Category Archives: Science

Snakes in a prison

Text by Giovanni Galarza and Joslyn Rose Trivett
Photos by Ricky Osborne

Last week, SPP’s Science and Sustainability Lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center brought Giovanni Galarza and two snakes into the classroom. Giovanni is an Evergreen student and herpetology enthusiast, and he gave an exceptionally compelling presentation. Thank you to Ricky Osborne for his powers of photography—seeing these images is almost as good as being there!

Sierra, a Desert Kingsnake, investigates his enclosure before the lecture. Desert Kingsnakes are nonvenomous snakes native to the Southwestern United States, and are immune to the venom of Rattlesnakes which they prey on.

A student takes a closer look at Sierra the Kingsnake.

Giovanni passes around Brandy, a young Corn Snake, for students to touch.

Corn Snakes like Brandy are very docile, making it easy for everyone to get a special, hands-on experience.

Giovanni assists a student with proper handling of the Corn Snake.

For many in the audience, this was their first encounter with live snakes. Everybody seemed to gain a new appreciation for these beautiful and often misunderstood creatures.

 

New Turtles Arrived!

Text and photos by Sadie Gilliom, SPP Western Pond Turtle Program Coordinator

After a few months of waiting, Cedar Creek and Larch Corrections Centers have each received a new batch of turtles for their Western Pond Turtle Rehabilitation Programs!

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One particularly adorable turtle who recently arrived at Cedar Creek.

During this waiting period, the turtles received acute care for shell disease, which included antibiotics, antifungal medication and shell surgery.  The turtles that have arrived have completed treatments and just need watchful eyes and extra time to heal and wait out the winter months. The technicians provide all of this and more. They were excited to have new turtles to care for and prep for their eventual release back into the wild!

Mr. Hill, a Turtle Technician at Larch, getting ready to put a new turtle in her tank.

Mr. Hill, a Turtle Technician at Larch, getting ready to put a new turtle in her tank.

Mr. Goff, a Turtle Technician at Larch, getting ready to put a new turtle in her tank.

Mr. Goff, a Turtle Technician at Larch, getting ready to put a new turtle in her tank.

I delivered the turtles with the help of WDFW biologist, Emily Butler, to Cedar Creek on Monday November 1st and just this Monday  Larch received their turtles. We were honored to have Dr. Matt Brooks, a nutritionist from the Oregon Zoo, to help us transport the turtles to Larch.  This was Dr. Brooks’ first visit to the turtle program.  He is helping us to improve turtle health by increasing the nutritional value of their diets. We are so thankful for his help, as we are always looking for ways to improve the quality of care provided to these endangered turtles.  Thank you Dr. Brooks!

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Dr. Brooks and the Turtle Technicians posing with a bin full of mealworms. Dr. Brooks took a sample of mealworms back with him to test their nutritional value.

Climate Science at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

By Gretchen Graber, Institute for Applied Ecology Contractor

As part of the sustainability lecture series at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, climate scientist Steve Ghan spoke about the most effective techniques to decrease global carbon emissions. Mr. Ghan thanked us for the opportunity to present his research at Coyote Ridge and said, “I got the best questions I’ve ever been asked at a public presentation. All inmates were fully engaged. The staff are professional and enjoy their work. The facility is new and very impressive.”

The lecture series is funded by Bureau of Land Management, (BLM) in Washington D.C. Along with the BLM, the lectures series is a result of partnerships between Sustainability in Prison Project (Washington State Department of Corrections + The Evergreen State College) and Institute for Applied Ecology.

Thank you to Mr. Ghan and all the volunteer presenters for their time and sharing their scientific knowledge with us!

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Climate scientist Steve Ghan said of the students at the prison “I got the best questions I’ve ever been asked at a public presentation.” Photo by Gretchen Graber.

We will end the year with a presentation on the advantages and disadvantages of hydraulic fracking.

Creative Illustrations for Monarch Butterfly Conservation

By Graduate Research Assistant, Jeanne Dodds

Photos by Ricky Osborne

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

Teaching the art of the butterfly

Teaching the art of the butterfly

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

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

Studying the butterfly specimens

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

Inspiring message from an incarcerated artist: lifecycle of the Monarch

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

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

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

Larch Corrections Center – An Upcoming Beekeeper’s Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Princess Remington and Pele: Royalty in a prison classroom

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

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

Princess-Remington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Deb took Pele for a tour of the classroom.

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

A Tribute to Tammy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tammy examines a turtles shell

Tammy examining a turtles shell

Tammy examining a turtles shell.

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

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

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

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

Me (Sadie) assisting Tammy with data collection

I (Sadie) assist Tammy with data collection.

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

Mission Creek Checkerspot Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Butterfly copulation or breeding event.

Butterfly copulation or breeding event. Photo by Seth Dorman.

Gravid adult female placed in oviposition chamber for egg laying.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Mission Creek butterflies being released by Mary Linders.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Principle & Practice: Learning and doing science at Shotwell’s

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

In February, I visited Shotwell’s Landing and got to see the prairie restoration crew in action. The crew is contributing to program coordinator Conrad Ely‘s thesis research for the Master of Environmental Studies program. The research builds on the work of an earlier Master’s thesis investigating how treating seeds with plant-derived smoke water, which contains many of the same chemicals present in prairie fires, can affect their germination rates and vigor—many prairie species are very difficult to propagate, and they hope to trigger germination with treatments simulating prairie fire.

After the first nursery tasks of the day, program coordinator Conrad Ely shared a presentation on the scientific method. He tied principles of research design to their shared experiment, and then to Mima Mounds enigma. He used theories on the Mima Mounds’ formation to illustrate opportunities as well as limitations of the scientific process. From their experience with prairie restoration, the crew knows the Mounds well, and they jumped in with their own thoughts and theories.

My gratitude for everything the crew does for the region’s prairies. They are employed in prairie restoration full time, and their efforts and enthusiasm make a big difference for South Sound prairies, one of the most rare and threatened landscapes in the nation.

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Program coordinator Conrad Ely leads discussion of the scientific method.

 

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Benjamin Hall brought great questions and ideas to the discussion of the Mima Mounds mystery.

 

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Nursery technicians Robert Bowers (left) and Andrew McManus (right) track seed lots for stratification prior to spring sowing.

 

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Conrad discusses germination rates with technicians Bobby Un (left) and Benjamin Hall (right).

 

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The group visited the demonstration garden at the north end of Shotwell’s Landing, mostly dormant in the winter but still a pleasing site for contemplation.

 

It was a Toad-ally Ribbiting Lecture with the Special Offenders Unit

Blog and photos by Liliana Caughman, SPP Lecture Series Program Coordinator

Last month the SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series held its first ever lecture at the Special Offenders Unit (SOU) at Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC).

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This lecture, led by our amazingly talented Frog and Turtle Program Coordinator Sadie Gilliom, proved to be one of the most interactive and fun lectures of all time.

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The audience was lively but respectful. They were eager to learn more and more about the “Amazing World of Amphibians”.

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At least one of the students who attended the lecture is hearing impaired, so we had the added pleasure of seeing the lecture interpreted through sign language.

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Watching the stories about amphibians come to life through movement made the presentation even more captivating and stimulating.

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The students were particularly enthralled by a story in which Sadie was bitten by an amphibian! Many were shocked to learn that the critters have small sandpaper-like teeth.

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Sadie offered multiple hands-on activities, and the students were able to engage with the sights and sounds of amphibians, while also learning a bit about their role in ecology.

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In one activity the students were each given two papers. On command they all raised sheet no. 1 into the air and looked around the classroom. There was a plethora of beautiful and highly varied species of amphibians.

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Then they were instructed to hold up sheet no. 2 and look around. It was only bullfrogs. This helped students conceptualize the importance of biodiversity.

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Next the students worked on matching pictures of fully grown amphibians to images of their egg masses. This was an exploratory way to learn about the life cycle of these fascinating creatures.

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The lecture ended with an activity in which Sadie played audio sounds of different amphibian’s calls and the class tried to identify which species it belonged to. It was impressive how well some of the students did on this and we learned that they can often hear frogs chirping from a nearby wetland.

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It was a thrilling and inspiring day of learning. After being unsure of the reception we’d find in the Special Offenders Unit, we were delighted to discover one of the best lecture audiences we have had. We here at SPP, as well as MCC staff and students, are all looking forward to the next one.