January 2008

Surveillance | Land Management | Education | Research | Conservation Management

New on the ESER Website

2007 Second Quarter Surveillance Report

2006 INL Annual Site Environmental Report

Newspaper in Education Ask a Scientist website


Desert Species of the Month

An Animal of the High Desert - Pygmy Rabbit

Desert Species of the Month Archive


Land Management:  Focus on  the Plant Communities, Ethnoecology, and Flora of the INL

Establishment of the National Reactor Testing Station on the sagebrush desert of the upper Snake River Plain in 1949 had an unforeseen public benefit:  the protection of a rich natural flora and fauna, a reservoir of the genetic diversity of sagebrush steppe ecosystems. 


Environmental Education

Ask a Scientist website and Post Register column

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



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 management adjustment.”

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 ferruginous hawks.

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 understand 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.

Ferruginous 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 species.

For more information about survey methods and results, please view the full report at http://www.stoller-eser.com/PDF/2007SSERFinalReport.pdf

Idaho Falls RadNet Monitoring Station

Existing Idaho Falls RadNet monitor.

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.

RadNet's objectives:

  • 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 (http://www.epa.gov/enviro/html/erams/). 

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.