Department of Energy National Environmental Research Parks

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Overview

The National Environmental Research Parks are outdoor laboratories that provide opportunities for environmental studies on protected lands that act as buffers around Department of Energy (DOE) facilities. The research parks are used to evaluate the environmental consequences of energy use and development as well as strategies to mitigate these effects. They are also used to demonstrate possible environmental and land-use options. The research parks were established by DOE and its predecessors, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Energy Research and Development Administration. The seven parks are administered through the regional DOE Operations Offices and coordinated and guided by the Office of Science.

Site Year Designated Acres Ecoregion
Savannah River 1972 198,000 Southern Mixed Forest
Los Alamos 1973 28,400 Juniper-Pinyon and Grassland
Idaho 1975 568,000 Shrub-steppe
Oak Ridge 1980 21,500 Eastern Deciduous Forest
Hanford 1983 366,000 Shrub-steppe
Fermilab 1989 6,800 Tallgrass Prairie
Nevada 1992 865,000 Desert Shrub

The concept of environmental research parks grew out of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, and the public's desire to protect the environment. The idea is also consistent with the 1969 policy statement of the Federal Council for Science and Technology, encouraging Federal laboratories to make their unique research and training facilities available to a broader spectrum of the scientific community.

The DOE National Environmental Research Parks provide opportunities for many types of environmental studies. The parks are especially convenient because they are associated with DOE national laboratories that have a stable infrastructure and a cadre of environmental scientists who are a resource for visiting researchers and the public.

The objectives of the research parks are to conduct research and education activities that will-

  • Develop methods for assessing and documenting the environmental consequences of human actions related to energy and weapons use.
  • Develop methods for predicting the environmental consequences of ongoing and proposed energy development.
  • Explore methods for eliminating or minimizing predicted adverse effects of various energy and weapons activities on the environment.
  • Train people in ecological and environmental sciences.
  • Use the parks for educating the public on environmental and ecological issues.

The seven DOE National Environmental Research Parks are located within six major ecoregions of the United States (Figure 1). These ecoregions cover more than half of the nation. In some cases the research parks are the only ecological sanctuaries in the region. The parks are especially important because within their borders they provide secure settings for scientists to conduct research on a broad range of subjects, such as plant succession, biomass production, environmental behavior of radionuclides, cost and effectiveness of revegetation of disturbed lands, and thermal effects on freshwater ecosystems. The parks also provide rich environments for training researchers and introducing the public to ecological sciences.

Department of Energy National Environmental Research Parks and Associated Ecoregions

Figure 1. Department of Energy National Environmental Research Parks
and Associated Ecoregions (click on image to enlarge).


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Last Updated: August 11, 2009