Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
As part of November’s Native American Indian Heritage Month, it was a fitting tribute to consider the unique relationship that Native Americans had with a bird that Pantex works with quite extensively. Thanks to several eastern and, especially, southeastern tribes, the Purple Martin earns the distinction of being North America’s longest managed songbird. When European settlers arrived on our eastern shores, they found Native Americans hosting colonies of Purple Martins in their villages. The birds would nest each summer in hollowed-out gourds that the village inhabitants hung for them from cut saplings. They obviously appreciated the birds, whether it was for control of biting insects or those known to damage their crops or the drying meats and skins that hung about their villages. Perhaps another benefit was the warning provided by alarm calls that the birds tend to give when a predator or human stranger approaches.
Human's continue to provide Eastern Purple Martins nesting cavities as they have for thousands of years.
It is not known for sure just how long this relationship existed, but it is estimated that the bottle or birdhouse gourd (Asian or African origin) arrived in what is now the eastern United States around 8,000 years ago. Regardless, the relationship propelled Purple Martins east of the Rocky Mountains to shift from natural cavities to that of multi-compartment birdhouses and hollow gourds for nesting. The only known exception, today, is a few pairs that nest in woodpecker cavities in a single stand of flooded palm trees in Florida.
So how does this relate to the United States Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration’s Pantex Plant?
Within the spirit of Executive Order 13186, Responsibilities of Federal Agencies to Protect Migratory Birds, we have spent considerable time working towards the conservation of this declining migratory songbird through a multi-pronged approach. Specific projects involve a unique outreach program that resulted in the banding of over 10,000 Purple Martins among more than 40 colonies in Texas and Oklahoma. In 2013, Pantex expanded this work by collaborating in a partnership led by York University, the University of Manitoba, and the Purple Martin Conservation Association in studies of this bird’s ecology during the non-breeding season. Pantex purchases and deploys geolocator and G.P.S. data-loggers, thus providing a critical study site in the southwestern extremity of the range. Lastly, we have contributed technical guidance to a graduate-level class at Texas Tech University which analyzed data collected by citizen scientists across the range.
Among the benefits of the program; extensive media attention, presentations to bird watching, civic, and technical groups; as well as several publications on the bird, the program, and its results. Co-authored publications led by York University and the University of Manitoba on important stop-over and wintering sites used by Purple Martins are considered “breakthrough” and appearing in the most prestigious of scientific journals. An anticipated publication led by Texas Tech University will indicate the value of managed bird housing in contributing to the continued existence of the eastern Purple Martin.
Amidst all of this work, and myself being fortunate enough to host a colony of Purple Martins at my residence, I often wonder how many generations of humans have provided homes for these birds? As mind-boggling as it may seem, there may very well have been more generations involved in this bird’s management pre-European settlement, than afterwards. We are excited to be able to contribute to conservation of this storied songbird species.
Most people wouldn’t know what to do when faced with a person trapped in a car — how to get them out, how to stabilize the vehicle — but the Pantex Fire Department trains annually on how to handle situations just like that. Recently, the department participated in the annual vehicle extrication training event.
Pantex’s rescue team receives training for all scenarios and participates in one of their many yearly training events that focuses on vehicle extrication training, requiring members of the team to stabilize the vehicles and use different methods in order to perform the rescue.
“This is a great chance for the guys to try new ideas. Sometimes they have read about something or heard about a new technique and this is when we encourage them to put it to work,” said Captain Lee Foster, who also oversees the Pantex Fire Department’s Rescue Program.
The group refreshed their skills in the process of removing a vehicle from around a person who has been involved in a motor vehicle incident when conventional means of exit are impossible or would be considered unsafe.
“The Pantex Fire Department responds off plant to a variety of mutual aid emergency situations; car crashes are one of the major emergency responses we encounter,” said Bill Ho‑Gland, Pantex assistant fire chief. “Rescues often require delicate patient care and vehicle stabilization is needed to minimize additional injury to the victim during the extrication process.”
The training was in multiple revolutions, each requiring different set of skills and tools to perform a safe extraction. Not only can the team work on new ideas, but they are also being push to the limits. These scenarios are always made to have the team working in a worst‑case situation.
Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
2016 may forever be etched in my mind as "The Year of The Skunk." Certainly among my 28 years as a working wildlife biologist, I cannot remember seeing or hearing about the number of skunks as I have this year. Striped skunks seem to be everywhere; here at the Plant, in town, and even on the broader regional level according to newspaper articles. There have been big skunks, little skunks, single skunks, and mother skunks with tight “clusters” of babies in tow. One day, a co-worker and I watched several babies playing like kittens on a stack of pipes. Skunks appear to be everywhere.
For the first time in my career, I recently had to participate in the act of "herding skunks." Two of us actually had to attempt to “herd” a mother and six little ones across a road (with on-lookers) with the goal of driving them away from the work area of the facility. While I have learned to “herd” an adult skunk down a wall and into a trap situated along the same wall, a family of skunks traveling in the open does not herd easily. First off, closeness and sudden moves are ill-advised when it comes to herding skunks. Secondly, as you can imagine, each “toddler-skunk” has its own mind and, sure enough, one got separated from the group and now we had a new simultaneous objective that involved herding “Junior” back through traffic to join up with the family (now with additional on-lookers present). In the end, we were happy that “Junior” joined up with his family and we let them go their way. They went their way… and we went ours.
As the ‘season of love,’ the February and March timeframe, is normally our busiest time period for trapping striped skunks that have taken up residence under buildings. At that time they are on the move and they congregate for breeding purposes. However, another peak period of activity is August and September, when juveniles are dispersing away from their mothers to find territories of their own. It is also a time when skunks may need relief from the late summer heat and scarcity of water, while the lights of the Plant provide plenty of attraction for moths and other insects; many of which wind up on the ground as food for skunks and other critters that skunks consume. Evening and early morning are not unusual times to see skunks out in the daylight nor is the hours following a rain when flooding may force them out of resting places (culverts, burrows, and under structures) or when wet conditions are conducive to the availability of worms, grubs, and amphibians.
It should be no mystery as to why skunks appear to be flourishing in 2016. The above normal rainfall of 2015, followed by more modest, but evenly distributed rainfall in 2016 has led to and maintained prime cover and conditions for skunks and their prey (small mammals, eggs and young of ground-nesting birds, insects and other invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles). Good conditions equate to good survival and larger litters.
Skunks really are amazing animals. I do not particularly like having to deal with them, but it comes with the job. You have to admit that members of the weasel family have an interesting means of self-defense. The striped skunk is just one of the many amazing animals of what we refer to as Wild Pantex.
A mother striped skunk moving one of her babies to a new den. She was observed carrying around five little ones in quick succession.
Recently, Pantex and Y-12 were inspected by the Environmental Protection Agency. Y-12’s inspection also included a visit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Both sites came away with stellar reviews after three day inspections in areas such as hazardous waste management, training and compliance documentation.
Pantex Waste Operations Engineering Technician John McMahan is one of many employees who works daily to ensure CNS meets environmental standards.
“This is a significant accomplishment that does not happen by accident, but instead through hard work, diligence, and a commitment to excellence,” said Teresa Robbins, NNSA Production Office deputy manager.
In addition to inspecting waste storage areas, the inspectors looked at numerous records. These records included hazardous waste manifests, annual hazardous waste activity reports, waste reduction reports, and hazardous waste training and lesson plan content. Despite the volume of records reviewed, inspectors noted only one minor issue.
Inspectors at each site had positive things to say about the various processes and procedures that they had observed. Inspectors noted that the Material Evaluation Process (waste characterization) employed at Pantex far exceeds what is required by regulation and is better than what he encountered at commercial waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities. At Y-12, the inspector even asked for a photo of an exceptionally good Y 12 practice to use as a benchmark for others.
“There are hundreds of folks doing the hard work every day and likely wonder if anyone will notice. Each one needs to know that excellence is a choice. And, the string of individual decisions they have made is having a positive impact on this site’s overall reputation,” said Bill Tindal, Y-12 site manager.
“Seeing that there were no violations or concerns identified during this on site inspection only proves that we have a great group of people here that really take pride in their jobs and processes,” said Todd Ailes, Pantex site manager.
There was plenty of smoke and fire, but the Pantex firefighters weren’t responding to a four-alarm fire. They were cooking for the annual Amarillo Chamber of Commerce’s Good Times Celebration Barbeque Cook-Off. The Pantex team went up against 99 cook teams, smoking ribs, brisket and other meats, to see who had the best barbeque in town.
Scott Johnson, Pantex battalion fire chief (left) and Saxon Webster, firefighter/EMT, prepare ribs during the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce’s Good Times Celebration Barbeque Cook-Off. For the past 17 years, Pantex firefighters come together in September to smoke the best meats and enjoy the competition. (Photo courtesy of Michael Schumacher, Amarillo Globe-News)
The Good Times Celebration is in its 21st year, and for the past 17 years, Pantex firefighters come together for a couple of days in September to smoke the best meats and enjoy the competition. This year’s event took place Sept. 7 and 8. For some, it’s the group of co-workers that brings them to the barbeque.
“This is my first time to cook for the Chamber event, but I wanted to because of the guys out here on the cook team,” said Jeremy Baker, Pantex firefighter/paramedic. “I cook with them at the Boots vs. Badges event, and we have a great time each year.”
Not only were the Pantex firefighters serving up their best fixings to the judges, they were serving more than 6,000 people who lined the streets of downtown Amarillo for the event.
“When you watch a person bite into a rib, slice of brisket or a piece chicken and you get the eye roll along with the ‘yum’ sound effect, you feel good knowing what you worked at for hours has paid off,” said Scott Johnson, Pantex battalion fire chief.
Even though the team did not place in this year’s event, they are tweaking their recipes and will be back again next year.
“Amarillo is a unique community that’s always happy to come together for good causes and fellowship – often over great food. I love that so many Pantexans get engaged in this event each year, and a photo of our firefighters even made the front page of the newspaper. I was also happy to get to taste their amazing barbeque creations, as well as serve as a rib judge. As always, we are proud to be a member of this community, and I am very proud of all the Pantexans who took the time to volunteer,” said Michelle Reichert, CNS deputy enterprise manager.