National Nuclear Security Administration

Nevada site’s scientists help threatened species thrive

May 19, 2017

You are here

NNSS biologists and engineers are in the process of retrofitting power poles around the site to protect wildlife. The retrofit is designed to reduce the risk of electrocution to birds like this red-tailed hawk.

On the sites where NNSA does its work, stewardship of the land – and the creatures that live on it – is of high concern. Biologists and wildlife experts – like senior scientist Derek Hall at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) -- study and protect wildlife across the country.

one of the site's golden eagles.He and his team look after NNSS’s 1,360 square miles with great success. The desert tortoise, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, and the golden eagle are two animals they are helping to thrive.

NNSS biologists and engineers are currently retrofitting power poles around the site to protect wildlife. The retrofit is designed to reduce the risk of electrocution to birds.

Power poles pose a risk when a bird spreads its wings and touches two “live” parts of the pole. Raptors such as golden eagles and red-tailed hawks are especially at risk because of their large wingspans. Older power pole designs were not wide enough to account for the wingspans of large birds, so the retrofit covers energized parts of the power line to reduce the risk of electrocution.

“Retrofitting the poles allows us to protect the birds and infrastructure,” says NNSS senior scientist Derek Hall. “We certainly don’t want the birds in danger of electrocution and when that happens, the damage to the infrastructure can be expensive to repair; that makes the retrofits a win-win.”

New power lines are designed to be avian-friendly, with large enough distances between energized parts to allow for birds to spread their wings without being electrocuted. Older power poles are retrofitted during routine maintenance and in areas where golden eagles and other raptors live.

NNSS works to protect the desert tortoise.Hall and his team are also studying the threatened desert tortoise, which is native to southern Nevada. Hall and biologists from the San Diego Zoo have spent the last four years studying desert tortoises that live at the site as well as a population of 60 young tortoises that were relocated there. Scientists wanted to study whether moving a tortoise population affected their ability to thrive.

So far, so good.

Scientists have seen normal mortality rates among the group since the tortoises were relocated about four years ago. “That tells us that translocation is a viable option,” Hall said.