Category Archives: Science

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.

Annual Oregon spotted frog release!

Annual Oregon spotted frog release!

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

On a crisp fall day at the end of October, participating Oregon spotted frog (OSF) rearing partners gathered for the annual frog release at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM).  The OSF, received by each institution in egg form, are reared from March to October when they are released as healthy juvenile and adult frogs onto three wetland sites located at JBLM.  This is a fun day that all the partners look forward to each year.

The Sustainable Prison Project frogs were transported from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) in ten shoebox-sized Tupperware containers lined with wet paper towels. Upon arrival, the containers were taken to the waters edge where lids were removed.  Some frogs were anxious to get out and immediately jumped onto the shore and into the water, while some needed a bit more time and coaxing.   Once in the water, the frogs quickly camouflaged themselves by digging into the sandy bottom or swimming into marshy vegetation.   The water in the wetland is cool, but open and exposed to sunlight, with nice shallow areas along the banks.  OSF are highly aquatic and leave the water only for short periods of time to forage for food.  They move between ponds via connecting waterways, making them especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation.  The wetlands at JBLM offer a large undisturbed habitat with many channels for migration and shallow warm water for breeding in the spring.

This year, we released 163 healthy, large adult OSF raised at CCCC.  The frog technician inmates, as always, did a wonderful job rearing our captive population.  It is not always possible to raise each frog to releasable size, and each year SPP takes all undersized frogs from our rearing partner facilities, and supports them through the winter at CCCC.  This year we received more than 60 frogs to over-winter.  The inmates will raise them until springtime when they will also be released on the wetlands at JBLM.

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

Sustainable Prisons Project Involved in Cutting Edge Research

Sustainable Prison Project Involved in Cutting Edge Research

Dr. Hayes measuring an Oregon spotted frog with Dr. Conlon in the background

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

WDFW Research Scientist Dr. Marc Hayes recently brought visiting scientist Dr J. Michael Conlon to visit the Oregon spotted frog operation at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). Dr. Conlon is a Professor of Biochemistry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, and is an internationally known biochemist whose research interests are focused on the purification and characterization of naturally occurring, biologically active peptides. He has worked on skin peptides for more than 40 years and with frog skin peptides for more than 10 years.

A large, healthy Oregon spotted frog

Dr. Conlon is interested in studying the skin peptides of the Oregon spotted frog (OSF) because they are very high in anti-bacteria and anti-fungal properties. The OSF also show a resistance to the amphibian chytrid fungus, known to be decimating amphibian populations worldwide.  The answer to why OSF are resistant to chytrid might be found in their skin peptides.

To better understand this, purified skin secretions need to tested for their activity against several strains of chytrid, requiring three steps: 1) obtain the skin secretions; 2) purify the individual peptides from those secretions; and 3) test each individual peptide from the skin secretions on several strains of the amphibian chytrid fungus.

Oregon spotted frogs secreting skin peptides into water to be tested at the lab

SPP helped facilitate step 1, and steps 2 and 3 will be done in the UAE and at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.   SPP and the frog interns at CCCC were pleased to be involved with this research as it will contribute significantly to the scientific knowledge of why OSFs are resistant to chytrid.

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

SPP Staff Featured in Northwest Science

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

Congratulations to SPP Director Dr. Carri LeRoy, and SPP Research Associate Carl Elliot on their recent publications in the Northwest Science Journal!

Together with Dr. Dylan Fischer of Evergreen State College they co-authored Germination of Three Native Lupinus Species in Response to Temperature.  Experiments to determine the effects of pre-germination treatment and germination temperature conditions on the proportional germination of three species of Lupinus are discussed.  The results could lead to better understanding of germination requirements of native species, an important component of restoration in south Puget Lowland prairies.

Dr. LeRoy was also co-author of a paper on Responses of Prairie Vegetation to Fire, Herbicide, and Invasive Species Legacy.  Native and exotic plant community diversity and composition were measured across areas that differed in burning history and grass-specific herbicide application in an effort to evaluate prairie plant community variation in a matrix of restoration treatments in the south Puget Lowland prairies.

Both papers are available for download via Open Access on the Northwest Science BioOne page:

Germination of Three Native Lupinus Species in Response to Temperature is available at:  http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.3955/046.085.022

Responses of Prairie Vegetation to Fire, Herbicide, and Invasive Species Legacy is available at:  http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.3955/046.085.0216

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.

 

SPP Launches New Conservation Program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

Taylor's checkerspot

Adult female Taylor's chekerspot

SPP Launches New Conservation Program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

The Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) and the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) are preparing to launch a brand new conservation program.  In addition to prairie plants and Oregon spotted frogs, we will be partnering on a new captive rearing program to raise Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies (Euphydryas editha taylori) for release on South Sound prairies.  The Taylor’s checkerspot is listed as a state-endangered species in Washington and is a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.  These butterflies once flourished on glacial outwash prairies, low elevation grassy balds and coastal grassland sites from southern British Columbia to central Oregon, but in recent decades habitat loss and degradation have reduced it to a few small, isolated populations.

Staff at MCCCW are currently hard at work constructing a custom greenhouse at the prison which will house the program, The UV light transmission of the glass structure will provide the checkerspots with ideal growing conditions, and its interior partition will create two separate climate controlled rooms.  The building is expected to be complete by the end of the month, and the first release of larva onto South Sound prairies will occur in April 2012.  Currently the Oregon Zoo is the only facility rearing Taylor’s checkerspots.  The new structure at the prison will provide a second rearing program to assist with butterfly recovery efforts.   The project is generously funded by the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Nature Conservancy.  Other collaborating partners include Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Corrections, the Evergreen State College, the Oregon Zoo, and Joint Base Lewis McChord.  Even though the new rearing facility is not yet complete, SPP graduate student intern Dennis Aubrey has been busy preparing for the new program.  Dennis is receiving training from staff at the Oregon Zoo as they raise checkerspots, as well as assisting with field activities. He recently helped release 1036 prediapause checkerspot larva at the Scatter Creek Prairie restoration plots.  Along with staff at MCCCW, he also helped conduct interviews and hire inmates for the rearing technician position.  Dennis will continue to play an active role in training incarcerated women to become butterfly rearing technicians.

checkerspot release

Graduate student intern Dennis Aubrey helping release checkerspot larva at Scatter Creek

Our partners at MCCCW have been enthusiastic participants in all phases of the planning and implementation of this project.  All involved are optimistic that this is the beginning of a successful long-term undertaking to recover endangered butterflies and bring science education to incarcerated women.  This program promises to be an integral part of a growing culture of sustainability and conservation at the facility.

To donate to the SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Program and help conserve biodiversity in Washington, click here.