Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
Yet another publication has come out of a research collaboration that studied black-tailed prairie dogs and western burrowing owls on and around the U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration Pantex Plant from 2000–2005. Seven manuscripts have been published and two others have recently been accepted and are in publication.
Black-tailed prairie dogs at Pantex on alert.
Sixteen years ago, Pantex sought bids for a contractor to collaborate on research focusing on black-tailed prairie dogs and wildlife that are associated with habitat diversity promoted by the area consisting of burrows, short cover, bare-ground and a plant community that differs from the adjacent prairie. Pantex needed information for management decisions, and the black-tailed prairie dog was under review for federal listing as "threatened" following petitioning by one or more environmental groups. The western burrowing owl is dependent on prairie dogs for habitat (burrows and short cover) and is also attracted to the rich insect, amphibian, reptile, bird and small mammal communities that are known to inhabit prairie dog colonies.
The collaboration that ensued included Pantex, Texas Tech University and the U.S. Geological Survey's Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Texas Tech. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also contributed, which allowed study sites located away from Pantex to be included, extending the study across the Southern High Plains. Several studies were initiated and conducted as multi-year, comprehensive research projects, and most have since been published in the peer-reviewed or refereed literature. There is also a popular article on burrowing owls that will appear in a magazine this winter.
So, what is the big deal? The work contributes to the information base on these two mentioned special status species and the habitat that prairie dog colonies provide to other species. Eight of the publications are peer-reviewed, which implies that the research was set up to yield scientific results, and scientists agree that interpretations will be valuable to conservation of the subject species and habitats. The popular article will share the work on the amazing little burrowing owl with birdwatchers and citizens — not at all unimportant to its conservation since prairie dog colonies constitute the owl's habitat, and prairie dogs, often considered a pest, are highly persecuted through control efforts. Most of all, the productivity of the collaboration that worked on the studies represents dedication to regional wildlife issues. Among the publications, there is a good mix of senior (first) authors being Pantex staff (three) and university staff (six).
Many thanks go out to the students, professors and cooperating landowners as well as the decision makers at Pantex. Altogether, these entities are great contributors to "Wild Pantex."
Titles of manuscripts, year and publication:
“Noteworthy distributional records of the prairie vole in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles,” 2003, Southwestern Naturalist
"Effects of radiotransmitter necklaces on behaviors of adult male western burrowing owls,” 2007, Journal of Wildlife Management
“Effects of human landuse on western burrowing owl foraging and activity budgets,” 2008, Journal of Raptor Research
“Avian use of black-tailed prairie dog colonies in shortgrass prairie,” 2015, Great Plains Research
“Factors influencing burrowing owl abundance in prairie dog colonies in the Southern High Plains of Texas,” in press, Journal of Raptor Research
“Tracking burrowing owls,” 2016, in press, Bird Watcher's Digest
Western burrowing owls are quite common in and near the prairie dog colonies on the Pantex facility.
In July and August, Pantex hosted the Office of Enterprise Assessments for a complete multi-topic inspection. The EA team consisted of approximately 100 subject matter experts in the topical areas of Safeguards and Security.
During the EA inspection, the Protective Force was required to perform a wide variety of tasks to demonstrate proficiency in protecting the site. During the inspection process, the Protective Force performed more than 250 limited scope performance tests. These tests included firearm proficiency, general knowledge testing, Special Nuclear Material recognition, use of deadly force, physical fitness proficiency and donning personal protective equipment. In most of these tests, the Protective Force performed at 100 percent according to the proficiency standards outlined in DOE Orders.
“During daily inspection update meetings, Protective Force management relayed comments that they had received by the EA team. Some of the comments included that the force was ‘well prepared,’ ‘well trained,’ ‘professional’ and ‘committed’ among other great remarks.” Audy Jones, Safeguards and Security Operations, said.
In the force‑on‑force portion of the inspection, the Protective Force was tested against a variety of simulated attack scenarios. These scenarios included an adversary team attacking the site at different hours of the day with a multitude of weapons using an array of tactics. The Protective Force was able to quickly recognize the threat to the site and, by following established plans developed within the guidelines outlined within the use of force policy, neutralize the adversary prior to them completing their mission.
“At the end of the exercise, the EA team stated that they should have videotaped the exercise as they had not witnessed this level of professionalism in an exercise at any of the sites they had visited previously. They went on to say that the bar has just been set for other sites.” said Michael Mitchell with Protective Force Operations and Training.
The EA team recognized the Pantex Protective Force their outstanding performance during the entire inspection. EA team members stated that Pantex is only the second site in the history of the inspection process to go through a complete multi-topic inspection and not receive any findings or issues in the final report.
Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
The four remaining satellite‑marked Swainson’s Hawks departed from their nesting territories and are well on their way south towards their wintering grounds in Argentina. The hawks are strung out in migration, with one each in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico.
Attrition has occurred due to mortality and exhausted battery lives. A number of them have been retrieved and will be refurbished for use next summer. West Texas A&M University, the USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Texas Tech University and Pantex have data of activity related to wind farms gathered throughout the hawks’ annual life cycle, which includes in their nesting territories, along their migration pathways and in their winter territories in Argentina. This work serves as a major contribution to the U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration’s accomplishments under Executive Order 13186, Responsibility of Federal Agencies to Protect Migratory Birds. Among other things, this executive order promotes research, partnerships and outreach.
Our data, when overlain with maps of wind farms in North, Central, and South America, has enabled us to develop risk models for this species. Combined, all of our marked birds migrate along a narrow path the whole distance between here and the wintering area in Argentina. Data from other regions, when combined with ours, suggest that the entire population of this species takes this same narrow corridor. Especially interesting is that this path includes traversing a narrow mountain pass in Central America. This also begs the question on how many other species and individual birds pass through this same pass. Wind farm proponents have also found this same pass to be suitable for development. Thus, risk models involving situations like this are of great conservation value.
We are now transitioning our work to see if fledgling/juvenile Swainson’s hawks take the same paths and use the same areas, and if windfarms pose more risks to the inexperienced youngsters. Juveniles do not nest and it is unknown how and where they spend the first two years of their lives.
We have other types of data based on before and after turbine installation, distances from turbines and habitat type. This applies to songbirds, bats, and of course, birds of prey. We even have productivity and prey delivery data from nests at various distances from turbines. Our data were useful when eagle survey data was requested by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of our inquiry about the need for an Eagle Take Permit (accidental mortality of eagles at turbines).
These projects make up the latest of a long line of research projects on migratory birds that Pantex has worked on with universities, including those on western burrowing owls, purple martins and avian use of black‑tailed prairie dog colonies. These latest projects include monitoring associated with the Pantex Renewable Energy Project.
West Texas A&M University student Dustin Henderson releases a Swainson’s hawk that is sporting leg bands and a satellite transmitter. If you look closely, you can see the antenna coming off the bird’s back.
Dating back more than seven decades, some of the Pantex buildings are in need of repairs. Recently, three stations received an overhaul as a Quality of Life initiative. Problems in these facilities included insulation, rusted doors and lights and non-functioning utilities.
“They were simply worn out. They were freezing cold during the winter, full of dust in the spring, and hot and full of bugs in the summer,” said Debbie Weeks with Infrastructure Projects.
The renovation team overcame myriad challenges to complete the work on schedule, including changed site conditions, Panhandle weather, electrical outages, resource constraints and scheduled coordination. Success was only made possible through the commitment of the team, a high level of cooperation across departments and management support.
“The biggest challenges we faced involved the dilapidated state. Almost everything we removed or replaced revealed more problems that needed to be addressed. The team really worked together to figure out and implement the best solutions safely and efficiently,” said Weeks.
The planning phase for the project began in March of 2013. Building 1 was up first on the drawing board, and the contractor began field work in November. Despite a typical Panhandle winter, we finished before Valentine’s Day in 2014.
Building 2 followed suit, and work began in July of 2014, with completion in January 2015.
Building 3 presented some bigger challenges. An entire abandoned control bank and a trailer of wire were removed, and a functional millwork cabinet with streamlined console was installed. It received a coat of spray on insulation and was completed in July 2015.
Renovations at all three locations included new HVAC units, doors, window tint, epoxy flooring, dimmable LED lights, sidewalk lights, storage cabinets, traffic monitors, bird deterrents, pest deterrents and fixtures. Where needed, walls and ceilings were patched and painted, acoustical tiles were installed and exterior paint was applied.
“Now that the renovations are complete, many have commented especially on the comfort and functionality. The before and after pictures show the marked difference in the appearance,” added Weeks. “But to me, it went much deeper than that. Our entire team really took this project to heart and embraced the concept of improving the working conditions. It was very rewarding to us to help improve the quality of life,” said Weeks.
Integrating organizations across two states (and two time zones) can be complex. The divisions within the Safeguards, Security, & Emergency Services organization have been working to integrate, standardize and consolidate their many processes at the Pantex Plant and Y‑12 National Security Complex and are making great progress.
Linda Pyatt, Y-12 S&S Performance Assurance Issues Management, assists Gannon Tucker, the CNS SS&ES change control administrator based at Pantex, with consolidating security's document control.
The initial approach was to simply enable department‑level managers to integrate their processes with their counterparts. They were able to identify many ways to integrate, but it became difficult to fully execute those ideas. An Integration Management Team was created and charged with facilitating the divisions through this complex process. The team took on a systems approach and assisted each department manager with developing an integration plan for his or her group then guided and assisted them in surmounting obstacles as they worked through their plans.
Brian Deorocki of SS&ES Operations Management at Pantex explained, “Individual department managers focus on their areas and are not always able to see the big picture as it relates to all of the internal and external connections. The team, however, is able to see the system as a whole and is better able to integrate the moving pieces, so to speak.”
A steering committee oversees integration efforts and resolves issues that could not be resolved at the department level. The committee is comprised of the four direct reports to the SS&ES vice president. Ultimately, the S&S steering committee approves all integrating actions. The Integration Management Team works closely with various teams from Booz Allen Hamilton and is accountable to the steering committee to ensure no independent effort exists that will conflict with the CNS five absolutes.
These positive working relationships have enabled the development of integration plans and consistent processes. For example, the administration of random drug and alcohol testing can now take place at either site for visiting personnel. Also, the Annual Security Refresher Briefing had been a requirement for all personnel at Y-12 when the DOE order only required it for cleared personnel; that process is now standardized at both CNS sites and complies with the DOE order. Weekly security shares, used as security reminders during meetings, are now used jointly at both sites and can be accessed on the CNS intranet. In many cases, just the formalization and documentation of some long‑established informal processes naturally fit into the integration effort. The SS&ES integration strategy has been to work with each program separately and simultaneously.
Performance Assurance is leading the way toward integrating both security programs. This department provides internal services to divisions and easily transcends across those division lines, with standardized processes for assessments, issues management and performance testing. Performance assurance activities can also effectively identify gaps in other integration efforts warranting attention. To date, Performance Assurance is operating as one team to fully integrate the program across the enterprise.
SS&ES teams continue integrating the Pantex and Y-12 programs. A strong foundation cannot occur over night, but CNS security personnel are striving to see it completed soon.
Ken Freeman, SS&ES vice president, said, “The integration effort has been challenging, but we are very pleased with the work our employees are accomplishing. Through their continued collaborative and cooperative efforts, we anticipate having even greater success in FY 2016.”