The Idaho National Laboratory and the Sagebrush
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
sagebrush-steppe is an ecosystem in decline due to a number of
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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.
CMP Homepage -
WCS Lost River Sinks project -www.wcs.org/globalconservation/