Conservation Management Plan for the Idaho National Laboratory
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.
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.
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
U.S. Department of Energy Idaho Operations Ofﬁce