Category Archives: Biology

Happenings at Cedar Creek Corrections

Text and photos by Jessica Brown, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator

After several months of planning, a new wildlife conservation program at Cedar Creek Correctional Facility will soon be up and running. We are excited to team up with biologists from the U.S. Forest Service to implement the woodpecker nest monitoring program. The program is mainly a research project: technicians review video footage of endangered woodpeckers at their nests, and document activities of animals that may depredate the nest.

Partners in endangered species conservation for Cedar Creek Corrections Center, from left to right: Technician, John Fitzpatrick, Superintendent Douglas Cole, Loretta Adams (SPP Liaison), Philip Fischer (U.S. Forest Service), Kelli Bush (SPP Co-Director), Teresa Lorenz (U.S. Forest Service), Technician William Anglemyer

In part to allow the new program, Cedar Creek’s conservation efforts will be served by a larger group of incarcerated technicians, adding about 6 more individuals to the existing two turtle technicians; the larger group will rotate through turtle and woodpecker programs, plus a future aquaponics program. Woodpecker technicians in the prison will receive similar training and education to that of undergraduate students who perform the same work. They will learn about topics such as wildlife species identification, ecology, conservation, and data documentation.

New turtle technician, Mr. Fitzpatrick leads a tour of the turtle facility at Cedar Creek.

Last month, U.S. Forest Service biologists, Teresa Lorenz and Philip Fischer were able to visit the Cedar Creek facility and turtle technicians treated them to a tour of the western pond turtle program. The newest turtle technician Mr. John Fitzpatrick did a great job of leading his first tour for an outside group. Mr. Fitzpatrick, the first incarcerated winner of a Mike Rowe Foundation scholarship, has been an excellent addition to the turtle team; he brings an infectious, positive attitude, and zest for learning. We are thankful for the animal handling skills, training, and wealth of knowledge he is receiving from veteran turtle technician Mr. William Angleymyer.

 

 

Mr. Fitzpatrick explains the mealworm rearing setup. The mealworms are a source of food for the turtles.

Cedar Creek currently has three resident western pond turtles, including one healthy turtle that was found by someone on the side of the road. Because this turtle is disease-free, he is being kept separately from the other turtles—in quarantine—until he can be released in the spring. The three turtles at Cedar Creek will be joined by 7 more by the end of November.

Training for the woodpecker nest monitoring project will take place in November where we will be joined with newly-hired technicians and members of the horticulture team.

 

Mr. Anglemyer shows the healthy turtle to Teresa and Phil from the U.S. Forest Service.

 

Turtle technicians Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Anglemyer pose with the healthy western pond turtle.

 

SPP Turtle Program Coordinator, Jessica with turtle technicians, Mr. Anglemyer and Mr. Fitzpatrick

Bees at MCCCW – Photo Gallery

Photos and text by Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator

A special congratulations to Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women! This past Wednesday, they received two live hives donated with help from West Sound Beekeepers Association instructor, George Purkett. George is currently teaching 5 incarcerated individuals how to become beekeepers. I was present to see the first time the new beekeepers inspected the hives. They PET HONEYBEES (yeah, actually pet bees with a bare hand!), checked for mites (thankfully, no mites), and labeled the queens with a special marker. The photo gallery tells more of the story!

West Plains Beekeeper George Purkett uses the smokers to calm the bees before opening the hive.

 

Beekeeper George Purkett quizzes the incarcerated beekeepers on the health of the bees (the bees are doing great!).

 

Honeybee drones don’t have stingers, so they’re safe to hold without gloves! Photo by Emily Passarelli.

 

Honeybees are so docile you can pet them! They were warm and fuzzy.

 

After finding the queen, Mr. Purkett marked the queen with a special marker. She had to stay in the queen bee holder until the ink marking dried.

 

After the queen was released, the other bees surrounded her. Can you see her?

 

Varroa mites are one of the major honeybee killers. To test for them, George took about 200 bees and shook them with sugar. (Later, the bees enjoy cleaning and eating the sugar off their bodies!) The sugar pops the mites off. Thankfully, this hive is clean from mites!

 

Congrats to the newly certified staff and incarcerated beekeepers!

 

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.

 

 

 

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!

Taylor’s checkerspot wake up and release

Text and photos by Keegan Curry, SPP Butterfly Program Coordinator

Washington’s winter was exceptionally cold and wet this year, posing unique challenges for SPP’s Taylor’s checkerspot rearing program. After a deceptive warm spell, the butterfly technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) brought the caterpillars out of winter diapause only to find that spring was yet to come! Temperatures plummeted and constant rainfall postponed the larval release that typically follows within a few weeks of wake up. But in spite of this delay, technicians patiently fed and nurtured over 3,000 hungry caterpillars as we waited for weather to improve.

(Left to right) Jessica Stevens, Cynthia Fetterly, and Susan Christopher rest after a long day of counting, sorting, and feeding caterpillars. The shelves behind them house over 3,000 Taylor’s checkerspot larvae!

Everyone (including the caterpillars) thought it was time for spring. But winter returned with additional snowfall at the MCCCW rearing facility.

WDFW biologist Mary Linders carefully releases Taylor’s checkerspot larvae onto their host plant.

When environmental conditions finally improved, SPP transported the caterpillars to field sites for release. Our partners at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) were happy to see healthy and active larvae crawling about in the sunny weather. Sadly, the women from MCCCW were unable to attend the release this year, but their efforts in the lab were recognized as critical in transitioning these larvae from captivity to the wild.

A curious Taylor’s checkerspot larva explores its new habitat.

 

WDFW biologist Mary Linders explains larval release procedures to volunteers.

 

A volunteer releases one final cup of Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars.

This larva had already traveled over a yard from its release site!

In all, about 2,500 Taylor’s checkerspot larvae made it out to Salish lowland prairie reintroduction sites where they continue to support the recovery of this endangered species and their habitat.

Clouds break over the prairie as Taylor’s checkerspot larvae adjust to their new home.