FAQs

The comment period has closed for the 2020 Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS. Thank you for your comments.

 
 

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. New information includes an updated acoustic effects model, updated marine species density data and hearing criteria, and other emergent best available science.
  • The Navy is preparing a Supplemental EIS/OEIS to renew required federal 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.
  • The Supplemental EIS/OEIS supports naval training requirements to achieve and maintain fleet readiness as required by Title 10 of the U.S. Code.

2. What are the key updates made in the 2020 Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS?

In the 2020 Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS, the Navy:

  • Included a No Action Alternative in which the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) would not issue Marine Mammal Protection Act authorization; therefore, proposed training activities would not occur.
  • Reanalyzed Alternative 1 using the most current and best available science and analytical methods.
  • Included improved acoustic models and updated marine species densities, hearing criteria, and thresholds.
  • Reviewed procedural mitigation measures, where appropriate, and considered additional geographic and/or seasonal mitigation measures, where applicable.

3. Is the Navy proposing new activities?

  • No new activities are proposed as part of this Supplemental EIS/OEIS. Proposed activities are similar to the actions previously presented and analyzed in the 2011 GOA Final EIS/OEIS and the 2016 GOA Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS and implemented with Records of Decision.
  • The types of activities and number of events in the Proposed Action remain consistent with the previous documents (Alternative 1 in both the 2011 and 2016 impact analyses), although there have been changes in the platforms and systems used in those activities. For example, the EA-6B aircraft and frigate, and their associated systems, have been replaced by the EA-18G aircraft, Littoral Combat Ship, and Destroyer.

4. Why does the Navy need to train in the Gulf of 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 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 U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army inland air and land training areas. These training areas provide realistic environments for military forces and interagency partners to practice both basic and complex training activities. Training in the Gulf of Alaska allows for varying degrees of scenario complexity, which enhances the quality of training and better prepares service members to respond to world events.
  • During Northern Edge exercises, the Navy establishes a maritime training area, the TMAA, in the Gulf of Alaska. The Gulf of Alaska TMAA is the ideal location for training because of its 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 Gulf of Alaska TMAA has complex bathymetric and oceanographic conditions, including a continental shelf, submarine canyons, numerous seamounts, and fresh water infusions, and provides a cold-water training environment even in summer. The Gulf of Alaska TMAA provides the vast space needed to maximize the realism of the exercises. The Gulf of Alaska TMAA is located far enough offshore of coastal areas to minimize impacts on Alaska Native tribal, commercial, and recreational fishing. The Gulf of Alaska TMAA avoids many sensitive resources of the coastal regions with no overlap of salmon and herring management areas, partial overlap with groundfish and halibut statistical areas, and minimal overlap with shellfish statistical areas.

5. What do Northern Edge exercises include?

  • The military's largest joint training exercise in Alaska is Northern Edge. Exercises occur biennially (typically every other year in odd years). The Navy has participated in Northern Edge since the 1990s. These exercises are designed to replicate challenging scenarios and environmental conditions found around the world, 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 21 days 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 exercises are 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. 

6. Can’t you use simulators for training?

  • When possible, Sailors use simulators and other advanced technologies when training. Simulation, however, can only work at the basic operator level and cannot completely replace training in a live environment. Lack of realistic training will jeopardize the lives of Navy personnel in actual combat situations.
  • Despite advancements and improvements to simulator technology, there are still limits to the realism technology can provide. 
    • Simulation cannot provide the accuracy and level of training needed to prepare naval forces for deployment.
    • Simulation cannot replicate a high-stress environment, including the sounds, visuals, and adrenaline, nor the complexity in coordinating with other military personnel. 
    • Simulation cannot replicate dynamic environments involving numerous military forces and cannot accurately model sound in complex training environments.

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

  • Yes. The Navy proposes to continue periodic military training activities, which include the continued use of active sonar. The Navy would continue to implement mitigation measures to avoid or reduce potential impacts on marine species and the environment from training activities. The Navy reanalyzed the potential environmental effects of sonar use in the 2020 Draft 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. Does Navy sonar cause marine mammal strandings?

  • While exact causes of strandings, when a marine species is aground on the shore, are uncertain, scientists have identified potential contributing factors for strandings including age, illness, or disease; parasites; pollution, including ingestion of marine debris and plastics; contaminant load; unusual oceanographic or weather events; trauma; starvation; and ship strikes. Some stranding incidents have been coincident to Navy training with sonar and weapon systems, which is of great concern to the Navy. 
  • Since 2006, scientific monitoring has found no evidence of strandings resulting from the use of sonar in any U.S. Navy range complex training area. However, sonar use during exercises involving the U.S. Navy (most often in association with other nations' defense forces) has been identified as a contributing cause or factor in five specific mass stranding events: Greece in 1996; the Bahamas in March 2000; Madeira Island, Portugal in 2000; the Canary Islands in 2002; and Spain in 2006. The factors leading to these strandings are not understood, although various research projects have been underway to better understand these rare occurrences. 
  • Through the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act permitting processes, the Navy updates marine mammal Stranding Response Plans in coordination with NMFS, as needed. The Stranding Response Plan specifies the Navy’s requirements for reporting marine mammal strandings and assisting with post stranding data collection in association with major training exercises.

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

To learn more about marine mammals, sonar, sound in the water, and the Navy’s ocean stewardship programs, visit:

10. 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. However, non-explosives cannot completely replace training in a live environment. Limited training with explosives occurs only in established operating areas. The Navy ensures public safety by establishing safety buffers around activity sites when in use. The Navy, in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration, issues notices to mariners and pilots to ensure public safety.

11. Why can’t the Navy train only using non-explosive ordnance?

  • Sailors train using non-explosive munitions as often as possible. However, non-explosives cannot completely replace at-sea training in a live environment.
  • Training at sea with explosives significantly enhances the safety of U.S. forces in combat and improves readiness and equipment reliability.
  • 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.
  • Training at sea with explosives is limited, occurs only in established operating areas, and only after the Navy, in coordination with the Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration, issues notices to mariners and pilots to ensure public safety. 

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

  • Since 2011, the Navy has monitored and observed marine mammals during Navy training activities in the Gulf of Alaska. Some of these efforts include:
    • Collecting passive acoustic data using an unmanned glider.
    • Maintaining, collecting, and analyzing data from multiple passive acoustic monitoring sites. Data from these sites are used for characterizing ambient sound levels and detecting the presence of vocalizing marine species.
    • Surveying for cetacean abundance and distribution in the Study Area using line transect surveys.
  • Between 2009 and 2020, the Navy has funded approximately $6 million for marine species research, surveys, and monitoring efforts in the Gulf of Alaska.
  • For more information, please visit the Navy’s Marine Species Monitoring webpage.

13. 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. In 2019, the Navy funded $20 million in marine species research and monitoring projects around the world. Between 2009 and 2020, the Navy has funded approximately $6 million for marine species research, surveys, and monitoring efforts in the Gulf of Alaska. This research has generated more than 800 open-source publications.
  • The Navy funds research to:
    • Detect and track marine mammals.
    • Understand marine mammal behavioral responses to sound. 
    • Establish hearing thresholds; determine species location and abundance.
    • Mitigate the effects of 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. 

14. What resources were analyzed in the 2020 Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS?

  • In the 2020 Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS, the Navy updated previous analyses of potential impacts with relevant new information and best available science. The Navy evaluated each resource area in the 2011 and 2016 impact analyses to determine the need for reanalysis. For the majority of the resource areas, results remain unchanged and do not require additional analysis. 
  • The Navy determined that new research, literature, laws, and regulatory guidance addressed in this Supplemental EIS/OEIS resulted in little or no change to the findings of the impact analyses in the 2011 GOA Final EIS/OEIS and the 2016 GOA Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS, and following resource areas were not carried forward for detailed reanalysis:
    • Air Quality
    • Sediments and Water Quality
    • Marine Habitats
    • Marine Vegetation
    • Marine Invertebrates
    • Cultural Resources
    • Public Health and Safety
  • The following resource areas were carried forward for detailed reanalysis:
    • Fishes
    • Sea Turtles
    • Marine Mammals
    • Birds
    • Socioeconomic Resources and Environmental Justice

15. What measures are implemented to protect marine life?

  • It is important to the Navy to avoid or minimize impacts on the marine environment from at-sea training activities. The Navy employs standard operating procedures and protective measures during sonar use as well as additional event-specific mitigation measures. 

16. Will the Navy implement geographic and seasonal mitigation measures?

  • Yes. The Navy considered implementing geographic and seasonal mitigation measures where biologically appropriate and practicable without compromising the effectiveness of at-sea training or personnel safety. However, the Navy needs to continue to train in diverse environments, many of which replicate operational environments around the world. 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. 
  • Examples of geographic and seasonal mitigation measures include:
    • North Pacific Right Whale Mitigation Area
    • Portlock Bank Mitigation Area 

17. 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, in coordination with the Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration, issues notices to mariners and aviators to minimize inconveniences whenever possible, while ensuring safety at all times.
  • Ensuring public access to natural resources is important to 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.

18. 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. 

19. What are the next steps in this process?

  • After the close of the public review and comment period on the 2020 Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS, the Navy will collect and consider all comments received from interested individuals and groups. Scientists, including biologists (marine mammal specialists), botanists, ecologists, and other specialists, will incorporate applicable comments into the environmental analysis and develop the Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS. 
  • The Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS is an update to the 2020 Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS based on comments received during the public comment period. The Notice of Availability for the Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS will be published in the Federal Register and appropriate general circulation newspapers. The Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS will be filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and will be available to interested parties on the project website and at information repositories. The Final Supplemental will be released for a 30-day wait period. The Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS is expected in spring 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.
     

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

  • The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, and Environment, which 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.

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

  • The 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 Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Wildlife Conservation, have been invited to comment on the environmental analysis.
  • Federal and state regulators are reviewing the 2020 Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS and the Navy’s consultation packages to include Biological Assessments.
     

22. How can my concerns be heard?

  • Public involvement is a critical part of the NEPA process and there are a number of opportunities for the public to participate throughout the Supplemental EIS/OEIS development.
  • You can ask questions of Navy representatives at the virtual public meetings
  • The public is encouraged to participate in any of the following ways:

Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest
Attention: GOA Supplemental EIS/OEIS Project Manager
1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203
Silverdale, WA 98315-1101

  • The Navy encourages you to submit written comments to ensure your comments are considered in the development of the Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS, comments must be postmarked or received online by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time Feb. 16, 2021

23. Why isn’t the Navy holding in-person public meetings in Alaska?

  • Due to COVID-19 travel and public event restrictions, the Navy is unable to hold in-person public meetings in Alaska. The Navy is instead holding virtual public meetings, consisting of an online presentation and question-and-answer session, to discuss the Proposed Action and the draft environmental impact analysis. 
  • For your convenience, two virtual public meetings will be held:
    • Jan. 19, 2021, from 3 to 4 p.m. Alaska Standard Time 
    • Feb. 3, 2021, from 5 to 6 p.m. Alaska Standard Time
  • The Navy will post a pre-recorded copy of the presentation on the project website for interested parties who were unable to attend.

24. When will the Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS be ready?

  • Conducting a thorough analysis generally takes about a year following the 2020 Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS phase. The Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS is expected in winter 2022.
  • When the Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS is available, a notice will be published in the Federal Register and in local newspapers, and the document will be available to view and download on the website. It will also be placed at public locations (information repositories), such as local libraries.

25. When will a final decision be made?

  • The Record of Decision is expected in spring 2022. Please know that the release date may change. The Navy’s focus is to ensure that accurate and complete information and data, including substantive public comments, are collected and appropriately analyzed.