No Role for Environmental Research Parks 
in DOE's Strategic Plan?

In March 2000 the Department of Energy (DOE) released its draft strategic plan for comment. Neither the draft nor the final plan mentions the value of the DOE land area for research, nor the National Environmental Research Parks (NERPs). Under "highlights," the draft did not mention Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's initiatives to designate the wildlife refuge areas. 

AFORR is concerned about the omission of the National Environmental Research Parks from the strategic plan, because the strategic plan defines DOE's mission -- and thus its real property needs (see "Accelerating Threats to DOE Lands").

The comment period on the draft Strategic Plan ended on April 10, 2000, and DOE published its new Strategic Plan in June.

Comments that AFORR members submitted to DOE included the following letter:

When the federal government obtained land for the development of nuclear weapons technology during World War II, its acquisitions at many sites included large buffer areas for security. Protected from commercial disturbance and fragmentation over the ensuing five decades, these 2 million acres have evolved into ecological sanctuaries of remarkable size and diversity. Seven sites representing six major ecoregions are now designated as Department of Energy (DOE) National Environmental Research Parks and serve as irreplaceable outdoor laboratories for scientific research and education. 

The DOE Research Parks preserve rare and unique habitats, support some endangered species, provide a unique laboratory for research on the environmental effects resulting from human activities, and provide a place to conduct large-scale environmental research and monitoring projects. Work at the DOE Research Parks emphasizes interdisciplinary research that involves field facilities, laboratory analysis, and models. The lands serve a strategic importance in that they provide sites for location of new facilities and field tests. Educational opportunities at the parks, enhanced by their association with the national laboratories, include programs that teach specific techniques or subjects; research partnerships on specific projects; and the provision of facilities for individual research initiatives.

The Secretary of Energy has recognized the unique values of DOE property by setting aside lands in five of the DOE Research Parks for wildlife preservation, research, education, and recreation since June 1999. Management plans have been or are being established for 1,000 acres at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, 57,000 acres at the Hanford Nuclear Reserve in Washington, 10,000 acres at the Savannah River Site in Georgia, 74,000 acres at Idaho National Environmental and Engineering Laboratory, and 3,000 acres at the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee. These sites are to be managed as biological and wildlife preserves allowing opportunities for research, education, and, for most of them, recreation. 

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has said, "In places of rare environmental resources, we have a special responsibility to the states and communities that have supported and hosted America's long effort to win the Cold War -- and we owe it to future generations to protect these precious places so that they can enjoy nature's plenty just as we do." The preserves are home to several rare wildlife species such as bald eagles and loggerhead shrike, as well as numerous other plant and animal species. For example, the Oak Ridge Reservation supports the federally endangered gray bat, state-threatened osprey and bald eagle, and numerous state "special concern" wildlife species. The only population of a rare plant, the White bluffs bladder pod, occurs at the Hanford Site near the top of a set of cliffs on the east bank of the Columbia river (the White Bluffs). Traditional Native American cultural uses of these sites will continue. The preserves will also continue to provide a safety buffer for the DOE facilities.

Thus the two big concerns are that the many values of the National Environmental Research Parks are not mentioned and that there is no attention to the new lands set aside by the Secretary for wildlife preservation, research, education, and recreation.

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