Category Archives: Ecological Restoration

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.

 

Turtles plus woodpeckers plus…

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

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

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

Turtles

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

Woodpeckers

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

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

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

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

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

And coming soon…

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

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

Partners in endangered species conservation for Cedar Creek Corrections Center, from left to right: Technician, John Fitzpatrick, Superintendent Douglas Cole, Loretta Adams (SPP Liaison), Philip Fischer (U.S. Forest Service), Kelli Bush (SPP Co-Director, Teresa Lorenz (U.S. Forest Service), Technician William Anglemyer). Photo by Jessica Brown.

 

 

 

 

 

Long Live the Kings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Live the Kings! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Turning a new leaf with emergent vegetated mats!

Photos and text by Amanda Mintz, SPP EVM Program Coordinator

In mid-October, SPP delivered our third batch of Emergent pre-Vegetated Mats (EVM) to wetlands at West Rocky Prairie, Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) and Mima Creek Preserve. At these sites, the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) is conducting an experiment using the mats as part of a reed canarygrass suppression strategy. Replacing the reed canarygrass with wetland plants will help restore habitat for the threatened Oregon spotted frog. This project is supported with funding and resources by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, CNLM, and JBLM.

Prior to delivery, we rolled up the mats and let them drain for 24 hours. Even with reduced water, each mat weighs about 60 pounds when it is delivered—healthy roots and shoots are heavy!

Each mat contains a combination of native wetland plants: spreading rush (Juncus supiniformis), tall mannagrass (Glyceria elata), and creeping spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris). The mats were produced in Stafford Creek Corrections Center’s aquaponics greenhouse by a team of corrections staff, incarcerated technicians, and SPP-Evergreen staff.

Staff and volunteers from CNLM and JBLM lay three, 1-meter by 3-meter mats side by side and anchor them with biodegradable stakes.

At each site, the mats are arranged in squares, three meters on each side. Staff and volunteers from JBLM and CNLM prepared the sites using a variety of combinations of herbicide, mowing, and solarization to remove the reed canarygrass; on the day of mat installation, they removed dead grass and root material with weed cutters making it easier for the plants in the mats to make contact with soil and establish themselves quickly. Teams will revisit each square to determine which of the various reed canarygrass treatments best allowed the native wetland species to take hold.

At the site shown here, reed canarygrass was treated only by mowing; in the background, you can see its pre-mowing height of up to six feet tall. Sarah Hamman deploys a water depth gauge–believe it or not, this is a wetland!

Will the coconut coir mats prevent reed canarygrass from growing back? Will the native plants grow quickly enough to establish healthy populations, competing for space with the reed canarygrass? Stay tuned to find out!

Three, 3-meter square mats in each replicate (experimental copy), three replicates per site, and three sites!

Big news for the SPP-Evergreen team

Dear SPP partners and friends,

I am pleased to make some Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) announcements!

The Evergreen State College recently decided to change SPP’s campus status from a Faculty Project to a Public Service Center. SPP had grown far beyond the scope of a Faculty Project since I took over the co-directorship in 2011. An exciting outcome of this new transition is that establishing SPP as a Public Service Center allows a new model for the directorship.

I am pleased to announce Kelli Bush as SPP’s new Co-Director! She is filling my former role leading the Evergreen side of the partnership. Kelli and her excellent counterpart at Washington State Department of Corrections, Steve Sinclair, will oversee SPP’s programs statewide, and guide and consult on SPP-modeled programs internationally.

Kelli Bush releases Oregon spotted frogs in 2015. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

In her 8 years as Program Manager, Kelli has shown herself to be an effective, detailed, and diplomatic leader. She has handily managed the Evergreen side of the SPP partnership, is a thoughtful and supportive supervisor, and has kept all the bits and pieces of this program working smoothly. During my tenure as Co-Director, I could not have asked for a more capable Program Manager than Kelli. As my responsibilities as a faculty member at the college cycled through more demanding transitions, Kelli took up much of the ambitious and challenging work of shaping and implementing programs. I am delighted to formally recognize her talent, vision, and capacity as a leader.

Kelli Bush and Steve Sinclair co-present SPP at American Correctional Association’s conference in August, 2017.

SPP’s Director for WA Corrections Steve Sinclair shares a high regard for Kelli:

“I have had the privilege of knowing Kelli since around 2008. Since that time and as I assumed new roles for SPP, my interactions with Kelli have increased and re-affirmed what I know from my earliest interactions: Kelli is truly dedicated to the mission of SPP, she brings organization and a steadfast determination to the work of SPP. Kelli has played a key leadership role in maintaining operations throughout the many transitions. In her new role, I am sure her vision will drive SPP to new and greater accomplishments.”

This transition to a Public Service Center is essential: organizational and program development and operations require day-to-day decision-making at every level. Even with this shift, SPP will still receive important faculty support and input. As Senior Science Advisor and a member of SPP’s Advisory Panel, I will ensure the ongoing academic strength of SPP programs, and optimize my involvement around scientific contributions. Relieved of administrative duties, I will be able to give more focus to engaging additional members of the faculty which will increase the range and diversity of expertise available to staff.

Dr. Carri LeRoy ready to release Oregon spotted frogs in 2012. SPP staff photo.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to all of you for your roles in helping us to build and champion SPP. We extend special gratitude to the college’s leadership and the Board of Trustee‘s for supporting this organizational transition. I look forward to my interactions with all of you in the future. Thank you for all you do for SPP!

~Carri
Carri J. LeRoy, Ph.D.
Member of the Faculty, Freshwater Ecology
The Evergreen State College

In 2011, Carri and Kelli celebrating the butterfly program with partners, filling up the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly greenhouse at MCCCW.

Kelli and Carri share a laugh with Joslyn at SPP’s ten year celebration in 2013. Photo by Danielle Winder.

SPP Manager Carl Elliott Receives Restorationist of the Year Award!

by SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush

Sustainability in Prisons Project’s (SPP) Conservation Nursery Manager, Carl Elliott has been awarded the Society for Ecological Restoration Northwest Chapter’s  (SERNW) Restorationist of the Year Award for 2017.

Carl receiving the Restorationist of the Year 2017 award. Photo by Keegan Curry

The award is given “in recognition of individual efforts to promote ecosystem health, integrity and sustainability through ecological restoration.” Carl brings more than two decades of professional experience to SPP, including appearances as the “Radio Gardener” on a Seattle radio program, ecological restoration work with the Nature Conservancy, experience teaching organic gardening classes and serving as a founding board member of Seattle Youth Garden Works. During his graduate work in The Evergreen State College, Master of Environmental Studies program, Carl started SPP’s first Conservation Nursery program in a Washington Department of Corrections facility in 2009.

Carl explaining how to identify harsh Indian paint brush. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

Carl giving a prairie tour. Photo by SPP Staff

SERNW presented this award in recognition of Carl’s “innovative application of horticulture to the restoration field in developing a conservation nursery program that additionally improves outcomes and conditions for incarcerated people in WA State’s correctional system.” With this award they “recognize the unique challenges and creativity needed” to develop a conservation nursery program in a prison while also providing education and training to incarecerated partners. They also state that Carl’s work has “greatly expanded capacity for native seed production needed for glacial outwash prairie restoration.”

Carl talks with incarcerated parners during a prairie nursery tour. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

With partner support, Carl has helped grow the SPP Conservation Nursery Program from one prison to three prisons, producing over 2 million native plants of about 60 different species. In 2016, Carl and the SPP staff he oversees, delivered more than 130 educational workshops and seminars for incarcerated program participants. More than 130 incarcerated people have participated in these programs since 2010. We are so grateful for all of Carl’s contributions to SPP and pleased that he has been recognized for his excellent work!

Busy as a Bee at WSP

By Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Group photo of program sponsors Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, professional beekeeper Mona Chambers, and a class of inmate beekeepers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Amid the razor wire and blocky buildings of the Washington State Penitentiary, you might be surprised to see beautiful blooming flowers and thousands of bees busily bumbling through their work. From catching feral swarms, to breeding their own queens, the beekeeping program at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) has established themselves as a successful and inspirational model.

The program began about 5 years ago when three feral hives were discovered on the grounds. Some of the staff was interested in raising bees and contacted Rob Coffee, an experienced beekeeper. Unfortunately, those first few hives didn’t last the year, but still it was enough of an introduction to catch the interest of staff and inmates.

Over the years, there have been staffing changes and many generations of bees have come and gone. Rob Jackson, now Associate Superintendent, first pushed for the bee program when he noticed those feral hives on site. These days the program is run by Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, both corrections staff and experienced beekeepers. Last year, a professional beekeeper and founder of See the Bees, Mona Chambers, donated her time to come teach a class of beekeepers at WSP; since then she has kept in contact with them monthly and has supported program innovations such as natural, effective ways of mite control. The program also receives some input from the same Master beekeeper (from Millers Homestead) who supports the beekeeping program at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

A class at WSP working with bees. When asked about the beekeeping course, one student said “I love it. It’s so exciting. Honored to be a part of it, really. If they were going to transfer me next to my family, I’d tell them to wait until this was done.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Jonathan and Ron teach WSP’s class to certify inmates as apprentice beekeepers has 15 slots, and clearly this isn’t enough to meet demand – there were 90 inmates who wanted to take the class this year! The course is split between in-class sessions and hands-on working with hives. Their goal of the program is for inmates to gain sufficient experience and journeyman level-certification so they could teach the classes themselves. Even in the early days of the bee program, staff wanted this to be a program that inmates could be fully involved in and eventually run.

Currently, WSP has 12 healthy hives, and that’s even though only 5 made it through the winter. To boost their numbers, they catch feral swarms or buy packages of bees. The one thing that WSP won’t buy are queens—they can rely on Ron Benjamin’s experience as a commercial beekeeper in which he learned how to breed queens. By breeding their own queens, they can choose to favor certain traits and genetics beneficial to their environment.

A class of students, program sponsors Jonathan Fischer and Ron Benjamin, and professional beekeeper Mona Chambers inspect the hives before opening them to check on WSP’s bees. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The WSP beekeeping program’s main goal is to help incarcerated individuals build skills as productive members of society, but they have many other things they want to accomplish, too. They want to educate inmates and staff about the beekeeping crisis on the west coast, and do their part to reverse the bee shortage; they want to give inmates opportunity to experience the serenity that comes with beekeeping; and—above all—teach inmates a marketable skill to have when they’re released.

As the season wraps up, WSP will harvest their honey and package it in jars that are decorated in a seal designed by this years’ graduated beekeepers. Once they finish harvesting, they will begin to wind down for the winter. We at SPP look forward to more continued success and inspiration from the busy beekeepers of WSP.

An inmate beekeeper inspects a frame outside of a hive at WSP. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Bright colors speak loudly for the hard work being done at Stafford Creek!

Photos and text by Joey Burgess, SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator for Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

In SCCC’s nursery, technicians sow wild seeds for prairie restoration; here, a technician works with Scouler’s campion (Silene scouleri) seeds.

For nursery technicians, much of the year is spent inside greenhouses where they can be found sowing prairie seeds and tending vegetable starts. Weeding, watering, and controlling insects are the main duties — duties that generally do not yield much glory. However, when summer arrives, the facility resembles a hive that buzzes with activity, color, and pride.

Prairie plants move from greenhouses to outdoors as they mature. Vegetables are unearthed, cleaned, weighed, and sent to local food banks. Flowers are blooming as they are sent to various gardens around the facility. And amidst all of that – cultural & education events.

In photos, here is a sampling of the summer’s activities and harvests.

(From left) Shabazz Malakk, Bui Hung, Aaron Bander, and Travis Newell just harvested beets from one of their vibrant vegetable gardens near the Conservation Nursery.

Shabazz Malakk looks for ripe strawberries in the lush garden of the Conservation Nursery.

Terrell Lewis carefully moves established prairie plants to meet the needs of the next stage of growth – to a greenhouse with different watering conditions.

(From left) Joshua Hieronyms, Toby Erhart, Travis Newell, Bien Nguyen, and Mark Sherwood share salad and sustainability and the SCCC cultural event.