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Developing a Conservation Management Plan for the Idaho National Laboratory

Background

The sagebrush steppe of western North America is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Sagebrush steppe is threatened by soil disturbance (especially associated with overgrazing) that promotes invasion by exotic annual vegetation (such as cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum) which in turn alters natural fire regimes. These types of landscape changes are having significant effects on sagebrush steppe wildlife. Despite the widespread nature of the threats to sagebrush steppe, the INL Site has experienced only limited disturbance and is likely the most intact example of sagebrush steppe remaining.

Without an adequate management plan in place the biodiversity of sagebrush habitats on the INL Site are at a greater risk of being degraded. Localized threats to biodiversity on the INL Site include livestock grazing in peripheral areas, invasion by cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), fire, raven depredation, and road and facility development. In addition, complex interactions can exist between threats.

Developing a conservation management plan for the INL Site is important because it will help preserve one of the best remaining sagebrush steppe ecosystems in the world. A conservation management plan is also important to DOE because it will facilitate land use planning on the INL Site. For example, with a conservation management plan in place and an understanding of the distribution of important biological resources DOE will save time and money when planning projects such a new construction.

Objectives

The overall goal of the project is to conserve sagebrush steppe ecosystems while facilitating land use planning on the INL Site. Specific objectives include:

  • Determine the distribution and abundance of pygmy rabbits on the INL Site.
  • Determine the distribution and abundance of sage grouse on the INL Site.
  • Conduct a biodiversity inventory of the INL Site.
  • Develop a vegetation map for the INL Site.
  • Set conservation priorities on the INL Site.
  • Develop an interactive GIS tool for the INL Site.
  • Prepare a conservation management plan for the INL Site.

Some of the objectives above will be focused on the entire INL Site (Pygmy Rabbit Studies, Sage Grouse Studies, and Vegetation Mapping) while the Biodiversity Inventory will be focused in two smaller areas in the south central part of the INL Site designated the Development Corridor and Development Zone (Figure 9-5). Thus, conservation priorities, the interactive planning tool, and the Conservation Management Plan (CMP) will only completely cover all important biological resources within these two areas.

Accomplishments Through 2007

Pygmy Rabbit Surveys. In 2007 we continued conducting ground surveys for pygmy rabbits. These surveys detected the presence of 422 burrow systems bringing the total number of burrow systems identified during the CMP project over 600.

Sage Grouse Surveys. In 2007 we conducted ground surveys for sage grouse leks. We found a total of two new leks during these surveys to bring the total number of new leks found during the CMP to six.

Biodiversity Inventory. As part of the biodiversity inventory we selected a suite of indicator taxa including vegetation, reptiles, passerine birds, raptors, bats, small mammals, mammalian mesocarnivores, and ungulates. Accomplishments in 2007 by taxa are as follows:

  • Vegetation. We sampled approximately 50 modified Whitaker plots.

  • Reptiles. We sampled reptiles using 14 trapping arrays, >100 visual surveys, and a series of road surveys. We found over 1000 individual reptiles of six species. Sagebrush lizards and horned lizards were the most commonly sampled species.

  • Breeding Birds. We sampled approximately 65 plots for breeding birds using point counts.

  • Raptors. We sampled approximately 100 plots for raptors.

  • Small Mammals. We sampled a total of approximately 50 plots for small mammals using Sherman live traps and Havahart traps.

Plans for Continuation
In 2008 we plan to continue surveys for pygmy rabbits, continue developing an abundance index for pygmy rabbits, and will be begin a movement and critical habitat study on sage grouse. Finally, we will continue a study on raven depredation of sage grouse nests that is primarily funded through a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grant.


Investigators and Affiliations

Christopher L. Jenkins, Conservation Scientist, North America Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, Idaho Falls, Idaho

Funding Sources
U.S. Department of Energy Idaho Operations Office
 


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