Category Archives: Science

Arboriculture Workshop at Cedar Creek Correction Center

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

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

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

Dan Kraus- World Champion tree climber giving climbing demonstration

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

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

Inmates participating in arboriculture workshop

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

Smoke Water

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliott

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

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

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

Inmates at Stafford Creek Corrections Center count seed.

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

A New Season

By Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliot

The nursery sowing season at Stafford Creek Correction Center (SCCC) opened amidst mud and construction.  Excessive rainfall throughout the spring led to great volumes of mud around the nursery, just as we completed the moving of the greenhouses from one area of the prison to another. I know that sounds redundant – excessive rainfall in Aberdeen, Washington – but it was truly more rain that usual.  April 2011 was one of the top five coldest April’s on record and one of the top ten years for precipitation. The State Climatologist’s report has some interesting facts about our anomalous weather. The rainfall combined with construction made for a muddy mess, but the building was well organized by the construction supervisors and crew at SCCC. Though they had to apply more foundation rock into the muddy morass than was budgeted, the green house and two hoop houses were up and running by the middle of April.

The greenhouse is beginning to get full as offenders sow seeds

Sowing began with some new species this year and some of the target species from previous years. Lomatium triternatum, the nine leaved biscuit-root, was a new species to the nursery and the early sowing in April should make for well rooted plants by October. Castilleja hispida (harsh Indian paintbrush) and Viola adunca (blue violet) are two species vital to the pollination ecology of the Salish Sea (Western Washington) prairies. We will probably be sowing these two species every year at the nursery for as long as it is in existence; the need for them for pollinator restoration is inexhaustible. With these two species, our goal this year is to perform trials, testing the germination rate in response to varying lengths of stratification. Stratification is the process of subjecting seeds to cold and/or moisture to replicate environmental conditions required to break seed dormancy.  Through trials, we hope to determine the appropriate amount of stratification time these seeds require to generate a high germination and seedling success rate.  To date, our experiences germinating these species in the nursery has not corresponded with what is indicated in the published literature. 

Research Associate Carl Elliot teaches about the ecology of the plants offenders are learning to sow.

We’ve also had several new members join the crew.  These new offenders have benefited from the training and experience of those that have returned from last season. The training video that was produced last year is very helpful in providing and introduction to nursery techniques.  We’ve partnered each new member with a mentor to learn about nursery production.  By learning each aspect of the nursery from soil making to record keeping, the offenders develop a greater range of skills to use when they re-enter society.

SPP Research Associates Present Their Theses

By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

Two of SPP’s former Graduate Research Associates have completed theses for the Master of Environmental Studies program at The Evergreen State College.  Liesl Plomski and Sarah Clarke selected topics related to the Sustainable Prisons Project. Both women have been integral parts of SPP since its early inception, working closely with inmates and DOC staff in two of Washington’s prisons.

Liesl Plomski presented her thesis regarding best practices in the rearing of endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs, drawing on her experience working with inmates at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Little Rock, Washington.  Plomski said she enjoyed working with inmates on the conservation efforts and that, “experiencing the importance of tuning people into a passion for positive development has definitely affected my subsequent career choice since finishing at Evergreen.” Plomski now lives in Portland, Oregon where she works mentoring at-risk youth.

Sarah Clarke completed her thesis on the impact of horticulture therapy and how working with living things affects the knowledge, behavior, and attitudes of inmates participating in the Sustainable Prisons Project.  Her work included data from four institutions working with  SPP.  Reflecting on her experience with inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington, Clarke said, “working with SPP has profoundly changed my life.  It has been rewarding on a personal level to work with inmates and see how interacting with nature benefits them.” One of SPP’s first Graduate Research Associates, Clarke said it was exciting to be part of a ground-breaking project from the very start. “It was a meaningful job that will be hard to replace,” she said.  Clarke now works at the Evergreen State College as a youth educator in the childcare center.

Both former SPP staff attested to the personal growth and professional rewards of working with the SPP.  Referring to her work lecture coordination and project evaluation efforts, Clarke said SPP enhanced her ability to work independently, manage time efficiently, work with a wide range of people, and change roles quickly. “I gained confidence to make judgments and take actions in new territory,” she said. Plomski agreed with Clarke’s observations, adding that working with SPP also improved her communication and analytical skills while working in a variety of different settings.

Most of all, the former Research Associates attested to the immense personal reward and satisfaction they felt when working with SPP.  Plomski said, “You come home at the end of the day and honestly feel like you’ve made society a little better, you actually did something.” For Clarke, it was, “really rewarding to witness the human healing that comes from working with nature.”  Both Plomski and Clarke have made contributions that continue to leave a lasting impact on the inmates, DOC staff, and community members they worked with over the course of their tenure with the Sustainable Prisons Project.

To view Sarah Clarke’s thesis, click here.

Liesl Plomski’s thesis is available here.

Oregon Spotted Frog Egg Masses Discovered Near Release Site!

By Undergraduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

Oregon Spotted Frog egg masses at Joint Base Lewis-McChord indicate SPP's conservation efforts are working.

The most exciting news imaginable came in last week!  Biologist Jim Lynch and his team discovered the first Oregon spotted frog egg masses on Joint Base Lewis-McChord since captive rearing programs were established.

This indicates the overall success of reintroduction efforts so far.  Some of the frogs released have survived to reach sexual maturity, and furthermore have done so in large enough numbers to find one another and successfully reproduce.

The news was greeted with great relief and elation on the part of all four rearing institutions.  Until now we have been diligently working with our partners at the other captive rearing facilities, not knowing what impact the work was having on the local Oregon Spotted Frog population. Egg mass surveys will continue in the next few weeks to assess the extent of breeding success.

SPP research associate Dennis Aubrey releases frogs he raised with inmates at Cedar Creek Corrections Center.

In related news, the frogs which were held over the winter at the OSF facility at Cedar Creek Corrections Center were successfully released on Ft. Lewis. We now know that they joined a waiting population of siblings! Interestingly, it was striking to note the behavioral differences in the frogs at the actual moment of release. When the lids were pulled back on the travel tubs containing the frogs, some immediately scrambled into the water and dove down to instantly bury themselves in the mud, while others were clearly reluctant to depart and had to be hand-coaxed into the cold water. The last few sat on the outstretched hands of SPP research associates Dennis Aubrey and Sarah Weber for several minutes and ultimately had to be dunked and let go before they would swim away.

SPP research associate Sarah Weber coaxes a hesistant frog into its new habitat.

To donate to the SPP Oregon Spotted Frog project and help conserve biodiversity in Washington, click here.

WCCW Winter Lecture Series a Success

 By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

SPP’s winter Science and Sustainability Lecture Series at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Gig Harbor, Washington marked another successful season of scientific outreach, with over 50 WCCW offenders and staff attending the lectures.  The series focused on sustainable food practices and featured speakers from local non-profit agencies. 

 November:  Food Cooperatives and Cob Construction

Diana Pisco, The Olympia Food Co-Op

 Diana Pisco began the series with a presentation on food cooperatives and cob construction, a sustainable building method involving clay, straw, and basic tools. A former volunteer at WCCW, Pisco said she, “wanted to share what motivates me, to inspire these women about sustainability, local food production, and cobbing – something they could find very therapeutic as well as offer a skill they could use when they get out.”  Cob construction techniques stimulated lively conversation, with one offender sharing that she had built her house using this method. The offenders’ enthusiasm inspired Pisco to donate books to the prison’s library.

December: Edible Forest Gardens

Michael Kelly, Terra Commons

Michael Kelly introduced edible forest gardens, a landscaping technique that mimics a forest ecosystem and supports naturally high yields of produce.  WCCW horticulture students engaged Kelly in scientific conversation about the plants and techniques featured, comparing them with the prison’s program.  Kelly left offenders with printed resources about forest gardens, possible career paths, and ideas of how WCCW can implement sustainable practices in their gardens.

January: Organic Farming

Lydia Beth Leimbach, Left Foot Organics

Lydia Beth Leimbach spoke on organic farming.  Her experience on the farm with offender work crews from Cedar Creek Corrections Center encouraged her to partner with SPP for the second time this season. “I see the need for giving prisoners skills and education so that they have a chance to positively contribute to society when they get out,” she said.  WCCW has an on-site organic garden, and Leimbach’s presentation was directly applicable to the work many offenders are doing right now.  The topic also attracted two DOC staff members to attend the lecture series for the first time.

February: Native Plant Restoration

Ben Alexander and Amee Bahr, Sound Native Plants

Ben Alexander and Amee Bahr concluded the series with a discussion on restoration, described as an ecological act on behalf of the future with respect to the past. “We all have challenges in our lives, and we can move past them,” Bahr said. WCCW hopes to start a conservation  project that will provide offenders with experience in native plant horticulture.  Sharing SPP’s commitment to education, the Alexander and Bahr created a horticulture career development resource for the offenders. Alexander said he, “wanted to convey…that each individual can have an important positive impact even when working on a small local scale.”  He hopes the presentation will inspire offenders to make positive contributions to their community and environment when they leave prison.

Frog Project Initiates New Research

By Undergraduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

From left: SPP Research Associate Dennis Aubrey, WDFW Senior Biologist Marc Hayes and a CCCC offender measure the frogs' growth and health.

Over the winter inmates in SPP’s Oregon Spotted Frog (OSF) program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) have been caring for frogs from Northwest Trek, the Oregon Zoo, and the Woodland Park Zoo that were too small or unhealthy for release into the wild. The frogs have thrived under the offender’s constant care and are slated for release late this winter. By caring for the undersized frogs, CCCC has helped the zoos save money and staff time as they prepare for the new frog rearing season and tend to the many species of animals in their care.  The experience has also provided more hands-on science training for offenders.

The CCCC frog program is expanding its rearing space from one tank to four and will accept twice as many frog eggs this season. Using four tanks will allow side-by-side comparison of frogs from two locations, Conboy Lake and the Black River. Conboy Lake frogs may grow larger and faster due to their exposure to invasive bullfrogs.

These Oregon Spotted Frogs show healthy growth and will be released this winter.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Senior Biologist Marc Hayes suggested the comparative study at CCCC to to test this hypothesis and its implications for frog conservation. Partnering with SPP allows graduate students and offenders the unique opportunity to participate in this research.

To help reduce costs and the carbon footprint of the program, the SPP OSF team has also expanded and improved cricket breeding at CCCC.  After many trials and errors, and incorporating tips provided by experts, SPP staff and offenders are now creating a cricket husbandry manual.  The manual will be used to train the next group of offenders and students working on the project and may also help other facilities interested in sustainable source of crickets.

SPP Launches a New Partnership with the Research Ambassador Program

By Research Ambassador Program Project Manager Amy Stasch

The Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) recently strengthened its Science and Sustainability Lecture Series with the initiation of a new partnership with the Research Ambassador Program (RAP), a project of The Evergreen State College, funded by the National Science Foundation. The RAP is led by Evergreen State College faculty member Dr. Nalini Nadkarni and Project Manager Amy Stasch.

The RAP enhances scientific engagement and scientific literacy among the public by connecting scientists with non-traditional audiences such as senior citizen centers, prisons, faith-based communities, and businesses to develop accessible and interactive communication strategies for public engagement with science. The SPP will collaborate with RAP to host visiting scientists as guest lecturers in the SPP’s monthly lecture series at three Washington State prisons.

The SPP hosted its first RAP science fellow, Katie Renwick, on Thursday, January 14th, 2011 for a presentation at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, a minimum security prison located in Belfair, Washington.  Renwick is a first year doctoral student studying the interactions of bark beetle infestations, fire, disturbance, and recovery in the Rocky Mountains.  She presented an hour-long lecture about her scientific research on how ecological changes affect forests, and how they can recover after these changes.  From these concepts, offenders drew parallels to their own lives and the disturbances they have experienced and are recovering from.

The lecture was the first Science and Sustainability lecture to be hosted at Mission Creek, and received excellent turnout. The women attending were attentive and asked insightful questions. Several inmates approached Renwick following the lecture, thanking her for her time and for helping them relate their own struggles to phenomena that are continuously influencing the forests.  Through this unique encounter, Renwick was able to engage an otherwise unaware audience in scientific discussion, while attending offenders reaped the benefits of her specialized knowledge and inspiration, an experience the SPP and RAP hope to replicate in the coming months.

The SPP will continue to collaborate with the RAP and monthly lectures have already been scheduled through June 2011.

Good News

By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

The Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) is in the news! We have received extensive press coverage from media sources nationwide. The common threads emphasized by all are the innovative nature and the collaborative mode of the work that have contributed to the inspiring success of the SPP. Click on the links below — and feel free to provide your comments.

KBTC Northwest Now: Click here to watch the episode

Northwest Now’s Daniel Kopec hosts SPP Project Co-Director Dan Pacholke, Project Manager Kelli Bush and Cedar Creek Corrections Center Superintendent Douglas Cole to explore how the unique collaboration between the DOC and The Evergreen State College is addressing some of Washington’s pressing social and scientific concerns.

KBTC Full Focus: Being Green: Click here to watch the episode

This episode of Full Focus takes a look at how the Sustainable Prisons Project is engaging offenders in the rearing of endangered frogs and the inspiring stories that have resulted.

KCTS 9 Connects: Click here to watch the episode

KCTS 9 reporter Leslie McClurg takes the show behind bars when she visits the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington to discover how the SPP has inspired one offender to pursue college credit by studying sustainability while incarcerated.

The Promised Land featuring Nalini Nadkarni: Click here to listen to the episode

SPP Co-Director Nalini Nadkarni escorts host Majora Carter from the treetops of the Olympic Rainforest canopy to the incarcerated men at Stafford Creek to lead them in a lively and insightful discussion of “what should happen next” for the SPP and sustainability in society.

Science Nation: Click here to watch and read

Science Nation explores how the SPP  and inmates at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington are helping themselves and nature to recover by working together to raise endangered prairie plants for restoration.

PBS News Hour, Oregon Public Broadcasting:

Click here to watch the PBS news hour segment (short version)

Click here to view the OPB Oregon Field Guide segment (long version)

Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Jule Gilfillan details how the SPP is helping the military and two Washington prisons to reduce waste and protect the environment by training offenders as conservation scientists; all while saving money and supporting biodiversity.

To donate to the Sustainable Prisons Project, CLICK HERE to visit the Evergreen Foundation’s website.

Inmates Restore Prairie, Make Video to Teach Others

By Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliott

The end of the growing season brings a lot of clean up and preparation for the Sustainable Prisons Project.  This year’s native prairie plants, raised in conjunction with offenders at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, are ready to be shipped off to their permanent homes. While some of the plants will be sent to Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM), others are being distributed across various restoration sites around the south Puget Sound prairie landscape. Many are being planted to enhance habitat sites for Taylor’s (Whulge) checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) butterflies.

Delivery and installation of the 173,336 prairie plants began a few weeks ago and will continue through early spring 2011. For all the partners involved in this fantastic restoration project, this is a great accomplishment. Together we have increased the amount of plants produced by 70% compared to 2009.

Offenders at SCCC sort prairie plant seeds.

Reaching the delivery and planting phase  is the result of a lot of hard work. One of our biggest challenges has been working with wild collected seed and recalcitrant or difficult germination strategies. The various species of native prairie seeds are sown into yellow tubes or cells, then stored in larger trays. The total number of cells sown by the offenders was 338,485 with 2 to 6 seed sown per cell.  In the end, approximately 5o% of the cells contained plants.  This low fill rate may be caused by the quality of the seed material, the low viability rate of the seed, or the variability in the dormancy to germination process.  The prairie plant restoration project at Stafford Creek Corrections Center is an evolving process – there still a lot to learn about how to best grow these native prairie plants.  Our cooperators at The Nature Conservancy are working every season to improve seed quality through better collection, threshing, and processing techniques.

Offenders raise thousands of prairie plants each year.

Another factor in the low success rate per cell may be human error. Working with so many plants is just plain difficult sometimes. However, with time and experience the tasks become easier and more expertly accomplished. The current crew of offenders has worked diligently this summer to hone their skills and improve the efficiency of the nursery project while also improving morale and camaraderie. This effort shows in the number and quality of plants produced. They will also be able to help train and pass on these skills to offenders in the future, which will add to the success of the project.

Part of mastering any skill is the ability to teach it to others. The process of teaching a skill causes us to look more closely than we usually do to the mechanics of how we perform a task. Work conditions in a corrections center lead to frequent turn-over in the offender employees. Some sort of training tool was needed to get new offender employees up to speed and give them an understanding of the context and purpose of the nursery project.  The well-trained and skilled crew at SCCC recently helped create a video to serve as a training tool for new offenders working on the project.  Over the course of a few weeks, offenders practiced developing a script around their particular expertise in the production process. We decided to focus on five skills: 1) preparing soil and fertilizer in the cell trays, 2) sowing the seed of three species with differing seed sizes, 3) covering seed with soil or gravel grit, 4) record keeping  and 5) watering, weeding and cultivation skills.

Filming at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

The Center for Creative and Applied Media (C-CAM) at The Evergreen State College provided the production help and equipment for a day of filming at Stafford Creek. The students and staff from C-CAM did a fantastic job drawing out the script from the offenders, as well as setting up and framing the video.

Mixing the potting soil and adding the appropriate quantity of fertilizer.

Record keeping is vital to improving the long-term success of the project.

Applying the right amount of cover soil over the seed.

Preparing to water in newly sown seeds with a gentle spring rain of water.

The training video would not be complete without providing the context for why this nursery project exists. The nursery work and skills are good training for offenders, but another goal is to restore important prairie habitat for threatened and endangered species throughout the south Puget Sound. Some of the plants from SCCC were delivered to a prairie on Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM). During the first week of November, a hard-working field crew was on hand to plant out 30,000 plants to increase butterfly nectar sources and serve as larval hosts.

Filming at the Joint Base Lewis McChord Plant Out

Up close and personal with some of the plant out crew; each of the 30,000 goes in one at a time.

Filming the plant out crew with Kimi the prairie dog.

Luckily, nature provided us with a spectacular backdrop and view of the prairie lands at JBLM, perfect for filming a training video.  The students from C-CAM were able to practice filming a wide variety of shots.  The resulting video will be edited over the next few months, voice-overs added, and it will be finished in February. This will be a valuable training tool for new offenders joining the nursery crew during 2011.  As training improves and new discoveries are made each season, we look forward to improved native plant propagation operations.   Watch for the finished video on our web site February 2011.

Rod Gilbert of the Fish and Wildlife Division of Joint Base Lewis McCord explaining the importance of the plant production to prairie restoration for the film.