Category Archives: Biology

Playing a small part for incarcerated men who “deserve no less”

Nancy DeWitt coordinates Sagebrush in Prisons programs in Idaho and Oregon. Often, she finds volunteers who can bring additional education and enrichment to the program. Recently, Nancy checked in with Marc Von Huene of Treasure Valley Beekeepers Association, to ask about his visit to the program at Snake River Correctional Institution. Here is his reply.

Hi Nancy:

Awfully good to hear from you!  And wow, you want me to just keep it down to a few sentences??!!  Tell you what.  I’ll just give you my thoughts and you can pick and choose what you want to include in your report.

Expert Beekeeper Marc Von Huene (left) works with incarcerated beekeeping students in the field. Photo by Nancy DeWitt.

As I had never worked with inmates before I had to overcome a lot of my preconceived ideas.  It’s a sad fact that many of us (my previous self included) envision inmates as those guys we see on Law and Order doing really bad things.  It leads many of us to believe that they deserve to be in prison, the longer the better.  But that’s so far from the truth that I’m ashamed to admit it.  These are people that lost their way for any number of reasons – bad influences, bad home life, questionable friends…….   And rehabilitation is absolutely the best option.  I’m glad I could play my small part.  I think giving these guys something to nurture and be proud of is a great way to bring out the caring people that are in each one of them.

 As an audience, they were fantastic.  I’ve never made presentations where the focus was as intense.  And I feel my short time with these guys is totally inadequate to turn them into good beekeepers.  The barriers are many – no direct communication, no internet access, limited equipment and supplies, limited time together.  But they try, and even though we’ve had some pretty big failures, we still learn together.

This next year I’ll get out earlier and work to spend more time with the new batch of inmates.  Hopefully the old hands will pass down their knowledge to the newcomers.

There was a lot of interest in my SRCI activities from officers in the Treasure Valley Bee Club, and the president of the Western Apicultural Society invited me to share my experience at their annual conference this last August.  The presentation went well, and was definitely a break from all the professors and specialists giving the majority of the presentations.  For most of them the presentation was a lot of data interspersed with stories.  For me, the presentation was a story interspersed with data.  It was the story about what I learned from working with the inmates and hopefully, what they learned from me.  The title of my presentation was “Beekeeping Behind Bars”, and I know I opened the eyes of a lot of participants.  Afterwards I had a lot of people come up to me and compliment me for the presentation and the work I was doing.  Several volunteered to come out with me the next time.  Yeah, it was good.

In closing I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity.  I really wish I was closer to the facility, but we’ll make it work.  The effort is definitely appreciated by the inmates and they deserve no less.

Hope this is enough for you.  Stay in touch and let me know if you need anything else.

Best,

Marc

Art of the Oregon silverspot butterfly

By SPP SCCC Conservation Nursery Coordinator Graham Klag

Fall colors continue to take flight at Stafford Creek Corrections Center through the artistic talents of conservation technician Michael! Inspired by SPP lectures and nursery work, Michael’s artistic illustrations of the Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speryeria zerene hippolyta) captures the beauty of prairie conservation work. The Early blue violet (Viola adunca) is grown at SPP Prairie Conservation Nurseries for the Oregon silverspot butterfly.

The Early blue violet is the sole host plant for the caterpillar of the butterfly who needs to eat ~ 250 violet leaves to complete its life cycle. Michael and the conservation technician crew at Stafford Creek continuing to grow their knowledge of Washington and Oregon’s prairie ecosystems, while out growing the Early blue violet, for the habitat and lifecycle of Oregon silverspot butterfly. SPP is thankful for our conservation technicians’ work and artistic inspiration!

Susan Christopher reflects on her experience raising endangered butterflies in prison

Text by Susan Christopher, photos by Keegan Curry

Hello! My name is Susan Christopher and I’m currently incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, Washington. I would like to thank the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) for blessing me with the incredible opportunity of being involved with the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program for more than three years.

Susan helps technician Cynthia Fetterly examine a newly emerged butterfly.

The goal of the program is to successfully breed and rear the federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly in captivity and release 3000-5000 larvae into their native and restored habitats each year. This is a collaboration of many partners including The Evergreen State College, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Defense, among others.

During the four breeding seasons I worked in the program, I was able to witness every life stage up close and personal. I watched a butterfly lay her eggs on a leaf. A few weeks later, through a microscope, I watched those eggs hatch. While feeding those caterpillars every day, I saw many of them shed their outer skin—a process called molting—several times as they matured. I watched them reach the diapause stage, in which they slept for several months. Upon waking up in the spring, I would feed them again until the true miracle began: as they shed their last exoskeleton, I could see the chrysalis form until they became a pupa. Roughly three weeks later, I witnessed the final stage of the miracle of transformation when the butterfly emerges, unfurls its wings, and takes its first flight. It was simply amazing.

Susan offers her knowledge of Taylor’s checkerspot husbandry to producers from PBS Nature.

A biologist from WDFW helps Susan understand the composition of prairie vegetation in a healthy Taylor’s checkerspot habitat.

I’ve often wondered how many people in this world have had the opportunity to observe each of those events. Only a handful, I would guess. But that is just part of what I got from this program.

I was interviewed by PBS twice and appeared on a PBS NewsHour segment. I was allowed to attend a Working Group Conference and gave a presentation about our program to approximately 40 managers and biologists who also work with Taylor’s checkerspot. I have also been interviewed by an author from Japan and a group of prison administrators from Thailand. This last spring, myself and the other butterfly technicians got to go on a field trip to see our “finished product”—wild checkerspots—in their restored habitat.

This was more than just a job; this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has provided me with professional skills and many lifelong memories.

I would never have believed I would be given such a chance in prison, but thanks to the people at SPP, WDFW, and the Oregon Zoo—all who took a risk by bringing this program to incarcerated individuals—I can truly say this has changed my life. Thank you to all those who had the foresight to believe in us.

 

Susan Christopher and the 2017 butterfly crew—Jessica Stevens, Alexis Coleman, Nichole Alexander, and Cynthia Fetterly—pose for a photo after hosting Girl Scouts Beyond Bars in the greenhouse at MCCCW.

UW & Prison Study Soil Health

Inmates at the WSRU Vermiculture program partner with the University of Washington to test the ability of soil health to influence human health

By Nick, Teaching Assistant for University Beyond Bars, Monroe Correctional Complex
Photos courtesy of Joel Strom, University Beyond Bars

Ms. Landefeld harvests from the plots with the help of a vermiculture technician.

With the goal of improving how we grow food, Washington State Reformatory (WSRU) vermiculture technicians and scientists from the University of Washington (UW) are studying soil health at the prison. The incarcerated technicians are assisting with scientific trials of different types of soils to see if they can produce vegetables containing higher levels of key elements that have been shown to improve human health.

Earlier this year the vermiculture program was approached by Dr. Sally Brown, a professor at the UW Ecosystem Science Division, College of Forest Resources, to assist in this project.  Dr. Brown had become familiar with the vermiculture program when she co-authored an article with one of the inmate technicians about some of the composting techniques employed at the facility. Dr. Brown had been working with graduate student Sally Landefeld on a series of trials to grow vegetables in several different types of soil to test for relationships between soil health and antioxidants and other important disease-fighting nutrients. On a tour of the facility, Dr. Brown noticed a unique opportunity in the gardens adjacent to the worm farm:  the soil there had been treated with composting by-products for several years, some areas with Bokashi-treated (fermented) compost and others with vermicompost (worm castings).

A trial plot is ready for planting; Washington State Reformatory Unit (WSRU) at Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC). Photo courtesy of Joel Strom, University Beyond Bars (UBB).

In April, Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld met with vermiculture technicians and set out three separate plots that would be used for the trials:

  1. No soil treatments with soil amendments
  2. Several treatments of Bokashi composted food waste over several years
  3. Heavily treated with worm castings and vermicompost.

One of the vermiculture technicians was asked to be the project lead. He and his peers prepared and marked the plots for planting.

Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld returned in May and planted broccoli, carrots and onions in all three plots.  Despite an ongoing battle with rabbits throughout the spring, by June the crops in all three plots were growing well.

Ms. Landefeld returned to the vermiculture program in mid-June to deliver an instructional presentation on how she decided on the path for her doctorate and what she was hoping to accomplish with the prison-hosted study. The WSRU vermiculture program offers a 1,000 hour SPP certification in collaboration with Tilth Alliance, and guest lecture are part of the curriculum. In this presentation, Ms. Landefelt said:

“We are just starting to understand the intricate relationship between soil health and public health. Healthy soil contains plenty of organic matter, which provides nutrients to plants, fosters microbial life, and improves soil physical properties including water holding ability and tilth.  If we deplete soil organic matter, we may reduce the soil’s ability to produce high yielding crops that are also rich in nutrients.  This project aims to (i) characterize soil health by analyzing soil properties including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, organic matter, soil structure and microbial content, and to (ii) quantify both quantity and quality of the vegetables grown on the control and high organic matter plots.  In addition to plant yield, we will test the vegetables for nutrients, vitamin B6 (pyroxidal) and phytochemicals including sulforaphane, beta-carotene (provitamin A), and quercetin.”

Broccoli growing in the vermicompost plot.

By mid-July, the broccoli was ready to be harvested and Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld worked with the technicians to harvest from all three plots.

As the project progresses they will return to the prison periodically to harvest other vegetables and take soil samples.  The vitamins and phytochemicals will be tested using a technique called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) in order to relate the phytochemical content of common garden crops with soil health.

This project is a great example of SPP’s vision to create a collaborative, intellectually stimulating environment in which incarcerated men and women play key roles in conservation and advancing scientific knowledge and has been a win-win for the vermiculture program as well as the University.

Dr. Brown and a vermiculture technician harvest from a trial plot.

Astrobiology for the Incarcerated – Ohio

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Note: See an earlier article for an introduction to the Astrobiology for the Incarcerated program

At Grafton Reintegration Center, the presentation was filmed for broadcast on a multi-institution channel.

In late April, the Astrobiology for the Incarcerated program visited five prisons plus a youth facility in Ohio. In four densely-packed days, we reached 440 incarcerated participants, 55 staff and teacher participant—it was a satisfying whirl-wind of activity and ideas. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction‘s Energy Conservation & Sustainability Administrator Jacqueline Langhals gave excellent administrative support for the program, and Corrections staff and incarcerated students were gracious and enthusiastic hosts. Whereas Dr Drew Gorman-Lewis presented on astrobiology research in the Washington State series, in Ohio it was Dr Jackie Goordial who covered research; she is a microbiologist currently at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

Science vs Religion?

Dr Jackie Goordial presents in the chapel at London Corrections Institution.

In Ohio, nearly every event was held in the prison chapel, which—for many—elicited a perceived conflict between science and spirituality. Luckily, Daniella Scalice is a master of taking a hard question and suggesting how to transform it into a beautiful idea. She offered that we think about astrobiology’s origin stories as complementary, even reinforcing, the origin stories of many religions. She pointed to the root meaning of the word Universe:

uni meaning one

verse meaning story 

Thinking about it this way, astrobiology gives us one of many powerful and meaningful origin stories.

The Pale Blue Dot

At Grafton Corrections Institution, Daniella Scalice reads Carl Sagan’s response to an image of Earth from 4 billion miles away.

At every presentation, Daniella read a moving quote by Carl Sagan in which he describes a photograph of Earth taken by Voyager 1 from about 4 billion miles away; the earth appears as a pale blue dot—barely visible at that distance:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. ~ Carl Sagan, 1994

Impromptu Seminars

At every facility, the incarcerated students brought excellent observations and queries. As Jackie described her research on microbes in an Antarctic desert and the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, she was peppered with keen questions. Sometimes, the questions were so insightful that Jackie would pause before responding to say, “That’s amazing.” Then she would explain how the question exposed the very heart of the topic, bringing up questions that she and her colleagues had investigated for months, or would be central to her future work as a scientist.

Students at Franklin Medical Center, just south of Columbus, asked highly scientific questions of Dr Jackie Goordial, to her delight.

Many students engaged in informal seminars following the presentation; this one is at Noble Corrections Institution.

Following every presentation, many students would gather for informal seminar on astrobiology topics. Jackie and Daniella fielded their questions and input with grace and humor, listening carefully and validating the many astute observations. They discussed pathways for studying astrobiology and other scientific disciplines, how a person can become a scientist, and who pays for scientific research and outreach.

At Cuyahoga Hills Youth Facility, Daniella Scalice supported teams of students and teachers designing and budgeting a mission to search for life elsewhere in our Solar System. Photo by Doc Brown.

What next?

Next on the schedule is Florida Department of Corrections, where seven facilities will host the program in September. At the same time, the team will offer return visits and multimedia materials for prison libraries. Noble Corrections Institution plans to do even more, creating a multi-speaker series that’s a proper “program” yielding a certificate; speakers would present via video, and those sessions would tie to the multimedia library with post-lecture “homework” assignments. Sounds like an ideal iteration of the program!

Abundant thanks to all the staff, leadership, and incarcerated students in Ohio. It would be wonderful to bring the program back again in the future!

The crowd at Noble Corrections Institution takes in Daniella’s presentation.

Jackie is charmed by Miss Josie at Grafton Reintegration Center. The tie to astrobiology? Well, even the atoms of adorable Miss Josie were built in the heart of a star.;-)

 

 

Mission Creek butterfly technicians visit Taylor’s checkerspot habitat

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

Biologist Mary Linders shows incarcerated technicians which areas of the prairie are currently occupied by reintroduced Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies.

In late spring, incarcerated technicians from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) had the opportunity to visit Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, a reintroduction site for federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies. These technicians work year-round to raise Taylor’s checkerspots in a greenhouse, but this is the first time they have been able to see the habitat where captive-reared butterflies and caterpillars have been released. Mary Linders and Josh Cook from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) conducted a tour of the site, describing its history and ecology as they led us on a hike through the serene prairie.

Sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinis albicaulis) was in full bloom during our prairie tour, dappling the scenery with vibrant purple.

Our visit coincided with the end of the 5-week flight season, so adult butterfly sightings were limited. But technicians wasted no time in examining the Plantago lanceolata host plants and soon discovered Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars! These hatchlings were just like the ones back in the lab at MCCCW and it was thrilling to find them living out in the wild. At the level of our toes, the habitat appeared to be teeming with young larvae. This particular site represents a major success for Mary Linders and WDFW who carefully reintroduced the species here over many years with the help of rearing programs at MCCCW and the Oregon Zoo.

As a Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) coordinator, I am always searching for ways to connect incarcerated technicians with the ecosystems they are helping to restore. Butterfly technicians know a lot about Salish lowland prairies from readings and discussion, but seeing the habitat with their own eyes provided a whole new level of insight. Hopefully this kind of trip can become a regular component of the program. I know it will help this group of technicians as they return to the butterfly lab at MCCCW and integrate their experience on the prairie into their work.

Such an opportunity would not have been possible without the officers and staff at MCCCW who supported this trip, and who play a vital role in hosting the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program throughout the year. A special thank you to Mary Linders, Josh Cook, and WDFW for being so generous with their time and facilitating this valuable learning experience for SPP participants.

Technician Tracy Hatch studies harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) blooming near the trail.

(left to right) Mary Linders and Josh Cook introduce the habitat’s vegetation and discuss the role of fire on the landscape. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) is one of adult Taylor’s checkerspots’ favorite perches.

Mary Linders describes the reintroduction process and how the population has progressed in this particular area.

Harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) stands out against the lush green grasses. This and other paintbrush varieties are known host plants for Taylor’s checkerspots.

Susan Christopher and Nichole Alexander search for wild Taylor’s checkerspot larvae.

Success! Early instar caterpillars huddle within their delicate webbing on Plantago lanceolata, a satisfying moment for butterfly technicians and biologists alike.

Sheep Husbandry Program: A New Collaboration for Conservation

by SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush

Note: This blog post was intended to be published sooner to acknowledge our contributors. We apologize for the delay.

Sustainability in Prisons Project’s mission is to bring sustainable change into prisons through science, nature and environmental education programs. To advance this mission, we leverage resources by collaborating with incarcerated people, agencies, organizations, and individuals, and together make innovative and impactful programs possible. Ecological conservation programs are perhaps our best examples of successful collaborations, as extensive partnerships are essential to the complex work involving threatened or endangered species. The new Sheep Husbandry Program at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) is an excellent example of collaboration.

Sheep program partners (missing WSU and SPP staff). Photo credit: Kelli Bush, SPP

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been guiding program development with their extensive knowledge of bighorn sheep recovery. Dr. Richard Harris and Mr. Jared Oyster have educated incarcerated participants and other partners on the issues facing wild bighorn sheep recovery. Through their established relationships at Washington State University, we have received excellent support for pathogen testing from Dr. Tom Besser. Also crucial, they have provided nearly all of the funding support for this pilot program.

Mr. J.D. Atteberry, Dr. Richard Harris, and Mr. Jerry Kjack looking at the newly completed sheep program site. Photo credit: Kelli Bush, SPP

Many thanks to Superintendent Donald Holbrook and Associate Superintendent Carla Schettler for agreeing to host this program at WSP. Associate Carla Schettler, Sgt. Stefan Randolph, Lt. Jarrod Sumerlin, Donna Hubbs, Toni Alvarado-Jackson, Ken Mitchell, Tonya Gould, Ellis Erikson, Brad Bisconer, Stephanie Parrish, unit staff, and East Complex staff have all dedicated their time escorting incarcerated program participants to the sheep site, and assisting with animal care. Special thanks to third shift staff in the East Complex for their contributions.

Lt. Jarrod Sumerlin opening gates to the sheep pasture area. Photo credit: Kelli Bush, SPP

Before sheep could even be housed at WSP, work had to be done to provide adequate shelter, pasture, water and electricity to the site. Thanks to J.D. Atteberry, Kellyo Gallaher, Stephan Birdwell, George Blevins, and Cheri Able-Johnson for their continued dedication to program infrastructure. Together this crew transformed an area previously used to raise pheasants into the new sheep program site.

Program participants and corrections staff cleaning up pasture site. Photo credit: Kelli Bush, SPP

Also, we are grateful to the program participants incarcerated at WSP. Through their excellent care, dedication, and commitment to learning, the pilot program is able to explore innovative solutions to a complex wildlife conservation issue. Incarcerated participants are being trained and supported by local sheep husbandry experts Jerry Kjack and Gerry Glenn. Both Jerry and Gerry have also played critical roles in program development.

Together, all partners are playing key roles in making this collaboration a success. As a team, we can benefit incarcerated people, wildlife, and communities!

Turtle Season is Here!

By Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Coordinator

South Puget Sound Wildlife Area in Lakewood, WA. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

It’s turtle trapping season for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). When we arrived onsite at the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area, Wildlife Biologist Emily Butler was already hard at work and chest-deep in one of the three ponds at the wildlife area that western pond turtles (WPT) call home. Emily and two dedicated volunteers were diligently placing traps in turtle habitat.

Emily Butler, Assistant District Biologist, Wildlife Program with one of the traps she uses for western pond turtles. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

Along with trapping, WDFW also identifies turtle nests in the area. They establish a barrier to protect the site from predators. The barrier pictured below protects an active nest that currently houses WPT eggs. While the eggs will hatch in the fall, the turtles will not emerge until next spring, and it is crucial to protect them from predators until then.

Western Pond Turtle Nest. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

As a recent addition to the SPP team, I was excited to see the Western pond turtle habitat firsthand. I am taking over Jessica Brown’s position as Conservation Coordinator with Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) and Larch Corrections Center (LCC), and working closely with WDFW to help western pond turtles fight off shell disease. Critically endangered in the state of Washington, WPT are a crucial native species that have recently fallen victim to shell disease, which deteriorates their shells and shortens the turtles’ lifespans.

In the next week WDFW will locate and identify any turtles that show signs of shell disease. The turtles that they trap will be evaluated at Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) where veterinarians will determine which individuals require treatment. Those turtles will then be transferred to Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) where SPP Biological Science Technicians will care for and monitor them through their recovery, then releasing the turtles next spring.

Left to right: SPP Liasion Tyler Kennedy, SPP Conservation Coordinator Marisa Pushee, Technician Daniel Silva, Technician Lorenzo Stewart, Technician George Gonzales, Technician Darin Armstrong, SPP Conservation Coordinator Jessica Brown. Photo by Amanda Mintz.

It was a pleasure to see the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area firsthand and gain insight from Emily. With two new Biological Science Technicians also joining our team, we all look forward to meeting our new patients soon and helping them along to a speedy recovery. Stay tuned for updates on our turtles in the fall!

Western Pond Turtle. Photo by Keegan Curry.

 

Trying to Find a Balance: The Emergent Vegetated Mats (EVM) Project

Text by Amanda Mintz and Danyl Herringshaw. Photos by Amanda Mintz unless otherwise noted.

The goal of an aquaponics system is to mimic nature by recycling nutrients from animal waste into plant tissue through microbial decomposition. The needs of fish, plants, and microbes must be balanced to keep the system functioning properly. The technicians at Stafford Creek Corrections Center are tasked with being sensitive to the needs of the system and work hard to maintain the balance among these symbiotic organisms. The technicians learn about plant and microbial ecology, water quality, and fish biology while also learning how to troubleshoot plumbing, heating systems, and pumps. When the system is working as it should, the technicians may be left with little maintenance to do. But when something goes wrong, such as a spike in ammonia or a failed pump, it is their job to figure out how to find the problem and fix it.

Click to learn more about how SPP is partnering with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center for Natural Lands Management, and the Department of Defense to restore Oregon spotted frog habitat in Washington State.

Danyl Herringshaw (left) and Joseph Oddo, current EVM technicians, are learning to maintain a system that often behaves in unexpected ways. This photo was taken just prior to loading mats for delivery…

This spring Danyl Herringshaw, an EVM technician since January, reflected on his experiences in the aquaponics facility:

“I think the most important thing I’ve learned since working at the EVM greenhouse at SCCC is the value of a mistake. The EVM greenhouse is a very delicate and fickle system. A small adjustment to the water flow can affect the entire system’s timing, for example. There have been countless examples of how I’ve learned and grown in my knowledge of this system from mine and others’ mistakes.

“This also puts into perspective how delicate a natural system is. Minor adjustments and maintenance seem to make this job slow, even boring sometimes. However, if an adjustment is too large or too small or a certain piece is overlooked during maintenance, it can have large ramifications. These adjustments and maintenance seem to happen effortlessly in nature.

“This is why natural habitats and ecosystems ought to be preserved when considering urban development. These systems are in place to keep us, and the wildlife that reside there, safe.”

In the EVM, we are doing our part to enhance natural ecosystems by growing native wetland plants in support of wetland habitat restoration for the threatened Oregon spotted frog. The plants are sown in soil and installed in mats once their roots and shoots are large enough. Then they continue growing in the mats until they achieve at least 50% cover. Mr. Herringshaw and Joseph Oddo, who has been working on the EVM project since March, have done an exceptional job sowing, tracking growth, and maintaining the health of the plants. We delivered another set of mats to Joint Base Lewis McChord in June.

…and this photo was taken after loading the mats! Each mat can weigh up to 100 pounds, even after they are allowed to drain and dry out for 24 hours.

 

Mr. Herringshaw and Mr. Oddo roll up the mats before loading them onto the truck. In the field, they will be rolled out and secured in place; the plants perk right back up.

 

This mat can’t wait for contact with soil! Imagine reed canarygrass trying to grow through these lush roots.

The EVM project is a learning laboratory for technicians and staff alike. Amanda Mintz, EVM Coordinator and Master of Environmental Studies graduate student at Evergreen, has been researching the effects of adding compost tea to the aquaponics water on plant nutrient content . Theoretically, the microbial community in the compost tea—a brew made by soaking bags of compost in aerated water—aids in plant nutrient uptake in several ways, such as helping decompose organic matter in the water, or stimulating plant hormones that promote growth and increase nutrient uptake. Mr. Herringshaw and former technician Matthew Fuller collected plant tissue samples for Amanda to take back to Evergreen’s laboratories for analysis, tracked plant growth and health data, and ensured that system parameters remained constant during the experiment.

Former EVM technicians Brian Bedilion and Matt Fuller calculate percent cover using the point method. Photo by Jim Snider, DOC

Stay tuned for the results of Amanda’s project!

Astrobiology for the Incarcerated – Washington

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

In April, I was fortunate to spend days and days immersed in the topic of astrobiology. What is astrobiology? It is the study of how stars and planets form, how that relates to life here on Earth, and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe. Alongside hundreds of incarcerated students and dozens of corrections staff in both Washington and Ohio, I got to learn about what is known, what is still unknown, and ponder immense questions. I had stars in my eyes, for sure!

Daniella Scalice, Education and Communications Lead for NASA’s Astrobiology Program, describes element creation in the core of a star to students at Mission Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Dr Drew Gorman-Lewis, Associate Professor in the Earth and Space Sciences at University of Washington, responds to a question from a student at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Washington State’s lecture series started at Mission Creek Corrections Center where they packed the gym; 150 students’ attention and curiosity gave us a great sense of success. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Astrobiology for the Incarcerated is a new program, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Astrobiology Program, and in partnership with Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) and Utah’s Initiative to bring Science Programs to the Incarcerated (INSPIRE). The program was brought to us by Daniella Scalice, Education and Communications Lead for NASA’s Astrobiology Program; she is a master of describing exquisite concepts and making them relevant to our lives.

Here I will share details from the Washington State programs; I will share Ohio’s in part 2. In Washington, Daniella was joined by Dr Drew Gorman-Lewis, Associate Professor in the Earth and Space Sciences at University of Washington. Our small team visited five prisons in four days, reaching 450 incarcerated students and 52 corrections staff. At each venue, Drew and Daniella told us a three-part story.

Part One: Creation

Daniella introduced us to the life cycle of stars—who knew that stars had life cycles!—and how their birth, maturity, and death creates and distributes most of the elements that makes up the Universe as we know it. She told us: Every atom in our bodies, the water we drink, the food we eat, our buildings, our roads, the things we buy and make, all were built in the heart of a star. It’s a dizzying concept, one that connects everyone and everything.

She outlined how these elements may have come together in the nutrient and energy rich environments of hydrothermal vents—hot water vents at the ocean floor—to create the first microbes, the first life on Earth.

Part Two: Adaptation

Part two came from Drew. He told us about his research with microbes, single-celled organisms, that live in extreme environments on earth. His personal and professional favorites live in near-boiling pools of acid—really! He emphasized that there are microbes living and thriving in nearly every environment on Earth. Those inhabitants also influence their environments; their life processes take up, transform, and leave behind new elements and structures. The microbes can quickly adapt to take advantage of new conditions, and so back and forth, life and the Earth interact and influence each other. His research investigates how much energy microbes use to live in extreme environments, and in this way sheds a bit of light on where and how we might find microbes beyond our Earth.

Students respond to a question from Daniella. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Part Three: Exploration

Daniella’s part three dove into this search for life, focusing on the most promising worlds within our solar system. I was amazed to learn that there are some excellent contenders! I was particularly taken by moons of Jupiter and Saturn, Europa  and Enceladus, that have global oceans: hidden beneath icy crusts, their worlds are covered with liquid water. On Enceladus, there is also evidence of geothermal vents. Given that one of the theories for the origin of life places it in Earth vents, this news of similar environments on a moon of Saturn gave me the chills (the good kind).

At every venue, the students dazzled us with ideas and questions. I think that’s the best part for me—hearing how others are making sense of the concepts, the collective insights and exploration. I learned as much from them as from the scientists…as usual!

Our second stop was Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Students and staff had to walk through the rain to attend, and still brought their best selves. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

To the class at Twin Rivers Unit, Monroe Correctional Complex, Daniella emphasized that astrobiology is not possible without collaboration, and she invited the students present to bring their diversity of knowledge and insight to the topic. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Students had trouble signing up for the session at Washington State Reformatory, also in Monroe Correctional Complex, and that seemed to mean that only the most avidly interested were present. Their questions and comments were advanced, for sure. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Our last stop in Washington was at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Photo by Kelli Bush.

 

All attendees left with a gorgeous, ten page summary of the presentation. Photo by Kelli Bush.