National Nuclear Security Administration

A look at wildlife around the Pantex Plant

December 2, 2015

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Approximately 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas, sits the United States Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration’s (USDOE/NNSA) Pantex Plant — the primary facility for maintaining and disassembling the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal and for interim storage of plutonium components. In 1999, the plant site — which covers 28 square miles — had only one newly hired wildlife biologist who faced a number of high-profile, regional management and conservation issues. Now, 15 years later, many graduates from West Texas A&M University in Canyon and Texas Tech University in Lubbock have advanced into their profession carrying unique experience gained while conducting wildlife research on this highly unusual property thanks to the formation of a unique research program.

Today, this collaborative effort dictated by the needs of the Pantex site has evolved into a well-respected wildlife conservation and management program that allows local university students to study a wide variety of topics including species with special statuses or the impact of wind energy on birds and bats. In three recent years — 2012, 2013 and 2014 — their research studies helped the Pantex program be recognized as the USDOE/NNSA’s winner of its single nomination for the Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award, an achievement that has given even greater credibility to the ongoing programs.

This content is from the article "The Pantex Plant’s wildlife monitoring program" published in the winter issue of The Wildlife Professional, the magazine of The Wildlife Society. Used with permission.

Here is a photo collection of the rich and varied wildlife found at the Pantex Plant.

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A bobcat feeding her kittens. The green and pink ear-tags were placed on her when she was a kitten as part of a collaborative research project involving Pantex and West Texas A&M University.

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An American bald eagle, which is common in the region during fall and spring, especially around black-tailed prairie dog colonies, wetlands and other water areas.

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A Swainson’s hawk being tracked by satellite to evaluate effects of wind energy development on this bird of prey during its time in North (nesting), Central (migration) and South America (winter).

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A mule deer buck resting at the Pantex Plant. Both mule deer and white-tailed deer inhabit its 18,000 acres.

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A Swainson’s hawk sporting leg bands and a satellite transmitter. If you look closely, you can see the antenna coming off the bird’s back. This research is through a collaboration between Pantex, West Texas A&M University, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Texas Tech University.

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The Texas horned lizard, known as the "horny toad" by locals, is considered “threatened” in Texas. Pantex and West Texas A&M University studied this reptile for almost a decade including through the use of radio transmitters which the lizards carried around in a backpack placed carefully by West Texas A&M University researchers.

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More common in the nearly treeless high plains of Texas than one might think, this porcupine found an apple tree at Pantex to his liking.

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A young pronghorn.

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A Virginia opossum resting high in a tree.

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A juvenile western burrowing owl in a prairie dog colony. Pantex and Texas Tech University have collaborated on research on prairie dogs and burrowing owls that has resulted in nine major publications.

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Migrating monarch butterflies resting on a tree. Pantex is already performing work under ongoing pollinator initiatives.

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There are several colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs on the Pantex Plant. These members of the squirrel family influence habitat diversity that is attractive to species that need burrows, shorter cover, bare ground, enhanced plant diversity or that are attracted to the abundant food source base of insects, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and birds that live there.