Sensitive Animal Species Inventory on the INL
Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystem Reserve
Jeremy P. Shive
The Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystem Reserve (SSER)
was designated by Secretary of Energy Bill
Richardson in 1999. The SSER covers approximately 115 square
miles located in the northwest corner of the Idaho National
Laboratory (INL). The SSER contains a diversity of vegetation
communities that is fairly representative of communities found
across the INL.
The Sagebrush Steppe
Ecosystem Reserve study area (shown in blue) on the
Idaho National Laboratory.
The SSER Final Management Plan (2004)
identified four management goals which are used as a
framework to facilitate long-term health of this unique ecosystem.
A report, Sensitive Animal Species Inventory on the INL Sagebrush
Steppe Ecosystem Reserve, was released in November 2007. This
report addresses the first goal, which is to “establish a baseline
of resource data to identify and prioritize immediate needs for
To meet this objective a project was
conducted during 2007 to perform an inventory survey for selected
sensitive animal species across the SSER. This report
discusses results for pygmy rabbits, sage-grouse, bald eagles, and
Pygmy rabbits - Pygmy
rabbits are considered a sagebrush obligate species and rely
directly on sagebrush steppe habitat for survival. Given the
degradation or direct loss of healthy sagebrush steppe across the
western U.S., this species’ persistence may eventually become
threatened by habitat loss. No formal surveys for pygmy rabbits had
been completed across the SSER and documenting current presence and
distribution can assist with land management decisions and help to
future changes in the pygmy rabbit population.
Greater Sage Grouse -
Greater sage-grouse were once a candidate for federal Threatened and
Endangered status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but after
extended review were denied listing in 2005. Sage grouse remain a
species of concern and continue to be threatened by the loss or
conversion of sagebrush steppe habitat across the western U.S.
Bald Eagles - Bald eagles
have been declared an endangered species since 1967 by a law that
predated the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In 1995 the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service upgraded the status of the bald eagle from
‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’ in the lower 48 states. On June 28,
2007 bald eagles were officially removed from the endangered list,
but will still maintain federal protection status.
Hawks - Ferruginous hawks are on the USFWS species of
concern list and have been observed nesting on the INL in the past.
Nesting ferruginous hawks are sensitive to disturbance and are known
to abandon nests when threatened by nearby activity.
This report represents the first formal
surveys on the SSER for sensitive species. The table below provides
summary information regarding the survey results, current population
status (based on these survey data and previous field data), and
potential human-induced impacts that could pose a threat to each
For more information about survey methods and
results, please view the full report at
Idaho Falls RadNet Monitoring Station
Existing Idaho Falls
RadNet, formerly Environmental
Radiation Ambient Monitoring System (ERAMS), is a national network
of monitoring stations that regularly collect air, precipitation,
drinking water, and milk samples for analysis of radioactivity. The
RadNet network has been used to track environmental releases
resulting from nuclear emergencies and to provide baseline data
during routine conditions. Data generated from RadNet's predecessor,
ERAMS, provides the information base for making decisions necessary
to ensure the protection of public health.
Provides data for nuclear
emergency response assessments.
Provides data on ambient
levels of radiation in the environment.
Informs the general public
and public officials.
The ESER Program currently operates a
high-volume air sampler and collects precipitation and drinking
water in Idaho Falls for this national program and routinely sends
samples to EPA’s Eastern Environmental Radiation Facility for
analyses. The RadNet data collected at Idaho Falls are not reported
by the ESER Program but are available through the EPA ERAMS website
|Model of new RadNet station
The RadNet air program is undergoing
an expansion and upgrade and the Idaho Falls station operated by the
ESER Program will be replaced by a new air station as part of the
upgrade. This new station will provide gamma data in
near-real-time that will be transmitted to a central database
accessible to both decision makers and the public. This new monitor
will continue to submit filters twice weekly for fixed laboratory
analyses, and will be equipped with an alpha/beta counting system,
which improves upon the traditional beta only capability. The
expanded and upgraded system is intended to improve geographical and
population coverage and better support response to potential
national radiation emergencies.