Environmental Report

Publication of the Environmental Surveillance, Education and Research  Program

March 2004

New on the ESER website

Breeding Bird Survey 2003

Habitat Hangman

Results of 2004 Midwinter Raptor Count

Wildfire on the INEEL

Desert Species of the Month

An Animal of the High Desert - Coyote

Desert Species of the Month Archive

Environmental Surveillance:
Focus on Food and Agricultural Products

The INEEL site is situated in a large agricultural area that produces many food products. The ESER Team monitors the following foods for potential migration and deposition of effluents from the INEEL. These foods were chosen for their abundance in the upper Snake River valley and their availability for testing.

  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
  • Wheat


Environmental Education

New classroom presentations available

  • Geology of the Snake River Plain
  • How Nuclear Reactors Work
  • Comparison of Energy Sources
  • Biodiversity and Threatened Species

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Contact Us

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


New National Environmental Research Park Study Initiated: Depredation Behavior in Coyotes



The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Wildlife Research Center and Utah State University recently began a project to investigate coyote depredation behavior on sheep and its implications for control techniques. The study required capturing thirty coyotes on the Idaho National Environmental Research Park (NERP) on the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL). The Department of Energy-Idaho Operations Office manages the NERP and is providing logistical and technical support for the study through its Environmental Surveillance, Education and Research Program.
Each of the coyotes was fitted with a radio collar which emits unique frequencies so study animals are individually recognized and tracked during the duration of the study. Four of the coyotes were also fitted with unique Global Positioning System (GPS) collars. These collars record the animalís positions at five-minute intervals from the time of capture until March 10th when the collar automatically drops off the animal and is retrieved by project scientists. Information is then downloaded from the GPS unit providing a detailed map of the animal's movements. The data gathered through this project will provide valuable information for decisions about lethal and non-lethal control of coyotes, as well as substantially contributing to the understanding of coyote behavioral ecology.

Since the pioneer days, coyotes have been destroyed regularly throughout the western United States because of their depredations on domestic animals. Millions of coyotes in the western United States have been destroyed, yet the coyote problem still persists today. Studies have shown that not all coyotes kill sheep and social status is a key factor of those that do. This study will track the movements and hunting behavior of alpha (dominant), beta (younger adult offspring) and transient (searching for a mate or territory) animals so that more specific control methods may be employed.

This study is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Wildlife Research Centerís Logan, Utah, Field Station under the direction of Dr. Mike Jaeger, Research Scientist. Utah State University PhD candidate Mike Ebinger will conduct the study, with assistance from the ESER Program.

For more information visit the ESER website: .

Breeding Bird Survey 2003 Results Published

Since 1985, official Breeding Bird Surveys have been conducted on the INEEL. The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a roadside route survey of avifauna designed to monitor abundance and distribution of birds in the United States and southern Canada. Data from these censuses are one of the main sources of information on avian population trends across the continent. These surveys are conducted in June every year.

BBS surveys on the INEEL 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.

From June 1st to June 25th 2003, 14 permanent survey routes located at the INEEL were surveyed for birds. A total of 5,844 individuals representing 67 species of birds were recorded along the routes. This is above the average of 4,629 birds/year recorded from 1985-2002. Horned Lark and Western Meadowlark comprised more than 50 percent of all birds counted on the INEEL. Both of these species have increased in recent years, most likely as a consequence of large fires converting sagebrush to grassland habitat. Species of special concern recorded in 2003 included Long-billed Curlew, Ferruginous Hawk, Swainsonís Hawk, Sage Grouse, and Loggerhead Shrike. Burrowing Owl, a Bureau of Land Management species of special concern, was not observed in 2003.

See the full report at

Sue Vilord

NERP Project Updates November 2003-January 2004

Pygmy Rabbit Release: No radio signals from previously released radio collared pygmy rabbits have been recorded in the last month, though one collared offspring is still active.  One adult and one offspring rabbit have been observed and are believed to be alive, though their collars may have malfunctioned.

Release for the next study group of rabbits from Washington State University is expected to occur during the month of February with cooperating weather.

Big Game Surveys:  Big Game Counts were conducted during January on the INEEL. Fifty groups of pronghorn were observed with a total of 732 individuals being observed. Extrapolated, it is estimated that there are approximately 3,052 pronghorn on site which is within the average number that winter each year on the INEEL. Elk observed on site totaled 528.  It is estimated with this count that there are approximately 1,346 elk on site. This is the most elk counted during the winter on the INEEL since these counts have been conducted. Sixty-four mule deer were also observed during the Big Game Counts. Snow cover and bright sunny days greatly increased visibility of mule deer so counts this year were above other years. It is estimated that 145 mule deer are currently on the site.

Raptor Counts:  Eagle counts were conducted during January 2004.  The counts covered the majority of the INEEL where paved roads provided access.  Not only were eagles counted but other raptors, and ravens were also tallied.  Ravens were the most abundant bird counted this year, with a total of 46 individuals observed.  This number is down from last yearís record of 140 individuals, but is above the average of 27.  Rough-legged hawk numbers were also down from last yearís count of 301 to 28 individuals observed this year.  The number is also below the yearly average of 69.  This may be due to more snow cover this year than last.  Seven golden eagles, two bald eagles, two great horned owls, one American kestrel, and one northern shrike were also observed.  The eagle observation numbers were similar to past years.

Bat Survey at Rattlesnake Cave: An inventory of bats hibernating in West Rattlesnake Cave was conducted in January 2004. This survey was a cooperative effort with Idaho Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Idaho Cave Survey. Two species of bats were observed during the survey: Townsend's big-eared bats (175), and western small-footed myotis (37). A report was generated by Idaho Cave Survey and is available upon request. 

Scott Earl (, Idaho Cave Survey