Category Archives: Education

SPP Plant Profile: Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca roemeri)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Festuca Roemeri, Roemer’s Fescue

This is the first installment in a new series of pieces we are calling our plant profiles. Over the coming months we will highlight one of the 40 species of prairie or riparian plants that are grown at Stafford Creek Correctional Facility. This is intended to give you an idea of what we are growing, focus on the conservation importance of each species, and offer a few fun facts about each species.

Basic Information: Roemer’s fescue is a bluish, gray-green tufted bunch grass that grows from British Columbia (southeastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands), and west of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Oregon and Northern California. These areas are typically temperate, with maritime influence. Roemer’s fescue grows from sea level to about 2500 ft. The species is also found in thin-soiled windswept shorelines on the islands of the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Straits of Georgia.

Ecological Importance: A foundation species of the prairies of the Pacific Northwest, Roemer’s fescue is predominately found in the glacial outwash prairies of the South Sound and those which have a history of anthropogenic burning.  Its quick growth makes this fescue an effective ground cover, but its bunch grass nature allows for the growth of other important prairie species, including associated species common camas (Camassia quamash), field woodrush (Luzula campestris), spike goldenrod (Solidago spanthulata), early blue violet (Viola adunca) and prairie lupine (Lupinus lepidus) to name a few.

Who is this Roemer guy anyway? Roemer’s fescue is named for Swiss physician, professor of botany and entomologist Johann Jakob Roemer (1762-1819). Roemer was best known for one of the greatest achievements in the history of Swiss entomology, the Genera insectorum Linnaei et Frabricii. Roemer also published the 16th edition of Carlos Linnaeus’ Systema Vegetabilium.

Fescue in the teaching gardens at The Evergreen State CollegeFescue plugs

Fescue plugs

 

December Butterfly Update

December Butterfly Update

By Inmate Butterfly Technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

Editor’s note: Below is a message from our butterfly rearing technicians at MCCCW, who are currently raising a surrogate species in preparation for their work with the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

During this holiday season, even though we miss our families, we are fortunate to be a part of this unique experience of rearing butterflies.  On a daily basis we clean, care for, observe, and interact with this delicate and necessary part of our environment.  We continue to learn and prepare for the crucial project ahead – captive rearing of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

It is an amazing feeling to come out to the greenhouse every day and know that we are working toward making an important change for our environment.  We are extremely lucky to be at the start of this project.  We are anticipating the arrival of the Taylor’s checkerspot in February.

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly in Washington state, click here.

 

 

Inmate Technicians Attend Annual Species Recovery Conferences

Inmate Technicians Attend Annual Species Recovery Conferences

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

For the first time in the history of the SPP, inmate technicians were able to attend annual species working group meetings. DOC administrators at both Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) and Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) were generous in their support and were able to arrange for the inmates to travel to the event.

The Taylor’s checkerspot meeting was held on November 10th at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, and the two inmates who attended learned about species recovery efforts, reintroduction site assessments, genetic taxonomy work, and other ongoing research. The inmates were well received by the community and took copious notes on everything that was said.

The Oregon spotted frog meeting was a week later, at Blakely Tree Farms in Tumwater, and inmates were able to listen to detailed captive rearing reports from each of the four rearing institutions. Then they were able to share information of their own with colleagues they had heard about but never met, and techniques were learned by both sides. Additionally, release data, monitoring effort reports, and other research projects were discussed by various experts.

In both cases, the inmates involved were enthusiastic about attending and were able to get a sense of the larger effort going on outside the walls. The connections they formed with the conservation community can only help them feel more a part of the larger body of work, and more ownership of their own roles within that effort.

DOC Enables Former Frog Technician to Join in the Annual OSF Release Event

DOC Enables Former Frog Technician to Join in the Annual OSF Release Event

by Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

The Sustainable Prisons Project is so excited that we were able to include one of our former frog technician inmates at the annual frog release this year!  Harry Greer has worked with the Oregon spotted frog project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center since the project’s inception in 2009.  This season Harry raised the frogs at CCCC until July when he was moved to work release.  Department of Corrections staff at CCCC went above and beyond to accommodate and clear Harry for attendance at the release event.  Many thanks to Superintendent Doug Cole, Captain Charlie Washburn and Classification Counselor Marko Anderson; it was a real joy to see Harry releasing the frogs he so carefully raised.

To donate to SPP and help Oregon spotted frog conservation in Washington state, click here.

Butterfly Rearing Commences at Mission Creek

Butterfly Rearing Commences at Mission Creek

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

The first painted lady butterfly to eclose in the SPP lab at Evergreen.

At long last, the wait is over. After almost a year of preparation, the butterflies have finally arrived! Inmate technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) have been caring for painted lady larva for almost three weeks now, and over the weekend they got to watch their first butterflies emerge from their chrysalid.

The painted ladies are being reared as a training surrogate for the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot, which inmates will begin to work with next February. These training butterflies were chosen for their relative hardiness and fast life cycle, which will allow the inmates to go through several complete revolutions before graduating to the much more delicate Taylor’s checkerspot. So far the inmates involved have surpassed expectations in every way.

As the final phases of greenhouse construction were being completed, the student intern on the project, Dennis Aubrey, began rearing painted ladies at the Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) lab on The Evergreen State College (TESC) campus. This was done to work out the fine details of adapting the Taylor’s checkerspot rearing protocol for use with the painted ladies, and to prepare for training the inmates at the facility. Following this, 200 painted lady eggs were ordered and delivered to MCCCW, where eager inmate technicians began learning how to care for these delicate insects.  Working with butterflies in the SPP lab approximately two weeks ahead of the ones at MCCCW was incomparably helpful in training the inmates effectively.

Inmate butterfly technicians at MCCCW caring for painted lady caterpillars and recording observations

From the time they began, the inmates have been taking very detailed carefully drawn notes, and have been tending to their charges with the patient meticulous care that makes all the difference in rearing projects such as this. At SPP’s frog project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, the large amount of time inmates dedicate to caring for the endangered Oregon spotted frogs has led to the largest specimens raised at any institution. Last week, when Dennis visited Mission Creek to check on the inmates’ progress, he couldn’t help but notice that the painted lady chrysalids were significantly larger than he was able to produce in the SPP lab. Whether that’s a factor of the light and beneficial conditions in the greenhouse, or is directly attributable to the increased daily care, it’s hard to say. Either way, it’s a great sign of things to come for the future success of the project.

French Film Crew Visits SPP!

By SPP Project Manager Kelli Bush

Filming Oregon spotted frog search

A French documentary crew recently visited Western Washington to film a new episode for their National Geographic series “Guardians of Nature”.  The episode will include segments featuring the Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) Oregon Spotted Frog Program and riparian forest research conducted by SPP Co-Director Dr. Carri LeRoy.

 

The film crew spent an entire day with the SPP Oregon Spotted Frog Program team.  Filming began at Cedar Creek Correction Center in the morning.  SPP staff and inmates walked the crew through the daily tasks associated with caring for the endangered frogs.  Prison Superintendent Doug Cole shared his thoughts on the benefits of the program from a prison perspective.

SPP Co-Director Carri LeRoy and Project Manager Kelli Bush at West Rocky Prairie

The afternoon was spent at West Rocky Prairie in the greater Olympia area.  West Rocky Prairie is home to a wild population of Oregon spotted frogs.  Dr. Marc Hayes, senior biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, led the group to a wetland location where he netted two juveniles and one adult frog to show the film crew.  He explained how factors such as habitat loss and bull frog predation have led to the decline of the species and discussed current efforts to recover the native population.  The day concluded with summary discussion of the Sustainable Prisons Project and the many benefits of including incarcerated individuals as partners in conservation and sustainability work.

The film crew also spent a day with Dr. Carri LeRoy filming riparian and stream science research on the Hoh River. The Hoh River is a braided gravel stream channel fed from the glaciers of the Olympic Mountains and flowing through densely vegetated temperate rainforest and cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) gallery forests. Dr. LeRoy’s research on how the genetics of cottonwood trees can influence both other members of the ecological community associated with the trees and the ecosystem-level processes of riparian forests was the focus of the interview. Although it might seem impossible for something as small as a gene to have an effect on a whole ecosystem, there are many examples of the strong organizing power of genes. Genes can influence the insects that live in tree canopies, bird predation and nest building, deer browsing, soil organisms, nutrient cycling, carbon flux, water use and even adjacent stream communities and ecosystem processes. Dr. LeRoy’s “Genes-to-ecosystems” research involves examining the interactions between tree genes, forests and streams through leaf litter fall.

With the dynamic backdrop of ice-blue water and lush vegetation she demonstrated methods for measuring soil respiration (a combination of root respiration and microbial/insect respiration) at the base of a large cottonwood tree. In addition, she placed leaf litter bags of known tree genetics into a small tributary stream of the Hoh River and collected aquatic insects from the cobbly bottom. It was a gorgeous summer day spent in one of the most pristine river systems in Washington State.

The crew has featured beautiful locations all of the world, but this will be the first episode filmed in the US.  The show is primarily carried on stations throughout Europe.  We were thrilled to have the opportunity to share our work with “Guardians of Nature” and an audience on the other side of the planet.  The two segments will likely be available early spring 2012 and will be posted to our website as soon as they are available.

Frog Predator Response Experiment at CCCC

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

Oregon spotted frog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Oregon spotted frogs (OSF) at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) are the subjects of a growth comparison study between two separate OSF populations: Black River and Conboy Lake.  Inmates at CCCC are raising the two populations side-by-side in separate tanks, keeping all rearing conditions identical, in order to compare growth rates.  Measurements have been taken throughout the rearing season and will be taken again just prior to release in October at Joint Base Lewis McChord.  The OSF population at Conboy Lake is the only source population that successfully cohabitates with bullfrogs, a primary predator of OSF.  The hypothesis is that OSFs from Conboy Lake are bigger in size, and as a result of that, are faster in their response to predation.  This study will help determine whether or not captive rearing efforts should focus primarily on the Conboy Lake population.

As part of the comparison study, the OSFs predator response instincts were also tested.  Twenty frogs from each population were isolated for a short period of time in a stimulus free environment.  One by one, they were placed in a large plastic tub filled with just enough water to cover their bodies.  Once they relaxed enough to come to the surface and rest with their eyes out of the water, a plastic ball–tethered to stop before impact–was dropped from above, simulating a predator in the wild.  Each individual test is filmed to record the amount of time it takes each frog to react to the “predator”, and also to record response distance in its effort to escape.  The film is reviewed and data logged at the Oregon Zoo.  The data will allow for a parallel test between the Black River and Conboy Lake populations, and also a comparison between OSF rearing institutions, CCCC and Oregon Zoo.

The experiment took place at CCCC under the supervision and guidance of Senior Research Scientist Dr. Marc Hayes and Kyle Tidwell from the Oregon Zoo.  SPP interns Dennis Aubrey and Sarah Weber, and CCCC OSF inmates assisted with noting sex, coloration and tag number as well as taking the measurements and weight of each individual frog in order to identify any size or mass related variation in response. The inmate’s contribution to the predator response experiment and the side by side growth comparison study is integral to development of the OSF captive rearing program.  The rearing season continues at CCCC with inmates raising fat, healthy frogs getting closer to their release date.

Predator response experiment underway!

 

Weighing and measuring frogs

Blooming Inside the Walls

Blooming Inside the Walls

By Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliott from Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Surrounded by acres of Douglas-fir forest and behind razor wire security fences, a garden tended by the offenders at Stafford Creek Corrections Center is flourishing. Their efforts to cultivate food and flowers has altered the landscape and nourished the spirit of those involved.  These men asked me to provide a documentation of the garden for their families on the outside.  I thought that this service alone was worth providing, but I also feel others outside the prison fence should have the opportunity to see and hear about the garden.

The spring weather on the coast of Washington this year was unusually cool and cool nights persist through July. Night temperatures have rarely stayed above 50° F. The cool weather caused heat loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, and squash to languish.  However, crops such as broccoli, cabbage, peas, and carrots have exploded with growth. The offenders are gathering buckets full of carrots and peas to share with the prison kitchen.

All of the flower gardens were designed by the offenders. They paid special attention to creating habitat for insect pollinators. The plant families they cultivated in the pollinator garden were from the pink or catchfly family, the sunflower family, the pea family, and the mallow family. These plants provide nectar, pollen, and insect prey for beneficial insects.  This is important because the garden is surrounded by concrete which provides poor pollinator habitat.

The other flower gardens include a cutting garden and a native prairie garden. The flowers from the cutting garden are used to beautify the visitor room in the summer. This allows friends and family to see the fruits of the men’s labors and make for a beautiful reception for visitors. The native prairie plant garden overflows with species from the conservation nursery. By seeing the plants they are cultivating for restoration, the men can begin to learn plant families and plant community associations found on the prairies.

The whole garden sits amidst a sea of concrete. Originally, it was a turf covered turn-around for delivery trucks.  Staff grounds keeper, Jon Rydman, took the initiative to open up the space for the men to garden there two years ago.  After a great amount of initial effort to cut the sod, lay the irrigation, and form the beds, the garden was started.  Soil fertility has been improved by compost generated from prison kitchen waste. This unique in-vessel composting system is a pilot project coordinated by plant manager, Chris Idso.  Creating a flourishing garden in a Correction Center requires cooperation and coordination among staff.  The garden produces more than vegetables and flowers; it is also a place for education and change.

To donate to the SPP programs at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, click here.

 

Arboriculture Workshop at Cedar Creek Correction Center

Noe Cardenas- Certified Arborist- City of Seattle teaching about arboriculture

The SPP recently held a full day workshop on arboriculture at Cedar Creek Correction Center.  The workshop was a great success with nearly 40 inmates (maximum allowed) and approximately 12 staff in attendance.   Arboriculture is defined by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) as the art and science of planting, caring for, and maintaining individual trees.  Arborists are knowledgeable about tree health and are trained and equipped to provide proper care.  Inmates participating in the workshop already have an interest and some experience working with trees.  They are all members of Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) forestry crews.  Inmates on these crews work full-time planting trees, controlling weeds, fighting forest fires, and assisting with native plant restoration projects.

The workshop covered a wide range of tree-related topics including: forest ecology, an introduction to arboriculture, tree biology, tree career options, pruning, and a tree climbing demonstration.  Seven different volunteer presenters took time away from their busy schedules to share their passion for trees with the inmates.  The goal of the workshop was to introduce inmates to arboriculture and other tree-related careers.  We hope to inspire inmates to consider becoming ISA Certified Arborists.  ISA certification is quickly becoming a minimum requirement in many tree care companies.  Certified Arborists are able to demonstrate a standard of knowledge and dedication to tree care; which can provide an advantage in today’s job market. The ISA has generously donated 50 certification exam study guides and featured the SPP in the April edition of their publication Arborist News.

Dan Kraus- World Champion tree climber giving climbing demonstration

If resources allow, the SPP will work with our partners at WDNR and Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC), to build a certification training program in the near future.  The training program would bring together volunteer instructors to help qualified inmates prepare for the arborist certification exam.  An education and certification program at Cedar Creek Correction Center could provide multiple benefits including:

  • employment opportunities at a decent wage for inmates post-release;
  • green-collar job training which builds a new work force to care for our urban forests;
  • involvement with the ISA, an organization that encourages on-going educational and professional development;
  • the program may serve as a model for other prisons and other states;
  • with increased employment opportunities and education, inmates may be less likely to re-offend when they are released.

Inmates participating in arboriculture workshop

Many thanks to the volunteer presenters, students, and agency partners that helped make the workshop a success.  Please stay tuned as we carefully explore options for expanding this education opportunity.

Smoke Water

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliott

In a plant nursery that focuses on native plants and restoration, expectations are a bit different than at a traditional commercial nursery. Commercial nursery production has focused on those plants that make a good economic return for the grower. All managers of commercial nurseries know that if you have a rapid and efficient turn-over of plant material through the year, you generate a greater income per square foot. There is an industrial infrastructure and research to support the industry in this process.  For restoration nurseries interested in basic germination protocols or more complex issues of genetic integrity or in-breeding depression, there is not such a well-developed research infrastructure, and a great many questions remain to be answered.

At the conservation nursery at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, we have generated a number of basic scientific questions regarding the germination ecology of the prairie species we cultivate. One of the most engaging is the seeds response to prairie fires. Fires have been an integral tool to maintain prairies in the Pacific Northwest for at least 8,000 years. The fires in this ecosystem are not natural; they were used by First Peoples to maintain the extant and health of the prairies that are surrounded by evergreen woodlands. The seeds of over 250 species of plants have been shown to significantly increase in response to the smoke generated by fires. This is particularly true for species from fymbos matorral, chaparral and grassland ecosystems. So, our project developed a question to determine whether the smoke from fires could increase the germination rates of some of the more difficult to germinate plants.  Rather than apply smoke (and therefore fire) to the seeds themselves we applied smoke infused water as a treatment to seeds.

I took on the scientific design and execution of the seed germination experiments as part of my graduate thesis at The Evergreen State College. However, the experiment is a fully collaborative endeavor. The Nature Conservancy collected and curated the seed from their Shotwell’s Landing nursery. The offenders at Stafford Creek cleaned the seed, counted out replicates and participated in the germination experiments involving six of the species. The experiment involved measuring the germination rate of the six species. The seeds were divided into three treatment groups: two different levels of smoke water and a plain water control. The offenders applied the treatments to 10 replicates of each and the monitoring for germination went for 35 days.

Inmates at Stafford Creek Corrections Center count seed.

To prepare for the experiments, the offenders participated in workshops designed to facilitate discussions about the scientific methods used to come to robust conclusions. It was not the first time that offenders were exposed to a scientific reasoning process. Many have previous educational experience or have attended enough lectures organized by the Sustainable Prisons Project to be confident about offering their opinions to a discussion on scientific methods. At this point the experiments are nearly complete on most of the species and we can compile and analyze the results. My goal is to be able to go over some of the statistical methods used and get the offenders input on how the results we get can be used in the nursery to increase our propagation success. Look forward to the results in future posts.