The Idaho National Laboratory represents a remote, flat to gently rolling shrub-steppe landscape dominated by sagebrush, native grasses, and forbs. Approximately 256,000 acres have been closed to livestock use for more than 45 years. It is likely the largest block of the least-disturbed sagebrush habitat in the western United States.
This site contains many species that are generally associated with shrub-steppe habitats. Burrowing Owls, Loggerhead Shrikes, Ferruginous Hawks, Sage Sparrows, Brewer?s Sparrows, Sage Thrashers, and Greater Sage-Grouse, are just a few of the passerine and raptor species that can be found here.
There are currently very few, if any, major threats to this site. It was designated as a National Environmental Research Park in 1975, and there is very little access to non-DOE employees. If any of the land was to return to public domain, which is currently unlikely, it would certainly increase agricultural activities, grazing, invasion by noxious weeds, and general disturbance.
The INL is flat to gently rolling with basalt outcrops and volcanic buttes. Cold winters, and hot, arid summers characterize the climate. Precipitation averages less than 10 inches per year, coming mostly in late winter, spring, and fall. Surface water is seasonal and scarce. Soils are mostly shallow Aeolian sandy loams and loess underlain by undifferentiated basalt.
The INL is a controlled access DOE site that employs about 5,000 people who work at facility complexes that occupy less than 5% of the INEEL lands. The remaining land is mostly undeveloped. Livestock grazing is permitted on the peripheral to a 400 square mile core. Only limited recreational opportunities currently exist.