Category Archives: Science

The Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program Releases Another Butterfly

by Liz Louie, SPP Butterfly Technician
Introduction by Lindsey Hamilton, SPP Butterfly Program Coordinator

Butterfly technician Elizabeth Louie worked with the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (TCB) program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) for more than two years.  She is now one of the few butterfly husbandry experts in the world.  During her time at Mission Creek she made many significant contributions to the program.  She streamlined data collection procedures and created an immaculately organized system for tracking daily activities and progress.  She always found creative solutions to problems when resources and communication with outside expertise was limited.  Lastly, as a senior butterfly technician she ensured high quality butterfly care and effectively trained and inspired incoming technicians.  The program will benefit from her good work for years to come.  Liz will be missed, but we are so happy for her and wish her the best in all that she pursues in life.

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Liz Louie records data on pupae and butterfly weights.

The following is a blog written by Elizabeth Louie, now out of prison in work release:

It has been 26 months and three seasons, with two Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) bosses and three Department of Corrections (DOC) bosses, releasing approximately 8,000 caterpillars and 250 butterflies to the wild. I have come to the end of an amazing journey. As I leave Mission Creek and the TCB program, I want to say THANK YOU for the experience.

It seems appropriate that I’m leaving just as the caterpillars are going into diapause. All the hard work caring for larvae, pupae and eclosing butterflies, conducting breeding and collecting eggs is now done. It’s now a transition period. A period of rest before the cycle begins again, similar to the stage I’m in now. Work release, a time of transition and preparation for my final release into the community.

Liz Louie explains the details of butterfly husbandry to the University of Denver’s Institute for Human – Animal Connection.  Photo by Judith Gerren

Liz Louie explains the details of butterfly husbandry to the University of Denver’s Institute for Human – Animal Connection. Photo by Judith Gerren

A writer from Sierra Magazine recently asked what I thought about the irony of having a butterfly program in prison; the contrast between the delicate, fragile butterfly and the “harshness” of prison life. For me, butterflies are very resilient animals. Their primary habitat was an artillery range, the aftermath of fire and destruction. Metaphorically, the butterfly symbolizes re-birth, new life and beginnings. So with that said, Mission Creek (prison) makes a lot of sense for a surrogate habitat.

Liz is demonstrating how we care for postdiapause larvae.  We keep them in bins with paper bags ("mima mounds") to climb on after they wake up from their winter slumber. Photo by Jody Becker-Green

Liz is demonstrating how we care for postdiapause larvae. We keep them in bins with paper bags (“mima mounds”) to climb on after they wake up from their winter slumber. Photo by Jody Becker-Green

In fact, there are other parallels between the butterflies and prison life. The larvae will sometimes go into second diapause (D2) if they feel conditions are not right. Maybe there’s not enough food, so the larvae will go back to sleep. Similar to D2 larvae, women come in and out of prison. They may not have gotten what they needed from prison the first time, or they lack outside support to help them be successful. But for me personally, at my age, its good to know that the final stage is a butterfly. It means the most beautiful stage of my life is yet to come. All the other stages have been in preparation for that final one.

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Liz Louie shows inmate Samantha Turner how to remove a new pupae from a “mima mound”. This is a very delicate process.

This will be a time in my life that I won’t soon forget. The people I’ve met and the women I’ve worked with, I take away something from each of them. I’ve learned a lot about myself, both the good, and the things I need to change. I have a greater appreciation for the simple things in life. I walk away a stronger person and look forward to whatever life holds.

Inmate Liz Louie feeds a Taylor’s checkerspot honey water from a Q-tip. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele

Inmate Liz Louie feeds a Taylor’s checkerspot honey water from a Q-tip. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

SPP’s New Co-Director: Stephen Sinclair

by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Network Manager

Stephen Sinclair has replaced Dan Pacholke as the Assistant Secretary for the Prisons Division with the Washington State Department of Corrections. With the new position, he has graciously accepted serving as Co-Director for the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). Stephen has already shown himself to be a knowledgeable and capable leader for SPP, and we are thrilled to have him on board.

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Steve Sinclair and Joslyn Rose Trivett emceed SPP’s Statewide Summit, a two-day meeting in April, 2015. Photo by Karissa Carlson.

Stephen takes over as Co-Director for SPP from his esteemed predecessor, Dan Pacholke. Dan was one the founders of SPP, and his inspiration and creativity have helped make SPP what it is today. We have no doubt that Stephen will continue to rally WDOC’s sustainability culture; he is dedicated to a more humane and sustainable way of running prisons.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Dan Pacholke for his tireless years of service and dedication to SPP. We are grateful Dan will continue to be involved in SPP, now as a Senior Advisor. We warmly welcome Stephen Sinclair to his new role as Co-Director for SPP. Thank you to you both!

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Steve Sinclair presents on SPP’s future to more than 100 DOC, Evergreen, and program partners. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flight of the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies

By Christina Stalnaker, SPP Graduate Research Assistant and Roots of Success Coordinator

It was a smaller crowd than usual: two males fluttered around a single female. The lighting was ideal and temperature at just the right degree for a successful pairing. As these butterflies moved in their miniature habitat, two inmate technicians quietly watched to verify if they had a fruitful engagement. We had just entered the greenhouse of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (TCB) captive rearing program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women on an early spring morning.

A technician waters flowers that will be placed in TCB habitats for captive rearing. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

A technician waters flowers that will be placed in TCB habitats for captive rearing. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

These butterflies were the first of their cohort to eclose, marking the beginning of TCB flight season. Eclosure is one of the final stages of a Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly’s life cycle—it occurs when the butterfly emerges from its cocoon. When the remaining butterflies join them in flight, the technicians will place two females and up to seven males in an insect habitat. Lindsey Hamilton, SPP’s TCB program coordinator, later explained to me that placing so many in the habitat at once ignites the male’s competitive behavior. In the wild, TCB males can be found next to a female pupa, waiting for her to eclose.

Having just emerged from its cocoon, a Taylor's Checkerspot Butterfly patiently waits to feed on honey and take flight for the first time. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Having just eclosed (emerged from its cocoon), a Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly patiently waits to feed on honey water and take flight for the first time. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

The technicians had been waiting for us to arrive at the prison’s greenhouse to “process” two more butterflies that had just completed eclosion. The word “process” is far too ordinary to describe this next step in caring for these beautiful, endangered butterflies. Upon emergence, the butterflies patiently wait in their tiny container for at least 24 hours before feeding on honey water and taking flight. I had never handled butterflies before and was pretty nervous. Elizabeth Louie, TCB inmate technician, proudly demonstrated how to handle and process the delicate insects. After she showed me exactly what to do from start to finish, I went on to process the second TCB on my own.

Name?, TCB technician, shows Christina how to "process" an eclosed butterfly. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton,

Elizabeth Louie, TCB inmate technician, shows Christina Stalnaker how to “process” an eclosed butterfly. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

First, we recorded the ID number and color code. Next, we removed the mesh caging and the TCB from its insect cup, gently pinch its wings, and closely examined the butterfly to determine if it is a male or female. Mine was female; I could tell by looking at the tip of the abdomen. Females have a pointed tip at the end of their abdomen, whereas males’ are more rounded. After placing her on the balance, we recorded her weight. Swirling the end of a q-tip in the honey water and teasing her proboscis with a paperclip, I set her down and watched as she tasted her first drops of honey as a butterfly.

A Taylor's Checkerspot Butterfly enjoys her first taste of honey water. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

A Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly enjoys her first taste of honey water. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

Once captive rearing is complete and the females finish laying their eggs, the butterflies are released to various South Sound Prairies, like the Glacial Heritage Preserve (photographed below). Here they will live the remainder of their lives, and we hope that they continue to mate and lay eggs in their native habitat to bolster populations directly.

Home of the mysterious Mima Mounds and a critical habitat for Taylor's Checkerspot Butterflies, Glacial Heritage Preserve is managed by many of our partners to ensure they continued survival of these beautiful butterflies. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Home of the mysterious Mima Mounds and a critical habitat for Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies, Glacial Heritage Preserve is intensively managed by our partners to ensure the continued survival of these beautiful butterflies. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Yellow and red flags mark areas of Glacial Heritage Preserve with prairie plants cultivated to enhance TCB habitat. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Yellow and red flags mark areas of Glacial Heritage Preserve with prairie plants cultivated to enhance TCB habitat. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Beds for Violets at Washington Corrections Center: Building SPP’s newest conservation nursery!

By Conrad Ely
SPP Conservation Nursery Coordinator, Shotwell’s Landing

Tuesday March 24, a Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) nursery crew—Carl Elliott, Ricky Johnson & I—set out for Shelton to meet with Don Carlstad, the Facilities Manager at the Washington Correction Center (WCC). We were also joined by Tom Urvina and Scott Shankland of the JBLM “Wounded Warriors”; they were volunteering their time to help our labor-strapped crew undertake this beast-of-a-job. The project looked simple on paper: build twenty-eight garden beds (32’ x 4’ x 1’) in three days. However, Carl—the brains of the operation (and SPP’s Conservation Nursery Manager)—wisely left off the schematic that the beds would be sitting atop (within?) an area that inmates call “the swamp”. But that information wouldn’t become relevant until day two.

The site at Washington Correction Center (WCC)) that would host the Viola beds.

The site at Washington Correction Center (WCC) that would host the Viola beds.

The site plan for the 28 nursery beds; looked so simple on paper!

The site plan for the 28 nursery beds looked so simple on paper!

When we arrived on location, the field we were set to build on was vast and vacant, a canvas for our carpentry. After a careful examination of our blueprints, the tools were distributed and construction began. We worked slowly and deliberately at first. Our measurements were precise and each screw was carefully placed. The first few boxes involved all hands on deck as we fleshed out the most logical and efficient methods. Once we completed the fourth bed, half of the team split off to help fill in the soil as it was ferried over by the tractor load driven by Don Carlstad. By the end of day one, we had eight beds completed.

Scott and Tom build one of the first beds.

Scott and Tom build one of the first beds.

Wednesday we woke to a soggy March morning on the Olympic Peninsula. Luckily we brought reinforcements: Dennis Aubrey, Kenney Burke, and Josiah Falco of the JBLM “Wounded Warriors” program and Allie Denzler of SPP. They helped us battle the elements. Indeed, our field of dreams had turned to a wetland of inconvenience overnight. The shin-deep mud puddles were an inopportune foundation for our garden beds and the rain seemed to double the weight of our lumber as it became saturated, but we persevered nonetheless. With our finely-honed carpentry skills, we pushed forward like athletes on the gridiron, unshaken by any physical distraction. We focused solely on each repetition, working as a team to achieve something none of us could have done alone. And despite the weather, we easily doubled our output from the day before.

We worked in puddles on day two.

The team worked in puddles on day two.

Even in the downpour, the team kept up a high level of carpentry excellence.

Even in the downpour, the team kept up a high level of carpentry excellence.

On day three we were welcomed back to WCC by the glorious sunshine and beauty of springtime in Western Washington. After working in slow motion day one, as we got acquainted with the process, and running the gauntlet day two to build twice as fast in the midst of a monsoon, day three was as satisfying a final day as we could ask for! Not only were we done with time to spare, but befitting the spring weather, we ended with more beds than we had planned: a bonus 29th box!

A tractor fills the final bed with soil.

A tractor dumps soil into the last bed.

The final product: 29 beds are ready for violet plants!

The final product: 29 beds are ready for violet plants!

The process of turning a pile of fresh lumber and a box of screws into an opportunity for environmental education and restoration is not unlike the metamorphosis a caterpillar undergoes as it becomes a butterfly. With thanks to the JBLM “Wounded Warriors”, and help from our partnership with WDOC, we hope this new program will also take flight and promote sustainability at WCC for years to come!

Washington State Monarchs Going the Distance

Just like many of us head south to escape the cold dark winters of the Northwest, so do butterflies! The Pacific Northwest Monarch butterfly population is thought to overwinter in coastal California and possibly central Mexico. This species is sensitive to fir tree and milkweed declines, and past research suggests that our butterflies are having difficulty making it to their ultimate destination each winter. The current extent of the Washington population’s migration and wintering area is largely unknown.

The Santa Cruz California Monarch Aggregation.  Two butterflies released just 4 days apart in August from Yakima, Washington traveled 675 miles (at least) to this same overwintering site!

Dr. David James, an associate professor at Washington State University (WSU) is studying this migration to learn more. In collaboration with the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) in Walla Walla, volunteers and inmates raise thousands of Monarch butterflies to be tagged and released every fall. Each butterfly carries a small, light-weight sticker showing an ID number and an email address. After release, they wait until a stranger in the south makes contact to tell them where their butterflies have landed.


Washington State Penitentiary Monarch Butterfly Rearing 2012

 

David James explaining monarch biology to inmates at WSP.

On November 22nd an observer counting Monarchs in Goleta, California found a butterfly that was tagged at WSP. Goleta is 825 straight line miles from Walla Walla! This is the longest travel distance recorded for a Washington Monarch making this the most important re-sighting to date! Previous recoveries proved migration only as far south as San Francisco.

One of the 50 monarchs released from Yakima in October.

This is a great example of how the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) model of collaborative partnerships with prisons allows multiple partners to participate in conservation efforts that reach far beyond Washington State. SPP staff at The Evergreen State College would like to congratulate WSU and WSP on this great achievement! We look forward to learning more about where our Monarchs travel in the coming years. To track the Monarch project yourself, follow their Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterfliesInThePacificNorthwest

Monarch wanted from fb

The Butterflies Get Their Own Computer

By SPP Taylor’s checkerspot program coordinator Lindsey Hamilton

At Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) four inmate technicians raise Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies as a contribution to the recovery of this prairie species. Following the direction of the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon, they have been successfully rearing and breeding these butterflies for three years. This butterfly was federally listed in October of 2013, which means that anyone working with this species is now held to high accountability and rigorous reporting. The technicians at MCCCW have always been successful at collecting detailed data on all phases of butterfly husbandry.

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The Oregon Zoo recently created an Access database that will store all rearing and breeding information for both facilities in one place. This database will increase the quality of all data collected and provide for efficient access for tracking trends and bi-annual reporting.

Butterfly Computer
This has created a new opportunity for the technicians at MCCCW to learn the skill of data entry and management using Access. A computer containing this database was set up in a common living area within the facility last fall, and as simple as this sounds, it represents a major accomplishment for a prison environment! The inmate technicians will now be able to directly enter their data from the program . The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program coordinator for SPP, Lindsey Hamilton, will then extract the data via USB and send it to the Oregon Zoo. Butterfly rearing is seasonal work, and the technicians usually have little to do in the off season. With the 2 years of back logged data that needs to be entered, the technicians will stay busy this winter when our caterpillars are sleeping.

SPP’s New Lecture Series Certification

by Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator
Students at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) take in the lecture on Mt. Rainier.

Students at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) take in the lecture on Mt. Rainier. Photo credit: John Dominoski

This past Thursday at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC), inmates were recognized for their science and sustainability education achievements! This is a new certification program through the SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series in which inmates are recognized for attending 5, 10, 20 or more lectures.

Tiffany Webb congratulates a lecture series certificate recipient.

Tiffany Webb congratulates a lecture series certificate recipient. Photo credit: John Dominoski

Following the award ceremony, Jeff Antonelis-Lapp, a faculty of The Evergreen State College, presented on the natural history of Mt. Rainier— a topic he is currently researching and writing a book about. The presentation included both the geological history and indigenous peoples’ interactions with the mountain hundreds of years ago. Mr. Antonelis-Lapp also spoke about future hazards associated with Mt. Rainier, particularly lahars (volcanic mudflows). He displayed breathtaking images of the mountain, surrounding areas, archeological sites, and animals that call the range home. Those in attendance received a fact sheet and image of Mt. Rainier to keep.

Tiffany Webb talks with an inmate during the lecture.

Tiffany Webb talks with an inmate before the lecture. Photo credit: John Dominoski

After the lecture, Jeff and I toured SCCC’s sustainability programs. This was my first time at Stafford Creek during this time of year, and I just have to say, their gardens are beautiful! The flowers are blooming in brilliant colors and you can tell the inmates involved are very proud of their work.
The "Lifer" garden at SCCC in full bloom.

The “Lifer” garden at SCCC in full bloom. Photo credit: Tiffany Webb

A Convicts Redemption

By Jamar Glenn, Western Pond Turtle Technician

Who would’ve thought a turtle’s life was so parallel to mine? I was given a great opportunity to work with an endangered species, the western pond turtle (WPT), which was placed here at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). These animals were infected with an illness called “shell disease.” This disease eats at the plastron, which is the bottom half of the turtle shell. If not treated immediately this disease can kill the animal.

Jamar Glenn studies a turtle after a trip to the vet; both he and SPP's Graduate Research Assistant Fiona Edwards (left) helped build the prison's facility for the turtles.

Jamar Glenn studies a turtle after a trip to the vet; both he and SPP’s Graduate Research Assistant Fiona Edwards (left) helped build prison facility that houses the turtles.

From the beginning of the turtle’s life it’s faced with an obstacle to reach its destination of “freedom.” In the beginning stage the mother lays her eggs along shore, leaving her young to fend for themselves. It’s up to the turtle to follow nature’s designed course to make it to its final destination. To get there the turtle has to go survive a series of threats to finally be free:

  1. Predatory animals who feast on the young hatchlings
  2. Human consumption, commercial trapping for food and pets
  3. Loss of habitat
  4. Rare illness

In this particular case of shell disease, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) run a series of tests and administer intensive treatments with the turtles. Once the turtles are treated, they are then given to CCCC for additional care: we give 20-minute iodine baths, feed them a diverse diet, weigh them, and give additional care to any lesions located on the plastron. We then submit observation notes to the scientist and veterinarians so they can keep records on each individual turtle. The turtles stay under my care for 2-4 months. Once healed, the turtles are released back into the wild to carry on with their turtle lives.

As I released my first turtle, I thought about the turtle’s life and the events it had to endure. Constantly on the run from predators, being captured and taken away from its natural habitat, and riddled with illness, to finally returning home healthy and determined to stay free if she has anything to do with it. She was tagged upon release, so she’ll be under the watchful eye at all times.

As she swam away, I thought about my own life. How I also had to go through my own life struggles ever since I was a youngster. I’ve been alone with no assistance. Predators were my enemy (rival gangs). My illness was my addictions (drugs/alcohol), and my loss of habitat was prison. I too will be tagged and watched by “the eye.”

Turtle technicians Timothy Nuss and  Jamar Glenn on turtle release day.

Turtle technicians Timothy Nuss and Jamar Glenn on turtle release day.

The author releases a turtle.

The author releases a healthy turtle.

I came to prison when I was 16 years old; I’ve been incarcerated now for 17 years. My time has come for me to be released here next year. This program has really enlightened my heart and mind, opening my eyes to a whole new world of opportunity. It’s taught me how to be consistent, responsible, great job ethics, and communication skills. These are tools I didn’t possess in my younger years. I finally can give back to society in my own special kind of way, doing something I never could imagine myself doing. I too will be under the eye, I too will return home healthy, and determined to stay free if I have anything to do with it! Who would’ve thought a turtle’s life was parallel to mine.

For more about the turtle release, see Fiona Edward’s blog on the event.

Fire in the Demonstration Garden

An inmate helping to burn the demonstration garden ducks to avoid the smoke as he moves burning logs across the ground.

An inmate helping to burn the demonstration garden ducks to avoid the smoke as he moves burning logs across the ground. Photo by Jaal Mann.

Last month, as part of the ongoing cultivation of the demonstration prairie garden at Shotwell’s Landing nursery, the inmate prairie restoration crew got to burn an area for seeding with native species.

They used the technique of building a large burn pile and then raking the burning wood along until the entire desired area had been burned. They will be using the area to compare different seeding methods; they want to see which technique most reduces bird predation, knowledge that could help landowners succeed with their small-scale prairie restoration projects.

The crew had a lot of fun and it’s exciting that they are able to be involved with the project from start to finish! We’re looking forward to seeing some species beginning to flower this spring.

Jaal Mann

CNLM's Audrey Lamb and an inmate on the prairie conservation crew rake fire through the demonstration garden.

CNLM’s Audrey Lamb and an inmate on the prairie conservation crew rake fire through the demonstration garden. Photo by Jaal Mann.

Raking burning pieces of wood along the ground to simulate a natural fire moving along the landscape.

As others observe the progress, an inmate and CNLM’s Audrey Lamb rake burning pieces of wood along the ground to simulate a natural fire moving along the landscape. Photo by Jaal Mann.

Counting the Birds instead of counting the days until summer at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

By Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program coordinator and Graduate Research Assistant, Lindsey Hamilton

At Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) four inmate technicians rear Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies as a contribution to recovery efforts for this endangered species.  These  technicians are hired to work year-round even though the workload is not consistent throughout the year.  In late July the butterfly larvae enter into diapause, which means that they cuddle up with their brothers and sisters to sleep until late February.  During this life stage the technicians have minimal butterfly-related responsibilities.

For the first time this year the technicians are participating in a citizen science project organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology called Project FeederWatch.  Project FeederWatch surveys birds that visit feeders all across North America throughout the winter months.  Feeders that are surveyed can be located in backyards, community areas, nature centers, and even prisons!  The inmates at MCCCW watch three different bird feeders for a period of time on two consecutive days of every week, and record how many birds of each species that are attracted to the feeders.  This data is collected by an SPP Graduate Research Assistant and entered into the FeederWatch database online.  The information collected by this project helps scientists track movements of winter bird populations on a broad scale and is also used to monitor long term trends in bird distribution and abundance.