SPP, Allies, and Friends: Thank you and goodbye!

Text by Liliana Caughman, outgoing SPP Workshop Coordinator
Photos by Mark Sherwood and Kelly Peterson at SCCC

Liliana poses with Workshop students on her last day at SCCC. These two were particularly energetic and engaged, always participating in everything: they asked great questions, brought insight to environmental discussions, and were willing to hold snakes when needed!

 

It is strange how the past two years have flown by and it’s hard to believe that my time visiting prison has come to an end. It is stranger yet that many of the people I interacted with in prison will remain there for years to come. I can only hope that my small efforts made an active difference in the lives of the students, those who I saw month after month in SPP’s Environmental Workshop Series.

 

Mark Sherwood was a lively and dependable partner at SCCC. He bridged the gap between SPP and the incarcerated students and made sure the workshops were successful for everyone.

 

To me, the story of working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) is one of cooperation, patience, and unlikely friendships.

I was troubled by prison in many ways and became more cognizant of institutional discrimination. At the same time, I also encountered such beauty. I have seen in-prison gardens expand to cover acres and beehives spread across the state. I have seen a room of 80 grown men geek-out over octopuses and vultures and climate science. I have seen hardened corrections officers shift to a focus on rehabilitation and education and understanding. I have seen how—given sufficient opportunity—hope, happiness, progress, and creativity can flourish in any environment.

 

SPP’s work at SCCC could not happen without the ongoing support of Chris Idso. Here he says goodbye to Liliana. Chris is already so excited to get to know Erin and create more positive changes, like hosting workshops in the visiting room!

 

These valuable experiences will never leave me. As I continue my academic path, I will not forget about those behind bars or other vulnerable populations who are suffering. However, I will also remember the good people working in these institutions who are partners, fighting for change in the ways they know how. With all parties being valued, challenged, and heard, I know great things can happen.

Now the time has come for me to say goodbye and thank you to SPP and everyone with whom I partnered. I am proud to have been a part of this unique endeavor and look forward to watching it continue to grow.

I am also thrilled to pass on my position as Workshop Series Coordinator to Erin Lynam. With a focus on policy and passion for changing our system of incarceration, I know she will breathe new life into the program and continue its evolution.

Cheers!

Roots of Success Gains Momentum at Airway Heights

Note: Roots of Success is an environmental program led by incarcerated instructors in 10 of 12 prisons in the state, and in many other corrections institutions statewide. In Washington, more than 1000 incarcerated students have graduated from the 50 hour course since 2013. More about the program here.

By Roots of Success Instructors at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Originally published by WA Corrections, Tuesday, July 11, 2017; re-printed here with permission

Roots of Success graduation photo from Airway Heights Corrections Center.

Roots of Success was created by Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes, a Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at the San Francisco State University, as the signature curriculum of the Environmental Literacy Curriculum Project (ELCP).

Originally, this curriculum was designed to increase environmental literacy, academic literacy, and job readiness skills. ​However, at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) this curriculum has taught inmates a fourth and much needed skill, “caring.”

In an inmate’s day-to-day journey through the Washington correctional system, and especially at AHCC, an inmate can often become disconnected from society. This has historically made the process of returning to their communities difficult. Dr. Pinderhughes’ program seeks to lessen that burden by closing inmate’s educational gap, and inspiring them to “consider the environment in their work and daily lives, develop leadership, and move people toward a place of action in order to support green pathways out of poverty, equitable green development, environmental and social justice, and community participation in decision making.” (Roots of Success, Instructor’s Manual, 2015)

After taking the course, many inmate have exhibited a profound change in their attitudes and social interactions with other inmates. In fact, AHCC administration has included this program in their “good time” restoration pathway as a means for inmates to earn back lost good time resulting from various rule violations. At the date of this article, several of the AHCC Roots of Success facilitators are successful graduates of the good time restoration pathway program. This is one of the many examples of this program’s positive impact on inmates residing at AHCC.

To find how Roots of Success has led to graduates caring more for their communities, one need to look no further than the City of Spokane, Washington, where they will find blankets made out of reclaimed used clothing (made by graduate volunteers), and fresh vegetables (grown by graduates). These resources are generated at AHCC by volunteer inmates, at no cost to tax payers, and donated to Spokane charities to help combat the cold and hunger felt by local children, individuals, and families in the Spokane area.

Already AHCC has had more than a hundred graduates of the Roots of Success program, and from those graduates, AHCC has been able to reach out into the Spokane community to begin a long needed healing process, which ever graduate now knows begins with them. What will the State of Washington and its citizens gain from this program? Mothers/daughters, and father/sons returning back to the state’s communities with an obtainable goal of helping build sustainable lifestyles. Why is this so important?​ We only have one state, and only a limited amount of resources – what better place to begin demonstrating how much we care?

Roots of Success covers 10 modules, each focused on a topic. The curriculum is solutions-based, designed to meet the needs of students not well served by mainstream education, and builds both workplace and community-based skills.

Celebrating another flight season for butterfly technicians

Text and photos by Keegan Curry, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program Coordinator

(Left to right) Jessica Stevens, Nicole Alexander, Cynthia Fetterly, and Alexis Coleman pose in front of their original artwork. Ms. Stevens and Ms. Christopher painted this banner to welcome Girl Scouts Beyond Bars to the butterfly lab for a day of activities, including a unique Taylor’s checkerspot merit badge designed by Ms. Alexander.

Inmates at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) continue to amaze us. Each year, a group of dedicated technicians raise and release thousands of federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies. Not only do these technicians follow rigorous laboratory protocols, they develop their own personal expertise and remain adaptive to the myriad challenges of animal husbandry.

This year we were lucky to have three returning technicians on the team. Jessica Stevens, Cynthia Fetterly, and Susan Christopher have completed multiple seasons in the butterfly lab and they have an in-depth understanding of each life stage. Their experience has taught them how to read these animals down to the finest details, like determining the “instar” of a growing caterpillar or predicting how the weather might influence adult mating behavior. Returning technicians play a crucial role, and it is equally important to recruit new participants. This winter we welcomed Nicole Alexander and Alexis Coleman to the butterfly crew and they began their crash course in Taylor’s checkerspot rearing. By the end of the flight season, Ms. Alexander and Ms. Coleman were well-versed in everything from pupation to egg collection!

Thanks to all of the staff from WA Department of Corrections and MCCCW who work tirelessly to coordinate this program. And of course, we wouldn’t be here without support from the Oregon Zoo and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. It means a lot to have zookeepers and biologists coming to MCCCW and giving incarcerated technicians the confidence to work with this fragile and beautiful species.

Take a look at these photo highlights from the past few months.

Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars in their newly-formed cocoons. They remain in this state for up to three weeks and then emerge as butterflies (also known as “eclosion”).

(Left to right) Cynthia Fetterly, Susan Christopher, and Jessica Stevens inspect a pupa to see if it is ready to eclose.

After wiggling free of their cocoons, two adult butterflies dry their wings. It can take several hours after eclosion before they are ready to fly.

Cynthia Fetterly searches for butterfly eggs. She has to check every inch of the plant and down in the rocks at its base. It’s a tedious but crucial task.

This female just laid a fresh cluster of eggs (the tiny yellow orbs on the leaf to her left).

(Left to right) Susan Christopher teaches new technicians Alexis Coleman and Nicole Alexander how to safely handle adult checkerspots. Technicians inspect the size and shape of the abdomen to determine whether butterflies are male or female.

All adult checkerspots must be weighed and measured. Notice how this technician grasps the butterfly with the sides of her fingers, avoiding harm to its wings.

Jessica Stevens keeps a watchful eye over adult breeding tents.

Mottled sunlight and a warm breeze are a checkerspot’s ideal conditions.

The adult life stage is a critical period in the captive rearing program. Technicians conduct dozens of breeding introductions each day, keeping track of each individual’s “matriline” in order to maintain genetic diversity.

Breeding Taylor’s checkerspot takes patience. After hours of waiting and adjusting environmental conditions, these two finally decided to mate.

Susan Christopher leads a tour of the butterfly lab for a documentary crew from PBS Nature. Photo by Kelli Bush.

PBS Nature gathers footage of Susan Christopher and Nicole Alexander double-checking their breeding data. Photo by Kelli Bush.

It’s hard to deny the charm of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. We extend our gratitude to the technicians at MCCCW who continue to prove that incarcerated people can make a difference in conserving biodiversity.

 

 

 

Cedar Creek Turtle Release 2017

By Turtle Technician, William Anglemyer
Photos by Sadie Gilliom

On the morning of April 17th, ten turtles from the SPP Cedar Creek Turtle Program were released onto a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife site in Lakewood, WA. The turtles had been receiving care at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center since November of 2016.

The turtle habitat

It was great to see them swim off into the ponds. Some of them had very extensive wounds when they were first arrived CCCC. As the technicians that care for the turtles after their treatment at PAWS, we were relieved to see them finally out of captivity. When they are in our care, they are provided the best treatment possible. Warm water to heal in, high protein food to eat, a clean tank habitat-all are provided at our rehabilitation facility. However, these are wild creatures and, as such, they belong in the wild-not in a tank.

Getting ready to release!

Immediately after being placed in the shallows, and even though western pond turtles are not the most expressive species, we interpreted their lack of hesitation swimming into the pond as revealing a kind of excitement for being back into the wilds. They were taken from the plastic shoebox containers used to transport them and placed them in the shallow water on the bank. We each grabbed a turtle and released them at the same time. We repeated this until all 10 turtles were released. As they left our hands, they swam as fast as they could until they disappeared into the murkiness of the pond.

Turtle Technicians, Mr. Anglemyer and Mr. Eldridge, releasing the turtles.

Sadly, we realize that this may not be the last time these turtles experience release from captivity back into the wild; some may have to return to captivity for re-treatment. The shell disease that is plaguing these turtles is still being researched and much is yet unknown. Biologists and veterinarians are working hard to figure out what causes the disease and how to cure it effectively.

Prairie technicians visit the prairie

Text by Jeanne Dodds, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator for Washington Corrections Center for Women
Photos by Ricky Osborne

In May, Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) created a first-time educational experience for the prairie conservation nursery team at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). While Washington State Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) staff have had other chances to visit prairie sites, it was the first time that inmate technicians were able see for themselves the rare landscape they help restore. The WCCW team toured two partner sites, the Center for Natural Lands Management’s Violet Prairie Seed Farm, and restored prairie at Wolf Haven International. Each of these sites receives plants produced at WCCW.

At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, Prairie Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan found out that mature Balsamorhiza deltoidea flowers smell like chocolate! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We toured the Wolf Haven restoration site with plant conservation specialists. We observed recovering populations of golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta), one of the endangered plants cultivated by the technicians at WCCW, and a species critical to Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly recovery. At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, the farm manager and work crew members presented some of the techniques and skills necessary to produce native seed on a large scale.

These site visits provided context and information to enhance the work of the technicians in the Conservation Nursery, and also adds education, training, and connections for their futures.

Conservation Nursery Technician Ashley McElhenie, Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott, and Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan discuss growing Lomatium triternatum. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technician Ashley McElhenie uses a hand lens to examine a Lomatium species at Violet Prairie Seed Farm. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott with rows of Balsamorhiza deltoidea, one of the primary plant species grown at WCCW. Photo by Carl Elliott.

Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan and Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds in the fields of Plectritis congesta at Violet Prairie Seed Farm. The site visits were the technicians’ first opportunity to see the species they grow as mature plants. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Now at Wolf Haven International, Conservation Nursery Technician Ambrosia Riche looks closely at Armeira maritima in full bloom in the wild. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

A native sweat bee on Armeria species; as a part of the Conservation Nursery educational program, technicians learn about the importance of native pollinators in prairie ecosystems. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Another species grown extensively at WCCW, Castilleja hispida blooms vibrantly in the prairies at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Wolf Haven International Conservation Specialist Anne Schuster, Conservation Nursery Technicians Ashley McElhenie, Ambrosia Riche, Samantha Morgan, and Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott discuss Mima mound prairie topography. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan, Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds, and Wolf Haven International Conservation Specialist Anne Schuster identify native prairie plants. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Corrections Officer Kyra Cammarata and Conservation Nursery Technicians Ambrosia Riche and Ashley McElhenie sample edible Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Thanks in part to SPP’s conservation programs, Castilleja levisecta has returned to the prairies at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technicians Samantha Morgan, Ambrosia Riche, and Ashley McElhenie identify prairie plant species with Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

A visit from a beautiful wolf, named Myta Jr., during our tour of Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The path to the Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International with Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott in the background. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technicians Samantha Morgan, Ambrosia Riche, and Ashley McElhenie and WCCW Conservation Nursery Liaison Scott Skaggs with the massive branches of the Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Building the pool of environmental instructors for the women’s prisons

Text by Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager
Photos by Ricky Osborne

On April 28th, Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes trained and certified 22 women at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) as Roots of Success Instructors. The training was a great success, and we are pleased to have reinforced the pool of women who can teach the curriculum—that’s the only way to meet the demand! We hear from both WA Corrections staff and Roots of Success graduates that this program is highly regarded: it creates respectful relationships within the prison community, and it’s an effective tool for building skills for life and work. Those testimonials line up with results from program surveys that show increased knowledge and skills in multiple ways.

Congratulations to the instructors and a special thanks to Raquel and Chad Flores from Roots of Success, Vicki York and Paula Andrew from WCCW, Dagoberto Cabrera from MCCCW, and all DOC staff who helped make this training possible! We can’t wait to see what the newly certified instructors accomplish! Please enjoy our  photo gallery of the training.

Roots instructors are asked to think about difficult questions and find solutions together. They received guidance on how to instruct when the content is difficult and complex issues, and how to encourage full engagement and critical thinking from every student and themselves. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The instructor candidates were encouraged to ask lots of questions. Dr. Pinderhughes found this group to be impressively engaged and thoughtful. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

One instructor candidate shares her thoughts and experiences as Raquel Pinderhughes listens. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The instructor candidates were selected by WCCW and MCCCW staff members. They were picked because of their dedication to environmental issues and their desire to learn and do more. Congrats to the new instructors for their hard work and dedication! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Vicki York, a WCCW staff superstar, originally attended the class just to observe. However, she found herself so engaged that she herself earned a instructor certificate too! Go Vicki! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Raquel Pinderhughes came from San Francisco to train the new WCCW and MCCCW instructors. Her tireless effort and enthusiasm is an inspiration. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We are so lucky to have an engaged and thoughtful group of new Roots instructors. Both Roots of Success and SPP can’t wait to hear about the ideas and discussions that come from the classes these women will teach. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clallam Bay Corrections Center – First Beekeeping Graduates!

Text and photos by Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

With the help of Mark Urnes from North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers Association, Clallam Bay Corrections Center has graduated 12 new beekeepers!

Mark Urnes taught a two-day intensive class to 12 incarcerated individuals. I had the pleasure of sitting in on Mark’s class in March and impressive is an understatement! Students took a series of 10 tests over two days to become certified as Apprentice Level Beekeepers. However, to prepare for the two-day intensive class, the students studied hard for months with the support of Corrections Officer Faye Nicholas. They brought excellent questions to the class and every student passed the required tests. CBCC is expecting to have bees for them to take care of by late April!

A student asking Mark Urnes a beekeeping question.

Special thanks to Mark Urnes for his generosity and for sharing his time and knowledge. Also to Faye Nicholas for making beekeeping at Clallam Bay possible. Thank you both for everything you do!

Lastly, CONGRATULATIONS to the first CBCC Beekeeping Class!

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Three

Part Three: Session at the Women’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here, and Part Two is here.
Photos and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

The WCCW visit room and sometimes-classroom is captured in the mirror at the front.

In January, we presented lecture survey results to students at the men’s prison, and gathered their feedback and ideas (that story here). We needed to repeat the process at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), but had to wait until there was an opening in the lecture series schedule. That time came in March.

As a part of the presentation, Liliana also gave an overview of SPP programs statewide and at WCCW.

The program classroom at WCCW can have a very different feel than the one at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Lectures are held in the visit room. The layout is not ideal, and the buzz of vending machines can be a distraction. That day, we learned from the students that program demand is met just fine by the seats and sessions available—they aren’t clamoring for more, like we hear from the male students. While Stafford Creek has nearly 2,000 residents, WCCW has less than 800, and WCCW residents can choose from a relative abundance of programming. These factors likely contribute to a somewhat more casual classroom atmosphere than at the men’s prison.

Again, Liliana Caughman presented her report from the lecture series surveys, and again the students nodded with agreement at the results. However, this group was more quick to talk about a negative result: the small number of students (5%) who respond negatively to the lectures. A student self-identified as one of these, and I was glad to hear more from her when we broke into small groups: her critique was more acute than others’, but the particulars were similar to widely-expressed comments.

More engaging!

In my small group, we passed a talking piece to make sure everyone had chances to talk, and I think it made for a high quality discussion. A few students shielded themselves from potential germs by only handling the talking piece with the help of a napkin.

Liliana, Elijah Moloney, and I each sat with a third of the group to further discuss the program and program surveys. From nearly everyone in my group, I heard that they want more interactive and varied sessions. Several students said they struggle to sit still and pay attention through a 90 minute presentation. I heard that a short presentation is fine, and especially if it includes a way to take notes (we would need to provide the paper and pencils), humor, specimens, live animals, or video. They asked us to make time for writing, worksheets, quizzes on the content, games, and individual or small group exercises. Overall, they want content that’s more “sticky.” All this lead to the most potent suggestion: they aren’t very interested in lectures, so why not call the program something else?

Good point! I recall Sarah Weber’s research 2012 study that “… the lecture-style presentations appeared more effective for for male students, whereas workshop-style presentations appeared more effective for female students in improving inmate knowledge and attitudes on environmental topics.”  More recent results from the men’s prison, including what we heard during the January session, point to a wide-spread preference for interactive, more engaging sessions. Lectures may be more effective at conveying information, at least for some groups, but workshops have a wide-spread, strongly positive effect on environmental attitudes.

Topics & Surveys

The students asked for sessions on sociology, psychology, communications, physiology, mental plasticity, and evolution. These are some of my favorite topics too.

Like the male students, they asked for more knowledge questions. A few suggested more variety in the questions about attitude, so that respondents are less likely to answer automatically.

What next?

I find it super satisfying to have extensive qualitative and quantitative results on the program; it makes it easy to decide what next! Here is what we will do:

  • Rename the program. Science and Sustainability Lecture Series has served us well for years, but it’s time for an upgrade. Program partners have agreed on Environmental Engagement Workshop Series.

  • Update guidelines for guest presenters, with pointers on how to create inspiring, challenging, “sticky,” content.
  • Recruit guests with expertise on social, political, physiological, and evolutionary aspects of the environmental field.
  • Increase the number of knowledge questions on the surveys.
  • Use a larger set of attitude questions, varying which are included each time; some questions will ask about identity and plans for action.

We have already started work on each of these actions. Liliana has started using the new name with guest presenters, and was pleased to see that the word “workshop” had the desired effect on their planning and facilitation.

I still recognize that seven years’ data from the Science and Sustainability Lecture Series showed us that the program has been enormously successful and well received. Now we are ready to make it even better!

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Two

Part Two: Session at the Men’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here.
Phot0s and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Lecture Series students at Stafford Creek Corrections Center were attentive to Liliana Caughman‘s report of survey results. They showed signs of agreeing with all that she shared from program evaluation. They know first hand that they have gained knowledge from the series, that their environmental attitudes have become more positive, and that they prefer interactive, relevant content, just as the results said.

More exciting and illuminating was the quantity and quality of ideas they offered for improving the series and evaluation surveys. Elijah Moloney, Lecture Series Intern, Liliana, and I each circled up with a third of the students present, and gathered many salient observations and recommendations.

Huge demand

Lecture Series intern Elijah Moloney shares his views on climate change and environmental justice.

We learned that the demand at Stafford Creek to attend the series far exceeds classroom capacity–the sign up is filled almost as soon as it is posted, and many students are disappointed when they are not able to claim a seat. They said we could easily fill a classroom twice the size, and that they would be willing to undergo a pat-down search for lectures held in the much-larger visiting room. Some pointed to the value of inviting/including new folks who could represent new and diverse points of view.

Students also recognized that they prefer more interactive sessions, and want each person to have a chance to give input and ask questions. That points to increasing the number of lectures, perhaps repeating content for morning and afternoon sessions.

Topics

The students at Stafford Creek express interest in a huge variety of sustainability and environmental topics. New topic requests I heard were economic and political aspects of climate change—I agree that there is much to learn and consider in that arena! A few students spoke of their frustrations of not having their requests filled, or that they have missed the presentation when their request was met. Again, this points to the desire to increase program access and scope.

One student shared in writing that he was offended by how we described extending the environmental movement to represent all races and cultures. I am still struggling to figure out how to promote increasing environmental equity without suggesting that I am rejecting people who already identify as environmentalists or students of sustainability.

Surveys

To our surprise, the students generally supported ongoing surveys; they were not experiencing survey “burn out” as we had feared. However, they had concrete suggestions for how to revise them:

  • more true and false questions, including some more difficult queries
  • since nearly all attending the lecture series have highly positive attitudes about the environment, shift to measuring each lecture’s impact on empowering action
  • provide work sheets to fill in during and/or after the session

What an awesome group of students!

In our next post we will share what we heard from the sister program at Washington Corrections Center for Women, and divulge the program revisions we have planned in response to the students’ written and spoken input.

 

 

The Challenges—and Opportunities—of a New Program

Text and photos by Amanda Mintz, SPP EVM Program Coordinator

Brian Bedilion and Rudy Smale compare a water quality test to a color chart.

From a tilapia farm to a wetland plant nursery, the aquaponics house at Stafford Creek Corrections Center has experienced major transformations over the past year. Creating a new program brings many challenges, particularly when we start from scratch with no existing model to imitate. Careful monitoring and teamwork means we can meet those challengers, and constantly improve the system.

What’s in a Name?

We often call our program the EVM, a name that rolls easily off the tongue. But not everyone knows that EVM stands for Emergent Vegetated Mat, or what an Emergent Vegetated Mat even is! To meet this challenge, EVM program technicians receive training in wetland ecology, plant propagation, and aquaponics, and are capable of explaining what we do to anyone who asks.

Technicians learned about the functions of wetlands, such as water holding capacity demonstrated by peat pods, and phytoremediation: the ability for wetland plants to absorb and transform pollutants.

Ecosystem Balance

Our aquaponics system relies on symbioses among fish, bacteria, and plants; for the system to thrive, maintaining optimal water quality is a constant concern. The aquaponics unit is a living system which can, at times, be unpredictable. Technicians monitor water quality daily, looking for changes in dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrate, and pH that could indicate a problem. Solutions to an imbalance can be as simple as increasing the water flow to plants, or as complex as adding a new heating system. With time and experience, we have learned how to increase the stability of the system through understanding the specific needs of the living things it supports.

Technicians monitor water quality with aquarium test kits. Occasionally water is taken back to The Evergreen State College‘s laboratory and tested there to make sure the kits are taking accurate readings.

Critter Control

Any nursery will eventually experience a critter invasion. Red-legged frogs and spiders are frequent visitors to the facility, as are less desirable critters like aphids. Technicians use low-impact methods to keep pests at bay, such as manual removal or biodegradable soap. As you can see, our plants are thriving (and the frogs are happy)!

Kent Dillard and Rudy Smale use manual control and biodegradable soap to remove aphids from the mats without harming plants or fish.

Over the next few months, the addition of two new hoop houses will significantly increase our capacity for mat production. We look forward to facing the challenges of expanding the EVM program now that we have a year’s experience under our belts. None of these projects would be possible without the tireless effort of Stafford Creek Corrections Center maintenance mechanics and plumbers, the EVM technicians, the folks at Center for Natural Lands Management and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and all our funders: Washington Department of Corrections, Department of Defense, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (with a little help from us at SPP)!

This red-legged frog, lounging on the edge of a coir mat, is a frequent visitor to the aquaponics house!