Bridger-Teton National Forest

INL employees and managers donate time, expertise and resources to numerous outdoor and conservation groups including the Nature Conservancy and the National Forest Service.

INL contributes expertise, volunteers to public, private land stewards

By Nicole Stricker, INL Communications & Governmental Affairs

Idaho National Laboratory brings more than employment, education and business opportunities to Idaho. Because so many INL employees are also avid outdoor recreationists, their technical expertise and generosity of spirit also benefit Idaho's wide open spaces.

Link to Teton Regional Land Trust's interactive map
Click on the image above to visit the Teton Regional Land Trust's interactive map of easements in its 7.5-million-acre service area (yellow).
INL employees volunteer and contribute to numerous nonprofit groups and organizations, including the Idaho Conservation League, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited and others. Even INL's top leadership donates time and resources to groups such as the Teton Regional Land Trust. Another example is INL's Energy & Environment Directorate — its director sits on the Nature Conservancy's Idaho board of trustees, and its deputy director mobilized INL resources to help a nearby avalanche forecast center, which this year is debuting a program INL developed.

"The effort earned recognition for INL as a sponsor on the center's website," said Mike Connolly, deputy associate laboratory director for INL's Energy & Environment Directorate. "This helps raise awareness of INL among an audience that doesn't always understand what the lab is and what it's about."

The project started when Connolly received an e-mail alert from the Bridger Teton National Forest Avalanche Forecast Center. It described the center's desire to bring new Geographic Information System (GIS) tools online to help visualize weather sensor data. Connolly immediately replied. He explained how INL strives to support local organizations and has significant GIS resources.

"We wanted to improve the safety awareness and conditions for the population that recreates in the mountains in the wintertime," he said.

Connolly recruited INL research scientist and engineer John Koudelka. With funding from INL's Technical Assistance Program and overhead from the Energy & Environment Directorate, Koudelka was able to help.

He developed a web script that automatically generates graphs showing 24- or 48-hour changes in temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction. The program pulls data from five core weather stations owned or operated by the Forest Service in the Teton Mountain Range. These snapshots help avalanche forecasters quickly gauge whether dangerous conditions might be developing during or after a storm.

Link to avalanche forecasters graphs
The Bridger-Teton National Forest's 24- or 48-hour graphs help avalanche forecasters watch for dangerous conditions.
"The Forest Service operates the sensors, but we developed the capability to look at a visible graph," Koudelka said. "This is the first season for it to be implemented."

Another outdoor agency that has benefited from INL expertise is the Teton Regional Land Trust. The nonprofit conservation group recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, with INL providing volunteer and printing support. The lab also provides technical counsel and supports strategic planning initiatives and outreach efforts.

INL Communications & Governmental Affairs Director Amy Lientz sits on the group's board of directors, which is chaired by a recent INL retiree.

The land trust's mission is to encourage stewardship and conservation of agricultural and natural lands in the Upper Snake River watershed. It does this by working with public agencies such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and private landowners to establish conservation easements for strategic fish and wildlife habitat areas. To date, the group has protected nearly 27,000 acres of habitat, working farms and ranchlands, including more than 100 miles of river and stream frontage.

"This is our playground," said Lientz. "It's important for our quality of life to protect these spaces."

Bill Rogers
INL's Energy & Environment Director J.W. "Bill" Rogers has served on The Nature Conservancy's Idaho chapter board of trustees for the past four years.
The group even teams with a nationwide organization that has a similar mission, and one which also benefits from INL volunteerism. J.W. "Bill" Rogers, director of INL's Energy & Environment Directorate, has served on the board of trustees for The Nature Conservancy's Idaho chapter for the past four years.

That group also works with landowners to establish conservation easements that help preserve a fraction of unique ecosystems. In Idaho, three ecosystems of interest are forest, sagebrush steppe and river systems, Rogers said. The conservancy identifies areas of interest — for example, those that host important fish or wildlife migration corridors — and aim to limit, but not stop, development. They do this by essentially paying the landowners to help guide or limit current and future development of certain sections of their land.

"I like The Nature Conservancy because they're so noncontroversial," Rogers said. "They rely on science to determine what is the best land use — they realize development goes on and these lands have many uses. The idea is to use them with the best management practices."

Although volunteer activities such as these are supported by INL's top leaders, Rogers and others donate their time out of sheer passion for the cause.

"INL leadership encourages us to give back to the community at a very high level," Rogers said. "But I've always been involved with environmental groups — it's always been a passion of mine."

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