Biologist tracks bobcats at Pantex plant
AMARILLO, Texas — Most of the work performed at the B and W Pantex plant remains top secret.
Jim Ray’s job is an exception. He shares his findings with the world.
Ray, wildlife biologist with the plant’s Regulatory Compliance Department, counts, tracks and protects the natural wildlife found within the boundaries of the nation’s only nuclear-weapons assembly and disassembly facility.
Ray said his work space encompasses about 10,000 acres _ “a mix of farming as well as range land, four playa lakes and some prairie dogs” _ owned by the Department of Energy at the Pantex site.
“It’s all about protection and habitat management _ taking care of our wildlife,” Ray said. “We want to benefit wildlife. We want to be as wildlife friendly as we can be.”
Ray hopes to become friendly with an expanding bobcat population on Pantex land.
“Bobcats are fairly rare in bare plains,” said Ray, who worked for nine years with Texas Parks and Wildlife in Canyon before joining Pantex nearly 10 years ago.
Ray sighted one in 2006.
“Before that we never had a record of one,” he said. “Since then we’ve had what we believe are her daughters” that produced two confirmed litters in 2007 and two confirmed litters in 2008.
Ray Matlack, associate professor of biology at West Texas A and M University, said he and two students will assist Ray with trapping, tagging and attaching global-positioning systems on Pantex bobcats.
The university is under contract to assist with the project that hopefully will begin next month, Matlack said.
“We hope to learn something about their movements, their home range and give us some idea of their numbers in an area that most would characterize as not great bobcat country,” Matlack said.
Ray said, “I’ll do the tagging and WT will do the tracking and technical work. We’re going to try to ear tag as many as we can and attach a GPS collar that will track them wherever they go.
“This is kind of a unique opportunity. The females have to have protection (from coyotes) for their kittens. Here at the plant or on the outskirts of town, coyote numbers drop.”
A recent project worked with horned lizards, whose numbers are dwindling.
“The state lists it as a threatened species,” Ray said. “It’s not on the endangered-species list.”
Also, working under contract, Richard Kazmaier and his WT students assisted Ray in a project to attach backpack transmitters to the lizards, known more commonly as horned toads.
The transmitters allow the students to track the lizards as the lizards roam their habitat, Ray said.
“We want to know how many we have and we want to know what kind of habitat they need,” Ray said. “The whole process is built on finding that out.”
Texas Tech University contracts to study prairie dogs and wildlife related to them, Ray said.
Even prairie dogs, considered pests by many landowners, play an important role in ecology, he said.
“Prairie dogs provide burrows for reptiles and amphibians, bare ground for wildlife that need it and kinds of plants that only grow in prairie-dog towns,” Ray said. “The prairie dog is a natural and really important element.”
Ray said much of his work is driven by federal regulations that require Pantex to protect wildlife and preserve its natural environment.
“We’re very proactive on top of that as far as implementation of state-of-the-art wildlife management,” Ray said. “We were first in this region to start this kind of work.
“We share with outside agencies. It benefits Panhandle wildlife.”
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org