Category Archives: Biology

A New Wildlife Conservation Program! Sheep Husbandry at WA State Penitentiary

by SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush

Historically, bighorn sheep were widespread in western North America. By the turn of the 20th century, populations had dwindled to near extinction, and recovery efforts were needed to bring them back from the brink. Today, the biggest threat to bighorn sheep is pneumonia triggered by a bacteria called Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, or M. ovi for short. The bacteria is commonly carried by domestic sheep and goats. While the pathogen usually leads to only mild sickness or lower rate of weight gain in domestic animals, it can be lethal to wild bighorn sheep. Raising M. ovi-free domestic sheep can protect wild bighorn sheep from the devastating pathogen.

Wild bighorn sheep photo credit: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff

In 2015, Dr. Richard Harris with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) introduced the idea of a pilot program to breed M. ovi-free domestic sheep to Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) leadership. SPP coordinates other conservation programs rearing endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, caring for western pond turtles, and propagating native plants. Dr. Harris suggested adding the pilot program to benefit wild bighorn sheep recovery, while also offering incarcerated program participants education and training.

Areas where private domestic and wild bighorn sheep herds are at risk of contact have been identified. Owners of these domestic herds are the most important market for M. ovi-free sheep. Currently, there are no private domestic sheep breeders that specialize in raising M. ovi-free animals. The prison program aims to develop protocols to share with sheep breeders who want to join the effort.

Sheep arrive at Washington State Penitentiary photo credit: WSP staff

In the fall of 2017, 16 Suffolk sheep—15 ewes and one ram—arrived at their tidy, new home in Washington State Penitentiary (WSP). Sheep husbandry tasks include the day-to-day care of the sheep.  Under the care of incarcerated people, and with the support of animal husbandry experts, corrections staff and veterinarians, the small flock has thrived. Program partners include WDFW, SPP partners at Washington State Department of Corrections and the Evergreen State College, and local sheep husbandry experts. Washington State University provides critical contributions in the form of pathogen testing and program guidance.

The recent arrival of spring brought the program’s first lambs. So far, the program has welcomed 20 new babies. With the guidance of sheep husbandry experts, Jerry Kjack and Gerry Glenn, incarcerated program participants conduct a health check just after lambs are born. The health checks are done to ensure lambs are properly nursing and to clean the umbilical cord area. In rare cases, a lamb requires extra care, including tube or bottle feeding. One ewe and her lambs needed extra care and were transported inside the secure perimeter of the prison to receive extra support from program technicians. Each mother produces twins and a few more are expected before the spring is over.

Lamb twins, just born photo credit: WSP staff

New baby photo credit: WSP staff

Ewe being transported to inside the secure perimeter of the prison to receive extra care after lambing photo credit: WSP staff

Incarcerated program participants caring for the sheep receive education and training on sheep husbandry, bighorn sheep ecology, wildlife management, and related vocational and educational opportunities. Investing in education and vocational training for incarcerated people can improve community safety and reduce recidivism. Additionally, meaningful work and activities maintain facility safety by reducing idleness. The program provides everyone involved with satisfying opportunities to contribute to wildlife conservation.

Program participants leaving the sheep program site photo credit: Kelli Bush SPP

 

Turtles plus woodpeckers plus…

Text by Jessica Brown, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator, Philip Fischer, U.S. Forest Service volunteer and Adam Mlady, Biological Science Technician.
Photos by Jessica Brown

Biological Science Technician Adam Mlady holding two of the Western Pond Turtles currently housed at Cedar Creek Correctional Center.

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (Cedar Creek) was home to the very first endangered animal program in a prison: they raised and released hundreds of Oregon spotted frogs from 2009-2015. In 2018, ecological conservation at Cedar Creek is thriving and evolving to encompass a small array of conservation and sustainability programs. Offering an array of programs allows us to partner with a larger group of incarcerated technicians; there are five at this time, and we plan to add a few more. All participants will have a new position title of Biological Science Technicians, and will receive education and training in the  turtle, beekeeping and woodpecker programs, and—later on—a new aquaponics program.

Turtles

Cedar Creek hosts endangered pond turtles that need daily attention; from Technician Adam Mlady’s writing last month, “currently we have two females, one male, and are expecting seven more to be dropped off later today…Taking care of them is very rewarding. I get a sense of unity and accomplishment in ensuring they are clean and fed, and working them back to health. It’s even a sustainable project to feed them! They eat a mix of goodies, but one of the days the pond turtles get mealworms, which we grow and harvest ourselves. Eggs to larva to pupae to beetle, we are hands-on (gloved of course!) the whole way through.”

Woodpeckers

USFS trainers, SPP coordinator, and participants of the woodpecker nest monitoring project training pose with bird specimens.

In November, the Woodpecker Nest Monitoring Project was launched with a two-day training for all five turtle technicians, four greenhouse workers, and two other interested individuals. The purpose of the Woodpecker Nest Monitoring Video Review is to support a multi-year research project through the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) focused on identification of nest predators.

Woodpeckers are a keystone species that provide cavities not only for their own nesting use, but also for a broad spectrum of secondary cavity users including small mammals and other birds. Video footage comes from cameras operating 24/7 at cavity nests. This is the only sure way to document nest depredation, however, reviewing the enormous amount of video footage requires an equally enormous amount of reviewer time. In order to accurately monitor video footage, correctly identify species, and describe animal behaviors, reviewers need considerable training.

Biological Science Technician Modesto Silva reviewing video footage of a Northern Flicker cavity nest. This video station sits atop the mealworm rearing bins for the western pond turtle program.

Participants at Cedar Creek received six hours of education and training from Teresa Lorenz, USFS biologist and Phil Fischer, USFS volunteer, covering woodpecker, raptor, song bird, and small mammal identification; background information relating to the project, including project protocol and species behavior descriptions; and monitoring and data recording techniques. In the past, video monitoring has only been performed by undergraduate students, however, collaboration between USFS and SPP has made it possible to also bring this type of education and experience into prison.

And coming soon…

Cedar Creek has long had a productive greenhouse, including a small aquaponics system. The old aquaponics will be replaced with a more productive system designed by Symbiotic Cycles LLC, an Olympia-based company dedicated to the application of regenerative food production through aquaponics. The new design will support production of fresh greens year round for use in the kitchen.

Technician Mlady has said, “I’m really excited about the upcoming aquaponics pond we will be building. It is huge, and tucked away safely up in our camp’s greenhouse. Once we get the plumbing correctly set up, the koi fish will be able to fertilize our selected plants and vegetables. Brilliant system.” Aquaponics training will start sometime this March, and the system should be up and running soon after.

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). Photo by Jessica Brown.

 

 

 

 

 

Biological Science Technician at Cedar Creek speaks about his time with SPP

Proudly presenting John with an SPP certificate of achievement as a turtle rehabilitation and research specialist on his last day in the program.

By John Fitzpatrick, Biological Science Technician at Cedar Creek Corrections Center.

Foreword and photos by Jessica Brown, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator. 

When John Fitzpatrick applied and interviewed for an opening with the SPP Western pond turtle program, his professional attitude and passion for learning told me right away that he would be a great asset to the team. He came highly recommended by both his fellow inmates and corrections staff, and I quickly knew why. With every weekly visit to Cedar Creek, he would greet me with a huge smile and an enthusiastically warm welcome. Upon asking how he was, his reply would always include the words, “I’m blessed!”

Over the course of his time with SPP, he was pushed out of his comfort zone but graciously accepted these new learning experiences. Most of the environmental education readings and assignments I provided to the team presented completely novel (and sometimes challenging) concepts for John, but because of his zest for learning, he thrived. It was awesome to see how excited he became when he made connections with each learning experience—and how he shared this with everyone he could. He will also be the first person to let you know of the statistics showing how the attainment of education greatly reduces recidivism rates. Education is clearly his passion!

His last day with the SPP team was a joyful one (with maybe a few tears shed) because it marks the last of his time at Cedar Creek. We wish him all the best as he begins the next part of his journey starting school during work release with the help of the scholarship he received from the Mike Rowe Foundation. He has definitely left a lasting impression on me and I’m pretty sure the opportunity with SPP has had a positive impact in his life. But, read his first blog below to see for yourself.

 

Short timing and blogging with Team SPP

John became quite comfortable handling the turtles, but this all began with a big step out of his comfort zone.

John recording woodpecker behavior while watching video footage…but it’s no surprise that he had to stop for a second to smile for the camera!

Now let me pull your coat to something about one man’s journey of success with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) team. A 141 month prison sentence to serve will make even the most ignorant person think of a lifestyle that needs some serious changing. It has been said that your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change. I now live a life defined by principles of change; be it mindset, decision making, and really all of the choices I make from this point moving forward. I am due to be fully released on July 27, 2018 and this is my year to shine—and shine bright!

My time on the SPP team as a Biological Science Technician has awakened the caring man beneath the criminal façade. Learning and obtaining such a vast knowledge and understanding of environmental awareness has enlivened my thought process. It’s quite blissful cause I see now how environmental concerns instilled in me what the “Roots of Success” really means. I now care about this planet and animals on it like never before, so to make “hay while the sun still shines” is a priority for me. The Evergreen State is on the rise in sustainable practices and awareness inviting a greener economy. It’s more than just a want, it’s more likening to a need and a must that I do MY part in making this planet better.

To be a man amongst men for God’s beautiful Earth is my focus. There is a cliché that says “necessity is the mother of invention”, and my being on Team SPP has been a positive learning experience and motivation for my change, necessary actually. If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires hope. I’ve discovered my own AMAZING tower of strength, and ever since, I’ve been asked about my smiling face. The question people ask is: Can I describe what success looks like? Believe you me! Many hours and minutes have been spent pondering exactly what success looks like. I’ll admit, I myself have had few and far apart many glimpses of success look-alikes, so I can honestly tell ya this: A thing of beauty is joy forever, and the grass IS greener on the other side, but only if you nurture and water it.

Now mind you, it’s only Chapter One of this new journey of mine. This is only the very beginning, and with it, there will be small successes along the way. The rest of my story is to be continued…

 

 

 

Long Live the Kings!

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager & Erin Lynam, SPP Environmental Workshop Series Coordinator

This past December, the workshop series brought salmon to Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Long Live the Kings has been devoted to restoring wild salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest for more than three decades. Executive Director Jacques White shared his passion for wild salmon, and discussed ways to be part of bringing home a keystone species. For those who are unable to see the salmon first-hand, it’s all the more important to bring them to the classroom. For 90 minutes, all attending could immerse themselves in science and action for the sake of our region’s most beautiful and iconic fish.

Jacques shared excellent underwater footage of wild salmon. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Jacques was an engaging, inspiring speaker, and shared many wonders and the mysteries of salmon. A huge mystery is why Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead populations in the Salish Sea have declined so drastically in recent years.  A new partnership between Long Live the Kings and Canada’s  Pacific Salmon Foundation will conduct research throughout the Salish Sea; the effort is called the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project and brings together an international team of scientists from dozens of organizations to assess factors such as temperature increases, loss of food and habitat, and disease. He said that fishing is not a big threat to salmon; the problem has to be bigger than that.

Screenshot from Long Live the King’s Survive the Sound webpage.

Most fun was learning about the fundraising campaign, Survive the Sound. Supporters adopt an individual fish (or two, or three…), assign it an avatar, and watch its real-time progress online. Jacques shared video clips from last year’s campaign: one fish was not able to get past the Hood Canal Bridge 🙁 ; a second was stalled by the Bridge, but eventually found successful passage 🙂

Similar to SPP’s aquaponics nursery that grow plants for Oregon spotted frog habitat, Long Live the Kings has talked about starting polyculture nurseries to rear multiple species together for food and to improve water quality and habitat. We might know some folks who could work there…!

More photos from the workshop, thanks to Ricky Osborne photography:

As always, the students had lots of questions and ideas to share. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

From the Kings’ website, Jacques says: “They’re at the heart of our region’s culture, history, and economy. Alongside towering evergreens, snow-capped peaks, and vast expanses of open water, salmon make the northwest The Northwest. “

Rosalina Edmondson attends nearly every SPP workshop. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Workshop students Samantha Morgan and Lisa Woolsey are also technicians in the SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery at WCCW. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Long Live the Kings! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

New Woodpecker Nest Monitoring Project at Cedar Creek

Text by Jessica Brown, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator and Philip Fischer, U.S. Forest Service volunteer. Photos by Jessica Brown.

USFS trainers, SPP coordinator, and participants of the woodpecker nest monitoring project training pose with bird specimens.

In November, the Woodpecker Nest Monitoring Project at Cedar Creek was launched with a two-day training for all five turtle technicians, four greenhouse workers, and two other interested individuals. The purpose of the Woodpecker Nest Monitoring Video Review is to support a multi-year research project through the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) focused on identification of nest predators. Woodpeckers are keystone species which provide cavities not only for their own nesting use but also for a broad spectrum of secondary cavity users including small mammals and other birds. Video footage comes from cameras operating 24/7 at cavity nests. This is the only sure way to document nest depredation, however, reviewing the enormous amount of video footage requires an equally enormous amount of reviewer time. In order to accurately monitor video footage, correctly identify species, and describe animal behaviors, reviewers need considerable training.

In the past, video monitoring was typically performed by undergraduate students, however, collaboration between USFS and SPP has made it possible to bring this type of education and experience into prison.

Teresa Lorenz, USFS biologist, demonstrating a woodpecker nest cavity used for nesting.

Participants at Cedar Creek received six hours of education and training from Teresa Lorenz, USFS biologist and Phil Fischer, USFS volunteer, covering woodpecker, raptor, song bird, and small mammal identification; background information relating to the project including project protocol and species behavior descriptions; and monitoring and data recording techniques. Training was successful and it was quite impressive to see how quickly all of the students picked up on all the information given to them in such a short amount of time.

Bird and mammal specimens on display were a very a helpful tool in training.

 

Phil Fischer, a volunteer with the USFS, teaching the various behaviors of woodpeckers and how to document them when reviewing video footage.

 

Following the training, the technicians did not waste any time getting started on reviewing the video footage. So far they are doing an excellent job, especially without having Teresa or Phil at hand  to answer questions on a regular basis. While the videos range from one to two hours, it is common for reviewing to take multiple hours depending on how busy the nest is. Busy nest=several data sheets!

Biological Science Technician, Modesto Silva reviewing video footage of a Northern Flicker cavity nest. This video station sits atop the mealworm rearing bins for the western pond turtle program.

 

The walls of the turtle shed are adorned with several bird species identification sheets.

 

Biological Science Technician, James Meservey collecting data on a woodpecker cavity nest.

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!

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 (seated), Susan Christopher, 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!