Category Archives: Science

Cedar Creek’s Captive Crickets

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

This past spring, Cedar Creek Corrections Center and the Sustainable Prisons Project began experimenting with a new captive rearing project to raise crickets.  The goal of the project is to create a more sustainable, stable supply of food to meet the demand created by housing a growing population of endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs. Crickets are one of the largest expenses for the frog project. Cricket suppliers are located out of state.  Long-distance shipping complications can impact frog feeding schedules, and definitely increase the project’s carbon footprint. As a result of these issues, the offenders at CCCC decided they would try their hand at cricket husbandry and breeding.

Few organizations in Washington raise their own crickets. Most suppliers, including pet shops, purchase crickets from out of state breeders.  By locally-growing crickets for the Oregon Spotted Frog conservation project, SPP offenders and staff are taking another step toward creating a more sustainable, cost effective, and stable food supply.

Inmates and scientists are discovering best practices for rearing crickets.

The Project is also contributing to scientific knowledge, compiling best practices protocol for raising crickets in temperate climates through trial-and-error experimentation. While visiting with offenders to check on how things have progressed, SPP Research Associate Jill Cooper was impressed to see how much the offenders had learned through observation and experience, in such a short amount of time. One inmate explained to her how the current batch of “breeders” that were delivered to the prison, “aren’t really the age which the cricket farm said they are.”  He pointed to the “ovipositor” or egg-depositing tube noting that they were obviously under developed and not ready to lay eggs yet.  Crickets chirp to indicate when they are ready to breed.  The inmate is considering starting his own cricket farm when he is released to offer a more sustainable source of crickets to customers here in the northwest.

Training Officer Ron Gagliardo of Amphibian Ark recently made a visit to CCCC to advise inmates and staff on the cricket rearing operation.  Previously from the Atlanta area, Ron has extensive experience with frog and cricket rearing.  He was a tremendous resource.  The inmates were able to ask him many questions and his input will undoubtedly improve upon the initial success of the cricket operation.

There have been many bumps along the way, but things have been looking up for the cricket operation.  Offenders are able to raise crickets to help supplement the frog’s diet, and have learned much in the process. While the cricket project can not yet support all the food needs, we estimate that the current operation will eventually support at least half of the crickets needed to feed about 200 frogs.

Farewell Frogs!

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

Releasing frogs at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

It has been another successful season rearing Oregon Spotted Frogs at Cedar Creek Correction Center.  A total of 1,346 were released into a wetland site on Joint-Base Lewis-McChord.  The four rearing institutions (Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Northwest Trek, and Cedar Creek Corrections Center) came together to release this year’s batch of frogs into the wild; a collaborative effort to stabilize the native populations.

The Sustainable Prisons Project has been working with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Cedar Creek Correction Center (CCCC) to raise endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs since 2009. CCCC boasts having the largest frogs of any participating rearing institution, with100% of this year’s frogs large enough for release into the wild.

CCCC’s rearing success can be attributed to the amount of time and attention the offenders are able to give the frogs.  The offenders form genuine bonds with the frogs; some are given names, like “Lefty” or “NASCAR.”  The few deceased frogs have been placed in an offender-created “frog cemetery,” with hand-made gravestones.  One of the inmates patiently waits with his hand in the frog pond, and frogs will often come sit in his hand to be pet.

Cedar Creek Frog Maintenance

The day of the release, the frogs were loaded into containers and driven north to Joint-Base Lewis-McChord and their new home. CCCC is a minimum security pre-release facility, sometimes referred to as “camp,” where offenders are sent with minimal time remaining on their sentence. For participating offenders, the release of the frogs in part symbolizes their own impending release back into society.

Superintendent Doug Cole and Classification Counselor Marko Anderson of CCCC along with SPP Student Research Associates Liesl Plomski and Jill Cooper had the opportunity to release some of the frogs.  “It was a sight to see all 1,346 frogs hop into the water and instantly disappear with their well camouflaged bodies,” said Cooper.

Red coloration indicates healthy growth

Each frog has a micro-chip and will be tracked by volunteers who regularly visit the wetlands to conduct research, using special wands that detect the frogs’ signals.

At the conclusion of the release, 29 of the frog “runts” from other institutions were taken back to CCCC because they were not large enough to be released.  These frogs will be nurtured during the winter and released in the spring.  One offender says that this new batch of frogs is, “more skittish than the last;” hardly any of the frogs come sit in his hand.  Nevertheless, they are rapidly growing.  In just the past few weeks, the frogs have gained weight and are already beginning to show some red coloration. With another successful year of frog-rearing logged, the future looks bright for the Cedar Creek frog team.

Opportunity to Support the Sustainable Prisons Project

Nearly a month has passed since the announcement of the deep state budget cuts that terminated the Sustainable Prisons Project’s two-year contract with the Washington State Department of Corrections. The Sustainable Prison Project (SPP) staff and students at The Evergreen State College have been working to secure alternative sources of funding to keep the Project moving forward.  As mentioned in a previous blog, initial success has come in the form of “bridge funding”  allocated by the The Evergreen State College. This funding will provide temporary breathing room, supporting the Project’s core staff and operations through June 2011.  Even with the bridge funding, however, SPP programs and staff will be significantly reduced if additional funding sources are not secured. Therefore, it is at this time that we ask SPP supporters to step forward and aid in the continuation of the Sustainable Prisons Project by donating to the Project’s fund.

The need for the scientific research, conservation work,  and education provided by the SPP is at an all-time high. The recent state  budget cuts have induced severe changes for DOC: 300 jobs have been frozen or cut, monthly offender lock-downs have been implemented, and drug treatment and education programs have been substantially reduced.  Meanwhile, the loss of biodiversity, accelerated by increasing pollution and habitat destruction, threatens the very ecosystems on which we all rely.

Many of our projects address these problems by connecting scientists, offenders, prison staff, and graduate students in collaborations to implement cost-saving sustainable practices, captive-rear endangered native species, while also providing a multitude of learning opportunities for offenders, students and scientists.  If the Project ends, society as a whole will lose the beneficial human, economic, and ecological impacts made possible by the SPP at a critical time when the Project can  serve as a national model for addressing societal problems in a healthy and sustainable way.

We are actively seeking grant and foundation support;  it is our goal to restore funding to our previous level by June 2011. This process of pursuing grant and foundation funds, however,  takes several months to complete. Donations received by the SPP at this time will help ensure our work continues as planned while the process of applying for grants is underway.  If you have ever wished to be involved with the Project, or have been involved and have wanted to “do more”, now is your opportunity to make a difference by providing education, conservation, and life-changing hope.

Examples of what your donation will provide:

$25 = 100sqft of Rare Native Prairie Plants restoration

$100 = one fully raised Oregon Spotted Frog

$200 = total sponsorship for one Science and Sustainability Lecture in a prison

$500 = supplies needed for the new Butterfly Conservation Greenhouse

$1,200 = Science Training for Conservation Projects for offenders and staff

$1,300 = one Student Research Intern’s monthly stipend

$5,000 = Green Collar Job Training Program for offenders (beekeeping or arboriculture)

Despite funding setbacks, the SPP continues to receive regional and international recognition.  We have received hundreds of notes and responses to the DOC termination announcement from people around the country and the world, stating their support for the project and their desire that it continue. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University recently selected the SPP as a recipient of the “Bright Ideas in Innovation in American Government Award” for 2010.  The SPP was also featured on the National Science Foundation’s website in a Science Nation video segment detailing the important impacts of the prairie plant restoration efforts underway at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

While unfortunate, the loss of the DOC contract presents opportunities for growth. We are seeking participation from individuals, foundations, and agencies in the form of volunteers, ideas, contacts, and funds. Any contribution, whether it be $200 to sponsor the honorarium for a Science and Sustainability lecture, or a donation of supplies for our captive rearing projects, will make a real impact on the future course of the SPP and the lives of those it touches.  We thank you for your interest and support, and encourage you to share in the success of the Sustainable Prisons Project by making a contribution. Donations may be made through the Evergreen Foundation by clicking here.  We also invite you to share this message with others.

Thank you!

Please contact Project Co-Director Nalini Nadkarni (nadkarnn@evergreen.edu) or Project Manager Kelli Bush (bushk@evergreen.edu or (360) 867-6863) with any additional questions, gifting arrangements or information on how to become more involved with the Sustainable Prisons Project.

Outreach at the South Sound Science Symposium

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

On October 27, 2010, former and current Sustainable Prisons Project Research Associates Liesl Plomski and Jill Cooper attended the South Sound Science Symposium on Squaxin Island where they represented SPP’s Oregon Spotted Frog Captive Rearing Project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock, WA.

The symposium provided an opportunity to network within the South Sound’s scientific community and spread the word about the great success SPP conservation projects have experienced in the past year.  Plomski and Cooper presented a scientific poster at the symposium describing the Project, garnering  interest in the Project from symposium goers.

The symposium proved to be a great outreach and learning opportunity for Sustainable Prisons Project staff and event attendees. “It was wonderful to see the wide array of cutting-edge environmental work being done in the Puget Sound area,” Cooper said.

Coming Full Circle

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliot

The long-term goal of the prairie plant nursery project at Stafford Creek Correction Center (SCCC) is to produce seed to be used in restored South Salish Sea prairie ecosystems.  All of the plants grown at the SCCC nursery are planted out on Joint Base Ft. Lewis-McChord at the seed nursery production unit. Additional seed production beds are at Washington State Department of Natural Resources Webster Nursery. This month the offenders received hundreds of pounds of seed from this nursery to hand clean in preparation for the fall sowing season.  The work provided an excellent opportunity to participate in the full circle of restoration activities.

Lupines were the genus of focus for this stage of the seed cleaning project. The Sustainable Prison Project (SPP) staff delivered bags of seed and chaff of Lupinus albicaulis, Lupinus lepidus, and Lupinus bicolor for cleaning. Cleaning these seeds is a satisfying activity because with a little work they produce a hefty amount of seed. Lupines provide important ecological services as nectar sources and larval food for the Puget Blue Butterfly (Icaricia iracioides blackmorei). They also facilitate the growth of other prairie plants by fixing atmospheric nitrogen. SPP staff led a workshop to educate offenders on the ecological contributions of lupines and basic seed cleaning protocols.

Using a cookie sheet to clean seed

The offenders created a number of unique means to process the seed with improvised tools that they had on hand. Large industrial cookie sheets were turned into shaker tables that allowed the larger seed to roll out and separate from the lighter chaff above. After that initial cleaning, other offenders used the hand sifters we provided to fine clean the seed. Using hand lenses, we identified larval and young adult seed weevils (Thychius germar) that were mixed in with the lupine seed, and dispatched of them humanely. Over the next month offenders are going to build seed screens in the wood shop so we can quickly process seed in larger quantities, and move on to processing wet seed such as Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea and Viburnum ellipticum.

Seeds

Working together

Offenders Prepare for Frog Release

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Liesl Plomski

Offenders at Cedar Creek Corrections Center have been preparing their Oregon spotted frogs to be released in late September at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  In this process each frog must be weighed, measured, pit tagged, and photographed. Pit tags are little chips that are inserted under the skin which can be scanned to reveal an ID number. Following release into the wild biologists can recapture frogs, scan the tag, and identify individuals.  Once they have identified an individual frog, scientists compare the frog’s weight and size prior to release with current weight and size.  These measurements help the biologist assess the individual’s health and may provide an indication of their ability to survive in their natural habitat.  If a frog has lost the pit tag, it is possible to identify them from their photo. Each Oregon spotted frog has a unique spotting pattern on its back.  Preparing the frogs for release is one more way offenders at Cedar Creek are contributing to scientific research and assisting with the recovery of Oregon spotted frogs.


WA Dept of Fish & Wildlife Biologist Marc Hayes collecting data


Oregon spotted frog photo for identification post-release

From Parks to Prisons

After six seasons as a ranger in the National Parks and Forests, and three years in graduate school, I joined the Sustainable Prisons Project team, as the interim project manager, back in March.  Over the past few months I’ve managed the project largely from the sidelines, from my keyboard and telephone.  I’ve had a few ventures to the prisons we’re active in.  After one of my visits, I returned to a staff meeting and frankly I begged to be included on the lecture schedule.

This week I had the fortune of presenting talks on bear biology both at Washington Corrections Center for Women and McNeil Island Corrections Center.  Although I’ve presented many an evening program in my days as a park ranger, and I’ve talked with a lot of different audiences, presenting in a prison is a unique experience.

The first challenge in preparing was to decide on my topic.  As a park ranger I’ve studied volcanoes, bears, caves, marine mammals, and other subjects.  Being in the Northwest, a landscape of mountains and public lands, bears seemed to be a perfect topic.  The next challenge was to decide which aspect of bears the talk should focus on. There are just too many options!  Rather than focusing on one subject I hoped to show offenders that you can study something seemingly simple, an animal such as the bear, from many perspectives.  I crammed basic bear biology, ecosystem ecology, conservation, and my favorite nature literature that has focused on bears, into 50 PowerPoint slides, and hoped for the best.  An ambitious lecture indeed, but I’ve been consistently impressed by how much information offenders eagerly and ambitiously absorb.

Last Wednesday, at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, I found an enthusiastic audience of about 30 women.  They were particularly interested to understand the life cycles of bears, and the ways that humans interact with bears.  My stories of daily life in Katmai National Park and Preserve, when I was a ranger, and how those stories relate to bear biology were hits.

On Thursday, after a quick tour of McNeil Island, our DOC staff escort led our staff to the visiting room for the lecture.  We scrambled to set up the room for the 90 offenders who signed up for the lecture, and I ticked through my PowerPoint slides, hoping I had enough material to keep the offenders occupied and engaged for nearly 90 minutes.  Quickly I realized I had no reason to worry about time, as within five minutes, offenders hands were raised as they asked intriguing and creative questions about bear foods, life cycles, biology, and the implications of climate change and habitat fragmentation.  I was floored by the depth and intelligence of the questions I was asked.  A few offenders had very good and valid ideas about how to recover imperiled brown bear populations in the lower-48.  If I knew how good the questions would be, I probably would have read just a few more scientific articles before the lecture!

As our team sat on the boat venturing back to the mainland (McNeil Island Corrections Center is indeed on an island as the name implies, with the prison operating ferry boats for staff and visitors), I found myself reflecting.   For six seasons I talked about bears, volcanoes, caves, and wildlife around campfires and amidst wild land.  These days I find myself behind numerous gates and fences presenting to offenders, and yet the offenders still manage to deeply appreciate nature and science, even from a distance.  Although it’s easy to miss the campfires and hikes of working in our National Parks, I’m developing a deep appreciation for interacting with offenders. Their deep intellect and curiosity persists, even as they serve (often long) sentences for crimes that are painful to think about. 

Our next staff meeting is on Tuesday and I think I’ll probably ask to speak at another prison.  I really appreciate the ideas that offenders brought forth, and I hope they continue to ask questions that send me to the books and journals seeking answers.

Lectures Captivate Offenders at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Sarah Clarke

In September 2009 we kicked off a science and sustainability lecture series at the WCCW in Gig Harbor, WA. Included as part of a yearly Women’s Health Conference titled “The Mind, the Spirit, the Environment Maintained, Equals a Healthy Body Sustained,” our lectures there on Trees and Human Health as well as Toxics and the Environment started what has become a popular series for offenders at the WCCW.  Now, 10 months into this series, we recently noted the diversity of presentations we’ve been able to offer at WCCW.

Sarah Clarke, Research Associate, speaks to offenders at WCCW at the conference held in September 2009

Sarah Clarke, Research Associate, speaks to offenders at WCCW at the conference held in September 2009

Each facility in the Washington Department of Corrections is a little different, and we adjust lecture series accordingly.   From the start, staff and offenders at WCCW tasked us to find lectures that integrate the personal health aspects with the environmental aspects of sustainability. This unusual and challenging task has turned out to be very fruitful as it has led to a diverse mix of guest lecturers and topics.

Lectures have included such topics as Poetry and Sustainability, Yoga and Sustainability, Ethnobotany, and more traditional science and sustainability lectures like Nearshore Restoration in Puget Sound, Salmon in the Pacific Northwest, Beyond Waste in Washington State: Reducing Toxic/Solid Waste and Reusing Organic Waste, and Wolves: Endangered Species Ecology, Conservation, and Wildlife-Related Jobs. Future topics include Biology and Ecology of Brown Bears and Purple Martin and Western Bluebird Conservation.  

Frequently during lectures we (SPP staff, inmates, and officers) reflect on the maxim “we will not fight to save what we do not love.”  As organizers, we feel we have helped offenders not only understand the science of restoration, salmon, and wolves, but also to further their love of the plants and animals native to the Northwest.  Offenders consistently show a deep level of curiosity as they ask insightful and unique questions, exhausting available Q&A time.

Growing Plants and Potential: Stafford Creek Nursery Project

Carl Elliott, one of our Graduate student Research Associates, has been documenting his work with the project since April.  The following are a few of his entries.
Introduction

4/01/2010

Throughout the spring of 2010, the Cargill Fellowship supported the Sustainable Prisons Project staffing in the nursery at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.  We wanted to create a learning environment where incarcerated men gain the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to participate in the emerging green economy.  The nursery project provides a framework to clearly explain important ecological principles related to sustainability.  Additionally, the nursery skills provided in the training can be transferred to numerous other job pathways after the inmate’s release. Inmates also build significant confidence as they produce real products that will assist other agencies in restoring a threatened landscape. The concrete success in growing plants for restoration is inspiring for incarcerated individuals who have not often had many concrete successes in their lives. 1.CNTRGRD_6_17

Seed Cleaning

4/18/2010
The Sustainable Prisons Project developed a curriculum for offenders curriculum for the offenders involved in the nursery program, which complimented the production schedule of the nursery.  Before offenders could understand the importance of nursery work, they needed to understand the context of why restoration is needed on south Puget Sound prairies. We held a number of informal workshops this month where we cleaned seed or prepared the sowing flats and soil.  This allowed a lot of time just to discuss restoration and humans impact on natural ecosystems.  The offenders discussed and debated amongst themselves, questioning “what is the definition of ecological restoration?”  This discussion led to lead to questions about why restoration is even needed. The South Puget Sound prairies are anthropogenic ecosystems, affected by human activities.  Though soil, climate and biotic factors play a role in the ecosystem, the primary driver influencing the prairie ecosystem state is periodic fires, lit by humans.  With a return to prairie burn regimes on South Puget Sound prairies instituted by The Nature Conservancy and Joint Base Fort Lewis McChord, the nursery project will be able to supply need plants and seed to return forb diversity to the prairies. 2.Riparian_Seeds.jpg

Practical Nursery Techniques

5/19/2010

The offenders, DOC staff and SPP staff worked on practical nursery techniques this month.  The details of cultivating wild plants provide a lesson in patience that growing that pansies and petunias do not.  Wild plants do not germinate with the same regularity and consistency as cultivated plants and their germination and stratification protocols are not as well documented as the economically important cultivated species. This year over 380,000 prairie and riparian plants of 30 species are being sown, germinated and cultivated at Stafford Creek.  Each species has unique stratification, handling, sowing and cultivation requirements.  This diversity of protocols has presented challenges in communication and documentation and both offenders and staff have shown that they are up to the task.  Everyone involved has learned there is both an art and a science to cultivating wild plant species.  We have been greatly assisted by our partners at The Nature Conservancy of Washington, who have provided protocols developed at their Shotwell’s Landing Nursery.  TNC staff came out this month to do a workshop and provide quality control to make sure that all the prairie plants are being grown to their specifications.

 3.GREENH_5_13

Plants Up and Growing

6/17/2010

Our nursery work has progressed well this spring. We are about one halfway through the sowing process.  Most of the plants sown to date are slow growing and erratic germinators. Prairie forbs such as Lomatium nudicale, Lomatium utriculatum, Viola adunca and Castilleja hispida have germinated at rates around 20% and we should expect twice that rate over the next four to six weeks.  The majority of plants will go into the restoration sites from October to January when the rains come (of course this year as of June, the rains have not stopped). The offenders are monitoring germination rates between the plants in the green house that have temperatures higher temperatures than the hoop house which also has a greater range of temperatures from daytime to nighttime.  The process of detailed record keeping coupled with producing almost 400, 000 plants has been a challenge. SPP staff has provided templates and education on keeping accurate field journals to each offender.  As a project, we hope to collectively create documented plant production protocols that would raise the inmate’s participation from simply labor to one of being active stakeholders in the restoration process.  This is also providing interesting data that helps us understand which plants grow faster, in what environments. 

4.POGL_5_13

Offenders take college credit at Evergreen

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Liesl Plomski

Cedar Creek Correction Center inmate, Charles Butts, recently completed a 2 credit research paper on photovoltaic cells with The Evergreen State College. Charles is our first incarcerated student to construct an independent learning contract through The Evergreen State College. Under the guidance of faculty sponsor, Peter Impara, Charles was able to author a paper on the history and current technology of photovoltaic cells. Charles has a background as an electrician and hopes to continue to study solar energy and to open his own business installing energy saving products upon his release. This accomplishment could not have been achieved without the support of Correctional Counselor, Marko Anderson.

Liesl Plomski (SPP staff), Charles Butts (offender and student), Peter Impara (Evergeren State College faculty) and Marko Anderson (Cedar Creek Correctional Center staff) celebrate as Charles completes requirements to receive college credits

Liesl Plomski (SPP Student & Staff), Charles Butts (offender and student), Peter Impara (Evergreen State College faculty) and Marko Anderson (Cedar Creek Corrections Center staff) celebrate as Marko finishes his coursework and receives college credits

 

Charles has opened to door for more incarcerated students to follow. An incarcerated student from the Washington Corrections Center for Women will begin an independent learning contract on recycling this summer, under the guidance of faculty sponsor, Karen Gaul. The Sustainable Prisons Project hopes to support more incarcerated students in the pursuit of sustainable knowledge in the future.