Category Archives: Science

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.