Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
It’s December and time again to conduct our annual spotlight surveys for wildlife. A 24-mile route, established almost 20 years ago, is driven on three separate nights beginning just after dark. As we proceed along the route, our powerful spotlights illuminate the habitat on each side of the vehicle allowing us to possibly detect several kinds of animals and numbers of animals not typically seen during our normal workday. This makes these spotlight surveys an integral part of monitoring wildlife species at Pantex.
Fall is the time of year when the young of many species have dispersed to set up their own territories, which increases the chances of observing some of our rarer species. Also, it is late enough in the year that our vegetation has died back, making visibility better. The value of these surveys ranges from simply having the opportunity to monitor nocturnal animals for presence or absence to monitoring long-term trends of numbers or densities of these animals.
We spend much time and effort trying to document and monitor our natural resources, and we utilize that information for protecting them, making land management decisions, judging the effectiveness of our management, and answering questions asked by our management, our customer (the U. S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration), external entities, and the public. Such data is reported annually in various Pantex documents.
On most nights, a spotlight survey at Pantex will yield black-tailed jackrabbits, cottontails, mule deer, striped skunks, and coyotes. Bobcats have been frequently sighted during the last decade. A little less often, a night’s work could include documenting badgers, gray foxes, raccoons, white-tailed deer and, unfortunately, feral cats. In addition to mammals, a spotlight survey might be the only opportunity for us to document short-eared owls, a wintertime visitor to the region.
Coming from a background of working for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, our spotlight surveys are conducted in a manner that data is comparable with Parks and Wildlife’s, as well as among our own data between years.
Obviously, conducting these surveys is more about just consistency in methodology and being able to see eyes. It is also about seeing eye-shine at great distances, through vegetation, and seeing that of species with small eyes, those that don’t shine as bright as others, or even those that don’t shine at all. On top of that, we have to distinguish between mule deer and white-tailed deer, red foxes and grey foxes, striped skunks and badgers, bobcats and coyotes….you get the picture. It often takes time, patience, and the aid of binoculars to make those determinations and sometimes to even get a second look at the eye-shine. With spotlight surveys, the angle and the focused beam of the spotlight are everything in being able to see the eye-shine and subsequently making a determination of the species of animal.
A typical spotlight survey will take us two to three hours to conduct, depending on how many stops that we have to use binoculars and identify eyes that are a considerable distance from the vehicle. Except for the cold, it is usually an enjoyable time and an opportunity to see a little nighttime magic and document more nocturnal species in a couple of hours than we can normally see over the course of a month or even a few years.
During my time with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, I had the opportunity to participate in spotlight surveys in Palo Duro Canyon, the Canadian River bottom, breaks of the Caprock Escarpment, and in the Rolling Plains. Whether in those habitats or on the flat plains of Pantex, it sure is a different world out there at night. Using the lit-up beam of a spotlight, it’s another view of our Wild Pantex, one that most will never get to see. I look forward to them every year for that very reason.
Please feel free to share this link with others that enjoy wildlife or that appreciate entities that strive to contribute to wildlife conservation.
Photo: A bobcat prowling during the nighttime hours on the U. S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration Pantex Plant.
Pantex Emergency Management was recently granted membership in the National Information Sharing Consortium, an independent consortium of civic, federal, and private leaders in public safety, emergency preparedness and response, and information sharing technologies.
NISC was launched in 2012 to improve the state of public safety and emergency management information sharing and interoperability. The organization achieves this goal by sharing, connecting, innovating, and leading. With its NISC membership, Pantex Emergency Management has new access to tools, templates, and lessons learned that will provide value to the site’s emergency response operations.
Most of us who were raised in Texas and the adjoining states in the early and middle portions of the 20
The U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration Pantex Plant where I work happens to still have a good population of Texas horned lizards. In fact, I find they are still abundant in grassland areas of this part of the state. As the Pantex wildlife biologist (and with proper permits in hand) I have had a great opportunity over the last 18 years to continue to play with these lizards. Better yet, one of the first two research projects that we have initiated here at Pantex was one working on Texas horned lizards and other herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) in collaboration with Dr. Richard Kazmaier of West Texas A&M University. We studied this reptile on site for nearly a decade, even using tiny radio-transmitter backpacks for tracking and determining its habitat needs here in the shortgrass prairies of the Southern Great Plains.
One very interesting aspect of our research was a contradiction that we found relative to previously known research on the lizard’s diet. Diet analyses of a large sample of Texas horned lizards at Pantex and another research site studied by West Texas A&M indicated that Panhandle lizards are more generalists in their diet than horned lizards from other areas. These lizards are widely known to primarily consume several species of the harvester ant, most notably the red harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus). Although various species of ants still comprise the majority of their diet, Panhandle horned lizards tend to consume more of the much smaller species of ants, as well as other invertebrate prey.
The fact that these “northern” horned lizards are smaller than those in the rest of the state likely plays a role in this difference of diet. The energetics associated with the smaller body size allows them to subsist on smaller invertebrate prey. Or is it the opposite? Does the small body size come from the lower dependence on the large harvester-ant species? Although harvester-ant colonies may still be an important component of their habitat across their range, being more of a generalist allows the lizards in the Texas Panhandle to survive should harvester-ant colonies be less abundant than in other areas or between years.
Please feel free to share this link with others who enjoy wildlife or that appreciate entities that strive to contribute to wildlife conservation.
Both of these Texas horned lizards exhibited blood-squirting behavior (from the eyes as a defense strategy) upon capture as part of research on the U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration Pantex Plant. Pantex and West Texas A&M staff possessed the required permits to capture and handle these lizards for research purposes.
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry recently made his first visit to the Pantex Plant to observe operations and tour new facilities. He toured the Administrative Support Complex construction site, bays and cells used for weapon assembly and disassembly activities, and a weapon and component staging area. Secretary Perry also viewed the new Confined Large Optical Scintillator Screen and Imaging System (known as CoLOSSIS II) and a live-fire demonstration of the Common Remotely Operated Weapons System. The visit provided Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC an excellent opportunity to showcase Pantex’s important role in America’s security and the site’s ongoing infrastructure revitalization efforts.
Pantex’s Mike Bromley of Projects Management recently received the 2017 American Society for Engineering Management Best Dissertation award at the organization’s International Annual Conference in Huntsville, Alabama.
The engineering and management professionals in the ASEM remarked that Bromley’s dissertation integrated analytical and managerial concerns with quality design and data collection, resulting in conclusions with application to many organizations.
The analysis of his dissertation, Economic Analysis Model for High Reliability Organizations, required significant input related to plant operations, facilities, personnel, costs, events, incidents, and accidents. Bromley said he appreciated the helpful input from many Pantex subject matter experts on meteorology, asbestos, cost estimating, safety analysis, process engineering, and high explosives. He also added that a non-employee could never have collected the required data, and it was a challenge to keep everything unclassified.