nighttime hours. Thus, the Navy has ignored factor 3 above,
by failing to thoroughly consider the biology of each species, including diurnal patterns and
nesting habits.
The Navy also diminishes the importance of potential effects by stating that mobile unit
operations will cease should the single surveyor detect birds from inside the mobile unit. This is
no consolation considering that of course, it would be very difficult, if not impossible to detect
these highly cryptic species from inside a vehicle. Thus, we disagree that visual surveys
conducted from inside each mobile unit would be sufficient to detect Northern Spotted Owl
and Marbled Murrelet during emissions activity.
Finally, the Navy states that the directional beam pattern minimizes exposure to radiation,
though it is unclear whether the directional beam will intersect with the high forest canopy
preferred by these species. Proximity of areas known to be occupied by either species is taken
into consideration only generally. Further investigation is needed to evaluate whether adverse
effects are to be expected, and the Navy should perform analysis of the likelihood of occupied
habitat (particularly nesting habitat) overlap with the directional beams. We are concerned that
a lack of regular surveys adjacent to each mobile unit site prior to radiating emissions will
repeatedly expose these species to electromagnetic radiation. This issue must be addressed.
Type of Radiation
The Navy attempts to address the question of radiation type through its citation of Bruderer et
al. (1999), which did not find negative impacts to nocturnal birds tracked with an
electromagnetic beam at 9 GHz. While we do not contest the findings of this study, we suggest
that they are not entirely applicable to determine the effects of this action, because flight
patterns alone were analyzed, as described above. Additional analysis is needed to determine
that radiation from the mobile emitters (4–8 GHz) would not affect other behaviors, the
physiology, and the nesting success of each species. Furthermore, the Navy provides no analysis
of the expected effects associated with the fixed emitter at a radiation range of 2–18 GHz for
2,340 hrs/year, or 149,760 hours pulsed per year at 64 simultaneous pulses.
Species Receiving the Exposure
As described above, the Navy presented virtually no analysis of potential effects on Northern
Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet based upon the biology of each species. While information
about the status of each species is presented, very little consideration was given to behavioral
and life history traits, including diurnal habits, flight patterns, nesting timing and duration, and
so on. Most importantly, each species’ biology was not specifically considered with regards to
the effects of the action. These and other pertinent questions must be addressed: what is the
likelihood that Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet individuals will encounter
electromagnetic radiation, at what proximity will this occur, for what duration, how might that
radiation affect each species’ biology (physiology, behavior, nesting success, etc.) and hence the
ability of each species to recover from being threatened with extinction?
Lack of Formal Consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Any action resulting in a “may affect” determination for federally-listed species requires
concurrence from USFWS (50 C.F.R. 402.14(a)). The Seattle Audubon Society has been unable
to confirm such concurrence to date. We request public dissemination of documentation
demonstrating that the Navy has consulted with USFWS on the proposed action, and that
USFWS has concurred with the conclusions reached in the EA.
If the Navy and USFWS have failed to consult on this specific action, we urge such a
consultation and the development of a formal Biological Opinion by USFWS. This formal
consultation process should result in an analysis of the effects of the proposed action on
federally-listed species, as well as the development of reasonable and prudent alternatives and
measures to be implemented by the Navy for the purpose of reducing negative impacts
associated with this action.
Conclusions
We disagree with the Navy that the proposed action “may affect, but is not likely to adversely
affect” the Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet. The Navy has drawn this conclusion
without proper analysis of the effects of the action on each species, including the three factors
considered most important (the type of radiation, the duration of exposure, and species
receiving the radiation).
There are significant concerns related to the following points: (1) many mobile unit sites will be
placed in occupied and critical habitat for both species; (2) duration of exposure would in fact
appear to be long and continual, although the Navy has discounted this point; (3) no analysis of
effects was performed to consider each species’ biology (diurnal patterns and nesting habits);
(4) no analysis of effects was performed to consider the effects of the radiation range of 4–8
GHz for the mobile emitters on the behavior, physiology, and nesting success of each species;
(5) potentially inaccurate information is provided about the hours of operation for the fixed
emitter; and, (6) no analysis of effects was performed to consider impacts related to the
radiation range of 2–18 GHz from the fixed emitter on either species. We encourage the Navy
to develop a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to analyze these effects thoroughly.
Furthermore, any “may affect” determination for federally listed species requires concurrence
from USFWS (50 C.F.R. 402.14(a)). The Seattle Audubon Society has been unable to confirm
such concurrence to date. We request public dissemination of documentation demonstrating
that the Navy has consulted with USFWS on the proposed action, and that USFWS has
concurred with the conclusions reached in the EA. If such a consultation has not occurred, we
urge the development of a formal Biological Opinion by USFWS.
The Seattle Audubon Society appreciates the opportunity to comment on this EA.
Sincerely,
Susan North
Conservation Manager
Seattle Audubon Society
References Cited
Balmori, A. 2009. Electromagnetic pollution from phone masts, effects on wildlife.
Pathophysiology 16:191‐199.
Bruderer, B., Peter, D., and T. Steuri. 1999. Behavior of migrating birds exposed to X-band and a
bright light beam. Journal of Experimental Biology 202:1015-1022.
Fernie, K.J., Leonard, N.J., and D.M. Bird. 2000. Behavior of free‐ranging and captive American
kestrels under electromagnetic fields. Journal of Toxicology. Environmental Health, Part
A:597‐603.
Fernie, K.J. and D.M. Bird. 2001. Evidence of oxidative stress in American kestrels exposed to
electromagnetic fields. Environmental Research A 86:198‐207.
Fernie, K.J. and S.J. Reynolds. 2005. The effects of electromagnetic fields from power lines on
avian reproductive biology and physiology: a review. Journal of Toxicology
Environmental Health, Part B:127‐140.
Forsman, E.D., Meslow, E.C., and H.M. Wight. 1984. Distribution and biology of the spotted owl
in Oregon. Wildlife Monographs 87:1–64.
Sovern, S.G., Forsman, E.D., Biswell, B.L., Rolph, D.N. and M. Taylor. 1994. Diurnal behavior of
the spotted owl in Washington. Condor 96:200–202
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2011. Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix
occidentalis caurina). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon. xvi + 258 pp.
U.S. Navy. 2014. Pacific Northwest EW Range Environmental Assessment (EA). Final EA.
September 2014. 228 pp.
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