Category Archives: Conservation Programs

The Challenges—and Opportunities—of a New Program

Text and photos by Amanda Mintz, SPP EVM Program Coordinator

Brian Bedilion and Rudy Smale compare a water quality test to a color chart.

From a tilapia farm to a wetland plant nursery, the aquaponics house at Stafford Creek Corrections Center has experienced major transformations over the past year. Creating a new program brings many challenges, particularly when we start from scratch with no existing model to imitate. Careful monitoring and teamwork means we can meet those challengers, and constantly improve the system.

What’s in a Name?

We often call our program the EVM, a name that rolls easily off the tongue. But not everyone knows that EVM stands for Emergent Vegetated Mat, or what an Emergent Vegetated Mat even is! To meet this challenge, EVM program technicians receive training in wetland ecology, plant propagation, and aquaponics, and are capable of explaining what we do to anyone who asks.

Technicians learned about the functions of wetlands, such as water holding capacity demonstrated by peat pods, and phytoremediation: the ability for wetland plants to absorb and transform pollutants.

Ecosystem Balance

Our aquaponics system relies on symbioses among fish, bacteria, and plants; for the system to thrive, maintaining optimal water quality is a constant concern. The aquaponics unit is a living system which can, at times, be unpredictable. Technicians monitor water quality daily, looking for changes in dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrate, and pH that could indicate a problem. Solutions to an imbalance can be as simple as increasing the water flow to plants, or as complex as adding a new heating system. With time and experience, we have learned how to increase the stability of the system through understanding the specific needs of the living things it supports.

Technicians monitor water quality with aquarium test kits. Occasionally water is taken back to The Evergreen State College‘s laboratory and tested there to make sure the kits are taking accurate readings.

Critter Control

Any nursery will eventually experience a critter invasion. Red-legged frogs and spiders are frequent visitors to the facility, as are less desirable critters like aphids. Technicians use low-impact methods to keep pests at bay, such as manual removal or biodegradable soap. As you can see, our plants are thriving (and the frogs are happy)!

Kent Dillard and Rudy Smale use manual control and biodegradable soap to remove aphids from the mats without harming plants or fish.

Over the next few months, the addition of two new hoop houses will significantly increase our capacity for mat production. We look forward to facing the challenges of expanding the EVM program now that we have a year’s experience under our belts. None of these projects would be possible without the tireless effort of Stafford Creek Corrections Center maintenance mechanics and plumbers, the EVM technicians, the folks at Center for Natural Lands Management and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and all our funders: Washington Department of Corrections, Department of Defense, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (with a little help from us at SPP)!

This red-legged frog, lounging on the edge of a coir mat, is a frequent visitor to the aquaponics house!

Taylor’s checkerspot wake up and release

Text and photos by Keegan Curry, SPP Butterfly Program Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WDFW biologist Mary Linders explains larval release procedures to volunteers.

 

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

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

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

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

A day for pollinators in prisons

Text by Dr. Jody Becker Green, Acting Secretary, Washington State Department of Corrections, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Photos by Ricky Osborne

Between sessions, Bee Summit participants posed for a group photo.

Superintendent Dona Zavislan welcomed the summit guests to Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW).

On Friday March 3, SPP partners filled the gymnasium at Washington Corrections Center for Women for a summit on beekeeping programs in prisons. About 125 expert, apprentice, and novice beekeepers spent the day sharing best practices for rebuilding pollinator populations. We also shared the delights of working with honeybees and other pollinatorsthese social insects and plant-pollinator relationships served as lovely metaphors for productivity and mutual support.

During the summit, eight beekeeping students received their apprentice-level certification. The host prison offers beekeeping education within the Horticulture program taught by Ed Tharp (pictured with microphone), and as a complementary program instructed by Carrie Little, the founder of Mother Earth Farm. The apprentice beekeeper shown is Candace Ralston.

The agenda was packed, and covered everything from equipment safety to food justice to native pollinator habitat needs. Other highlights are described in photos throughout this article.

Lonniesha Veasey, an incarcerated beekeeper and Horticulture Teaching Assistant, shares her thoughts and questions during the summit.

The day ended with spring rain pounding on the gymnasium roof, and generous outpourings from incarcerated beekeepers, expert beekeepers, and leadership from the Washington State’s Department of Corrections (WA Corrections). Anticipating release in just a few days, an incarcerated woman reflected on her years in prison: she said that horticulture programs had become her reason to get up in the morning, and meant that she now has plans for her future. SPP’s co-director Steve Sinclair praised the event, and said, “We invited magical people here, so let’s go make magic!” A Massachusetts beekeeper, Susan Goldwitz, told the group that we are like bees, turning dust into sweet, liquid gold.

Staff came from all 12 WA Corrections’ prisons, and were joined by experienced beekeepers from across the state, incarcerated beekeepers, SPP-Evergreen staff and students, biologists, and other community partners and topic experts.

The current head of WA Corrections, Jody Becker-Green, gave final remarks. She thanked everyone in the room for the part they played in the summit, and in developing and offering pollinator programs in prisons. She described her own love of beekeeping, and the feeling in the room while she spoke was transcendent. An excerpt is offered here.

I am probably the last person you want up here doing closing remarks for this summit because I could talk about bees and beekeeping for hours!

I offer my deepest gratitude and appreciation to all of you, for the travel and schedule coordination it took to give a day to this event. Your generosity of time and spirit is remarkable. The only way programs like these are possible is through the many contributions each of you is willing to make. The fact that you keep showing up with your ideas, optimism, and creativity is an incredible gift to the prison community, and to the communities beyond the fence as well.

Acting Secretary Dr. Jody Becker-Green shared love for honeybees—their many impressive and amazing attributes—and brought a beautiful closing to the day’s events.

As we have learned today, bees are quite simply amazing creatures, whether they are the little solitary bees, living their relatively simple lives, or honeybees, thriving in incredibly complex, interwoven and democratic societal structures.

Next to humans, honeybees are perhaps the most widely studied creatures in nature. Throughout the years, research has demonstrated that a honeybee colony is instinctively able to organize itself into a super-efficient society. Honeybee colonies provide profound lessons in democracy, communication, teamwork, and decision-making that we may all be wise to learn from. I know that I have learned a lot from watching and studying the bees that make their home on my property and try to apply those lessons to leading a complex agency.

One of my favorite books, Honeybee Democracy, written by Thomas D. Seeley, describes how honeybee colonies make decisions both collectively and democratically. Seeley says that every year, faced with the life or death problems of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate and consensus building. The level of sophistication, communication, trust and connection that occurs within a hive is almost hard to comprehend.

Fruit trays spelled out SPP appreciation and, so fittingly, displayed fruits that rely on pollinators for reproduction. The summit was well supported by WCCWs event crew and staff members who provided a delicious and gorgeous spread of snacks, and decorated the gymnasium with flowers and banners.

My love for bees began about eight years ago after making a visit to Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). At the time, I was working for the Department of Social and Health Services and was interested in learning more about the sustainability efforts underway within the Department of Corrections. After spending a great deal of time with the beekeepers at CCCC, I was hooked. It was only a matter of months before I become a beekeeper and achieved my certification.

Throughout the years, bees have become highly symbolic for me. I have found a much deeper meaning in the art of beekeeping beyond the ecological value they have in sustaining our ecosystems. Let me share just a few examples of this meaning with you.

Bees enter the world with distinct roles and commitment to the greater good. The spirit of the bee has a strong work ethic as they literally will work themselves to death, however, they also know the importance of stopping to smell and enjoy the flowers they are able to find the delicate balance between the two. With competing demands and priorities balance between work and life, balance is not always easy to attain and maintain. I constantly remind myself and others of the importance of balance for overall personal and professional health and well-being in order to be the best version of self in all that we do.

Bees play a very specific role in nature pollinating other plants. This is necessary to the on-going life cycle of many crops. An end result of pollination is the provision of honey and wax that is enjoyed by many, thus adding to their value. Einstein believed so deeply in the importance of bees to the ecosystem that he predicted if bees disappeared humans would not survive more than four years afterward.

The pollination process also symbolizes our social nature of interdependency and mutual benefit. Bees live and work as a community. As they go from flower to flower, that progression enriches the world.

SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair acknowledges the composting crew at Washington State Reformatory as an example of the creativity and excellence achievable in a program.

Bees work with a spirit of cooperation, working cohesively for the good of their community. They show us the importance of both teamwork and communication in their day-to-day lives.

Bees are also strong protectors and defenders of that which is important to them. They are willing to give their life in defense of whatever mission prevails. As humans, we are anchored in core values and beliefs and will also defend that which we hold to be true in our words, actions and deeds.

Finally, while bees struggle with daunting environmental challenges, they show us about perseverance and resiliency. They support each other to overcome adversities, and it is that bravery, trust, and effort, that makes usand much of the life on earthable to depend on them.

 

Most of the funding for the event came from a generous donation from the Seattle Foundation to partners at The Evergreen State College. The Seattle Foundation has supported SPP annually for multiple years, and their support has made a real difference in what programs are able to achieve.

Thank you to Mann Lake, Betterbee, and Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, beekeeping suppliers who donated gifts for summit attendees.

Numerous partners helped make the event a success. From left to right: Evergreen graduate students covered presentation IT and note taking; WCCW’s event crew (red t-shirts) were our logistical hosts, ran the sound system, and made the space beautiful and functional; Felice Davis and Joslyn Rose Trivett MC’ed and coordinated the program, and Jeremy Barclay worked with KOMO 4 to produce a video about the summit.

More coverage of the summit and beekeeping in prisons programs:

Three expert and influential beekeepers share a moment at the conference. Beekeeping associations have given essential support to prison programs, and tell us that incarcerated beekeepers are invaluable to pollinator recovery in the state. From left to right: Gary Clueit, President of Washington State Beekeepers Assocation (WASBA); Laurie Pyne, Master Beekeeper and President of Olympia Beekeepers Association; and Ellen Miller, Vice President of WASBA.

Enthusiasm, grace, and patience

By Carl Elliott, Kelli Bush, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP-Evergreen Managers

Fawn brought Princess Remington, a turkey vulture, to the lecture series at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, and held the class’ full attention for a solid hour (more about her presentation here). Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Fawn Harris fills her days to overflowing, and navigates her many activities with grace and patience. She is a Master of Environmental Studies student, employee and volunteer with West Sound Wildlife, regularly active in her cultural community and environmental movement, and she coordinates SPP’s prairie conservation nursery program at Washington Corrections Center—a relatively new program with unusual and complex demands.

Fawn is the first member of her family to attend college. She is passionate about education, the environment, and building community. She successfully juggles the many elements of her life.

Fawn works on plant pressings with a student at Washington Corrections Center. Photo by Carl Elliott.

At Washington Corrections Center, she works and studies with men who are cognitively disabled, and finds ways to make science and environmental education accessible and relevant to them. Partnering with this population is a new challenge for SPP, and Fawn has been central to the program’s success thus far. She has shown patience and perseverance with everyone involved.

Above all, Fawn is a wonderful communicator. She knows how to captivate a large audience, describing the habits of birds-of-prey in a way that makes a lasting impression. She will take the time with a student to explain and discuss complex topics until the student feels satisfied. She also stands up for herself, and says what she needs, so that she is both safe and effective in her work. We are so impressed by Fawn and so happy to be working with her!

Fawn Harris and Sadie Gilliom collect violet seeds at Washington Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

Excellent Student and Teacher

By Susan Christopher, Butterfly Technician, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

On his last day in the program, Seth holds a thank you card from the butterfly technicians. Photo by Keegan Curry.

The butterfly technicians from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to our departing program coordinator, Mr. Seth Dorman.

Mr. Dorman was with the program for about a year and a half. During that time his dedication and work ethic inspired us to be the best workers, students, and scientists we could be.

Seth and butterfly technicians carefully work through “spring wake-up,” the time when the caterpillars come out of winter dormancy. Photo by a technician.

He was both an excellent student and teacher. He learned very quickly about DOC policies and SPP’s butterfly program. He treated us with respect, encouraged us to think outside the box and to step outside our comfort zone and share those ideas. He displayed tremendous patience and a great sense of humor, even while trying to explain the concept of a “null hypothesis” to us.

Mr. Dorman’s coordination efforts produced, for the first time ever, the opportunity for two technicians to join a butterfly release. Also due to his efforts, all four technicians attended the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly working group meeting, where we had input on region-wide efforts to protect and recover the endangered species.

We consider ourselves fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Dorman: Thank you, Seth; we wish you the utmost success in all your future endeavors.

Summit for Beekeeping in Prisons

By Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

A WSP Beekeeper gets geared up and ready to check on the hives. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

You might think that beekeeping in prisons is a nice idea, but not a big idea: maybe it’s a small, fanciful project that would crop up here or there. Not the case!

In Washington State prisons alone, we already have seven beekeeping programs up and running, and at least three more are in the works. Beekeeping is also in the prison at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and many corrections facilities nationwide, including Georgia, Maryland, IllinoisOregon, Florida, Nebraska, and LA County. Beekeeping programs can also be found in foreign prisons like England, New Zealand, Italy, and France. We’ve  been contacted by prisons interested in beekeeping in Massachusetts, Albania, and Canada!

Three Maryland facilities host honeybee programs to provide training for inmates and boost the local population of pollinators. These hives are at Maryland Correctional Institution for Women. Photo by Anthony DePanise of Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Outside of prison, reentry programs, like Sweet Beginnings in Chicago, offer meaningful work experience. The founding executive  director of Sweet Beginnings, Brenda Palms Barber, found that “Fewer than 4% of Sweet Beginnings participants go back into the criminal justice system, compared with the national average of more than 65% and the Illinois average of 55%.” How amazing is that?

Adding to the honeybee focus are countless prison gardens that are accessible to many types of pollinators: beds of flowers and herbs, small-scale vegetable production, and full-scale farms. Corrections facilities typically don’t use any chemical pesticides, so don’t contain the systemic poisons that threaten foraging pollinators; prison plantings are helping to rebuild pollinator habitat by offering a safe food supply. Some prisons add habitat structures for native pollinators, such as mason bee boxes at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (see photo) and a literal-log delivered to the retention pond at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

A home for mason bees, a native pollinator, at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

These programs tap into the many therapeutic benefits of working with nature, which has been widely documented in scientific research. Working with honeybees is particularly soothing; it’s impossible to get good results with bees without calming down. Both inmates and staff sorely need relief from prison stresses, and nature programs can be a place of refuge and recharge.

Also these programs provide a way for inmates to “give back ” to communities and the environment.  In recent decades, pollinators have been dying at a frightening rate, putting our food sources in jeopardy: we depend on pollinators for more than 30% of human food and drink. Generally, nearly all plants with flowers need pollinators; 85% depend on insects for their reproduction! We need healthy hives to conserve and restore bee populations. In 2015, pollinator health was declared a national priority; as a hobby or career, beekeeping is has societal recognition and value. This is no fanciful endeavor—we need bees to thrive so that we can thrive.

A professional beekeeper devoted her summer vacation to teaching about bees in a prison; how cool is that. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

In Washington, we are ramping up to a full-day Summit for Beekeeping in Prisons, to be hosted by Washington Corrections Center for Woman on March 3rd. More than 100 people are registered, and they will come from all 12 Washington prisons, the Evergreen State College, various non-profits and community groups, and multiple beekeeping associations, including the statewide association that oversees beekeeping certification. A major bonus of holding the summit inside a prison is that incarcerated beekeepers will be able to participate. All partners will share best practices, future prison beekeeping plans, safety ideas, community outreach plans, and pollinator health knowledge. We can’t wait to hear what great ideas and thoughts come from our many, fantastic partners!

Each program depends on partnerships among incarcerated individuals, corrections staff, and expert beekeepers. They are united in learning about and tending to something beautiful, complex, and a little bit scary…until it becomes second nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prison Shares Earthworm Wealth with Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

Text and photos by Sadie Gilliom, current SPP Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator and previous Northwest Trek employee

The worm bin built for Northwest Trek with the team who created it.

Inside the three rows of razor wire, Monroe Correctional Complex houses more than incarcerated people. A partnership between an incarcerated individual and a correctional staff member initiated a waste reduction program that now is home for millions of thriving earthworms. Under the supervision of an officer, and with support from SPP-Evergreen, Nick Hackney—now a world renowned worm expert—and his team grew 200 worms into more than 10 million that process up to 40,000 lbs of food waste per month! The worm farm’s success has inspired addition of other programs; all are housed within a larger Sustainable Practices Lab. All the lab’s program have the benefit of coordination and oversite provided by Officer Jeff Swan.

This program has been around for over 6 years now, and the worm technicians have been spreading their worm wealth.  Most recently, the crew came built a heated outdoor worm bin for Northwest Trek Wildlife Park (Trek).  Trek plans to use the worm bin as a public engagement tool and will feed the worms with the scraps from the staff lunchroom.

Mr. Hackney shows Rachael Mueller how to use Trek’s new worm bin.

I had the privilege of coordinating the delivery and escorting a member of Trek’s conservation team, Rachael Mueller, up to Monroe for a tour and pick up of the finished product. I was present as two unlikely sustainability partners came together. It was a beautiful moment!

Mr. Juan shows how they use Bokashi bran to ferment meat before feeding it to the worms.

A few of the vermiculture techs helped load the bin into the truck.

Vermiculture Tech’s, Sadie Gilliom and Rachael Mueller pose at the end of the worm program tour.

The worm team at Monroe gave Trek a well-designed worm bin, shared their knowledge on how to maintain it and gave them a sample of black soldier fly larvae from a pilot program to see if they would want to use them as animal feed. Northwest Trek will be sharing the knowledge and story of the worm team’s impact on sustainability practices with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. I would call that a great partnership!

Mr. Hackney and Rachael Mueller shake hands after the exchange

Thank you to Northwest Trek—especially the Conservation and Education Curator Jessica Moore—for being open to the idea. A big thank to the Monroe worm team and Officer Swan for donating their knowledge and a beautiful worm bin to Trek and their generations of visitors to come!

New Turtles and New Technicians!

Text and photos by Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator, Sadie Gilliom

Cedar Creek and Larch Corrections Centers programs just received new turtles last week!

New turtle at Larch Corrections Center

New turtle at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

These turtles just finished their treatments at PAWS wildlife rehabilitation center and the Oregon Zoo and moved on to the prisons to be cared for and monitored by the trained turtle technicians at the prisons.

Technician Eldridge holding a new turtle at Cedar Creek

Speaking of turtle technicians, we would like to welcome two new technicians who joined the Larch program at the same time the turtles arrived. A big salutations to Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Larson!  They are getting some great training from current lead technician, Mr. Goff, before he moves on to try out the new dog program at Larch.

Two new turtle technicians at Larch posing with new turtles

Here’s to new turtles, new technicians, and to the future release of these turtles back into the wild!

Happy New Year!

Collecting Sagebrush Seeds

Article and photos by Gretchen Graber, Sagebrush Grower Contractor at the Institute for Applied Ecology

Seed collectors pose with their seed collection bags.

As part of the Great Basin Sagebrush partnership, we collected sagebrush seed twice this November. The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) Coyote Ridge off-site inmate technician crew collected first at Swanson Lake Wildlife Refuge, and then in the Saddle Mountains on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property. Both properties are part of Washington State’s sagebrush steppe landscape.

Seed collectors take turns viewing sagebrush seeds through a scope.

For the Saddle Mountain collection, many local native plant society members volunteered, and we were joined by a Juvenile Justice Center work crew. For both collections we had great weather. We enjoyed being outside learning about partnership efforts to restore shrub-steppe habitat for the continued existence of the imperiled greater-sage grouse.

We gathered seed from a subspecies of big sagebrush, called Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis). The seeds will be shipped and cleaned at the Seeds of Success seed cleaning facility in Bend, Oregon. Then it will sent back to Washington State to be used to grow next year’s crop of 60,000 Wyoming big sagebrush plugs in Coyote Ridge’s Sagebrush Nursery. We collected enough seed to create a reserve supply for the program, and share with other programs for research and conservation purposes.

Seed collectors smile from the field, surrounded by mature sagebrush.

Seeds of Success intern Shawna Kelley supported both collections, along with BLM botanist Molly Boyter. Seeds of Success supports BLM’s Native Plant Materials Development Program whose mission is to increase the quality and quantity of native plant materials available for restoring resilient ecosystems. The Wyoming sagebrush plugs will be planted onto fire damaged lands occupied by the greater-sage grouse. The entire seed collection and sharing process ensures the availability of genetically-appropriate seed for the recovery of the greater-sage grouse in Washington State. Funding for the program is provided by BLM in Washington D.C., the Institute for Applied Ecology coordinates programs regionally, and Sustainability in Prisons Project runs the Washington State program.

During seed collection, they discovered a dead lizard atop a spiny hopsage plant; it was probably intended for later eating by a loggerhead shrike (the Cornell laboratory describes the species as “a songbird with a raptor’s habits”).

What is an Aquatic Emergent Pre-Vegetated Mat?

By Amanda Mintz, Emergent Vegetation Conservation Nursery Coordinator, and Master of Environmental Studies student

EVM tech at work

Technician Kent Dillard inspects the plants for evidence of pests. Photo by Fawn Harris.

In SPP’s new Emergent Vegetation Conservation Nursery at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, we are growing native wetland plants in coconut fiber mats for wetland restoration projects. The program relies on a team effort from incarcerated technicians, prison maintenance staff, Evergreen’s program coordinators and managers, Joint Base Lewis McChord, the Center for Natural Lands Management, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife. All have done an amazing job meeting the challenges of the innovative program’s technical demands.

EVM meeting

DOC’s Jim Snider, technician Brian Bedilion, aquaponics expert Daniel Cherniske and SPP Program Manager Kelli Bush tour the nursery. Photo by Fawn Harris.

Coconut fiber mats, or “coir” mats, are commonly used in restoration for erosion control and suppression of weeds such as reed canarygrass. We are pre-planting them with wetland sedges and rushes, giving those beneficial plants a head start under nursery conditions. These plant types are known as “emergent” for their ability to grow through—emerge from—the water’s surface. Our hope is that the plants will be able to out-compete weeds and provide superior habitat for wildlife, such as the endangered Oregon spotted frog.

To grow the plants, we are using an aquaponics system. Two large fish tanks contain more than 100 koi, which produce waste that the plants use as nutrients. The water from the fish tanks circulates through the plant beds and then back to the fish tanks to pick up additional nutrients. The plants grow directly into the coir mats and do not need soil. By using an aquaponics system, we save water and reduce the need to weed or fertilize the plants.

We installed the first mats at Joint Base Lewis McChord in early November, and plan to have new mats ready in just a couple of months.

carl-and-mat

Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott prepares to unroll a mat at JBLM. Photo by Amanda Mintz.

 

vegetated-mats-at-jblm

The first mats have been installed! Photo by Amanda Mintz.