Author Archives: Amanda Mintz

Collaboration is Key

By Amanda Mintz, SPP Wetland Conservation (EVM) Program Coordinator
All photos by Ricky Osborne.

The Emergent Vegetated Mats (EVM) program at Stafford Creek Corrections Center emerged from a partnership among many stakeholders: Joint Base Lewis McChord, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center for Natural Lands Management, and SPP’s founding partners The Evergreen State College and Washington State Department of Corrections. On March 29th, representatives from all these organizations came together to tour the EVM nursery. We also had the chance to see other sustainability programs at work at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Chris Idso and Kelly Peterson, DOC personnel on the leadership team at Stafford Creek, helped coordinate and facilitate the tour, and we were joined by our project liaisons Mike Granato and Ed Baldwin. It was the first visit to both the EVM nursery and a prison facility for many of our partners.

Partners view the systems inside the EVM greenhouse. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We started in the EVM greenhouse, where we discussed past mat production and future production potential. Last year, we produced and installed more than 100 mats at south Puget Sound restoration sites! The technicians described how the system works, and we all stopped to marvel at the fish—about 130 koi provide most of the nutrients absorbed by the wetland mats.

Not just beautiful, koi are hardy fish adaptable to unexpected changes in water chemistry; this makes them perfect for an aquaponics system. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Technician Brian Bedilion, who has worked for the EVM program since its inception in 2016, explained how working for SPP has impacted his self-confidence and goals for his future. His creativity and ability to troubleshoot on-the-fly have been integral to the success of the EVM program. Brian went home on April 13; we wish him the best, and hope to see him in the field!

Technician Brian Bedilion shares how the EVM program has influenced his life. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

SPP EVM Coordinator Amanda Mintz and Brian Bedilion say farewell at the end of the EMV portion of the tour. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

After touring the EVM greenhouse, we went inside the fence to see the prairie conservation nursery, gardens, and other sustainability programs hosted by Stafford Creek. Every living area has dedicated garden space for its residents. A larger space outside the education building is intended for men serving life sentences, and is known as the Lifer Garden. The Lifer Garden and one other at Stafford Creek grow produce for local food banks. Last year, incarcerated individuals at the prison grew and donated almost 12,000 pounds of produce!

With help from Grounds Maintenance Supervisor and SPP Conservation Nursery Liaison Ed Baldwin, the Lifer Garden is designed, built and maintained by individuals serving life sentences. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Ed Baldwin and a technician talk outside the Prairie Conservation Nursery greenhouses. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The prison’s grounds crew produces plants for the prison gardens, and also cultivates plants for SPP’s Prairie Conservation Nursery. Here, a technician demonstrates propagation by cutting. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Chris Idso, left, is the longest-term champion of sustainability programs at Stafford Creek, and he’s got a good sense of humor. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The tour ended with visits to the shop areas, where partners saw bicycle and wheelchair repair. Like all the other programs we saw at Stafford Creek, these programs bring together partners to create something of value for the benefit of our environment and our communities.

Turning a new leaf with emergent vegetated mats!

Photos and text by Amanda Mintz, SPP EVM Program Coordinator

In mid-October, SPP delivered our third batch of Emergent pre-Vegetated Mats (EVM) to wetlands at West Rocky Prairie, Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) and Mima Creek Preserve. At these sites, the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) is conducting an experiment using the mats as part of a reed canarygrass suppression strategy. Replacing the reed canarygrass with wetland plants will help restore habitat for the threatened Oregon spotted frog. This project is supported with funding and resources by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, CNLM, and JBLM.

Prior to delivery, we rolled up the mats and let them drain for 24 hours. Even with reduced water, each mat weighs about 60 pounds when it is delivered—healthy roots and shoots are heavy!

Each mat contains a combination of native wetland plants: spreading rush (Juncus supiniformis), tall mannagrass (Glyceria elata), and creeping spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris). The mats were produced in Stafford Creek Corrections Center’s aquaponics greenhouse by a team of corrections staff, incarcerated technicians, and SPP-Evergreen staff.

Staff and volunteers from CNLM and JBLM lay three, 1-meter by 3-meter mats side by side and anchor them with biodegradable stakes.

At each site, the mats are arranged in squares, three meters on each side. Staff and volunteers from JBLM and CNLM prepared the sites using a variety of combinations of herbicide, mowing, and solarization to remove the reed canarygrass; on the day of mat installation, they removed dead grass and root material with weed cutters making it easier for the plants in the mats to make contact with soil and establish themselves quickly. Teams will revisit each square to determine which of the various reed canarygrass treatments best allowed the native wetland species to take hold.

At the site shown here, reed canarygrass was treated only by mowing; in the background, you can see its pre-mowing height of up to six feet tall. Sarah Hamman deploys a water depth gauge–believe it or not, this is a wetland!

Will the coconut coir mats prevent reed canarygrass from growing back? Will the native plants grow quickly enough to establish healthy populations, competing for space with the reed canarygrass? Stay tuned to find out!

Three, 3-meter square mats in each replicate (experimental copy), three replicates per site, and three sites!

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!

What is an Aquatic Emergent Pre-Vegetated Mat?

By Amanda Mintz, Emergent Vegetation Conservation Nursery Coordinator, and Master of Environmental Studies student

EVM tech at work

Technician Kent Dillard inspects the plants for evidence of pests. Photo by Fawn Harris.

In SPP’s new Emergent Vegetation Conservation Nursery at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, we are growing native wetland plants in coconut fiber mats for wetland restoration projects. The program relies on a team effort from incarcerated technicians, prison maintenance staff, Evergreen’s program coordinators and managers, Joint Base Lewis McChord, the Center for Natural Lands Management, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife. All have done an amazing job meeting the challenges of the innovative program’s technical demands.

EVM meeting

DOC’s Jim Snider, technician Brian Bedilion, aquaponics expert Daniel Cherniske and SPP Program Manager Kelli Bush tour the nursery. Photo by Fawn Harris.

Coconut fiber mats, or “coir” mats, are commonly used in restoration for erosion control and suppression of weeds such as reed canarygrass. We are pre-planting them with wetland sedges and rushes, giving those beneficial plants a head start under nursery conditions. These plant types are known as “emergent” for their ability to grow through—emerge from—the water’s surface. Our hope is that the plants will be able to out-compete weeds and provide superior habitat for wildlife, such as the endangered Oregon spotted frog.

To grow the plants, we are using an aquaponics system. Two large fish tanks contain more than 100 koi, which produce waste that the plants use as nutrients. The water from the fish tanks circulates through the plant beds and then back to the fish tanks to pick up additional nutrients. The plants grow directly into the coir mats and do not need soil. By using an aquaponics system, we save water and reduce the need to weed or fertilize the plants.

We installed the first mats at Joint Base Lewis McChord in early November, and plan to have new mats ready in just a couple of months.

carl-and-mat

Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott prepares to unroll a mat at JBLM. Photo by Amanda Mintz.

 

vegetated-mats-at-jblm

The first mats have been installed! Photo by Amanda Mintz.