December 2008

Surveillance | Land Management | Education | Research | Conservation Management

New on the ESER Website

2008 First Quarter Surveillance Report

2008 Second Quarter Surveillance Report

2007 Annual Site Environmental Report

Newspaper in Education Ask a Scientist website


Desert Species of the Month

An Animal of the High Desert-Yellow-bellied Marmot

Desert Species of the Month Archive


Land Management:  Focus on  INL Mammal Species List

Thirty seven mammal species are documented to occur on the INL.  Fourteen more are listed as possibly occurring on the INL.                         More


Environmental Education

ESER staff members are available for presentations to groups and classrooms in southeastern Idaho. Presentations are adapted to grade-level and are free of charge.

Presentations available
Schedule a presentation:
Alana Jensen


Contact Us
Contact us:
ESER Program
S. M. Stoller Corp.
120 Technology Drive
Idaho Falls, ID 83401




The Idaho National Laboratory and the Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystem

Sagebrush-steppe is a type of dry habitat characterized by sagebrush and other shrubs and grasses. The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site lies in the largest sagebrush-steppe in North America. The name "sagebrush-steppe" comes from sagebrush, which is the most abundant plant species that grows in this ecosystem and "steppe," which is a word describing a large, dry, level grassland having few or no trees.

The sagebrush-steppe is an ecosystem in decline due to a number of threats.

  • Human Disturbance

  • Livestock

  • Wildland Fire

  • Invasive Species

  • Sagebrush Control

  • Energy Development

  • Infrastructure Development

Habitats on most of the INL Site have been safeguarded from many disturbances for over 50 years, making it the largest remnant of high quality sagebrush steppe ecosystem in the United States.  The INL Site consists of diverse plant community types and habitats which are home to a diversity of wildlife, including sensitive and sagebrush-obligate species.  These characteristics make the INL Site an ecologically important habitat to study the sagebrush steppe in an intact and relatively undisturbed ecosystem.

Conservation Management Plan

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

Developing a conservation management plan (CMP) for the INL Site is important because it will help conserve the largest remaining native unimpacted sagebrush steppe ecosystems in the North America. The CMP is intended to minimize disruption to routine site operations and cleanup activities as well as better position the DOE to offer the INL Site as an attractive site for new projects through considered and deliberate management of sensitive, threatened, and endangered species and associated habitat.

Two main objectives of the INL Conservation Management Plan are to:

·         Maintain data on abundance and distribution of sensitive species to support National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance.

·         Put into place a proactive plan for land management to support DOE’s INL mission, to provide DOE with mechanisms for ensuring compliance, to provide a structure for ensuring appropriate management goals, objectives, and/or strategies are developed to facilitate DOE’s stewardship of INL’s cultural and natural resources, and to implement an ecosystem management approach for ecological resources on the INL Site.

The CMP is a partnership between the Department of Energy, Stoller ESER Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, and BEA, with other groups taking part in the planning and execution of the plan, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, area universities and  Idaho’s Sage Grouse Working Groups.

CMP Approach

The first stages of the CMP approach are to conduct vegetation mapping, biodiversity inventories, and sensitive species inventories.  These data will be added to existing data to begin setting conservation priorities.  Once those priorities have been set, an interactive GIS tool will be created to assist INL managers in planning new development and a comprehensive Conservation Management Plan document will be developed. 


Vegetation Mapping Progress:  In spring of 2007, color-infrared digital imagery was collected at 1 meter ground sample distance across the entire INL Site. Field data collection was conducted in June, July and August of 2008. Linking the plant community classification to the delineated map is expected to occur in winter of 2009 with field accuracy assessments to occur in spring and summer of 2009. The final report and project completion is expected in 2010.

Biodiversity Inventory Progress:  Indicator species, including vegetation biodiversity, reptiles, passerine birds, raptors, small mammals, bats, and mid-sized mammalian carnivores are being inventoried.  Survey progress to date:

·         Vegetation (~ 110 plots)

·         Reptiles (14 trapping arrays, ~ 88 visual, and road surveys)

·         Passerine Birds (~ 137 plots)

·         Raptors (burrowing owl transects, raptor nest survey)

·         Small Mammals (~ 112 plots)

·         Bats (45 plots, 3 caves)

·         Midsized Mammalian Carnivores (trapping)

Special Species Inventory Progress:  We are currently conducting INL Site-wide surveys on the distribution and abundance of two at-risk sagebrush obligate species – sage grouse and pygmy rabbit. The surveys are designed to determine the distribution of these species and their critical use areas. 

Thirty four sage grouse were trapped and radio collared during spring of 2008. Data from these collared-birds will provide information on critical habitat important to sage grouse life history and will yield information concerning mortality, cause of mortality and survivorship. Location data will be used to qualify and quantify key habitats and sites.

Our first pygmy rabbit survey was completed in 2006-07 and then expanded across the INL site in 2007-08. A third season of pygmy rabbit surveys in 2008-09 will provide information to more accurately estimate population numbers. Parts of this survey work are also being conducted with the University of Idaho.

State and federal agencies cooperatively identify plant and animal populations that are in decline or have lost important habitat, and population persistence is imperiled. These species are published in a state species of concern list and are referred to as State Special Status Species. State-listed species, including Greater Sage Grouse and pygmy rabbits, have been documented on the INL Site. Inventories are being conducted to collect abundance and distribution patterns for rare species and the extent of their needed habitat. 

Targeted weed surveys are also being conducted to identify State of Idaho designated noxious weeds within the INL Development Zone.

Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCAs) are formal agreements between the USFWS and one or more parties to address the conservation needs of proposed or candidate species, or species likely to become candidates, before they become listed as endangered or threatened. A component of the CMP will be the creation of a CCA with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure long-term survival and conservation of sage grouse and pygmy rabbit and their habitats within lands owned by DOE-ID.

ESER CMP Homepage -
WCS Lost River Sinks project