We ensure that all LANL activities maintain compliance with federal and state laws such as the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act.
LANL biologists implement various monitoring programs to protect wildlife and support different objectives of the biological resources program.
- Compliance Monitoring: Threatened and endangered species surveys are required and conducted under the LANL Habitat Management Plan and our federal permits for the federally protected species.
- Long-term Monitoring: Long-term data sets allow LANL biologists to make inferences about population and biodiversity trends through time and space to assess LANL’s impact on wildlife.
- Short-term Monitoring: Short-term datasets are often required to answer specific research questions and provide targeted management recommendations.
Outreach and Collaboration
We collaborate with other federal and state agencies and continually share our knowledge and experiences through outreach opportunities to internal and external audiences.
Internal Outreach: We educate the LANL workforce on biological resource compliance and wildlife protection through:
- Compliance briefings and presentations
- Exhibit development as requested by internal organizations
- Opportunistic education through personal communications with LANL employees
External Outreach: We support the education of future generations across Northern New Mexico through:
- K-12 classroom involvement
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) events
- Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) summer camps
- Expanding your Horizons Workshop
Threatened and Endangered Species
The Threatened and Endangered Species Habitat Management Plan for Los Alamos National Laboratory provides a management strategy for compliance with the Endangered Species Act. It details how threatened and endangered species and their habitats are managed at LANL and contains site plans for federally listed threatened or endangered species with a moderate or high probability of occurring on LANL property.
The following federally listed threatened or endangered species currently have site plans at LANL:
- Jemez Mountains Salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus)
- Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis lucida)
- Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax trailii extimus)
The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher was listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act in 1995. The species breeds only in dense riparian habitats in the southwestern United States. In New Mexico, it is found primarily along the Gila River and Rio Grande. It is vulnerable to the loss, fragmentation, and modification of riparian breeding habitat, including the removal of exotic vegetation along the Rio Grande, where nesting in salt cedar is a regular occurrence.
At LANL, there is one area of environmental interest managed as Southwestern Willow Flycatcher habitat under the Habitat Management Plan.
The Jemez Mountains salamander was listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act in 2013. It is endemic to the Jemez Mountains. This strictly terrestrial, lungless salamander inhabits high elevation, moist, mixed conifer forests with high canopy cover.
At LANL, there are nine areas of environmental interest identified as Jemez Mountains salamander habitat.
The primary threats to the Jemez Mountains salamander on LANL property are habitat loss and degradation from wildland fires, development, and recreational impacts. Another potential threat is the spread of fungal disease from other geographically widespread amphibians.
The Mexican spotted owl was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1993. It is the only subspecies of spotted owl recognized in New Mexico and generally inhabits mixed conifer and ponderosa pine forests in mountains and canyons. A mated pair of adult spotted owls may use general nesting areas throughout their greater than 15-year lifespan.
At LANL there are five areas of environmental interest identified as Mexican spotted owl habitat.
The primary threats to Mexican spotted owl on LANL property are impacts to habitat quality from LANL operations, undeveloped habitat conversion, and noise disturbance during the breeding season.
Protecting Sensitive Species
As stewards of the environment, LANL strives to minimize the impact of operations on sensitive species. LANL biologists define sensitive species as plants and animals not protected by the federal Endangered Species Act or the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but species protected at state or local levels. LANL biologists have implemented guidelines to minimize the impact of LANL operations on sensitive species and protect local biological resources. Protecting sensitive species can help prevent them from becoming federally listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The Sensitive Species Best Management Practices Source Document for Los Alamos National Laboratory (pdf) describes actions we take to protect these species at LANL. This document provides guidance that help LANL employees conduct their work in a way that avoids impacts to these species.
Protecting migratory birds
LANL complies with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by minimizing the impacts of Laboratory operations on migratory bird populations and preventing potential violations of the law.
In the biological sense, a migratory bird is a bird that has a seasonal and somewhat predictable pattern of movement.
At LANL, the most significant risks to migratory birds include:
- Loss, alteration, or fragmentation of habitat
- Mortality from collisions with building windows and guyed towers
- Collisions and electrocutions on power lines
- The potential take of eggs and nestlings during operations that disturb nests during the breeding season
- Entrapment in open pipes, bollards, or fence posts
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, LANL mitigates these risks by integrating migratory bird conservation principles, measures, and best management practices (pdf) into all activities. This is accomplished by focusing on key risk factors associated with LANL activities such as:
- Installation of avian-safe power poles and transmission lines
- Scheduling construction activities around migratory bird nesting seasons
- Invasive weed species eradication
- Installing caps on any open pipes, bollards, or fence posts that have the potential to trap birds
At the LANL we follow the Department of Energy’s pollinator protection plan which is an initiative to support pollinator habitat enhancement. The plan encourages sites to pursue opportunities to protect pollinators and enhance pollinator habitat. In general, managing for pollinators involves providing the basic habitat elements of food, reproduction, and protection.
Invertebrate pollinators such as the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and many bumble bee species—including the western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis), Morrison bumble bee (Bombus morrisoni), and American bumble bee (Bombus pensylvanicus)—are in decline and have been documented in northern New Mexico. If preemptive actions are taken, they can guide best management practices and future management actions that may be necessary if any of these species are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Below are some of the best management practices for monarchs and other native pollinators suggested in the Los Alamos Pollinator Protection Plan, when consistent with the site mission:
- Plant native milkweed and wildflowers where possible for mitigation and restoration and/or to enhance existing habitat. Use seed from native forbs, grasses, and other plant species beneficial to local pollinators, and prioritize plant species that will provide continuous blooms from early spring to late fall for use in restoration and mitigation projects.
- Mow during non-blooming seasons (late October through April). Prioritize mowing activities to occur before July 1, and preferably do not mow from July 1 to October 15. If mowing is necessary during that period, EPC subject matter experts should check the milkweed patches for Monarch eggs, caterpillars, and pupae before mowing.
- Remove invasive species opportunistically. Invasive non-flower species—particularly invasive Eurasian grasses—do not provide food for pollinators and restrict native bee–nesting areas.
- Increase strategies that include native pollinator-friendly plants into standard seed mixes.
- Increase public awareness of the importance of pollinators and the steps that can be taken to protect them.
- Sex ratio of Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) is mediated by phenology and clutch size. 2021. (Ibis 163(3):977-989)
- A field guide for aging passerine nestlings using growth data and predictive modeling. 2021. (Avian Research 12,28)
- Early successional riparian vegetation is important for western Yellow-billed Cuckoo nesting habitat. 2021. (Restoration Ecology e13376)
- Monitoring avian productivity and survivorship at the Sandia Wetlands at Los Alamos National Laboratory 2014–2019 (LA-UR-20-22996)
- Avian communities are decreasing with piñon pine mortality in the southwest (Biological Conservation 226:186–195. 2018)
- Long-term variation in environmental conditions influences host-parasite fitness (Ecology and Evolution 9(13):7688–7703. 2019)
- Large Game Movement between Los Alamos National Laboratory and Pueblo de San Ildefonso (LA-UR-20-28819)
- Investigating effects of soil chemicals on density of small mammal bioindicators using spatial capture-recapture models (PLoS ONE 15(9): e0238870. 2020)
- Development of a Predictive Model for Habitat of the Mexican Spotted Owl in Northern New Mexico. 2008. (The Southwestern Naturalist 53(1):34-38.)