Category Archives: Ecological Restoration

Art of the Oregon silverspot butterfly

By SPP SCCC Conservation Nursery Coordinator Graham Klag

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

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

Susan Christopher reflects on her experience raising endangered butterflies in prison

Text by Susan Christopher, photos by Keegan Curry

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

Susan helps technician Cynthia Fetterly examine a newly emerged butterfly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

A Beautiful Spring and Explosive Summer at WCCW

Photos and text by Jacob Meyers, Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator

Pop. Pop. Pop. Scream. Laughter. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Crew members (left to right) Tammera Thurlby, Danielle Castillo, and Angela Jantzi harvesting Viola adunca on a hot summer day.

That may sound like a group of teenagers watching a horror movie while waiting for the popcorn to finish in the microwave. In reality, it was a scene that played out a couple weeks ago, as I and several nursery technicians spent the afternoon harvesting Viola (violet) seeds. The scream was mine: a seed pod caught me off guard when it unexpectedly exploded in my cup. The crew (rightfully so) hasn’t let me forget that a Viola seed pod scared me half to death. (In my defense, a spider had just crawled across my leg and I was a little bit on edge.)

It’s rarely a dull moment at WCCW these days. While most of the flowers finished blooming in early May, June and July have been full of exploding violet pods and which means there is a lot of work to be done! As my co-worker wrote a few weeks back, the early-blue violet (Viola adunca) is an extremely important prairie plant in the recovery of prairie landscapes, and to the Fritillary butterflies (Zerene FritillarySpeyeria zerene bremnerii – and the Great Spangled FritillarySpeyeria cybele pugetensis) in particular. At WCCW, we have two species of viola currently – the aforementioned early blue violet and the yellow violet (Viola praemorsa). The Viola adunca cultivated at WCCW is collected for seed to aid in the recovery of the Zerene fritillary (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) on the Oregon Coast.

Violets are commonly known to even the most inexperienced gardener. Heck, even people who don’t garden are familiar with the small, heart-shaped flowers that are typical of the genera. But what you may not know is that the Viola genus contains more than 500 species! The ones we grow at SPP are a bit hardier than your typical Viola. The species we cultivate are found in places where water is hard to come by—prairies, savannahs, sand dunes and on the edges of woodlands. Regardless of where they are found, Viola species serve as an important nectar source for pollinators.

Here are some pictures of the beautiful blooms we had at WCCW this year:

 

The early-blue violet (Viola adunca) is found across the cooler states and provinces of North America in coastal sand bluffs, prairies, and woods. Another of its common names is the sand violet.

 

There are 8 beds of Viola adunca at WCCW. The plants are six inches apart, which is a bit tighter than is typical for a seed farm or nursery, but allows us to cram in approximately 400 Violas in each bed!!

 

Viola praemorsa, or the canary violet, is far less common than its bluish-purple cousin. This violet is only found in western North American oak savannahs and oak woodlands.

 

This is a wide view of all the raised beds at WCCW. Viola praemorsa in the foreground, Viola adunca (purple flowers) beyond, and two beds of wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) all the way in the back. Strawberries are also an important pollinator plant in prairie habitat.

 

 

Scott Skaggs is the Grounds & Facilities Supervisor at WCCW and helps manage the Nursery Crew. In the photo above Scott is doing a little bit of spot weeding.

While very pretty, the beautiful flowers have a forthcoming message – it’s reproduction time! And after those beautiful signals go off and a little bit of magic (sexual reproduction via pollination), little baby plants (aka seeds) begin to emerge!! After baking in the sun for a number of days or weeks, Viola species all form capsules or “pods” that split open and disperse. Or as is the case in the species we grow at SPP – the pods explode like the one in my cup. The photos below show seed pods developing, and their processing after we harvest them.

 

In the above photo, a Viola adunca plant is starting the reproduction process. The seed pods are typically green colored and curled up like an umbrella when they first emerge. As the pods mature, their color whitens and the stems stands up straight in preparation for pod explosion.

 

A mature Viola adunca seed pod: notice the whiter coloring and erect stem; this is the perfect time to harvest the pods.

 

This photo shows what happens when Viola pods go unharvested. Most of the pods’ seed disperses about 5 feet in every direction during the explosion – some have been found up to 10 feet from their parent plants!!

 

Sometimes, however, the seed stays put. This isn’t great for the plant’s reproductive success rate; for people collecting seed, it’s a welcome sight!

 

Harvesting all of the seed pods ready at one time can take the entire WCCW crew anywhere from 3 to 5 or 6 hours. Depending on when during the collection season we’re harvesting, there can be a lot of pods to pick!

 

After harvesting, all of the pods go into bins where they can continue to dry out and “pop” for easy collection. Here is a bin of Viola praemorsa sitting on a window ledge to get a little extra sunlight.

 

A tule cloth on top keeps all the seeds from flying all over the office!

 

In this photo most of the pods have already exploded and left behind their seed on the bin floor. These are Viola praemorsa seed which is quite a bit larger (at least 2-3x larger) than Viola adunca seed.

 

After going through several rounds of sifting with professional grade sieves all that remains is A LOT of Viola adunca seed. It has been a tremendously successful season at WCCW. We anticipate easily surpassing our goal of 2-3 pounds!

 

This picture illustrates just how small Viola adunca seed actually is! The small size is another reason why harvesting seed mechanically or after the pods explode is nearly impossible!!

Looking through these pictures one might be able to deduce that the task of harvesting viola seed can be monotonous, and quite time consuming. As technician Tammera Thurlby told me, “I harvested so many viola seeds/pods that when I close my eyes it’s all I can see.” But beyond helping the Fritillary butterflies prairie habitat here in the Pacific Northwest, the caring for and cultivation of violas at WCCW also produces something that might be harder to see – an opportunity for the technicians to grow and heal themselves. “My life has been a lot of taking, so it’s nice to be able to give back,” said Ms. Thurlby.

“Give back to what?” I asked.

“To everything. Helping save an endangered species, doing something positive and constructive with my life rather than destructive,” she replied.

Her words reminded me of what I heard from a technician at Stafford Creek, Michael Gorski; he said to a group of partners, “A lot of what they’re [SPP] growing is people. They’re saving lives – opening the master key for life.”

Little Viola seeds turn into plants with beautiful flowers, which in turn may feed an endangered butterfly; but you never know what kind of seed you are planting in any given moment or interaction when working with people.

Technician Tammera Thurlby holds up a tiny Viola adunca seed pod during a day of harvesting this past summer.

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.

Turtle Season is Here!

By Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Coordinator

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

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

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

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

Western Pond Turtle Nest. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

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

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

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

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

Western Pond Turtle. Photo by Keegan Curry.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Stay tuned for the results of Amanda’s project!

Blooms & Blossoms at Washington Corrections Center

Early-blue violet. Photo credit: Alexandra James

by Alexandra James, SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator

Teaching Assistant, Morris Talaga, inspecting a raised bed for weeds and pests. Photo credit: Alexandra James

Spring has sprung at Washington Corrections Center (WCC)! The Conservation Nursery is well underway with the cultivation of two viola plant species (Viola adunca & Viola howellii) that currently fill the twenty-nine raised beds that compose the core of the nursery. Viola adunca, commonly known as the early-blue violet, is a critical prairie plant species for the South Sound Prairie ecosystems of Washington State and Oregon. In fact, the early-blue violet is the only food source for the silverspot butterfly’s larval life-stage. This means that the silverspot caterpillar feeds only on the early-blue violet and relies on the plants sustenance for survival. Today, the silverspot butterfly is federally recognized as endangered due to the loss of native habitat and, in particular, the loss of the early-blue violet.

Why should we care about the silverspot butterfly? Like all butterflies, the silverspot butterfly is an important pollinator species. Without pollinators, we would see a collapse of our agricultural economy, food supply, and surrounding landscapes. Pollinators are essential in preserving biodiversity, preventing soil erosion, increasing carbon sequestration, and more importantly, providing us with ecological services, including our food and raw materials.

The WCC Conservation Nursery Crew is working hard to aid in the recovery of the early-blue violet. Technicians spend a vast majority of their time learning about, sowing, cultivating, and tending to thousands of viola plants—this is what it means to be responsible for the world’s largest violet production nursery! The crew dedicates year-round attention to the successful propagation of the early-blue violet and collects viable seed during the summer months to aid in prairie conservation efforts across Washington State. The seed they collect will be shared with state agencies such as the Center for Natural Lands Management and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and go to prairie restoration initiatives that aid in the protection of butterfly species, including the silverspot butterfly. “The work we do is important and it is great to be a part of something so important and meaningful for our community; it means so much to give back” – Teaching Assistant, WCC SPP Crew.

Spring blooms of the early-blue violet. Photo credit: Alexandra James

In addition to the viola plants, the WCC Conservation Nursery Crew has sown over thirty-five different prairie plants to be used in a Prairie Demonstration Garden that will aid in the education of prairie landscapes to WCC visitors, staff and residents. All thirty-five plants are native to the South Sound Prairies of Washington State and Oregon. The cultivation and propagation of these native plant species will support hands-on environmental education for the crew and bring awareness to the importance our state’s prairie landscapes.

Propagation tray of native prairie plant (Achillea millefolium) for the Prairie Demonstration Garden.

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.