Category Archives: collaboration

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.

Caring for the Community with Coastal Harvest

Text and photos by Amanda Mintz unless otherwise noted.

If you have never seen Stafford Creek Corrections Center, you might be surprised; among the fences and gray buildings are one and a half acres of flower and vegetable gardens. This includes several very large plots, many ornamental plantings, and a plot for every living unit. Inmates tend the gardens daily among the bees and butterflies; they experiment with novel gardening techniques, and carefully hand-water the plants.

A unit garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photograph by Kelly Peterson.

The incarcerated gardeners take a monthly class called Seed to Supper, co-lead by SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator Jacob Meyers and SCCC’s Grounds and Nursery Supervisor Ed Baldwin (Ed is also the Prairie Conservation Nursery Liaison). Seed to Supper lasts nine sessions, during which participants learn how to grow and harvest produce in the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Baldwin decides what to grow, sometimes choosing unusual vegetables new to the gardeners. In class, the gardeners are encouraged to share their strategies and successes with one another to improve their skills collectively. Each class concludes with Mr. Baldwin announcing the weekly haul for each living unit—usually several hundred pounds per garden. Last year, SCCC produced 11,000 pounds of food. This year they have already broken that record, and will harvest over 19,000 pounds of produce by the end of this month!

This hoop house was donated by SPP’s conservation nursery for growing food, and according to Ed Baldwin, it has increased production of heat and sun loving vegetables that are difficult to grow in the cooler coastal climate of SCCC.

 

Conservation Nursery Technicians Shabazz Malekk and Aaron Bander strike a pose in the hoop house.

 

SPP’s Conservation Nursery Technicians maintain the HUB gardens, where they use experimental techniques for natural pest suppression and increasing plant growth.

Most garden seed comes from Harvest Now, an organization that works with correctional facilities nationwide to grow-to-donate and provide fresh food for their own cafeterias. At SCCC, most of the produce is donated to Coastal Harvest, a non-profit organization serving food banks and pantries in a seven-county area of Southwestern Washington. Ed Baldwin was responsible for initiating the partnership; he visited Coastal Harvest and invited them to come tour the gardens at SCCC. According to Coastal Harvest staff, the response to the partnership from the community is very positive; SCCC is their only regular weekly contributor of fresh produce, and they are grateful for it.

I asked some of SPP’s Conservation Nursery Technicians, who also tend the HUB gardens and greenhouse, and Mr. Baldwin how they feel about donating most of the food they grow.

Technician Dale King said that, before he came to Stafford Creek, his life was all about himself; he never did anything for anyone else.  Now he feels good about the opportunity to do something for others in need.

Conservation Nursery Technicians Dale King and Daniel Travatte are proud to provide food for Coastal Harvest.

 

In addition to experimenting with growing techniques, the garden crew re-purposes as many items as possible, such as using plastic bags and buckets to grow tomatoes and eggplants.

The other technicians agreed; because they have their basic needs addressed, their work has become a labor of love; the gratitude from the community is more important to them than eating the food themselves. The community served by Coastal Harvest is their community too, and it cultivates a sense of pride to be able to give back. They brought up the idea that it takes one to one-and-a-half acres to feed one person for a year. There are almost 2000 people at SCCC, and not even two acres of gardens; Ed Baldwin and the technicians agreed that what they grow would be only a drop in the bucket at the prison.

Starting in July, they figured out how to send some produce to the inmate kitchen; kitchen staff come out every Monday to look through the harvest and take what they can use to supplement inmate meals for the week, usually salad greens and herbs. Many of the prison-grown pumpkins will be contributed to SCCC’s monthly Family Fun Night in October, where inmates and their families will paint them for Halloween.

More than anything else, the Conservation Nursery Technicians at SCCC expressed that they appreciate the learning experience created by the partnership with Coastal Harvest. They have experimented with unusual fruit and vegetable varieties and adjusted their production based on feedback about the most popular items at the food banks and pantries. Mr. Baldwin thinks that at this point, each participating gardener could easily start his own business. Technician Daniel Travatte even went as far as saying he would pay to do this work!

 

Conservation Nursery Technicians Kelly Lund and Stanley Feliciano cool off inside the squash trellis.

 

Many plants begin their lives in the greenhouse and move into the gardens as they mature.

 

Although less popular at the food banks, Coastal Harvest uses unusual or unknown vegetable varieties at their pantries, where they prepare and give away meals.

 

This gorgeous garlic is nearly ready for harvest.

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!

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.

Checking in with the Checkerspots

by Keegan Curry, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator

Each year, the Sustainability in Prisons Project’s (SPP) Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program rears thousands of endangered caterpillars for reintroduction to the wild. Incarcerated technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) shepherd these rare butterflies through each of their four life stages—eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults. The transition from winter to spring is an exciting time for the program because that’s when all the action happens: the larvae wake up and begin to eat, followed shortly by pupation, adult emergence, and captive breeding.

Taylor’s checkerspots are adult butterflies for only about 5 weeks during the spring, so things happen fast; now that we’re nearing the end of “flight” season, it all feels like a white and orange blur! And yet, a lot has happened in the past few months. Two new butterfly technicians joined our team, ~2,800 post-diapause larvae were sent to Joint Base Lewis-McChord for release, 230 adult butterflies eclosed in the lab, and technicians hosted site visits for some of our most valued partners (including one very special guest). To top it all off, the MCCCW butterfly crew celebrated their most productive breeding season to date!

I am pleased to share with you some images from the 2018 rearing season. These photos highlight the tremendous efforts and accomplishments of everyone involved, including staff from Washington Department of Corrections (WA Corrections), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Oregon Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and many more.

(Left to right) Technician Susan Christopher, WDFW Biologist Mary Linders, and Technicians Nichole Alexander, and Alexis Coleman work together to decide which caterpillars should be released this year and which ones should remain at MCCCW for captive breeding.

Technician Nichole Alexander labels individual deli cups full of caterpillars that have just been woken up from winter diapause. Over 3,000 hungry caterpillars now line these shelves waiting to be released!

WDFW Biologist Mary Linders directs volunteers at a Taylor’s checkerspot release site. We transport caterpillars from the prison to the field and very carefully introduce them to their new environment.

A volunteer transplants Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars to Plantago lanceolata host plants. It is early spring, so much of the prairie vegetation has yet to flower.

A few caterpillars remain in the MCCCW lab where they will mature to produce some of the program’s next batch of eggs. Here, a few caterpillars get fat and happy as they prepare for pupation. A group of fifteen caterpillars can eat up to eight Plantago leaves per day! Technicians have to feed them constantly to keep up with their appetites.

Once they have reached the appropriate size, caterpillars crawl to the top of their mesh enclosure and hang in a ‘J’ shape before transforming into a chrysalis. Pupation is such a strange and beautiful process to behold, and MCCCW technicians get to watch it happen right before their eyes.

Midway through the season, Carolina Landa (far right) and Dennis Buckingham (second from the left) paid a special visit to the butterfly program. Dennis was the first SPP coordinator and Carolina was one of the original incarcerated technicians, and the part she played in shaping the program is legendary. Carolina returned to MCCCW and share valuable words of encouragement with the current technicians. It was a great opportunity to present Alexis Coleman, Nichole Alexander, and Susan Christopher with their Butterfly Rearing and Research Specialist certificates.

About three weeks after pupation, butterflies begin to emerge from their chrysalises. This is a rewarding moment for the butterfly technicians, but it also means more work! Each butterfly needs to be fed honey from a Q-tip, weighed on a scale, photographed, identified as male or female, and placed in the appropriate enclosure.

Technicians pair male and female checkerspots based on their genetic lineage. Males and females are introduced to each other in these mesh tents. The butterflies were very cooperative this year, wasting no time in consummating the match.

Mated pairs are removed from the breeding tents. Technicians then place the female butterflies on Plantago plant for egg-laying. The male gets to go hang out with his buddies until they are released into the field.

A mated female lays eggs near the base of Plantago lanceolata. In the wild, this is a great place to keep the eggs safe from harm, but in the lab, eggs laid this way pose a challenge for technicians. They will have to use a tiny paintbrush to remove these fragile eggs and transfer them to a 5oz cup where they will eventually hatch.

(Left to right) MCCCW Superintendent Devon Schrum, SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush, USFWS Biologist Karen Reagan, Alexis Coleman, Susan Christopher, Tracy Hatch, USFWS Division Manager Tom McDowell, Nichole Alexander, and SPP Coordinator Keegan Curry take a group photo in front of the butterfly lab. Karen and Tom from USFWS oversee Taylor’s checkerspot recovery on a regional level; they took time out of their busy schedules to visit the MCCCW captive rearing program and see firsthand the work that incarcerated technicians are doing to support endangered species conservation.

Technician Alexis Coleman shares her observations about Taylor’s checkerspot egg-laying behavior with Tom McDowell and Karen Reagan from USFWS.

This year was the most productive breeding season to date for MCCCW: our captive-bred butterflies laid over 8,000 eggs! This is great news for the program and for species recovery in the field, and the technicians at MCCCW should be proud. Their contributions are vital to restoring Taylor’s checkerspot populations in Washington State.

 

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.

Cracking Kinnikinnick

by Carl Elliott, SPP Conservation Nursery Manager

Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is tough to grow from seeds. Kinnikinnick seeds have compound dormancy: before germination can occur, the seed coats must be made permeable to water (breaking physical dormancy), and must undergo a number of internal biological processes (breaking physiological dormancy). Though there are known methods to overcome the double dormancy, the results are highly variable and inconsistent. Most commercial nurseries grow the plant from softwood cuttings, but these lack the genetic diversity of seed-grown stock.

Bombus vosnesenskii collects nectar from kinnikinnick flowers.

SPP’s conservation nursery has taken on the challenge of seed-grown kinnikinnick, because of the benefits it brings to pollinators at restoration sites on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Delightfully bright yellow-faced bumblebees (Bombus vosnesenskii) and fuzzy black-tailed bumblebees (Bombus melanopygus) perform acrobatics to collect nectar from its flowers. Both of these hardy insects fly out at any early promise of spring. These are just two of the many pollinators that gain sustenance from this important plant.

Kinnikinnick provides both an early bloom time and an extended bloom period spanning a couple of months. This blooming phenology (cycle) allows pollinating insects to build up their populations early in the season. These fortified populations carry over into the spring and summer, providing increased pollination services to many prairie plants. Susan Waters from Center for Natural Lands Management is surveying Salish lowland prairies’ pollinators, and has developed detailed graphics of pollinator networks demonstrating the importance of bumblebees as pollinators for numerous plant species used in restoration.

Conservation nursery technicians coax the December fire needed for one of the pre-treatment trials.

This year, SPP program team designed a study of kinnikinnick germination at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC). The nursery technicians drew from what they had learned about the scientific method from a program workshop. SPP staff and the technicians aim to find out the most consistent pre-treatment to overcome the physical dormancy, plus the best length of time in cold-moist conditions to reduce physiological dormancy. Together we developed a methodology to test means to overcome the dormancy of kinnikinnick seeds and promote germination. In December, SPP-Evergreen and SCCC staff gathered with the technicians to perform the range of pre-treatments.

Nursery Specialist Ed Baldwin (right) pokes fun at the chances that they’ll need the fire extinguisher.

We performed three pre-treatments and a control. First was to dip the seeds in 80°C water for 2 minutes; second we immersed seeds for 24 hours in an acid bath of distilled white vinegar (the most acidic thing we could use in a corrections setting). The third treatment was a very controlled burn: after safety precautions were in place, seed was laid out on a bed of sand and covered with 2 cm of sand; 12 inches of dried grass clippings were piled and lit aflame. Since December in Aberdeen, WA is not particularly dry, fire-prone time of year, significant effort was put into keeping the flame burning.

The seed from each treatment was sown separately in the nursery’s standard cone-tainers, and will spend the winter in cold-wet stratification. Only warming weather of mid-spring can bring forth answers to our germination trials, but already the technicians, staff, and the bumble bees are betting on the outcome.

Kinnikinnick seeds look like they survived the controlled burn just fine.

Bombus melanopygus among kinnikinnick flowers.

If you are interested in learning more about bumblebees and other pollinators, check out the Xerces Society.