Developing a Conservation Management Plan for the Idaho National
Investigators and Affiliations
Christopher L. Jenkins, Conservation Scientist, North America
Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, Idaho Falls, ID
Craig Groves, Conservation Scientist, North America Program,
Wildlife Conservation Society, Bozeman, MT
United States Department of Energy
The sagebrush steppe of western North America is one of the most
endangered ecosystems in the world. Sagebrush steppe is
threatened by soil disturbance (especially associated with
overgrazing) that promotes invasion by exotic annual vegetation
(such as cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum) which in turn alters
natural fire regimes. These types of landscape changes are
having significant effects on sagebrush steppe wildlife. Despite
the widespread nature of the threats to sagebrush steppe, the
INL has experienced only limited disturbance and is likely the
most intact example of sagebrush steppe remaining.
Without an adequate management plan in place the biodiversity of
sagebrush habitats on the INL are at a greater risk of being
degraded. Localized threats to biodiversity on the INL include
livestock grazing in peripheral areas, invasion of cheatgrass (Bromus
tectorum) and crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum),
fire, raven depredation, and road and facility development. In
addition, complex interactions can exist between threats.
Developing a conservation management plan for the INL is important
because it will help preserve one of the best remaining
sagebrush steppe ecosystems in the world. A conservation
management plan is also important to DOE because it will
facilitate land use planning on the INL. For example, with a
conservation management plan in place and an understanding of
the distribution of important biological resources DOE will save
time and money when planning projects such a new construction.
The overall goal of the project is to conserve sagebrush steppe
ecosystems while facilitating land use planning on the INL.
Specific objectives include:
distribution and abundance of pygmy rabbits on the INL.
distribution and abundance of sage grouse on the INL.
biodiversity inventory of the INL Development Zone.
vegetation map for the INL.
conservation priorities on the INL.
interactive GIS for the INL.
conservation management plan for the INL.
Some of the
objectives above will be focused on the entire INL (Pygmy Rabbit
Studies, Sage Grouse Studies, and Vegetation Mapping) while the
Biodiversity Inventory will be focused in two smaller areas in
the south central part of the INL designated the Development
Corridor and Development Zone (Figure 9-11). Thus, conservation
priorities, the interactive planning tool, and the Conservation
Management Plan will only completely cover all important
biological resources within these two areas.
Surveys. In 2006 we conducted developed and applied a novel
ground surveying technique for pygmy rabbits. Specifically, we
developed an approach where observers on snowshoes survey plots
along a series of belt transects. Within each transect observers
are keying in on rabbit microhabitat characteristics (e.g.,
relatively tall sagebrush) and searching for signs of pygmy
rabbit occupancy such as tracks, burrows, or pellets. Detection
probabilities varied based on the presence of snow and other
factors but detection probabilities for the technique were
consistently of 0.70. Using this technique we identified pygmy
rabbit presence in 52 percent of the plots surveyed and we
located a total of 130 burrows systems.
Sage Grouse Surveys
In 2006 we conducted aerial and ground surveys for sage grouse
leks. We found a total of 4 new leks during these surveys.
As part of the biodiversity inventory we selected a suite of
indicator taxa including vegetation, reptiles, passerine birds,
raptors, bats, small mammals, mammalian mesocarnivores, and
ungulates. Accomplishments in 2006 by taxa are as follows:
Vegetation. We sampled 55 modified Whitaker plots.
Reptiles. We sampled reptiles using 14 trapping arrays, 28
visual surveys, and a series of road surveys. We found a total
of 410 individual reptiles of 6 species. Sagebrush lizards and
horned lizards were the most commonly sampled species.
Breeding Birds. We sampled 77 plots for breeding birds using
Burrowing Owls. We sampled the entire Development Zone for
burrowing owls using call back surveys. We found a total of 10
burrowing owl burrows.
Bats. We sampled bats using acoustic sampling in the summer and
cave surveys in the winter. We found a total of 9 bat species
during summer surveys 5 of which are species of conservation
concern as identified in the Idaho Bat Conservation Plan. We
found a total 712 bats overwintering in the three caves that
were surveyed. The majority of overwintering bats were
Townsend’s big eared bats which are a species of conservation
Small Mammals. We sampled a total of 57 plots for small mammals
using Sherman live traps and Havahart traps.
Plans for Continuation
In 2007 we plan to continue surveys for all species mentioned
above and begin surveys for mammalian carnivores and raptors. In
addition, we will be beginning radio telemetry projects on sage
grouse and pygmy rabbits, a study on raven depredation of sage
grouse nests, and a rattlesnake population genetics project.