Environmental Report

Publication of the Environmental Surveillance, Education and Research  Program

January 2003

New Publications

- 2001 Annual Site Environmental Report

- 1999 Summary Report

- 2000 Annual Site Environmental Report

- 2001 Third Quarter Environmental Surveillance  Report

What's New on the ESER website

Results from ESER's network of low-volume air samplers are now available in searchable form. 

INEEL Vertebrate Species Lists

Discover habits and coping techniques of the animals and plants of the INEEL in the Animals and Plants of the INEEL Activity Book.

Desert Species of the Month

An Animal of the High Desert - the Sagebrush Lizard


Environmental Surveillance:
Focus on
Air Monitoring

Air is the most significant pathway by which contaminants from the INEEL could reach members of the public.  The ESER Program maintains a network of low-volume air samplers to monitor for airborne radioactivity from the INEEL.


Request a classroom visit 

- Threatened and Endangered Species - Pygmy Rabbits

- Basic GPS

- Plant and Animal Desert Adaptations

- Plants and Animals of the INEEL

- Basic Radiation and Environmental Surveillance

-Request Visit

Contact Us

Contact us:
ESER Program
S. M. Stoller Corp.
1780 First Street
Idaho Falls, ID  83401

Pygmy Rabbit Release 
on the INEEL


Weighing less than a pound, the pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis) is the smallest North American rabbit species.  Pygmy rabbits may be found in sagebrushed areas of southern Idaho, Washington, eastern Oregon, northeastern California, Nevada, and Wyoming. 

Pygmy rabbits are sagebrush obligates, meaning they require sagebrush habitat to survive.  They are dependent upon sagebrush for food, which comprises 98% of their winter diet and a good portion of their spring and summer diet.

Pygmy rabbit numbers have drastically declined in the past decade, even in protected areas such as the INEEL.  This decline is primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation through development and agricultural conversion.  Pygmy rabbits have been listed by the federal government as a species of concern and are a candidate for threatened and endangered species listing.  In Idaho they are listed as a species of concern.  

A subspecies of pygmy rabbit, the Great Basin pygmy rabbit, is near extinction.  The Great Basin pygmy rabbit is found only in eastern Washington.  Probably less than 50 rabbits of this subspecies remain.  Though genetically related to our native Idaho species, genetic studies by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) suggest that these rabbits have been isolated from Idaho and Oregon populations for as long as 7,000-10,000 years. Because of this, translocating rabbits from neighboring states isn't a good option to boost Washington populations.

To preserve the Washington's last remaining population of the Great Basin pygmy rabbit, rabbits were captured from eastern Washington and a captive breeding program was initiated to raise and release Washington pygmy rabbits into two protected areas in eastern Washington. 

Before scientists launched the captive breeding effort in Washington, they captured and bred more common Idaho pygmy rabbits so they could study and perfect rearing techniques.  Under the direction of Dr. Rod Sayler from Washington State University,  this model population of Idaho pygmy rabbits were reintroduced to the INEEL this fall.  Results from the Idaho reintroductions are intended to help improve the success of reintroductions for the endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, scheduled to begin in the summer of 2003.

Twenty-two rabbits were released on the INEEL wearing light-weight radio collars. Plastic burrow systems were provided to each of the rabbits to provide protection from digging coyotes, badgers and other predators, as well as  shelter from the harsh INEEL environment.  

Dr. Rod Sayler and Rob Westra 

Four of the released rabbits are still alive and are being successfully monitored at the release site.  An additional fifth rabbit is still alive, but was returned to captivity at WSU because it developed an eye irritation

"It is far too early to say much about the survival rates of these first released animals, but we are actually encouraged by what weve seen so far," said Dr. Sayler. "We would not have been surprised if wed lost the majority of animals in the first week, but this did not happen."  

WSU graduate student Rob Westra and Stoller wildlife biologist Sue Vilord will continue to track the animals using the signals from the animals' radio collars, obtain precise GPS locations, and observe them and their habitat use directly.  The outcome of this research should provide valuable information to assist in the successful reintroduction of Great Basin pygmy rabbits.



ESER Wildlife Biologist Sue Vilord

The Great Basin pygmy rabbit captive breeding program is a cooperative project involving the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington State University, the Oregon Zoo, and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park.  The Idaho reintroduction program is being conducted on the Idaho National Environmental Research Park through the ESER Program under the supervision of the Department of Energy-Idaho Operations Office.