Category Archives: collaboration

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.

 

Technicians from Cedar Creek participate in turtle release

By Jessica Brown, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator with Biological Science Technicians at CCCC, Darin Armstrong and Noel Priestman. Photos by Jessica Brown

Early in April, nine western pond turtles left their temporary housing facility at Cedar Creek Correctional Center and traveled up to PAWS in Lynwood to receive their final check-up and CT scans. The turtles arrived to Cedar Creek in last Fall for rehabilitation and recovery from shell disease treatment. A group of incarcerated technicians provided expert daily care to help the turtles get healthy enough for them to return to their natural habitat. Two of the technicians were able to assist Washington Department Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist, Emily Butler, with the release of 7 turtles at the South Puget Sound Habitat Area in Lakewood, WA. The technicians also had the opportunity to see newly emerged turtle hatchlings that will eventually make their way down to the ponds.

WDFW biologist, Emily Butler and technicians taking the last photos and measurements of the turtles prior to release

 

Technician, Darin Armstrong assisting with measurements

 

Here are the technician’s response to their experience of the release:

 

DARIN ARMSTRONG

On April 6th, I was given the opportunity to release seven western pond turtles back into their natural habitat. The experience was overwhelming and very new to me. I was able to see where the beavers have been helping to develop the ponds. The turtles took to their natural habitat quickly. The information received from Jessica and Emily was very helpful in understanding the reasons behind the type of fungus involved in shell disease and how it is healed. I thank them very much for the experience they shared.

Darin ready to release one of the turtles

 

Releasing the first turtle!

 

Noel releasing the next two turtles

 

 

 

NOEL PRIESTMAN

How extremely grateful I am for this chance to participate with SPP at Cedar Creek and the conservation effort to restore healthy populations of endangered western pond turtles and release them back into Washington State natural habitats where they can make a come back. I believe this experience has increased my chances to make a successful transition and make a come back of my own. What I have enjoyed most about this job is contributing my time and energy to an important service. I also like being able to give back to the community through my wholehearted effort to communicate, collaborate, and participate in a worthy cause!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last turtle getting released!

 

Female western pond turtle readjusting to her habitat

 

Turtle hatchlings that emerged a couple of days prior to our visit

 

Tiny turtle hatchling