Office of Environmental Management

Rarely Seen Idaho Wildlife Focus of Earth Day Booth

May 1, 2018

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Trent Armstrong takes a quiz on clean transportation at the Fluor Idaho bicycle booth at Earth Day.
Trent Armstrong takes a quiz on clean transportation at the Fluor Idaho bicycle booth at Earth Day.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – To a casual observer, the landscape of DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory Site in the eastern Idaho Arco Desert is a typical mountain desert, but two above-average water years have altered that view. 

   EM cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho sponsored a booth at this year’s Earth Day celebration in Idaho Falls to educate the public about the unique wildlife that has appeared as a result of the surplus of water in the Big Lost River basin.

   One of the species, the Spadefoot Toad, burrows underground and can live up to 10 years before returning to the surface, reproducing, and laying eggs when there is enough water. Tadpole Shrimp can survive in the dry environment because the eggs they lay are coated in a thick skin allowing the eggs to survive for at least 20 years in the desert heat, freezing temperatures, and drought. When the water returns, the eggs hatch and the young grow into full-sized adults in one to two weeks. They become a food source and increase the population of other animals, such as the Western Terrestrial Garter Snake and Long-Billed Curlew. 

   Wendy Savkranz, pollution prevention coordinator for Fluor Idaho and organizer of the Earth Day booth, said the focus on the reemergence of the Big Lost River and reappearance of rarely seen, seasonal wildlife seemed like a good fit for this year’s Earth Day theme — “The Wonder of Water.” 

Big Lost River sinking into the Spreading Areas on Idaho’s Arco Desert.
Big Lost River sinking into the Spreading Areas on Idaho’s Arco Desert.

   “These species haven’t been spotted for several years at the site, so it made sense to bring them to the public’s attention in light of this year’s Earth Day focus,” Savkranz said. “People were amazed at the amount of water that we currently have on the desert, and in particular, the wildlife that flourishes within the Spreading Areas.”

   The Spreading Areas, in the south-central portion of the site, are ancient dry lake beds that once attracted camels, bison, and other Pleistocene-era animals. Until 2017, the Spreading Areas hadn’t seen water in about a decade, but as the Big Lost River began to flow again, these ancient lakes began to fill.

   Hundreds of parents and children stopped by Fluor Idaho’s booth during the Earth Day celebration. Children were encouraged to sign up for the Green Kids Club to learn about animals and environment.

   Fluor’s partner company, North Wind Inc., also participated in the booth, sponsoring a toad-themed scavenger hunt for children and a hands-on activity planting wildflowers. 

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