Category Archives: Science

Susan Christopher reflects on her experience raising endangered butterflies in prison

Text by Susan Christopher, photos by Keegan Curry

Hello! My name is Susan Christopher and I’m currently incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, Washington. I would like to thank the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) for blessing me with the incredible opportunity of being involved with the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program for more than three years.

Susan helps technician Cynthia Fetterly examine a newly emerged butterfly.

The goal of the program is to successfully breed and rear the federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly in captivity and release 3000-5000 larvae into their native and restored habitats each year. This is a collaboration of many partners including The Evergreen State College, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Defense, among others.

During the four breeding seasons I worked in the program, I was able to witness every life stage up close and personal. I watched a butterfly lay her eggs on a leaf. A few weeks later, through a microscope, I watched those eggs hatch. While feeding those caterpillars every day, I saw many of them shed their outer skin—a process called molting—several times as they matured. I watched them reach the diapause stage, in which they slept for several months. Upon waking up in the spring, I would feed them again until the true miracle began: as they shed their last exoskeleton, I could see the chrysalis form until they became a pupa. Roughly three weeks later, I witnessed the final stage of the miracle of transformation when the butterfly emerges, unfurls its wings, and takes its first flight. It was simply amazing.

Susan offers her knowledge of Taylor’s checkerspot husbandry to producers from PBS Nature.

A biologist from WDFW helps Susan understand the composition of prairie vegetation in a healthy Taylor’s checkerspot habitat.

I’ve often wondered how many people in this world have had the opportunity to observe each of those events. Only a handful, I would guess. But that is just part of what I got from this program.

I was interviewed by PBS twice and appeared on a PBS NewsHour segment. I was allowed to attend a Working Group Conference and gave a presentation about our program to approximately 40 managers and biologists who also work with Taylor’s checkerspot. I have also been interviewed by an author from Japan and a group of prison administrators from Thailand. This last spring, myself and the other butterfly technicians got to go on a field trip to see our “finished product”—wild checkerspots—in their restored habitat.

This was more than just a job; this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has provided me with professional skills and many lifelong memories.

I would never have believed I would be given such a chance in prison, but thanks to the people at SPP, WDFW, and the Oregon Zoo—all who took a risk by bringing this program to incarcerated individuals—I can truly say this has changed my life. Thank you to all those who had the foresight to believe in us.

 

Susan Christopher and the 2017 butterfly crew—Jessica Stevens, Alexis Coleman, Nichole Alexander, and Cynthia Fetterly—pose for a photo after hosting Girl Scouts Beyond Bars in the greenhouse at MCCCW.

More Beekeeping than Ever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)

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

Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC)

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

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)

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

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC)

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

Larch Corrections Center (LCC)

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

McNeil Island Beekeeping Program (McNeil Island and CCCC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

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

Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

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

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

Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

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

Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

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

WCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with Mother Earth Farms.

Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)

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

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

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

UW & Prison Study Soil Health

Inmates at the WSRU Vermiculture program partner with the University of Washington to test the ability of soil health to influence human health

By Nick, Teaching Assistant for University Beyond Bars, Monroe Correctional Complex
Photos courtesy of Joel Strom, University Beyond Bars

Ms. Landefeld harvests from the plots with the help of a composting technician.

With the goal of improving how we grow food, Washington State Reformatory (WSRU) vermiculture technicians and scientists from the University of Washington (UW) are studying soil health at the prison. The incarcerated technicians are assisting with scientific trials of different types of soils to see if they can produce vegetables containing higher levels of key elements that have been shown to improve human health.

Earlier this year the vermiculture program was approached by Dr. Sally Brown, a professor at the UW Ecosystem Science Division, College of Forest Resources, to assist in this project.  Dr. Brown had become familiar with the vermiculture program when she co-authored an article with one of the inmate technicians about some of the composting techniques employed at the facility. Dr. Brown had been working with graduate student Sally Landefeld on a series of trials to grow vegetables in several different types of soil to test for relationships between soil health and antioxidants and other important disease-fighting nutrients. On a tour of the facility, Dr. Brown noticed a unique opportunity in the gardens adjacent to the worm farm:  the soil there had been treated with composting by-products for several years, some areas with Bokashi-treated (fermented) compost and others with vermicompost (worm castings).

A trial plot is ready for planting; Washington State Reformatory Unit (WSRU) at Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC). Photo courtesy of Joel Strom, University Beyond Bars (UBB).

In April, Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld met with vermiculture technicians and set out three separate plots that would be used for the trials:

  1. No soil treatments with soil amendments
  2. Several treatments of Bokashi composted food waste over several years
  3. Heavily treated with worm castings and vermicompost.

One of the vermiculture technicians was asked to be the project lead. He and his peers prepared and marked the plots for planting.

Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld returned in May and planted broccoli, carrots and onions in all three plots.  Despite an ongoing battle with rabbits throughout the spring, by June the crops in all three plots were growing well.

Ms. Landefeld returned to the vermiculture program in mid-June to deliver an instructional presentation on how she decided on the path for her doctorate and what she was hoping to accomplish with the prison-hosted study. The WSRU vermiculture program offers a 1,000 hour SPP certification in collaboration with Tilth Alliance, and guest lecture are part of the curriculum. In this presentation, Ms. Landefelt said:

“We are just starting to understand the intricate relationship between soil health and public health. Healthy soil contains plenty of organic matter, which provides nutrients to plants, fosters microbial life, and improves soil physical properties including water holding ability and tilth.  If we deplete soil organic matter, we may reduce the soil’s ability to produce high yielding crops that are also rich in nutrients.  This project aims to (i) characterize soil health by analyzing soil properties including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, organic matter, soil structure and microbial content, and to (ii) quantify both quantity and quality of the vegetables grown on the control and high organic matter plots.  In addition to plant yield, we will test the vegetables for nutrients, vitamin B6 (pyroxidal) and phytochemicals including sulforaphane, beta-carotene (provitamin A), and quercetin.”

Broccoli growing in the vermicompost plot.

By mid-July, the broccoli was ready to be harvested and Dr. Brown and Ms. Landefeld worked with the technicians to harvest from all three plots.

As the project progresses they will return to the prison periodically to harvest other vegetables and take soil samples.  The vitamins and phytochemicals will be tested using a technique called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) in order to relate the phytochemical content of common garden crops with soil health.

This project is a great example of SPP’s vision to create a collaborative, intellectually stimulating environment in which incarcerated men and women play key roles in conservation and advancing scientific knowledge and has been a win-win for the vermiculture program as well as the University.

Dr. Brown and a vermiculture technician harvest from a trial plot.

A Beautiful Spring and Explosive Summer at WCCW

Photos and text by Jacob Meyers, Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator

Pop. Pop. Pop. Scream. Laughter. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Crew members (left to right) Tammera Thurlby, Danielle Castillo, and Angela Jantzi harvesting Viola adunca on a hot summer day.

That may sound like a group of teenagers watching a horror movie while waiting for the popcorn to finish in the microwave. In reality, it was a scene that played out a couple weeks ago, as I and several nursery technicians spent the afternoon harvesting Viola (violet) seeds. The scream was mine: a seed pod caught me off guard when it unexpectedly exploded in my cup. The crew (rightfully so) hasn’t let me forget that a Viola seed pod scared me half to death. (In my defense, a spider had just crawled across my leg and I was a little bit on edge.)

It’s rarely a dull moment at WCCW these days. While most of the flowers finished blooming in early May, June and July have been full of exploding violet pods and which means there is a lot of work to be done! As my co-worker wrote a few weeks back, the early-blue violet (Viola adunca) is an extremely important prairie plant in the recovery of prairie landscapes, and to the Fritillary butterflies (Zerene FritillarySpeyeria zerene bremnerii – and the Great Spangled FritillarySpeyeria cybele pugetensis) in particular. At WCCW, we have two species of viola currently – the aforementioned early blue violet and the yellow violet (Viola praemorsa). The Viola adunca cultivated at WCCW is collected for seed to aid in the recovery of the Zerene fritillary (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) on the Oregon Coast.

Violets are commonly known to even the most inexperienced gardener. Heck, even people who don’t garden are familiar with the small, heart-shaped flowers that are typical of the genera. But what you may not know is that the Viola genus contains more than 500 species! The ones we grow at SPP are a bit hardier than your typical Viola. The species we cultivate are found in places where water is hard to come by—prairies, savannahs, sand dunes and on the edges of woodlands. Regardless of where they are found, Viola species serve as an important nectar source for pollinators.

Here are some pictures of the beautiful blooms we had at WCCW this year:

 

The early-blue violet (Viola adunca) is found across the cooler states and provinces of North America in coastal sand bluffs, prairies, and woods. Another of its common names is the sand violet.

 

There are 8 beds of Viola adunca at WCCW. The plants are six inches apart, which is a bit tighter than is typical for a seed farm or nursery, but allows us to cram in approximately 400 Violas in each bed!!

 

Viola praemorsa, or the canary violet, is far less common than its bluish-purple cousin. This violet is only found in western North American oak savannahs and oak woodlands.

 

This is a wide view of all the raised beds at WCCW. Viola praemorsa in the foreground, Viola adunca (purple flowers) beyond, and two beds of wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) all the way in the back. Strawberries are also an important pollinator plant in prairie habitat.

 

 

Scott Skaggs is the Grounds & Facilities Supervisor at WCCW and helps manage the Nursery Crew. In the photo above Scott is doing a little bit of spot weeding.

While very pretty, the beautiful flowers have a forthcoming message – it’s reproduction time! And after those beautiful signals go off and a little bit of magic (sexual reproduction via pollination), little baby plants (aka seeds) begin to emerge!! After baking in the sun for a number of days or weeks, Viola species all form capsules or “pods” that split open and disperse. Or as is the case in the species we grow at SPP – the pods explode like the one in my cup. The photos below show seed pods developing, and their processing after we harvest them.

 

In the above photo, a Viola adunca plant is starting the reproduction process. The seed pods are typically green colored and curled up like an umbrella when they first emerge. As the pods mature, their color whitens and the stems stands up straight in preparation for pod explosion.

 

A mature Viola adunca seed pod: notice the whiter coloring and erect stem; this is the perfect time to harvest the pods.

 

This photo shows what happens when Viola pods go unharvested. Most of the pods’ seed disperses about 5 feet in every direction during the explosion – some have been found up to 10 feet from their parent plants!!

 

Sometimes, however, the seed stays put. This isn’t great for the plant’s reproductive success rate; for people collecting seed, it’s a welcome sight!

 

Harvesting all of the seed pods ready at one time can take the entire WCCW crew anywhere from 3 to 5 or 6 hours. Depending on when during the collection season we’re harvesting, there can be a lot of pods to pick!

 

After harvesting, all of the pods go into bins where they can continue to dry out and “pop” for easy collection. Here is a bin of Viola praemorsa sitting on a window ledge to get a little extra sunlight.

 

A tule cloth on top keeps all the seeds from flying all over the office!

 

In this photo most of the pods have already exploded and left behind their seed on the bin floor. These are Viola praemorsa seed which is quite a bit larger (at least 2-3x larger) than Viola adunca seed.

 

After going through several rounds of sifting with professional grade sieves all that remains is A LOT of Viola adunca seed. It has been a tremendously successful season at WCCW. We anticipate easily surpassing our goal of 2-3 pounds!

 

This picture illustrates just how small Viola adunca seed actually is! The small size is another reason why harvesting seed mechanically or after the pods explode is nearly impossible!!

Looking through these pictures one might be able to deduce that the task of harvesting viola seed can be monotonous, and quite time consuming. As technician Tammera Thurlby told me, “I harvested so many viola seeds/pods that when I close my eyes it’s all I can see.” But beyond helping the Fritillary butterflies prairie habitat here in the Pacific Northwest, the caring for and cultivation of violas at WCCW also produces something that might be harder to see – an opportunity for the technicians to grow and heal themselves. “My life has been a lot of taking, so it’s nice to be able to give back,” said Ms. Thurlby.

“Give back to what?” I asked.

“To everything. Helping save an endangered species, doing something positive and constructive with my life rather than destructive,” she replied.

Her words reminded me of what I heard from a technician at Stafford Creek, Michael Gorski; he said to a group of partners, “A lot of what they’re [SPP] growing is people. They’re saving lives – opening the master key for life.”

Little Viola seeds turn into plants with beautiful flowers, which in turn may feed an endangered butterfly; but you never know what kind of seed you are planting in any given moment or interaction when working with people.

Technician Tammera Thurlby holds up a tiny Viola adunca seed pod during a day of harvesting this past summer.

Astrobiology for the Incarcerated – Ohio

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Note: See an earlier article for an introduction to the Astrobiology for the Incarcerated program

At Grafton Reintegration Center, the presentation was filmed for broadcast on a multi-institution channel.

In late April, the Astrobiology for the Incarcerated program visited five prisons plus a youth facility in Ohio. In four densely-packed days, we reached 440 incarcerated participants, 55 staff and teacher participant—it was a satisfying whirl-wind of activity and ideas. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction‘s Energy Conservation & Sustainability Administrator Jacqueline Langhals gave excellent administrative support for the program, and Corrections staff and incarcerated students were gracious and enthusiastic hosts. Whereas Dr Drew Gorman-Lewis presented on astrobiology research in the Washington State series, in Ohio it was Dr Jackie Goordial who covered research; she is a microbiologist currently at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

Science vs Religion?

Dr Jackie Goordial presents in the chapel at London Corrections Institution.

In Ohio, nearly every event was held in the prison chapel, which—for many—elicited a perceived conflict between science and spirituality. Luckily, Daniella Scalice is a master of taking a hard question and suggesting how to transform it into a beautiful idea. She offered that we think about astrobiology’s origin stories as complementary, even reinforcing, the origin stories of many religions. She pointed to the root meaning of the word Universe:

uni meaning one

verse meaning story 

Thinking about it this way, astrobiology gives us one of many powerful and meaningful origin stories.

The Pale Blue Dot

At Grafton Corrections Institution, Daniella Scalice reads Carl Sagan’s response to an image of Earth from 4 billion miles away.

At every presentation, Daniella read a moving quote by Carl Sagan in which he describes a photograph of Earth taken by Voyager 1 from about 4 billion miles away; the earth appears as a pale blue dot—barely visible at that distance:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. ~ Carl Sagan, 1994

Impromptu Seminars

At every facility, the incarcerated students brought excellent observations and queries. As Jackie described her research on microbes in an Antarctic desert and the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, she was peppered with keen questions. Sometimes, the questions were so insightful that Jackie would pause before responding to say, “That’s amazing.” Then she would explain how the question exposed the very heart of the topic, bringing up questions that she and her colleagues had investigated for months, or would be central to her future work as a scientist.

Students at Franklin Medical Center, just south of Columbus, asked highly scientific questions of Dr Jackie Goordial, to her delight.

Many students engaged in informal seminars following the presentation; this one is at Noble Corrections Institution.

Following every presentation, many students would gather for informal seminar on astrobiology topics. Jackie and Daniella fielded their questions and input with grace and humor, listening carefully and validating the many astute observations. They discussed pathways for studying astrobiology and other scientific disciplines, how a person can become a scientist, and who pays for scientific research and outreach.

At Cuyahoga Hills Youth Facility, Daniella Scalice supported teams of students and teachers designing and budgeting a mission to search for life elsewhere in our Solar System. Photo by Doc Brown.

What next?

Next on the schedule is Florida Department of Corrections, where seven facilities will host the program in September. At the same time, the team will offer return visits and multimedia materials for prison libraries. Noble Corrections Institution plans to do even more, creating a multi-speaker series that’s a proper “program” yielding a certificate; speakers would present via video, and those sessions would tie to the multimedia library with post-lecture “homework” assignments. Sounds like an ideal iteration of the program!

Abundant thanks to all the staff, leadership, and incarcerated students in Ohio. It would be wonderful to bring the program back again in the future!

The crowd at Noble Corrections Institution takes in Daniella’s presentation.

Jackie is charmed by Miss Josie at Grafton Reintegration Center. The tie to astrobiology? Well, even the atoms of adorable Miss Josie were built in the heart of a star.;-)

 

 

Mission Creek butterfly technicians visit Taylor’s checkerspot habitat

Text and images by Keegan Curry, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Coordinator

Biologist Mary Linders shows incarcerated technicians which areas of the prairie are currently occupied by reintroduced Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies.

In late spring, incarcerated technicians from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) had the opportunity to visit Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, a reintroduction site for federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies. These technicians work year-round to raise Taylor’s checkerspots in a greenhouse, but this is the first time they have been able to see the habitat where captive-reared butterflies and caterpillars have been released. Mary Linders and Josh Cook from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) conducted a tour of the site, describing its history and ecology as they led us on a hike through the serene prairie.

Sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinis albicaulis) was in full bloom during our prairie tour, dappling the scenery with vibrant purple.

Our visit coincided with the end of the 5-week flight season, so adult butterfly sightings were limited. But technicians wasted no time in examining the Plantago lanceolata host plants and soon discovered Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars! These hatchlings were just like the ones back in the lab at MCCCW and it was thrilling to find them living out in the wild. At the level of our toes, the habitat appeared to be teeming with young larvae. This particular site represents a major success for Mary Linders and WDFW who carefully reintroduced the species here over many years with the help of rearing programs at MCCCW and the Oregon Zoo.

As a Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) coordinator, I am always searching for ways to connect incarcerated technicians with the ecosystems they are helping to restore. Butterfly technicians know a lot about Salish lowland prairies from readings and discussion, but seeing the habitat with their own eyes provided a whole new level of insight. Hopefully this kind of trip can become a regular component of the program. I know it will help this group of technicians as they return to the butterfly lab at MCCCW and integrate their experience on the prairie into their work.

Such an opportunity would not have been possible without the officers and staff at MCCCW who supported this trip, and who play a vital role in hosting the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program throughout the year. A special thank you to Mary Linders, Josh Cook, and WDFW for being so generous with their time and facilitating this valuable learning experience for SPP participants.

Technician Tracy Hatch studies harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) blooming near the trail.

(left to right) Mary Linders and Josh Cook introduce the habitat’s vegetation and discuss the role of fire on the landscape. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) is one of adult Taylor’s checkerspots’ favorite perches.

Mary Linders describes the reintroduction process and how the population has progressed in this particular area.

Harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) stands out against the lush green grasses. This and other paintbrush varieties are known host plants for Taylor’s checkerspots.

Susan Christopher and Nichole Alexander search for wild Taylor’s checkerspot larvae.

Success! Early instar caterpillars huddle within their delicate webbing on Plantago lanceolata, a satisfying moment for butterfly technicians and biologists alike.

Turtle Season is Here!

By Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Coordinator

South Puget Sound Wildlife Area in Lakewood, WA. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

It’s turtle trapping season for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). When we arrived onsite at the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area, Wildlife Biologist Emily Butler was already hard at work and chest-deep in one of the three ponds at the wildlife area that western pond turtles (WPT) call home. Emily and two dedicated volunteers were diligently placing traps in turtle habitat.

Emily Butler, Assistant District Biologist, Wildlife Program with one of the traps she uses for western pond turtles. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

Along with trapping, WDFW also identifies turtle nests in the area. They establish a barrier to protect the site from predators. The barrier pictured below protects an active nest that currently houses WPT eggs. While the eggs will hatch in the fall, the turtles will not emerge until next spring, and it is crucial to protect them from predators until then.

Western Pond Turtle Nest. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

As a recent addition to the SPP team, I was excited to see the Western pond turtle habitat firsthand. I am taking over Jessica Brown’s position as Conservation Coordinator with Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) and Larch Corrections Center (LCC), and working closely with WDFW to help western pond turtles fight off shell disease. Critically endangered in the state of Washington, WPT are a crucial native species that have recently fallen victim to shell disease, which deteriorates their shells and shortens the turtles’ lifespans.

In the next week WDFW will locate and identify any turtles that show signs of shell disease. The turtles that they trap will be evaluated at Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) where veterinarians will determine which individuals require treatment. Those turtles will then be transferred to Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) where SPP Biological Science Technicians will care for and monitor them through their recovery, then releasing the turtles next spring.

Left to right: SPP Liasion Tyler Kennedy, SPP Conservation Coordinator Marisa Pushee, Technician Daniel Silva, Technician Lorenzo Stewart, Technician George Gonzales, Technician Darin Armstrong, SPP Conservation Coordinator Jessica Brown. Photo by Amanda Mintz.

It was a pleasure to see the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area firsthand and gain insight from Emily. With two new Biological Science Technicians also joining our team, we all look forward to meeting our new patients soon and helping them along to a speedy recovery. Stay tuned for updates on our turtles in the fall!

Western Pond Turtle. Photo by Keegan Curry.

 

Trying to Find a Balance: The Emergent Vegetated Mats (EVM) Project

Text by Amanda Mintz and Danyl Herringshaw. Photos by Amanda Mintz unless otherwise noted.

The goal of an aquaponics system is to mimic nature by recycling nutrients from animal waste into plant tissue through microbial decomposition. The needs of fish, plants, and microbes must be balanced to keep the system functioning properly. The technicians at Stafford Creek Corrections Center are tasked with being sensitive to the needs of the system and work hard to maintain the balance among these symbiotic organisms. The technicians learn about plant and microbial ecology, water quality, and fish biology while also learning how to troubleshoot plumbing, heating systems, and pumps. When the system is working as it should, the technicians may be left with little maintenance to do. But when something goes wrong, such as a spike in ammonia or a failed pump, it is their job to figure out how to find the problem and fix it.

Click to learn more about how SPP is partnering with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center for Natural Lands Management, and the Department of Defense to restore Oregon spotted frog habitat in Washington State.

Danyl Herringshaw (left) and Joseph Oddo, current EVM technicians, are learning to maintain a system that often behaves in unexpected ways. This photo was taken just prior to loading mats for delivery…

This spring Danyl Herringshaw, an EVM technician since January, reflected on his experiences in the aquaponics facility:

“I think the most important thing I’ve learned since working at the EVM greenhouse at SCCC is the value of a mistake. The EVM greenhouse is a very delicate and fickle system. A small adjustment to the water flow can affect the entire system’s timing, for example. There have been countless examples of how I’ve learned and grown in my knowledge of this system from mine and others’ mistakes.

“This also puts into perspective how delicate a natural system is. Minor adjustments and maintenance seem to make this job slow, even boring sometimes. However, if an adjustment is too large or too small or a certain piece is overlooked during maintenance, it can have large ramifications. These adjustments and maintenance seem to happen effortlessly in nature.

“This is why natural habitats and ecosystems ought to be preserved when considering urban development. These systems are in place to keep us, and the wildlife that reside there, safe.”

In the EVM, we are doing our part to enhance natural ecosystems by growing native wetland plants in support of wetland habitat restoration for the threatened Oregon spotted frog. The plants are sown in soil and installed in mats once their roots and shoots are large enough. Then they continue growing in the mats until they achieve at least 50% cover. Mr. Herringshaw and Joseph Oddo, who has been working on the EVM project since March, have done an exceptional job sowing, tracking growth, and maintaining the health of the plants. We delivered another set of mats to Joint Base Lewis McChord in June.

…and this photo was taken after loading the mats! Each mat can weigh up to 100 pounds, even after they are allowed to drain and dry out for 24 hours.

 

Mr. Herringshaw and Mr. Oddo roll up the mats before loading them onto the truck. In the field, they will be rolled out and secured in place; the plants perk right back up.

 

This mat can’t wait for contact with soil! Imagine reed canarygrass trying to grow through these lush roots.

The EVM project is a learning laboratory for technicians and staff alike. Amanda Mintz, EVM Coordinator and Master of Environmental Studies graduate student at Evergreen, has been researching the effects of adding compost tea to the aquaponics water on plant nutrient content . Theoretically, the microbial community in the compost tea—a brew made by soaking bags of compost in aerated water—aids in plant nutrient uptake in several ways, such as helping decompose organic matter in the water, or stimulating plant hormones that promote growth and increase nutrient uptake. Mr. Herringshaw and former technician Matthew Fuller collected plant tissue samples for Amanda to take back to Evergreen’s laboratories for analysis, tracked plant growth and health data, and ensured that system parameters remained constant during the experiment.

Former EVM technicians Brian Bedilion and Matt Fuller calculate percent cover using the point method. Photo by Jim Snider, DOC

Stay tuned for the results of Amanda’s project!

Beekeeping at Clallam Bay

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Coordinator

Students observe a frame from the hive Mark brought in. This frame has wax on it and some cells were full of pollen.

Beekeeping has been growing in popularity throughout prisons in Washington State, with 12 facilities now housing hives! Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) is among them; the prison has 3 healthy hives tended by inmate and staff apprentice beekeepers certified by WA State Beekeepers Association. CBCC is located in Clallam Bay on the Olympic Peninsula adjacent to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Beekeeping instructor Mark Urnes shows students a bottom board from the hive he brought in as a demonstration tool.

The liaison holds a drawing of bee drone biology made by incarcerated students.

Earlier in the spring, CBCC hosted a day-long intensive seminar for a new group of incarcerated beekeepers. Beekeeping instructor Mark Urnes, the education lead for the North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers’ Association, led the seminar and fielded many questions from the inmate beekeepers.They covered topics such as bee biology, pathogens, and colony collapse disorder. Students came prepared, so that they could get as much out of the intensive as possible; all had read scientific articles, bee journals, and reviewed their class notes from WA State Beekeepers Association apprenticeship curriculum. They brought with them drawings of bee biology and model hives that aided Mark’s descriptions and demonstrations.

The CBCC officer who sponsors the beekeeping program told me many stories about how beekeeping has had positive impacts on the lives of inmates and staff. The staff sponsor was proud to share that inmates who go through the program have a lasting positive effects from it. I was so happy to hear that the program is being so well received and having such a positive effect on the lives of those involved in it.

More images from the intensive follow.

Another sketch by incarcerated students shows a cross section of a hive showing the different stages of bee larvae within the hive cells.

This frame shows wax that is fresher, towards the side of the frame, compared to older wax in the middle of the frame.

Students listen as Mark answers questions.

Students had constructed a model hive out of paper (seen on the table) and Mark used it to aid the part of his presentation about the different parts of a hive and the purpose they serve.

Mark holds a picture of queen next to some worker bees. Here he was talking about the importance of queen health to the hive as a whole.

Mark listens as a student asks a question.

Keep up the good work, CBCC!

 

McNeil Island’s Newest Residents

Text and photos by Bethany Shepler, Green Track Program Coordinator

After four years of organizing, planning, and building a team, honeybees have arrived at McNeil Island.
This spring marks a special occasion for Washington State beekeeping and beekeepers: we have installed honeybees on McNeil Island! McNeil Island offers wonderful beekeeping prospects because the island is pesticide-free—a rare resource in the region. Pesticides can interfere with bees’ senses, or even be toxic, so having access to a place that is free of pesticides is an exciting opportunity for beekeepers.

A bit of background on McNeil Island

McNeil Island housed a federal penitentiary from 1875 to 1981, when WA Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) took over the facility. In 2011, WA Corrections closed down the prison on McNeil Island, but they continue to be stewards of this epic landscape—Correctional Industry (CI) staff oversee stewardship operations. McNeil Island now houses a Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS) special commitment facility, and the old prison is used by the military, National Guard, WA Corrections, and others for training purposes. (If you want to know more about the island and its history, here’s the link to the Wikipedia page.)

On our trip around the island we would see signs like this one.

We visited the island a week before the bees were dropped off to take a tour and complete preparations. It’s not very big, but it’s a beautiful island nestled in the Puget Sound and mostly covered in vegetation. Sprinkled around the island are boarded-up houses where prison staff lived when the facility was in operation, and there’s even an old school house for their families. Even though we haven’t seen them yet, there are a few bears that live on the island, too!

The expert beekeeping team—we’re so lucky to be working with them! From left to right: Dixon Fellows, Gail Booth, Laurie Pyne, Maren Anderson, and Andy Matelich.

Honeybee Home

The bee hives are in a small structure in the center of this photo; it’s a perfect location, surrounded by an orchard and shielded from the elements by an old bus stop.

The bee installation crew made some final preparations just before the bees moved to their new home.

Collaboration is Key

This project could not have been possible without the collaboration of many different partners including SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair, staff and administration from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Natural Resources, CI staff (thank you Brian Peterson, Vania Beard, and Henry Mack!) and leadership, local expert beekeepers from the community, incarcerated beekeepers, and of course, the honeybees. It’s a great team; thank you everyone!

The installation crew included expert beekeepers from the Olympia area, incarcerated beekeepers from CCCC, and staff from CI and CCCC. Five expert beekeepers worked with us to bring this project to life: Maren Anderson, Gail Booth, Dixon Fellows, Andy Matelich, and team lead Laurie Pyne. They scoped-out the island and picked the best location for the bee hives inside the orchard. CCCC inmate beekeepers and and carpenters also made critical contributions to the program, too: they built the hive boxes and supporting benches, helped locate the bus stop, assisted in placement, helped move the bees, and and shone as invested partners! More recently, a major supplier of beekeeping equipment in the region, Mann Lake, donated some of the supplies the program will need as the hives grow and multiply—it is wonderful to have their support.

Honeybees are Nothing to Bee Scared of!

Two worker bees landed on Officer Epling’s fingers; in the background, incarcerated beekeepers attached handles to the hives constructed in the CCCC woodshop.

Expert beekeeper Gail Booth shows an unsure beekeeper a young worker bee that landed on the stick. Gail walked around with the female bee discussing how you could tell her age and what tasks she might perform for her hive; the informal “meet-and-greet” eased some nerves about being so close to the bees.

The Hive Boxes

Incarcerated students from CCCC’s carpentry program, with guidance from Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley, built the custom hives from reclaimed wood. Students also painted and stenciled the bee logo onto each hive box. They look great!

Following the McNeil Island launch, Laurie Pyne visited CCCC’s carpentry class and offered a talk; the students had a chance to learn more about the program and see their great hive boxes in place on the island. They also partook of a honey tasting, comparing the flavors and consistencies of honey made from six sources of nectar; wildflower honey was a favorite.

 

Suit up

The bees were transported in one of the beekeeper’s truck.  

Everyone suited up to protect against getting stung. Even though bees are docile and don’t want to sting you, sometimes they get pinched between clothes or think that the hive is threatened and then they will sting; it’s good to be prepared.

Where’s the Queen?

Expert beekeeper Andy Matelich holds up a frame and looks for the queen. The queens are a key indicator of a hive’s health, and get marked so that they could be easily found again. One of the queens dropped to the ground and could have been squished, but an incarcerated beekeeper with a good eye spotted her and saved the day!

An incarcerated beekeeper placed a frame into the new hive boxes.

Andy and the rest of the bee installation crew inspected each frame before inserting them into the new hive boxes.

At the end of the day, the bees were buzzing around their new homes, no one got stung, and everyone had learned something about bees and beekeeping…there is always more to learn when it comes to bees.

Officer Epling, left, and Officer Kennedy, right, take a minute to look at the bee hives. Officer Epling is teaching Officer Kennedy about bees and beekeeping as Officer Kennedy prepares to take over as liaison for the beekeeping program at CCCC and McNeil Island.