Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions are provided for additional project information.

1. Why is the Navy preparing a Supplemental EIS/OEIS?

  • The Supplemental EIS/OEIS is an update to the 2011 GOA Navy Training Activities Final EIS/OEIS and the 2016 GOA Navy Training Activities Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS
  • The purpose of this Supplemental EIS/OEIS is to update the 2011 and 2016 impact analyses with new information and analytical methods the Navy developed and has used since 2016. New information includes an updated acoustic effects model, updated marine mammal density data, and evolving and emergent best available science.
  • The Navy is preparing a Supplemental EIS/OEIS to renew required regulatory permits and authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Current federal regulatory permits and authorizations expire in April 2022
  • This upcoming Supplemental EIS/OEIS will support naval training requirements to achieve and maintain fleet readiness as required by Title 10 of the U.S. Code.

2. What is the Navy’s Proposed Action?

3. Is the Navy proposing new activities?

  • No new activities are proposed as part of this Supplemental EIS/OEIS.

4. What are the key updates resulting in the need for the upcoming Supplemental EIS/OEIS?

  • In the upcoming Supplemental EIS/OEIS, the Navy will:
    • Include a No Action Alternative in which NMFS would not issue Marine Mammal Protection Act authorization; therefore, proposed training activities would not occur.
    • Reanalyze Alternative 1 from the 2016 GOA Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS; training activities would not increase from current authorized levels in the Gulf of Alaska.
    • Include improved acoustic models, updated marine mammal and sea turtle densities, and updated marine species criteria and thresholds.
    • Use the most current and best available science and analytical methods.
    • Review procedural mitigation measures, where appropriate, and consider additional geographic and/or temporal mitigation measures, where applicable.

5. Why does the Navy need to train in Alaska?

  • The Gulf of Alaska is a critical military training area and the Navy has trained periodically in the Gulf of Alaska for more than 30 years. Training in Alaska is critical for the readiness of military personnel who protect and defend the United States and our allies.
  • Mission-critical military training activities in Alaska occur within the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which includes the Temporary Maritime Activities Area (TMAA) in the Gulf of Alaska and existing Air Force and Army inland air and land training areas. These training areas provide realistic environments for military forces and interagency partners to practice both simple and complex training activities. Training in Alaska allows for varying degrees of complexity and diversity, which enhances the quality of training and better prepares service members to respond to real-world situations.
  • During Northern Edge exercises, the Navy establishes a maritime training area, the TMAA, in the Gulf of Alaska. The TMAA is the ideal location for training because of its close proximity to a large contingent of Air Force and Army land training areas and airspace, as well as personnel, resources, equipment, and infrastructure in Alaska. The TMAA provides the vast space needed to maximize the realism of the exercises. The TMAA is located far enough offshore of coastal areas to minimize impacts on Alaska Native tribal, commercial, and recreational fishing. The TMAA avoids many sensitive resources of the coastal regions and also has minimal overlap with salmon, herring, groundfish, and shellfish management areas.

6. What do Northern Edge exercises include?

  • Northern Edge exercises are Alaska’s largest joint training exercises and occur biennially (typically every other year in odd years). The Navy has participated in Northern Edge exercises since the 1990s. These exercises are designed to replicate challenging scenarios and prepare service members to respond to crises, such as natural disasters, global conflicts, and threats to homeland security. 
  • Northern Edge exercises typically last up to three weeks and occur between April and October when weather conditions are more ideal, which enhances training and reduces safety risk. Training activities are not conducted in extreme weather conditions due to safety concerns. Given the significant investment in resources associated with bringing military forces to Alaska, the exercise is scheduled for periods with the greatest chance for favorable weather. The specific dates of each biennial exercise are determined based on the availability of forces, deployment schedules, maintenance periods, and other exercises underway within the Pacific. 

7. Will the Navy use sonar in the Gulf of Alaska?

  • Yes. The Navy proposes to continue periodic military readiness activities, which continue to include the use of active sonar while employing marine species mitigation measures at sea. The Navy will reanalyze the potential environmental effects of sonar use in the upcoming Supplemental EIS/OEIS.
  • For decades, the Navy has used various types of passive and active sonar while training in the Gulf of Alaska, and has analyzed those activities in previous environmental impact analyses. 

8. Where can I find more information about sonar or the effects on marine mammals?

9. Why is training with explosives necessary?

  • Sailors must train in a variety of high-stress environments, including scenarios that involve the use of and exposure to explosive ordnance, to be ready to respond to emergencies and national security threats.
  • Sailors train using non-explosive munitions as often as possible. Non-explosives, however, cannot completely replace training in a live environment. Limited training with in-water explosives occurs only in established operating areas. The Navy ensures public safety with a combination of notices to mariners and pilots, and vigilant establishment of safety by establishing safety buffers around activity sites when in use and notifying mariners and pilots. 

10. What marine species research and monitoring does the Navy conduct in the Gulf of Alaska?

  • In the Gulf of Alaska, the Navy funds data collection from five passive acoustic monitoring sites. Data from these sites are used for characterizing ambient sound levels and detecting the presence of vocalizing marine species. The Navy provides reports on its training activities in the Gulf of Alaska, and findings from passive acoustic monitoring, to NMFS. These reports are available to the public.
  • For more information, please visit the Navy’s Marine Species Monitoring webpage.

11. How much money does the Navy spend on marine mammal research?

  • The Navy has committed approximately $250 million over the past decade to marine mammal and sound in water research. This research has generated more than 800 open-source publications.
  • The Navy funds research:
    • Detect and track marine mammals.
    • Understand marine mammal behavioral responses to sound. 
    • Establish hearing thresholds; determine species location and abundance.
    • Mitigate the effects of underwater sound to assist environmental planners, range operators, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders in making informed decisions as part of the permitting process for Navy at-sea training activities. 
  • Data and reports from scientific research and monitoring help environmental regulators, scientists, and the Navy to:
    • Better understand the abundance, distribution, foraging, reproduction, physiology, hearing and sound production, behavior, and ecology of marine species, which is needed to assess the effects on species from naval activities. Assess behavioral responses of marine species to sonar and explosives.
    • Develop and improve models to better predict potential effects of underwater sound and explosives on marine species.
    • Develop effective protective measures.
  • As the vast majority of these activities take place on ranges, the Navy commits significant funding and manpower to improve understanding of the behavior and abundance of marine mammals within and in near proximity to these areas. 
  • For more information, please visit the Navy’s Marine Species Monitoring webpage.

12. What measures are implemented to protect marine life?

  • The Navy strives to avoid impacts from at-sea training on the marine environment. The Navy employs standard operating procedures during sonar use as well as additional event-specific protective measures

13. Does the Navy implement geographic mitigation measures in the Gulf of Alaska?

  • Yes. The Navy considers implementing geographic mitigation measures where biologically appropriate and practicable without compromising the effectiveness of training or personnel safety. However, the Navy needs to continue to train in diverse environments, many of which replicate real world operating areas. It is essential to military readiness that the Navy maintains this flexibility. The Navy will also work with NMFS on developing final mitigations during the consultation processes. 
  • The Navy currently implements geographic mitigation measures in the TMAA:
    • Establish a North Pacific right whale cautionary area.
    • Prohibit explosives training over Portlock Bank.
    • Prohibit sinking exercises in the Temporary Maritime Activities Area.

14. Is the Navy going to stop people from using the Gulf of Alaska?

  • No. The Navy does not restrict civilian navigation, including fishing vessels, commercial shipping, or aircraft, during Northern Edge maritime activities.
  • The Navy issues notices to mariners and aviators to minimize inconveniences to ocean and airspace users whenever possible, while ensuring safety at all times.
  • Ensuring public access to natural resources is an important goal for the Navy. Sailors share the ocean, coastal areas, and airspace with the community and recognize the importance of public access. 
  • The Navy trains in a manner that is compatible with civilian activities at sea and in the air. The Navy is committed to providing continued access to surface water space and airspace above the Gulf of Alaska.
  • The Navy understands that general aviation is an important part of Alaska’s economy. Light-aircraft pilots transport residents, tourists, supplies, and mail throughout much of Alaska that would otherwise be inaccessible. The Navy acknowledges the importance and necessity for pilots to be able to fly throughout Alaska and surrounding areas with as few impediments as possible.

15. Will fishing areas be closed more frequently?

  • No. The Navy does not restrict civilian navigation, including fishing vessels, commercial shipping, or aircraft, during Northern Edge maritime activities. The Navy is not making any changes to access to fishing areas; the access available now would remain the same.
  • It is not the Navy’s intent to restrict public access; however, the safety of Navy Sailors and the public is of utmost importance. 
  • Navy personnel share the ocean and coastal areas with the community and recognize the importance of public access. The Navy strives to be a good neighbor by maintaining access to public areas whenever possible and ensuring safety at all times.
  • When areas are scheduled for Navy use, the Navy coordinates with the Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration to publish notices to help the public plan accordingly. Appropriate local agencies are notified.

16. Will my input actually have any impact on this process?

  • Yes. The purpose of the public involvement process is to provide information to the public about the Proposed Action and, more importantly, to obtain input on the draft environmental analysis, once available. The Navy welcomes and appreciates your substantive comments. 
  • All substantive comments received during the 30-day scoping period, from Feb. 10, 2020, to March 11, 2020, will be reviewed and considered during the development of the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS. 

17. What are the next steps in this process?

  • The Navy will consider all substantive public comments received during the scoping period. Scientists, including biologists (marine mammal specialists), botanists, ecologists, and other specialists, will review substantive comments for consideration in the preparation of the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS.
  • The Notice of Availability for the Draft and Final Supplemental EISs/OEISs will be published in the Federal Register and appropriate general circulation newspapers. The Draft and Final Supplemental EISs/OEISs will be filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and will be available on the project website and at information repositories. 
  • The Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS is anticipated to be released in December 2020 for a public review and comment period. Public meetings will be held after the release of the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS.
  • The Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS will include revisions to the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS and responses to substantive comments received during the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS comment period. The Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS will be released for a 30-day wait period. The Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS is expected in winter 2022.
  • After the 30-day public review and wait period, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, and Environment will select an alternative and issue a Record of Decision. The Navy’s Proposed Action cannot proceed until the wait period is complete. The Record of Decision provides a public record of the decision, describes the public involvement and agency decision-making processes, and presents the commitments to specific mitigation measures. It will be published in the Federal Register and will be available to the public. 

18. Who decides whether or not to implement the Proposed Action?

  • The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, and Environment, who is responsible for all environmental and natural resource issues, is the decision-maker regarding the selection and implementation of an alternative. The decision is based on many factors, including the details of the Navy’s environmental impact analyses, breadth of public comment, recommendations from Navy commands, and mission requirements.

19. What regulatory agencies are involved or have oversight or approval authority in this process?

  • The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Headquarters Office is a cooperating agency on this Supplemental EIS/OEIS. The Navy will coordinate with the NMFS Headquarters Office, the NMFS Alaska regional office, and the Alaska regional office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
  • Other federal and state regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Wildlife Conservation, will also be invited to comment on the environmental analysis.

20. Are public meetings being held for the project?

  • Public involvement is an important part of the NEPA process, and there are a number of opportunities for the public to participate throughout the development of the Supplemental EIS/OEIS. Public meetings are planned following the release of the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS, anticipated in winter 2020/2021.