Category Archives: Partners

Creative Illustrations for Monarch Butterfly Conservation

By Graduate Research Assistant, Jeanne Dodds

Photos by Ricky Osborne

Drawing and art making are powerful tools to increase the ability to focus, relax, and develop creative problem solving in areas far beyond visual art. As an artist, illustrator and teacher, my experience working with students has illuminated the understanding that drawing teaches people to see. When we look closely in the way that illustration demands, we observe and comprehend the subtle details that make our subject significant and unique.

Teaching the art of the butterfly

Teaching the art of the butterfly

We learn so much by looking closely, understanding, and representing. These were ideas I hoped to convey when planning a natural science illustration class as part of an internship with SPP for students at Airway Heights Correctional Center.

The illustration workshop was developed around the essential relationship between milkweed and Monarch butterflies and —most importantly—how creating artwork about this relationship can inspire understanding of core issues facing the imperiled Monarch butterfly and actions we can take to preserve and restore this species.

Studying the butterfly specimens

This internship project, pursued with support from SPP staff, the Endangered Species Coalition, Airway Heights, and other partners, centers on the proposal to develop a milkweed propagation site at the prison. The idea is to grow a species of milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, which is native to Washington State. Milkweed seed from plants grown in the prison would  be collected by technicians for habitat restoration at designated sites near Spokane. The project goal would be to increase habitat for the Western population of the Monarch butterfly. Milkweed is the obligate host plant for Monarchs; eggs are laid on the plant and emergent caterpillars consume the leaves of the plants, developing toxicity which makes them undesirable to predators such as birds. Habitat where milkweed has historically grown has been destroyed due to pesticide use, changes in land use patterns, and other factors. Without milkweed, the only host plant for key lifecycle stages, the survival of Monarch butterflies is imperiled.

Inspiring message from an incarcerated artist: lifecycle of the Monarch

Sharing knowledge about this symbiotic relationship between butterfly and plant by creating illustrations with students and corrections staff at Airway Heights was inspiring. The workshop participants asked insightful questions, expressing concerns about how the loss of important pollinators such as Monarchs will impact other species, including humans. They saw the intricate detail of Monarch wing scales and milkweed leaves in specimens borrowed from the University of Washington. These observations were captured in detailed, creative colored pencil and graphite illustrations.

We talked about how drawing is a practice that takes patience and that mistakes made provide opportunities to reinforce skills. At the end, we viewed all of the work in a classroom gallery walk and shared what we noticed; a key observation was how everyone approached the project in their own way, some realistically, others adding words, some representing their ideas about how to protect these species. One of the most profound observations was how drawing and educational workshops like this allow students to feel reconnected to the community and themselves. It’s my hope that this connection will extend outward toward the development of a milkweed planting project and restoration of habitat for Monarchs, a species that so eloquently represents cycles of growth, transformation, and renewal.

Jeanne Dodds is a Teaching Artist, illustrator, and photographer who explores themes of connection and discord in the relationship between humans and the natural world. She is an incoming student with the fall 2016 MES cohort, and interned with SPP to research milkweed and Monarchs during summer quarter.

Introducing Just Sustainability

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager, and Liliana Caughman, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

This issue is dedicated to Just Sustainability—sustainability redefined to include the needs and inputs of all populations and demographics.

Historically, the environmental movement has focused on the needs and views of a relatively small segment of Americans. This approach has often overlooked the sustainability needs and interests of people beyond the environmental mainstream. People of color, people without college degrees, people from the working class or living in poverty are rarely afforded the benefits of the environmental movement, such as sustainability education and easy access to nature. These populations also bear the brunt of most environmental hazards in the country. Just Sustainability sees cultural diversity as essential to the environmental movement, and resolving long-ignored environmental injustices as the primary focus.

x technician talks about his work growing starts for the prison gardens and houseplants for the indoor spaces; his program area is one of many in Washington State Penitentiary's Sustainable Practice Lab. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Dwayne Sanders talks about growing starts for the prison gardens and houseplants. His program is in Washington State Penitentiary’s Sustainable Practice Lab, which hosted nearly 300 program tours in a year; tour guide and program clerk Ray Chargualaf stands in the background. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Even less attention has been paid to how cultural diversity would benefit the environmental movement itself. To take on the scale and complexity of environmental challenges, the environmental movement needs more diverse buy-in and input. Extending ownership opens up myriad new ways for taking on environmental problems and creating solutions. Affluent, highly educated people cannot achieve national or global sustainability without help. “Sustainability will be achieved, if at all, not by engineers, agronomists, economists and biotechnicians but by citizens.” (Prugh, Costanza and Daly 2000)

3-butterfly-techs-and-poster

Butterfly technicians pose in front of educational poster set up for visiting Girl Scouts Behind Bars. Photo by Seth Dorman.

What does inclusiveness look like? It means inviting input and investment from all citizens and promoting sustainability programs in all communities and institutions. It requires us to learn across differences. Inclusive sustainability, Just Sustainability, is a path of mutual transformation.

Lecture-students

Lecture series students take in a presentation on raptor biology and conservation from West Sound Wildlife. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

In Washington State prisons, we have found willing, inventive champions of sustainability. They have transformed prison culture and operations. Because of their work, we are better prepared to transform the world at large. SPP staff asked a few incarcerated SPP partners—most of them Roots of Success instructors—if they would write what Just Sustainability means to them. This newsletter shares five responses, and we will publish several more on our blog in the coming months.

Paula Andrew, a member of DOC staff who has been a champion of SPP programs, and Green Track program coordinator Emily Passarelli enjoy the chickens at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Paula Andrew, a member of DOC staff and a champion of SPP programs, and Green Track program coordinator Emily Passarelli enjoy the chickens at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Going Above and Beyond for Sustainability

by SPP Program Coordinator, Sadie Gilliom

DOC Classifications Counselor, Gina Sibley was the SPP liaison for Cedar Creek Corrections Center for almost two years.  We want to thank her for her partnership and support and congratulate her on her recent promotion.  She will be missed!

Gina Sibley always went above and beyond while supervising the technicians in the bee, turtle and frog programs at Cedar Creek.  Supervising was not all she did.

Ms. Sibley Teaching About Bees

Ms. Sibley Teaching About Bees. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

She joined in the experience by participating in seminars on science journal articles, facilitating the creation of a turtle emergency response team,  staying late to participate in and supervise the bee keeping certification classes, assisting in capturing honey bee swarms, coordinating clearances for tours of the program and the list goes on!

Ms. Sibley Helping Mr. Boysen Measure Shank Length

Ms. Sibley helping turtle technician Mr. Boysen measure an endangered Oregon spotted frog. Photo by Sadie Gilliom

Thank you so much, Gina.  You have made your mark on SPP and we know you will continue spreading the word of science and sustainability wherever you go.

Ms. Sibley and the Tomato

Ms. Sibley with a tomato grown in the aquaponics greenhouse. Photo by SPP staff

Larch Corrections Center – An Upcoming Beekeeper’s Paradise

SPP had another fantastic meeting with Larch Corrections Center. We went to the prison to talk about beekeeping and were met with enthusiasm for this new educational program.

Sadie Gilliom meets with the turtle technicians. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Sadie Gilliom meets with the turtle technicians. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Larch has a turtle program that has been wildly successful. In partnership with the Oregon Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and others, endangered Western Pond Turtles with a shell disease came to Larch for rest and recuperation. The technicians did such a wonderful job caring for the turtles that they were all released back into the wild earlier this season! While they await the arrival of more turtles this fall, the technicians are pursuing a new science education opportunity- beekeeping. With support from SPP and beekeeping partners, Larch Corrections Center plans to offer an apprentice level beekeeping certification class sometime this fall.

Sadie Gilliom, Emily Passarelli, and Shawn Piliponis discuss beekeeping at Larch. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Sadie Gilliom, Emily Passarelli, and CC2 Shawn Piliponis discuss beekeeping at Larch. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

This course will not only educate technicians to be state certified beekeepers, but may also provide opportunities to assist in hive research. In addition, with the help of Classification Counselor 2 Shawn Piliponis, technicians are piloting a program to build bee hives out of recycled, untreated pallet wood. They eventually want to donate the bee boxes to local schools and organizations to support pollinator recovery. Programs like these can reduce idleness among incarcerated individuals. Reduced idleness leads to reduced violence and infractions.

While there aren’t any bees at the prison yet, Stafford Creek Corrections Center is generously donating one of their hives so Larch can get started this August. Next season we aim to have six hives of two different hive types in operation.

We are confident this collaborative program will be a great success with education at the center of the endeavor!

 

Sagebrush in Prisons Project

by Gretchen Graber, native plant grower and educator, Institute for Applied Ecology

Sagebrush nursery partners stand together in the hoop house. From left to right, they are Mr. Bowen, Ms. Graber, Ms. Olwell, Ms. Erickson, Mrs. Trainer and Mr. Le. Photo by Washington DOC staff.

The iconic greater sage-grouse, a species recently considered for endangered species listing, is getting a helping hand from a unique set of partners: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), and Sustainability in Prison’s Project (SPP).

Peggy Olwell, the National Plant Materials Program Lead, BLM-Washington D.C. and Vicky Erickson, geneticist for the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Region visited the “Sagebrush in Prisons Project,” at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, WA, on June 3rd. BLM is sponsoring the program propagating 43,300 Wyoming Big Sage and Three-tip sagebrush, plants that will be carefully nurtured over the summer months and planted out in burned shrub-steppe habitat managed by BLM, this November in Douglas County, WA.

Conservation technicians tend to the growing sagebrush in the nursery at CRCC. Photo by Meagan Murray.

Conservation technicians tend to the growing sagebrush in the nursery at CRCC. Photo by Meagan Murray.

The tour was given by Sam Harris and Dorothy Trainer of Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and Gretchen Graber, native plant grower and educator with IAE. Olwell and Erickson were able to witness the intangible benefits of the program while meeting the inmates and supporting DOC staff that are growing the sagebrush.  “Community is being created within DOC as a result of the project,” said Mr. Harris. “Coyote Ridge staff have excelled at managing the new program and special thanks goes to Dorothy Trainer and Sam Harris for their intelligent management of the program,” said Graber.

This is an example of healthy sagebrush landscape in central Oregon. Photo by Joseph Weldon, Wildlife Biologist, BLM.

This is an example of healthy sagebrush landscape in central Oregon. Photo by Joseph Weldon, Wildlife Biologist, BLM.

Areas where the sagebrush will be planted are occupied by greater sage-grouse, the species targeted for population increase and recovery. The partnership among BLM, Washington DOC, IAE is part of an unprecedented effort to prevent endangered species listing of the grouse.

Greater sage-grouse are unique from other grouse species in not having a muscular crop used for digesting hard seeds. They forage on sagebrush leaves, herbaceous perennials and insects. Planting genetically appropriate sagebrush species from locally derived genetic sources provides important food and crucial habitat for the birds.

Olwell and Erickson also viewed a living quarters unit, met and talked with several dog training inmates and petted a puppy during their tour at CRCC. “Here’s to a positive future for the greater sage-grouse and to more sagebrush,” commented Olwell.

 

Princess Remington and Pele: Royalty in a prison classroom

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Vulture-and-students

June’s lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) welcomed royalty from West Sound Wildlife Shelter. I had met Pele, Fire Goddess and falcon (a kestrel), once before, and she was as impressive as ever. However, never before had I met a turkey vulture, and I was immediately smitten with Princess Remington.

Princess-Remington

Princess Remington was named for the gun that disabled her left wing during a flight over Shelton. Now she graces classrooms throughout the Puget Sound so that students can discover the magnificence of turkey vultures.

The Princess’ handler is Fawn Harris, our coordinator for the conservation nursery at Washington Corrections Center. She also is staff at West Sound Wildlife Shelter, and she answered nearly an hour of questions on turkey vultures. We learned that turkey vultures are social birds. They travel in groups and are monogamous. Fawn says that if she offers Princess Remington food she does not like, the vulture will still remember and express her dissatisfaction with Fawn a week later.

Fawn told us that Princess Remington was unusually at-ease in this classroom. She bowed to the assembled students!

Fawn-is-a-great-presenter

Fawn Harris clearly loves her work, and she shared a wealth of information about turkey vultures. Never again will I see them the same way.

While vultures are classified as raptors, they don’t have the typical talons or hooked beak. In fact, they are not capable of killing and they are rarely aggressive. Turkey vultures only eat animals that are already dead, finding them with an exceptional sense of smell. The acid in their stomach’s is comparable to battery acid, and diseases cannot pass through. By scavenging, they effectively remove maladies such as rabies, botulism, and cholera from the environment – without vultures, we would see far more of these nasty diseases.

Deb Wilbur of West Sound Wildlife Shelter describes the habits of kestrels, North America's smallest falcon.

Deb Wilbur of West Sound Wildlife Shelter describes the habits of kestrels.

Deb Wilbur told us about Pele. She is an American kestrel, North America’s smallest falcon. Deb fed Pele a baby mouse, and she tore it apart as the presentation went on. The crunching was audible to at least the first couple rows – gross and amazing! A special thanks to Deb who has volunteered her time at two or three other SPP lectures.

Lecture-students

kestrel-and-students

Deb took Pele for a tour of the classroom.

The lecture series students offered excellent questions to the presentation, and were fully attentive to the visiting royalty. At the lecture’s conclusion, one of them remarked to me “Another great lecture!” Holy cats, if they are all that good, I have got to start attending more of SPP lectures!

A Tribute to Tammy

By Sadie Gilliom, SPP Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator;
All photos by Sadie Gilliom unless otherwise noted

Congratulations to Tammy Schmidt, our partner with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, on her new position! We are happy for you, Tammy, but sad to see you go.

Tammy Schmidt has dedicated much of her time in the past 3 years to the Western Pond Turtle Program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center.  As an expert in the endangered western pond turtles, this Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist shared her knowledge and passion for wildlife conservation and turtle care with me and eager technicians and correctional staff.

Shaking hands with a technician

Tammy shaking hands with a technician. (Note: We are respecting Tammy’s wish for privacy by not showing her face in photos.)

She brought her patience and great sense of humor to the program.  She always took the time to explain and answer the many questions we had — and repeat answers as new coordinators and technicians came into the program.

She came out to Cedar Creek once a month to check-up on the turtles’ wounds from their shell disease.  She trained the technicians and myself in how to monitor the wounds in the shells to make sure they were healing well. In case of any turtle emergency, she was the one we called.

Tammy examines a turtles shell

Tammy examining a turtles shell

Tammy examining a turtles shell.

She took the technicians out to the release site, showed them how they track the turtles, and how they protected their nests with a wire protector.

Tammy showing the technicians around the release site. Photo by Fiona Edwards

Tammy showing the technicians around the release site. Photo by Fiona Edwards.

I want to say a personal thanks to Tammy for her support during any health emergencies with the turtles, for sharing her knowledge, and for allowing me to assist with the annual exam of the turtles at the release site.

Me (Sadie) assisting Tammy with data collection

I (Sadie) assist Tammy with data collection.

Thank you, Tammy, for your huge role in making this program a possibility and for all of your support!  Best wishes on your new adventure!

Mission Creek Checkerspot Spotlight

One of Mission Creek's captively bred Taylor's checkerspot butterflies basking shortly after released on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

One of Mission Creek’s captively bred Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies basking shortly after release on Joint Base Lewis-McChord prairie. Photo by Seth Dorman.

Another wonderful rearing season is coming to a close at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. This year butterfly technicians and staff woke up sleeping caterpillars or larvae in early February. The “sleep” phase of the butterfly’s life cycle is called diapause. Since wake-up, the capable butterfly technicians at Mission Creek have been working hard to provide excellent care at each life stage (i.e., larvae, pupae, adults, eggs), while also collecting extensive environmental and life stage summary data.

Butterfly technicians feed post-diapause larvae for the first time after “wake-up.”

Butterfly technicians feed post-diapause larvae for the first time after “wake-up.” Photo by Seth Dorman.

 

A post-diapause larva feeding captured by the butterfly technicians with a digital microscope, a recent addition to the butterfly greenhouse this season.

A post-diapause larva feeding captured by the butterfly technicians with a digital microscope, a recent addition to the butterfly greenhouse this season.

Once our 2,800 plus larvae woke from their winter slumber it was off to the races and it was a challenge to make sure all of the growing animals were well fed. After sleeping through the fall and winter, these post-diapause or 5th instar larvae were hungry and eager to store up enough energy to molt one final time before entering their pupal life stage. The larvae are kept in deli containers with 15 per cup and each cup can eat two or three plantain leaves a day! That means a lot of plantain leaves need to be gathered and washed every morning to keep all of our hungry larvae satisfied. This year, pesky deer began grazing on our plantain plants beds during the night, so the butterfly technicians designed a cover made out of bird netting to ward them off.

Butterfly technicians, Michelle Dittamore and Eva Ortiz, release post diapause larvae in Mima Mound prairies while PBS captures the moment on film.

Butterfly technicians, Michelle Dittamore and Eva Ortiz, release post-diapause larvae in Mima Mound prairies while PBS captures every step on film. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

In late February, just over 2,500 of our post-diapause larvae were released into the wild at two reintroduction sites located on South Sound prairies.  This year, two of the butterfly technicians were able to travel from the prison to the field to help with the release for the first time in the butterfly program’s history! Also participating in the release was Carolina Landa, a former butterfly technician and current SPP Advisor and student at The Evergreen State College. A reporter and camera person from the PBS NewsHour and several other media representatives filmed the release.

 

 

Previous butterfly technician, Carolina Landa, releases pre diapause larvae into the wild for the first time.

Previous butterfly technician, Carolina Landa, releases pre-diapause larvae into the wild. Photo by Sadie Gilliom.

Mission Creek retained 350 larvae for breeding. We welcomed our pupa on March 12th and first adult butterfly on April 15th. Once the first few lineages of adults emerged from their chrysalis or pupal stage, the butterfly technicians began pairing lineages and placing them in breeding tents. Since the adult butterflies are finicky about where they like to breed, technicians typically move them around the greenhouse until the butterflies seem satisfied by sunlight and temperature conditions.

During the height of the breeding season, the Oregon Zoo’s Head Butterfly Keeper, Julia Low made a visit to Mission Creek to offer suggestions to the butterfly technicians on maximizing breeding. She admitted to taking a few notes of her own, learning from the technicians at Mission Creek. After a pair of butterflies has bred or copulated, they are placed in a deli container until the female is ready to be placed into an oviposition or egg-laying chamber. The chamber is filled with host plants for the female to lay her eggs on and prairie nectaring flowers to help stimulate egg laying.

Eva Ortiz juggles multiple breeding tents while trying to find optimal breeding conditions.

Eva Ortiz juggles multiple breeding tents while trying to find optimal breeding conditions. Photo by Seth Dorman.

 

Butterfly copulation or breeding event.

Butterfly copulation or breeding event. Photo by Seth Dorman.

Gravid adult female placed in oviposition chamber for egg laying.

Gravid adult female placed in oviposition chamber for egg laying. Photo by Kelli Bush.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly technicians Cynthia Fetterly and Jessica Stevens discuss egg collection strategies.

Butterfly technicians Cynthia Fetterly and Jessica Stevens discuss egg collection strategies. Photo by Kelli Bush.

 

This season two new butterfly technicians, Cynthia Fetterly and Jessica Stevens, joined the rearing team and proved to be invaluable throughout the season. In addition to learning all of our husbandry protocols outlined by the Oregon Zoo and getting experience with all of the butterfly’s life stages throughout the season, they also took upon themselves to work extensively with monitoring the egg-laying females and caring for each of the egg clusters laid by our captive and wild females. Although we came just short of our egg targets this year, we were able to meet our target with some help from the Oregon Zoo and are projected to have just over 3,000 larvae for release and breeding next season.

Julia Low with the Oregon Zoo chatting butterfly husbandry with the technicians at Mission Creek.

Julia Low with the Oregon Zoo chatting butterfly husbandry with the technicians at Mission Creek. Photo by Seth Dorman.

 

Mission Creek butterflies being released by Mary Linders.

Mission Creek butterflies being released by Mary Linders. Photo by Seth Dorman.

After breeding concluded, 125 of our captive adults were released on one of our reintroduction sites on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The adults were released by Biologist Mary Linders of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and SPP Program Coordinator Seth Dorman.

The butterfly technicians are currently occupying our 3,000 larvae that have hatched successfully and will continue feeding until they have molted five times and return to diapause through the fall and winter.

Butterfly technicians pose in front of educational poster set up for visiting Girl Scouts Behind Bars.

Butterfly technicians pose in front of educational poster set up for Girl Scouts Behind Bars visiting the butterfly greenhouse. Photo by Seth Dorman.

 

 

SPP Internship on Reentry

by Carolina Landa

June 6, 2016

This semester has been very amazing for me working with SPP, an organization that I respect and owe a lot to. One of the most self-inspiring moments was going back into a prison after almost two years of being released. I was able to go with Marcenia Milligan and Misty Liles who are working on a DOC pilot program for reentry. The work they are doing is amazing, first off. They are really dedicated at helping incarcerated people succeed on their reentry back into the community. The 1.5 million grant is only being used for incarcerated people and the reentry services offered to them—none is going to DOC staff salaries. The reentry team made this decision at the beginning, which is humbling to think of and shows heart in the work they are doing.

As I entered Monroe Correctional Complex I became overwhelmed with emotion and started to cry—there was no way around this and I anticipated it would happen. There was just something about hearing those doors and gates lock that immediately took me back to 5 years ago when I first became incarcerated. I don’t think that will ever go away. But the feeling I was able to feel while I was able to interact with the men was priceless, and it affirmed very much for me that I was and am following exactly what I am supposed to be doing with my life.

Carolina-reentry-6-16-2

A slide from the reentry presentation Carolina created as an SPP intern. Photo in top left is by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

People incarcerated are truly some of the most amazing people I have met. Society might not view it that way but I do. There is a bond with them that I immediately have because I know the struggle and I understand their story.

I decided to focus my time around reentry because I feel it is something where SPP could help a lot of the people in the programs in the prisons and after release, as they have helped me.  What I ended up learning about reentry is that it is very complex. Being able to come up with, let’s say, a list of resources is complex because that list is always changing.  I also realized that a semester is not enough time to dedicate to reentry, especially for SPP, as this is all new to them.  The only story, advice and resources I can give are what I have used myself in reentry.  I agree that there are some good organizations out there, but what happens is that a lot of the time the funding is only available for maybe a year, and then is gone.

Successful reentry has to be all focused around networking: I really believe that is what reentry means. Who you know is an important factor and also using what others have used before you.  I will continue to dedicate my time to reentry with SPP as I feel very passionate about helping others who have been where I once was. This list of resources will take a while to conduct and in the end it will most likely be some organizations, but I believe most will be names of persons that I will pick up along the way.

I very much am grateful for this opportunity to work with SPP. Thank you; it has helped me be the person I am today, by continuously believing and encouraging me. I only want to help others succeed as well.  We are well on our way to making reentry focus a bit more stronger for SPP.

Carolina-reentry-6-16

 

Larch’s First Turtle Release: A Technician’s Response

by Sadie Gilliom, SPP Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator, and Mr. Goff, SPP Turtle Technician
Photos by Sadie Gilliom, except where noted

On May 18th, 2016, Larch Corrections Center released its first nine turtles into a pond in Klickitat County. These were state-listed endangered western pond turtles that received care at Larch. The turtles had been removed form the wild by biologists from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife because they were suffering from a shell disease. They received acute treatment by the veterinarian at the Oregon Zoo and then transferred to Larch Corrections Center where two trained technicians cared for the turtles until they were ready to be released back into the wild.

Larch Turtle Ready for Release

A Larch turtle is ready for release.

Release Site

The release site was a lovely pond in Klickitat County.

The team—myself, Larch’s SPP Liaison Mr. Piliponis, Superintendent Oliver-Estes, the two technicians, Sergeant, and Mark Francis—drove 3 hours to a beautiful wetland. It was a sunny day with a clear view of Mt. Hood. We were greeted by WDFW biologist Stefanie Bergh, the founder of the Western Pond Turtle breeding program, Frank Slavins, and Oregon Zoo volunteers and staff. The Oregon Zoo was releasing the turtle hatchlings from their head start program on the same day.

Sgt. Mark Franklin Guarding the Turtles

Sgt. Mark Franklin guards the turtles.

Supt. Oliver-Estes Saying Farewell to a Turtle

Larch Superintendent Oliver-Estes says farewell to a turtle.

Turtle Technician Mr. Hill Learning About Turtle Anatomy

Turtle Technician Mr. Hill examined empty shells to learn more about turtle anatomy.

After meeting everyone, learning about the different tools the biologists use to study the turtles, and the technicians answering lots of questions about the Larch turtles from curious volunteers, we made our way down to the water’s edge. One by one all of the turtles were gently placed near the water. Then they trudged their way into the pond to swim off and join the others. This march to freedom was a moment to remember for all of the many players in the army to save the western pond turtle, but perhaps most memorable for the turtle technicians who are prepping for release themselves.

Turtle Technician Mr. Hill Teaching Zoo Volunteers About Westen Pond Turtles

Turtle Technician Mr. Hill taught young zoo volunteers about western pond turtles.

After the turtle release, Turtle Technician Mr. Joseph Goff shared his response to the experience:

“On Dec 19 2015 I became a caretaker. It was probably the last thing I thought I would be doing in my current situation. Caretaking is a humbling experience. It gives you a perspective on yourself, but also makes you focus on something or someone else. To be one of the reasons that these turtles survive is amazing. Also to see all the other people that have a part as well or are even just interested in knowing what they could do to to help. In so many ways this in something pure. To have so many people come together on one common ground doing what they can to help a turtle that has no means to help himself.

This program has opened my eyes—first to my future. I always have loved anything to do with nature or animals. I want to go back to school for it now. I want to volunteer and do it for a living. This program has also changed my perspective on people. Outside of family I guess I’ve lost my ability to put trust in or listen to others. Surrounding myself with people who always had ulterior motives or just take and pretend to care. It made me close-minded and hardened. In fact, a lot of people probably might have said I was one of those people that had ulterior motives that pretended to care.

Now I’m caring for these turtles who ironically are sick just like I was. They are enclosed and cared for. When their time is up and they are well they get to leave; if they get sick again they come back. I’m also involved with other caregivers that have helped me find a part of myself I had lost along the way. I believe this program has greatly changed my current life and if I continue with this same line of work or similar, I will be forever changed.”

Turtle Technician Mr. Goff Releasing a Turtle

Turtle Technician Mr. Goff Releasing a Turtle.

Watching the Turtles Swim Away

The technicians watched the turtles swim away.

All the Collaborators for the Turtle Program

Here is the Larch’s Turtle Program team. Photo by Zoo Volunteer.