SPP Conservation Nursery Manual, 4th Edition: The Best Ever!

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

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Prepared by Carl Elliott, Evan Hayduk, Jaal Mann, Brianna Morningred, and Drissia Ras.

I am super impressed by the hot-off-the-press, 4th edition  SPP Conservation Nursery Manual. The 4th edition represents the cumulative knowledge and effort of Carl Elliott, Conservation Nursery Manager, four Graduate Research Assistants, and suggestions and observations of numerous inmate technicians. All have worked together to make the nurseries SPP’s largest, most productive conservation program.

The nursery manual serves primarily as a reference for the inmates who propagate and care for rare and endangered species of prairie plants. For each of 50 species, the manual provides detailed, illustrated instructions for how to prepare, sow, water, fertilize, manage pests, and keep excellent records. With approximately 18 inmate technicians working at three nursery sites growing thousands of plants, such a reference is essential to success.

Beyond that, though, the manual  serves as a field guide, ecological text book, and provides the basics of botany and plant identification. Clearly, it is intended to link inmate technicians’ nursery work to the bigger pictures of ecology and restoration in the region. It is a gorgeous educational resource.

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A typical species overview in the new nursery manual.

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Many of the photos in the species descriptions, especially those of seeds and seedlings, have been taken by SPP’s Graduate Research Assistants.

 

Ideas Worth Spreading: “Turning Keys” in a Washington prison

By Kelli Bush, SPP Program Manager

On March 15, 2014 Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe, Washington will host a TEDx event. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design; it’s is a non-profit organization committed to sharing “ideas worth spreading” through lectures. TEDx talks are held at locations around the world. The event at Monroe will feature presentations from inmates, corrections staff, and community members. The theme of the event is “Turning Keys,” which will describe how many small and relatively quick changes can result in significant positive outcomes in the corrections system.

Turning Keys 2There will be two talks featuring SPP’s programs. Dr. Carri LeRoy, Co-Director of SPP and Evergreen faculty member, will present on the transformative qualities of SPP programs and Mr. Nick Hacheney will highlight his experience as an inmate managing the vermicomposting program at Monroe Corrections Complex. Mr. Dan Pacholke, Co-Director of SPP and Assistant Secretary of WA Dept. of Corrections, will present on how small changes can alter the future of prisons.

Over the past several weeks SPP staff have assisted with preparation for all three talks. The talks are presented without notes and require lots of practice and polishing along the way.  Mr. Hacheney and another inmate have been preparing a beautiful CD Rom that will include a wealth of information about the vermicomposting program and SPP. The CD will be available to audience members at the presentation. Space to attend the live presentation is extremely limited, but the event will be recorded and available for viewing online—we will be sure to share that video as soon as it is available!

SPP’s TEDx presenters

Dr. Carri LeRoy

Dr. Carri LeRoy (right), faculty at The Evergreen State College and Co-Director of SPP, prepares for a talk at SPP's ten year celebration. Photo by Dani Winder.

Dr. Carri LeRoy (right), faculty at The Evergreen State College and Co-Director of SPP, prepares for a talk at SPP’s ten year celebration. Photo by Dani Winder.

Mr. Dan Pacholke

Dan Pacholke, Assistant Secretary for Washington Dept. of Corrections and SPP Co-Director, talks with Lyle Morse, Director of Correctional Industries, at the SPP National Conference in 2012. Photo by SPP staff.

Dan Pacholke (right), Assistant Secretary for Washington Dept. of Corrections and SPP Co-Director, talks with Lyle Morse, Director of Correctional Industries, at the SPP National Conference in 2012. Photo by SPP staff.

Mr. Nick Hacheney

Nick Hacheney, lead worm farmer at Monroe Correctional Complex, discusses methods with SPP Program Manager, Kelli Bush. The worm farm is amazingly clean and sweet-smelling; it only smells of food waste for a few hours a week, right after it has been put into the vermicomposting bins. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Nick Hacheney, lead worm farmer at Monroe Correctional Complex, discusses methods with SPP Program Manager, Kelli Bush. The worm farm is amazingly clean and sweet-smelling; it only smells of food waste for a few hours a week, right after the food has been put into the vermicomposting bins. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Worm breeder bins at Monroe Correctional Complex were constructed from re-used mattress parts; the worms live and breed in "Select Comfort"! Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Worm breeder bins at Monroe Correctional Complex were constructed from re-used mattress parts; the worms live and breed in “Select Comfort”! Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

The Great Unknowns

By Carl Elliott, SPP Conservation Nursery Manager

An SPP technician uses a hand lens to examine signs of insect damage on a plant grown in the nursery. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

An SPP technician uses a hand lens to examine signs of insect damage on a plant grown in the nursery. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

The cultivation of native plant material in a nursery is fraught with unknowns. Wild-collected and farm-raised seed often have erratic germination requirements and germination percentages from year to year. The year’s weather, seed collection times, and how seeds are cleaned and handled all can affect how the native plants grow.

Unknown conditions

Our wild seed collectors work carefully to reduce variables in timing, handling, and storage. They diligently follow protocols for every step in the process. But often variable summer weather plays a paramount role in defining seed quality, and that’s a factor no one can control. In 2013, spring rains gradually tapered off to bring a bright and warm July and August and provided a large crop of summer seeds; however, in early September rain made late-season seed collection difficult. We shall see in 2014 how the late summer ripeners, members of the Aster family (Solidago and Symphyotrichum species), germinate this spring.

Unknown water needs

Additionally, cultivating summer-dormant plants in containers poses establishment and survival challenges. A number of the plants we cultivate grow actively in the spring, but when the hot weather of summer arrives they go dormant. Leaves die back and small feeder roots slough off. The challenge is to keep the plants alive until planting time in the fall: too much water and the storage roots will rot; too little water and the plants dry up entirely. It is a careful balancing act until the plants wake up with September’s cool weather.

Offender Technicians examining nursery plants to identify insect pests. Photo by Jaal Mann.

Since 2009, SPP’s nurseries have built up a bank of knowledge and proficiency in prairie seed ecology and cultivation. To disseminate the knowledge, we hold seed ecology workshops at each nursery with the full crew of offender technicians. Graduate students present the workshops from a manual on the propagation protocols for each species cultivated. Our shared proficiency has yielded increased plug production at all three of our nurseries.

A workshop on the cultivation of harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida). Photo by Benj Drummond and Sarah Joy Steele.

A workshop on the cultivation of harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida). Photo by Benj Drummond and Sarah Joy Steele.

Unknown species

The same workshops also introduce plants for which we have no known protocol. The student describes the plant from seed, to active growth, flowering, and back to seed. The group investigates the ecological role for that plant on the prairies referring to primary research from the literature and field. Then, the technicians perform observations and measurements necessary to develop a draft protocol, and craft descriptions, weights and measures of the seed. Finally, SPP involves the technicians in scientific testing of the draft protocol. An example of a protocol under development is for a rare native plant of the Puget lowland prairies, Packera macounii.

Packera macounii. Photo by Keir Morse, Cal photos.

In the last five years, we have fully developed protocols for 37 native prairie species using this approach. In collaboration with our partners at the Center for Natural Lands and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, we are actively researching another 37 species to add to our diverse suite of plants for prairie restoration.

So Close to a Million Plants We Can Almost Taste It

By Carl Elliott, SPP Conservation Nursery Manager

SPP’s Conservation Nursery continue to thrive at three facilities in Washington State: Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center for Women, and Shotwell’s Landing Nursery. Since 2010, we have delivered almost 1,000,000 plants for restoration and habitat enhancement projects on Puget lowland prairies— just 33,000 more plants and we’ll be there! In 2013 we provided 375,000 plugs for prairie projects (see the table below); this is a 14% increase over what we produced the year before. We achieved the increase by adding nursery capacity at Washington Corrections Center for Women, plus increased support from the dedicated prairie restoration crew from Cedar Creek Corrections Center.

This was the first season for nursery production at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). The crew of five inmate technicians carefully cultivated and shipped 80,000 native prairie plants. They were particularly success at growing blanket flower, Gaillardia aristata, a species that in past years showed low germination and growth rates. The warmer conditions in the propagation hoop houses at WCCW proved to be just the environment that allowed this species to thrive. The Conservation Nursery program benefits enormously from having a new site with an enthusiastic crew of technicians and staff.

WCCW Conservation Nursery Crew loading Gaillardia aristata to be delivered to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo by Bri Morningred.

WCCW Conservation Nursery Crew loading Gaillardia aristata to be delivered to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo by Bri Morningred.

SPP’s Conservation Nursery continues to be a highly collaborative effort. Regional coordination is provided by the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM); they bring together managers responsible for prairie habitat to develop detailed restoration and habitat enhancement plans for the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. The plants cultivated by SPP’s Conservation Nursery directly benefit the regional stakeholders such as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Natural Resources, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wolfhaven International, and CNLM. This year we also increased the number of plants going to land managers of prairies in the northern portion of the Puget lowlands, Whidbey and the San Juan Islands; we hope to further those relationships in the future.

The delivery truck is almost full with 400 trays, a load of 39,000 plants. Photo by Bri Morningred

The delivery truck is almost full with 400 trays, a load of 39,000 plants. Photo by Bri Morningred

Though we came up just short of the magic number of 1,000,000 in the 2013, we feel confident that in 2014 we will blow right past that goal, and on to our next milestone!

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Americorps volunteers planting out SPP-grown plugs on the prairie at Glacial Heritage Reserve.  Photo by CNLM staff.

Americorps volunteers planting out SPP-grown plugs on the prairie at Glacial Heritage Reserve. Photo by CNLM staff.

Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference

Tiffany Webb, SPP’s Education and Evaluation Coordinator, and I had the chance to attend the first annual Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference this week. We are now one day into the two-day conference and wanted to share some of the amazing and inspiring things we have seen and heard so far.

Evergreen's Master of Environmental Studies table, with SPP's materials on display

Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies table, with SPP’s materials on display

Hearing about the commitments that colleges all over the region are making to sustainability is impressive; from solar thermal swimming pools and gardening to making sustainability a part of all job applications. We heard about University of Washington’s socially responsible procurement, smart grid demonstration projects at University of Washington and Washington State University, and even Western Washington University’s commitment to avoiding the use of harsh cleaning chemicals in their custodial work (they had been using just iodized water, and now vinegar and water). These were just a few of the amazing things that campuses across Washington (plus some in Canada and Oregon) are doing to promote sustainability; there are far too many to list!

SPP's Education and Evaluation Coordinator, Tiffany Webb, presenting on SPP at WAHESC.

SPP’s Education and Evaluation Coordinator, Tiffany Webb, presenting on SPP at WAHESC

During a session on service learning, Tiffany presented on the SPP and her experience as a graduate student involved in the project. She was particularly excited to be presenting “in a room full of people who are aware of issues and want to find solutions.” She said that the attitude towards climate change science and sustainability in general was completely different than in her home state of Alabama. She was also able to attend a session about interviewing children on climate change, which she found humbling; what used to be taught only in classrooms is now being learned about at a young age through many avenues outside of the classroom. Teaching about environmental issues in the future will be very different, because of the deeper understanding of these issues that children today are raised with.

Yesterday’s talks were fascinating and we were able to take home many ideas that may be useful in the future for SPP. At the same time, it was satisfying to share our unique perspective on working with SPP as graduate students. We are both looking forward to another day of learning about incredible projects across the state today!

Fire in the Demonstration Garden

An inmate helping to burn the demonstration garden ducks to avoid the smoke as he moves burning logs across the ground.

An inmate helping to burn the demonstration garden ducks to avoid the smoke as he moves burning logs across the ground. Photo by Jaal Mann.

Last month, as part of the ongoing cultivation of the demonstration prairie garden at Shotwell’s Landing nursery, the inmate prairie restoration crew got to burn an area for seeding with native species.

They used the technique of building a large burn pile and then raking the burning wood along until the entire desired area had been burned. They will be using the area to compare different seeding methods; they want to see which technique most reduces bird predation, knowledge that could help landowners succeed with their small-scale prairie restoration projects.

The crew had a lot of fun and it’s exciting that they are able to be involved with the project from start to finish! We’re looking forward to seeing some species beginning to flower this spring.

Jaal Mann

CNLM's Audrey Lamb and an inmate on the prairie conservation crew rake fire through the demonstration garden.

CNLM’s Audrey Lamb and an inmate on the prairie conservation crew rake fire through the demonstration garden. Photo by Jaal Mann.

Raking burning pieces of wood along the ground to simulate a natural fire moving along the landscape.

As others observe the progress, an inmate and CNLM’s Audrey Lamb rake burning pieces of wood along the ground to simulate a natural fire moving along the landscape. Photo by Jaal Mann.

Photo Gallery from Roots of Success Graduation at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

“The program is called Roots of Success, but it feels like the course is a seed planted in our minds.”

“We have a disposable planet and disposable people and we have got to change how we do things. The challenge doesn’t end here; we’ve got to make those changes in the wider society.”

“It’s a platform for giving back to the community.”

This is what I heard from inmate students and instructors who spoke about what they valued from participating in Roots of Success, an environmental literacy curriculum. It was a happy occasion at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC), celebrating the thirty-five graduates from two complete sessions of Roots. SCCC offered the class at maximum speed: three times a week for ten weeks, and again on the weekend to make up any missed modules; as SPP Liaison Chris Idso said, that’s just how SCCC likes to do things. That’s also what makes them a national leader in corrections’ sustainability programming.

Superintendent of Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) speaks to the graduating class from two sessions of Roots of Success.

Superintendent of Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) speaks to the graduating class from two sessions of Roots of Success.

 

At SCCC, Roots of Success has been taught by three inmate instructors. All three are veterans of the prison's Redemptions class, an inmate-led program on self awareness, positive thinking, and communication skills. All corrections staff and graduates present for graduation day sung their praises as Roots instructors, and the next session of Roots of Success is already fully enrolled.

At SCCC, Roots of Success is taught by three inmate instructors. All three are veterans of the prison’s Redemptions class, an inmate-led program on self awareness, positive thinking, and communication skills. Corrections staff and graduates present for graduation day applauded their talents as Roots instructors, and the next session of Roots of Success is already fully enrolled.

 

One of the inmate-instructors speaks about what the curriculum and class experience meant to him.

One of the inmate-instructors speaks about what the curriculum and class experience meant to him.

 

The graduating class for Roots of Success.

The graduating class listens to a presentation from one of their peers.

 

Another of the inmate instructors addresses the graduating class.

Another of the inmate instructors addresses the graduating class.

 

The class watches the 2009 video on SPP, a gorgeous piece by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele that included video and many images from SCCC--including corrections staff who were in the room while it played. It was gratifying and surreal to watch it with an inmate audience.

The class watches the 2009 video on SPP, a gorgeous piece by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele that included video and many images from SCCC–including corrections staff who were in the room while it played. It was gratifying and surreal to watch it with an inmate audience.

 

Robert Aleksinski (or "Ski") is the staff member who has championed Roots of Success at SCCC. He volunteered to be a student in the first session of Roots, and was graduating along with the other 34 inmate students. His enthusiasm for the curriculum and the way they've offered it at SCCC was infectious.

Robert Aleksinski (“Ski”) is the staff member who has championed Roots of Success at SCCC. He volunteered to be a student in the first session of Roots, and was graduating along with the other 34 inmate students. His enthusiasm for the curriculum and the way they’ve offered it at SCCC is infectious.

 

Thirty five graduates of Roots of Success receive their certificates and handshakes from Mr. Aleksinski, the three inmate instructors, Superintendent Glebe, SPP Liaison Chris Idso, and SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator for SCCC Drissia Ras.

Thirty five graduates of Roots of Success receive their certificates and handshakes from Mr. Aleksinski, the three inmate instructors, Superintendent Glebe, SPP Liaison Chris Idso, and SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator for SCCC Drissia Ras.

 

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Counting the Birds instead of counting the days until summer at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

By Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program coordinator and Graduate Research Assistant, Lindsey Hamilton

At Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) four inmate technicians rear Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies as a contribution to recovery efforts for this endangered species.  These  technicians are hired to work year-round even though the workload is not consistent throughout the year.  In late July the butterfly larvae enter into diapause, which means that they cuddle up with their brothers and sisters to sleep until late February.  During this life stage the technicians have minimal butterfly-related responsibilities.

For the first time this year the technicians are participating in a citizen science project organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology called Project FeederWatch.  Project FeederWatch surveys birds that visit feeders all across North America throughout the winter months.  Feeders that are surveyed can be located in backyards, community areas, nature centers, and even prisons!  The inmates at MCCCW watch three different bird feeders for a period of time on two consecutive days of every week, and record how many birds of each species that are attracted to the feeders.  This data is collected by an SPP Graduate Research Assistant and entered into the FeederWatch database online.  The information collected by this project helps scientists track movements of winter bird populations on a broad scale and is also used to monitor long term trends in bird distribution and abundance.