NOAA Fisheries is publishing a proposed rule to revise the designation of critical habitat for Southern Resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). The public is invited to comment on the proposed rule through December 18, 2019.
In the rule, NOAA proposes to expand the whales' critical habitat designation, which is currently limited to inland waters of Washington, to include an additional approximately 15,627 square miles of occupied marine waters between the 6.1-meter and 200-meter depth contours off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. These coastal waters contain the same essential features identified for the whales' existing critical habitat, including (1) water quality to support growth and development; (2) prey species of sufficient quantity, quality, and availability to support individual growth, reproduction, and development, as well as overall population growth; and (3) passage conditions to allow for migration, resting, and foraging.
NOAA proposes to exclude one area from the designation, the Navy's Quinault Range Site off the coast of Washington and a 10-km buffer around it, because the agency determined that the impacts to national security outweigh the benefits of designating critical habitat there and excluding the area would not result in extinction of Southern Resident killer whales.
Critical habitat protections apply only to federal actions under section 7 of the ESA with some exceptions. Activities that are not funded, authorized, or carried out by a federal agency are not subject to these protections.
Electronic copies of the proposed rule and supporting documents may be found on the NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region website at www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/marine_mammals/killer_whale/critical_habitat.html and at www.regulations.gov (search on: NOAA-NMFS-2014-0041).