Category Archives: Nature inside

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!

More Beekeeping than Ever!

Text by Bethany Shepler,  SPP Green Track Program Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager.
Photos by Bethany Shepler, except where otherwise noted.

About a year and a half ago, SPP partners hosted a beekeeping summit at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Nearly every facility was represented and we were joined by Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA) leadership, local beekeeping clubs, and state agency pollinator enthusiasts and experts.

Group photo from the Beekeeping Summit in Spring 2017. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The summit was well timed to meet growing interest in bringing beekeeping to prisons around the state. A few WA prisons have hosted beekeeping for years and SPP partners were hearing inquiries from many others interested in starting new programs. SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair suggested a summit, and that was the catalyst we needed; it brought everyone together to learn from each other, expand practical knowledge, and build enthusiasm.

The effects of the summit are still being felt around the state. A year and a half later, WA Corrections is part of 13 active beekeeping programs, and all 10 of the new programs are doing well. Some facilities are conducting scientific trials and learning about honeybee forensics. This fall, Washington State Penetintiary (WSP) and Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) participated in a USDA national survey on bee health.

Each program is worthy of its own article. Here, we will share just one or two highlights from each. Check out all of the incredible accomplishments of beekeepers in prisons:

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)

AHCC has one of the fastest growing beekeeping programs in Washington prisons, and the first to create their own bee club. Working with West Plains Beekeepers Association, incarcerated beekeepers created the first draft of a new, state-wide Journeyman course manual, pictured above—a stunning accomplishment. Currently, Washington State Beekeepers Association is refining AHCC’s draft for publication, for both prison and non-prison programs! We are ecstatic to see the support and excitement AHCC has shown for their beekeeping program and look forward to their continued success! 

Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC)

Clallam Bay hosted its second beekeeping intensive this spring. Students had already completed the Beginner Beekeeping modules, and prepared further by reading books and scientific articles. Mark Urnes of North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers spent a full day with students; he answered questions and work-shopped on beekeeping best practices. 

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)

Cedar Creek is one of the oldest beekeeping programs in the state and has certified more than 60 beekeepers so far. The wood shop at the facility built the hives for the McNeil Island beekeeping program. The picture here is of wood shop crew and Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley tasting honey at a beekeeping workshop; expert beekeeper Laurie Pyne covered beekeeping basics and the differences in honey types from different pollen sources. CCCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association.

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC)

Coyote Ridge supports a beekeeping program that has been going strong since its inception 2 years ago. To support the bees, staff members and inmates planted more pollinator friendly plants around the facility. To protect the hives from central Washington’s cold winter weather, they “winter-ize” the boxes, shown above: they wrapped the hive in insulation and put cedar chips or burlap inside the hive to draw up moisture. CRCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Mid-Columbia Beekeepers Association.

Larch Corrections Center (LCC)

Larch has four hives and a nuc (that’s the small box on the left) at their facility. This picture was taken last week, just after the bees had been fed and they were all buzzing around busily! Their hives are really strong right now so we’re hopeful that they’ll do well over the Winter. LCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Clark County Beekeepers Association.

McNeil Island Beekeeping Program (McNeil Island and CCCC)

This project is so exciting and unusual! The McNeil Island beekeeping project has been a dream for more than 4 years and the Summit helped launch it into realty. Ownership and management of McNeil Island is complex, so the program needed input and support from many partners: staff and administration from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)Washington Department of Fish and WildlifeWashington Department of Natural Resources, and CI staff (thank you Brian Peterson, Vania Beard, and Henry Mack!). Enthusiastic endorsements from Secretary Steve Sinclair and then Deputy Secretary Jody Becker Green helped, too!  🙂 

This past May, the first hives of bees arrived at the island. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, a team of local beekeeping experts visited the hives frequently. On many visits, they support incarcerated beekeepers’ gaining hands-on experience (pictured above). The program’s beekeepers seek to understand the impact that pesticides have on bees–McNeil Island is a rare, pesticide-free environment. The expert beekeeping team includes Laurie Pyne, Maren Anderson, Gail Booth, Andy Matelich, and Dixon Fellows. Photo by Laurie Pyne.

Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offenders Unit (MCC-SOU)

MCC-SOU has shown incredible amounts of enthusiasm for beekeeping! They launched their program just this spring, and it’s been so exciting to see the students, staff, and local beekeeping expert dive into the program. This is the only facility in the state using Top Bar Hives. The picture above shows the bulletin board in the facility advertising the beekeeping program, courtesy of Kathy Grey.

MCC-SOU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Monroe Correctional Complex – Twin Rivers Unit (MCC-TRU)

Inmates and staff at MCC-TRU have shown tons of energy for beekeeping! Even though bees were only delivered in April, they’ve already completed one Apprentice level certification course. Their hives have been so successful that they were able to split hives and collected honey! They also had a hive on display at the Evergreen State Fair, and they exhibited many photos of their beekeepers in action. The photo shows a staff beekeeper showing a frame covered in bees to onlookers at the fair. Photo by SPP staff. 

MCC-TRU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

MCCCW may be small, but they are a mighty program. Over the last year, they faced some challenges with finding pollinating plants and relocating their hives. But that didn’t stop them or even slow the program–they graduated 3 times as many incarcerated students in their most recent class as their previous class. They also have strong, healthy hives going into winter! MCCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with West Sound Beekeepers Association

Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

SCCC has had hives for many years. Next to the hives is a beekeeping interpretive sign–picture above–and in the summer of 2018 a few queen bees found that sign to be an ideal place to emerge into the world! Photo by Kelly Peterson. 

SCCC’s bee program added a beekeeping class this year with it’s first class graduating in January. Since then, they have completed 4 classes, and the wait list of students keeps growing. Their classes regularly include both incarcerated and corrections staff students. SCCC beekeeping program is in partnership with local expert beekeeper Duane McBride.

Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

WCC hosts an ever-growing beekeeping program! They started out on the right foot, building a high quality shelter for their hives. The bees are housed next to the Prairie Conservation Nursery Program, and this means there can be a lot of cross pollination between the two SPP-supported programs. WCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association. Photo by Ricky Osborne. 

Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

A crew from WCCW has been keeping bees at Mother Earth Farm for many years. Tacoma Community College students at the prison have long learned about beekeeping and pollinators as part of the horticulture program. In 2016, the two programs joined forces and brought hives inside the prison fence. Now you can see honeybees throughout WCCW’s gardens, happily tending to the many flowers. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

WCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with Mother Earth Farms.

Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)

WSP hosts an enduring and impressive beekeeping program! Two WSP staff members are experienced beekeepers, and they serve both as instructors and program sponsors. This year they had 15 hives and participated in the USDA National Honey Bee Pest Survey! In this photo, beekeeping students learn from expert beekeeper Mona Chambers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

WSP’s beekeeping program is in partnership with West Plains Beekeepers Association.

These programs are born out of collaboration and enthusiasm of many partners. We are so excited to see these efforts will continue to grow!

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.

Sheep Husbandry Program: A New Collaboration for Conservation

by SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush

Note: This blog post was intended to be published sooner to acknowledge our contributors. We apologize for the delay.

Sustainability in Prisons Project’s mission is to bring sustainable change into prisons through science, nature and environmental education programs. To advance this mission, we leverage resources by collaborating with incarcerated people, agencies, organizations, and individuals, and together make innovative and impactful programs possible. Ecological conservation programs are perhaps our best examples of successful collaborations, as extensive partnerships are essential to the complex work involving threatened or endangered species. The new Sheep Husbandry Program at Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) is an excellent example of collaboration.

Sheep program partners (missing WSU and SPP staff). Photo credit: Kelli Bush, SPP

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been guiding program development with their extensive knowledge of bighorn sheep recovery. Dr. Richard Harris and Mr. Jared Oyster have educated incarcerated participants and other partners on the issues facing wild bighorn sheep recovery. Through their established relationships at Washington State University, we have received excellent support for pathogen testing from Dr. Tom Besser. Also crucial, they have provided nearly all of the funding support for this pilot program.

Mr. J.D. Atteberry, Dr. Richard Harris, and Mr. Jerry Kjack looking at the newly completed sheep program site. Photo credit: Kelli Bush, SPP

Many thanks to Superintendent Donald Holbrook and Associate Superintendent Carla Schettler for agreeing to host this program at WSP. Associate Carla Schettler, Sgt. Stefan Randolph, Lt. Jarrod Sumerlin, Donna Hubbs, Toni Alvarado-Jackson, Ken Mitchell, Tonya Gould, Ellis Erikson, Brad Bisconer, Stephanie Parrish, unit staff, and East Complex staff have all dedicated their time escorting incarcerated program participants to the sheep site, and assisting with animal care. Special thanks to third shift staff in the East Complex for their contributions.

Lt. Jarrod Sumerlin opening gates to the sheep pasture area. Photo credit: Kelli Bush, SPP

Before sheep could even be housed at WSP, work had to be done to provide adequate shelter, pasture, water and electricity to the site. Thanks to J.D. Atteberry, Kellyo Gallaher, Stephan Birdwell, George Blevins, and Cheri Able-Johnson for their continued dedication to program infrastructure. Together this crew transformed an area previously used to raise pheasants into the new sheep program site.

Program participants and corrections staff cleaning up pasture site. Photo credit: Kelli Bush, SPP

Also, we are grateful to the program participants incarcerated at WSP. Through their excellent care, dedication, and commitment to learning, the pilot program is able to explore innovative solutions to a complex wildlife conservation issue. Incarcerated participants are being trained and supported by local sheep husbandry experts Jerry Kjack and Gerry Glenn. Both Jerry and Gerry have also played critical roles in program development.

Together, all partners are playing key roles in making this collaboration a success. As a team, we can benefit incarcerated people, wildlife, and communities!

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.

Sustainability at Olympic Corrections Center

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

I recently visited Olympic Corrections Center (OCC) on the Olympic Peninsula near Forks, Washington. OCC is a “camp” for incarcerated individuals with 4 years or less remaining in their sentence. Inmates at OCC learn trades and gain valuable experiences for when they release. Among many options available to them is working for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as response teams for flooding, forest fires, and other work within national parks. OCC has an impressive garden setup where they grow plants and seedlings; they use these areas as labs for learning horticultural science and plant biology (a Peninsula College program). They also have excellent composting and wood shop programs.

It was a privilege to see their programming. Here are a few snapshots of their great work.

The greenhouse at OCC has seedlings, produce, flowers, and tropical plants. They grew dozens of flower baskets for Mother’s Day, for both inmates and staff to give to their mothers and wives.

Greenhouse technicians, like Wade pictured here, care for the plants while learning how to sow and grow a prosperous garden. 

Look how big this succulent is! Greenhouse technicians have been caring for this guy for about 10 years.

Mark Case is another greenhouse technician. He hopes to have his own garden when he releases where he can put to use all of the knowledge he’s gained from working and learning in the gardens at OCC.

This pineapple isn’t ripe yet, but it sure is cute! When the pineapples are ready to eat, the technicians harvest and eat them.

Food, garden, and organic waste is composted on site at OCC. They have a large warehouse specifically designed for composting organic waste. The facility trains technicians who can then use this knowledge and skill base when they get out of prison.

OCC produced about 23 tons of compost last year alone! The product is used to amend the soil throughout the prison grounds. 

The wood shop at OCC uses donated or reclaimed wood to make wood toy trucks, tractors, and cars. Each intricately detailed toy goes to charity for children.

Here are some more completed projects awaiting to be painted with sealant. Such nice work!

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.

 

A New Wildlife Conservation Program! Sheep Husbandry at WA State Penitentiary

by SPP Co-Director Kelli Bush

Historically, bighorn sheep were widespread in western North America. By the turn of the 20th century, populations had dwindled to near extinction, and recovery efforts were needed to bring them back from the brink. Today, the biggest threat to bighorn sheep is pneumonia triggered by a bacteria called Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, or M. ovi for short. The bacteria is commonly carried by domestic sheep and goats. While the pathogen usually leads to only mild sickness or lower rate of weight gain in domestic animals, it can be lethal to wild bighorn sheep. Raising M. ovi-free domestic sheep can protect wild bighorn sheep from the devastating pathogen.

Wild bighorn sheep photo credit: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff

In 2015, Dr. Richard Harris with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) introduced the idea of a pilot program to breed M. ovi-free domestic sheep to Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) leadership. SPP coordinates other conservation programs rearing endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, caring for western pond turtles, and propagating native plants. Dr. Harris suggested adding the pilot program to benefit wild bighorn sheep recovery, while also offering incarcerated program participants education and training.

Areas where private domestic and wild bighorn sheep herds are at risk of contact have been identified. Owners of these domestic herds are the most important market for M. ovi-free sheep. Currently, there are no private domestic sheep breeders that specialize in raising M. ovi-free animals. The prison program aims to develop protocols to share with sheep breeders who want to join the effort.

Sheep arrive at Washington State Penitentiary photo credit: WSP staff

In the fall of 2017, 16 Suffolk sheep—15 ewes and one ram—arrived at their tidy, new home in Washington State Penitentiary (WSP). Sheep husbandry tasks include the day-to-day care of the sheep.  Under the care of incarcerated people, and with the support of animal husbandry experts, corrections staff and veterinarians, the small flock has thrived. Program partners include WDFW, SPP partners at Washington State Department of Corrections and the Evergreen State College, and local sheep husbandry experts. Washington State University provides critical contributions in the form of pathogen testing and program guidance.

The recent arrival of spring brought the program’s first lambs. So far, the program has welcomed 20 new babies. With the guidance of sheep husbandry experts, Jerry Kjack and Gerry Glenn, incarcerated program participants conduct a health check just after lambs are born. The health checks are done to ensure lambs are properly nursing and to clean the umbilical cord area. In rare cases, a lamb requires extra care, including tube or bottle feeding. One ewe and her lambs needed extra care and were transported inside the secure perimeter of the prison to receive extra support from program technicians. Each mother produces twins and a few more are expected before the spring is over.

Lamb twins, just born photo credit: WSP staff

New baby photo credit: WSP staff

Ewe being transported to inside the secure perimeter of the prison to receive extra care after lambing photo credit: WSP staff

Incarcerated program participants caring for the sheep receive education and training on sheep husbandry, bighorn sheep ecology, wildlife management, and related vocational and educational opportunities. Investing in education and vocational training for incarcerated people can improve community safety and reduce recidivism. Additionally, meaningful work and activities maintain facility safety by reducing idleness. The program provides everyone involved with satisfying opportunities to contribute to wildlife conservation.

Program participants leaving the sheep program site photo credit: Kelli Bush SPP

 

SPP’s new Mission Statement

by Kelli Bush, SPP Director for Evergreen

An incarcerated man waves to visitors across the Diversity Garden at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

During breeding season, a technician weighs an adult Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. The highly collaborative program is hosted by Mission Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Keegan Curry.

We are so pleased! SPP partners from Evergreen and Washington State Department of Corrections have completed updates to SPP’s mission and vision statements. The new text represents greater emphases on education and change, acknowledgement of current environmental and justice system challenges, values shared by SPP partners, and a more succinct, stand-alone mission statement.

 

Mission: We empower sustainable change by bringing nature, science, and environmental education into prisons.

 

Roots of Success instructors and graduates pose for a class photo at a graduation ceremony. Photo by DOC staff.

Vision: In response to the dual crises of ecological degradation and mass incarceration, we aim to reduce recidivism while improving human well-being and ecosystem health. SPP brings together incarcerated individuals, scientists, corrections staff, students, and program partners to promote education, conserve biodiversity, practice sustainability, and help build healthy communities. Together, we reduce the environmental, economic, and human costs of prisons.

 

We will update our website to reflect these changes in the near future.