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October 2010

Idaho National Laboratory Annual Environmental Site Report

The INL Site Long-Term Vegetation Transects: A Comprehensive Review

2009 Breeding Bird Survey Report

Plant and Animal Identification Resources

Idaho National Laboratory Annual Environmental Site Report

2010 First Quarter Surveillance Report

2009 Fourth Quarter Surveillance Report

2009 Breeding Bird
Survey Report

Newspaper in Education
Ask a Scientist website

An Animal of the High Desert- Townsend's Ground Squirrel

Desert Species of the
Month Archive

Breeding Bird Surveys. 

Since 1985, official Breeding Bird Surveys have been conducted on the INL.  BBS surveys on the INL have yielded useful information about population dynamics of native birds, effects of weather and fire on avian abundance, and the breeding status of a number of bird species of concern, including sagebrush obligate species and other species exhibiting declines through their range   More

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  • Wildlife Matching Game
  • Basics of Radiation
  • Plant and Animal Activity
  • Wildlife Coloring Pages
  • Habitat Hangman
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|| Idaho National Laboratory Annual Environmental Site Report

The Idaho National Laboratory Site Environmental Report for Calendar Year 2009 is an overview of environmental monitoring activities conducted on and in the vicinity of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site from January 1 through December 31, 2009. This report includes:

  • Effluent monitoring and environmental surveillance of air, water, soil, vegetation, biota and agricultural products for radioactivity. The results are compared with historical data, background measurements, and/or applicable standards and requirements in order to verify that the INL Site does not adversely impact the environment or the health of humans or biota.
  • A summary of environmental management systems in place to protect air, water, land and other natural and cultural resources impacted by INL Site Operations.
  • Ecological and other scientific research conducted on the INL Site which may be of interest to the reader.

Some highlights of the report:

  • One measure of the achievement of the environmental programs at the INL Site is compliance with applicable environmental regulations, which have been established to protect human health and the environment.  Overall, the INL Site met all federal, state, and local regulatory commitments in 2009.

  • Potential radiological doses to the public from INL Site operations were calculated to evaluate the dose to the population within 80 km (50 mi) of the INL Site facilities. The maximum potential population dose to the approximately 305,938 people residing within an 80-km (50-mi) radius of any INL facility was calculated as 0.52 person-rem, well below that expected from exposure to background radiation (108,608 person-rem).

  • The maximum potential individual doses from consuming waterfowl and big game animals at the INL, based on the highest concentrations of radionuclides measured in samples of these animals, were estimated to be 0.006 mrem and 0.005 mrem, respectively. When summed with the dose estimated for the air pathway (0.069 mrem), the maximally exposed individual could potentially receive a total dose of 0.08 mrem in 2009. This is 0.08 percent of the DOE health-based dose limit of 100 mrem/yr from all pathways for the INL Site.

  • In 2009 there were 19 major ecological research projects taking place on the Idaho National Research Park. The researchers were from Idaho State University, University of Idaho, Boise State University, University of Nevada-Reno, Montana State University, University of Montana, Texas A&M University, Colorado State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the INL, and ESER.

For more information, access the full INL Annual Site Environmental Report at

|| The Idaho National Laboratory Site Long-Term Vegetation Transects:  A Comprehensive Review

The Long-Term Vegetation (LTV) Transects and associated permanent vegetation plots (figure below) were established on what is now the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site, in 1950 for the purpose of assessing the impacts of nuclear energy research and production on surrounding ecosystems. Vegetation abundance data were first collected in 1950 for inclusion in an ecological characterization of the Site. Samples of plant and animal tissues were also collected from these plots and analyzed for radionuclide concentrations on an annual basis for several years. The effort to collect tissue samples was eventually discontinued because the effects of fallout from nuclear reactors were determined to be negligible, at least in terms of radionuclide concentrations in the environment. However, collection of vegetation abundance data has continued on a regular basis for nearly sixty years.

The data generated from the LTV Transects comprises one of the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive vegetation data sets for sagebrush steppe ecosystems in North America. Since their establishment, the LTV Transects have been used extensively for various tasks to support the INL Site mission and have been the basis for major milestones in understanding practical and theoretical ecology of sagebrush steppe vegetation dynamics.

The eleventh LTV data set was collected during the summer of 2006. Three primary tasks were undertaken in association with the 2006 data collection. The first task involved a major effort in updating and describing the data archives. The second includes a thorough documentation of data collection methods and recommendations for standardizing the process for future data collection efforts on the LTV plots. The third task incorporates summarization and analysis of the 2006 and all previously collected abundance data.

|| Results

With regard to perennial species, sagebrush cover continues to decline across the core LTV plots, and the decline cannot be directly attributed to sagebrush losses in plots that have burned over the past few decades. Conversely, green rabbitbrush cover continues to increase across the core plots. At least some of the increase in green rabbitbrush can be attributed to increases in cover on plots that have recently burned. The mean cover of crested wheatgrass, which was not planted on the LTV plots, is steadily increasing at a localized scale and has the potential to substantially change the composition of plant communities in which it becomes established.

In terms of annual species, the distribution of cheatgrass has increased over the 56-year study period, but average density and frequency have not changed significantly between 1950 and 2006. The distribution of introduced annual forbs has increased considerably over the study period, specifically within the past decade. The density and frequency of species in this functional group has increased quasi-exponentially over the same time period. Finally, introduced annual forbs and native annual forbs appear to function very differently in sagebrush steppe plant communities at the INL Site.

The Idaho National Laboratory Site Long-Term Vegetation Transects:  A Comprehensive Review, March 2010
Authors: Amy D. Forman, Roger D. Blew, Jackie R. Hafla
To read the full report, please go to

|| Breeding Bird Survey 2009 Results

Breeding bird surveys (BBSs) have been conducted annually since 1985 (no surveys were conducted in 1992 and 1993) to monitor bird populations on the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site. In 2009, we conducted surveys from June 3 to 30 along 13 established routes, five of which are part of a nationwide survey administered by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and eight of which circumscribe INL Site facilities. We documented 5,072 birds from 55 species during these surveys. Bird abundance was greater than the 1985-2008 average of 5,018 birds, but the number of species observed (i.e., species richness) was lower than the previous 22-year average of 59.

Compared with past surveys, we observed similar patterns of bird abundance among those species that are typically most numerous. In 2009, the five species that were surveyed in greatest abundance were horned lark (Eremophila alpestris, n = 1,466), western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta, n = 1,071), Brewer’s sparrow (Spizella breweri, n = 743), sage thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus, n = 516), and sage sparrow (Amphispiza belli, n = 367). During 23 years of breeding bird surveys on the INL Site, these species have been the five most abundant 18 times, and in the remaining five years they were among the six most abundant species. Considering declines reported in populations of sagebrush-obligate species throughout the intermountain west, this trend indicates that the quality of sagebrush-steppe habitat on the INL Site remains stable.

Species observed during the 2009 BBSs that are considered imperiled or critically imperiled in Idaho include the long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus, n = 2), Franklin’s gull (Larus pipixcan, n = 26), and grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum, n = 4).


With over two decades of BBS data collected, we are well positioned to conduct a long-term analysis of bird population trends for species occupying the INL Site. In the near future, we plan to analyze all data from past BBSs, and to investigate long-term trends in bird abundance and species richness. The results of such an analysis will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication and will be included in an annual report to the U.S. Department of Energy. 

To read the full report, please go to


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