Category Archives: Science

246 Oregon spotted frogs released on September 24th!

246 Oregon spotted frogs released on September 24th!

By Graduate Research Assistant Andrea Martin

The Sustainability in Prisons Project has been busy this month hosting various media crews, conference attendees, and other visitors. One of our conservation projects, the Oregon spotted frog rearing project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, has been the focus of lots of attention as the inmates and all of our rearing partners have approached this year’s release.

On Monday, September 24th, seven months of hard work and care culminated in the release of 246 adult frogs at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Unfortunately, the inmates were not able to attend the release at the military base, but they did get the chance to talk with reporters from the Associated Press and the New York Times who visited the prison to learn about the project. Additionally, the frog rearing program at CCCC is the subject of a forthcoming photography project by well-known French wildlife photographer Cyril Ruoso. Ruoso’s work, including photos of the OSF project, will be on exhibit this summer at the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Unlike previous releases where cloudy skies and rain jackets are seen in every photo, this year the sun was shining as SPP Co-Director Carri LeRoy and SPP Graduate Research Assistants Andrea Martin and Brittany Gallagher joined JBLM and WDFW biologists, DOC staff, and two media crews to help release this year’s frogs.

The frogs raised at CCCC will be joined in early October by frogs from the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. That release will officially end the 2012 rearing season.

But the work of caring for the endangered species doesn’t end there for the inmate frog technicians at CCCC. Soon they will receive any undersize or underweight frogs from other institutions. The inmates will get the chance to fatten up and improve the health of any tiny frogs so they’ll be ready for release in the spring, before new eggs come in.

Thank you to all of our partners for another successful frog rearing season!

Editor’s Note: Make sure to check out the recent piece on SPP’s rearing program in the New York Times!

     Cedar Creek Corrections Center Superintendent Doug Cole holds two bins of frogs awaiting release at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Photo by B.Gallagher.

     SPP co-director Carri LeRoy watches two Oregon spotted frogs leap to their freedom during the frog release on Monday, September 24. Photo by B.Gallagher.

     Cedar Creek Classification Counselor Vicki Briggs releases a bin full of Oregon Spotted Frogs as photographers Matthew Ryan Williams (left) and Cyril Ruoso document the event. Photo by B.Gallagher.

     SPP Graduate Research Assistants Andrea Martin (left) and Brittany Gallagher hold Oregon spotted frogs for a moment before release at JBLM. Photo by C.LeRoy.


SPP Oregon Spotted Frog Program Transitions

SPP Oregon Spotted Frog Program Transitions

By SPP Project Manager Kelli Bush

The SPP Oregon spotted frog program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) has recently undergone a few changes. The continued success of this and other SPP programs is owed to a collaborative effort. Department of Corrections (DOC) staff members are an essential part of the team working to rear frogs at the prison. Since 2009, Classification Counselor Marko Anderson has been the staff person supervising the daily work of the inmate technicians, communicating project needs, and coordinating access for SPP staff, project biologists, and other visitors. Marko has been dedicated and hard-working. He took on the duties of the program in addition to his work load as a Classification Counselor. It is with mixed emotions that we bid Marko farewell. He has accepted a promotion at Washington Correction Center in Shelton. We are very happy he has been promoted, but he will be missed. We are grateful to have had such a devoted person working to ensure success of the program.

On the bright side, we are pleased to announce that Classification Counselor Vicki Briggs has volunteered to take on the OSF program duties at CCCC. Over the past several years Vicki has been regularly serving as the back-up supervisor for the program during times when Marko was on leave. She has always been a tremendous help, including when we were dealing with mortalities this season. Vicki also leads the beekeeping program at CCCC. We are so pleased to continue the program with her help.

A few months ago we also welcomed a new inmate frog technician to the program. Mr. Hensen has been hardworking and very eager to learn all things Oregon spotted frog. He plans to study marine biology when he is released. The program’s other frog technician, Mr. Davis, remains on the team. He has done an excellent job using his experience to help train Mr. Hensen. It is shaping up to be another successful season!

Thank you Marko!

Celebrating a Successful Inaugural Season for the Butterfly Program at Mission Creek

Celebrating a Successful Inaugural Season for the Butterfly Program at Mission Creek

by Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

The Sustainability in Prisons Project’s newest program, the rearing of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, has just concluded its first season. A second generation of more than 3500 caterpillars has now safely gone into diapause, and the effort can officially be considered a complete success. Some of the season’s highlights include:

More than 700 Taylor’s checkerspots were released onto South Puget Sound prairies. Six hundred of these were released as post-diapause caterpillars in early March, placed one at a time on available host plants. Another 101 were released as adults, following breeding and oviposition. These were placed carefully on nectar flowers or, if they chose to, simply allowed to flutter off across the prairie.

Breeding activities were also highly successful. Males and females were crossed according to specific lineage pairings designated by staff at the Oregon Zoo to preserve genetic diversity. Seventy-two mating introductions were made, with 32 of these resulting in a successful pairing. From these, 3,515 eggs were laid. 3,395 of these successfully developed into healthy caterpillars and entered diapause, a survivorship of 96.6%.

A novel research project was carried out at the facility, examining host plant choice by female checkerspots. This work is showing that they prefer to lay eggs on two native plants, harsh paintbrush and Washington-endangered golden paintbrush, over the exotic but well-documented host English plantain. This finding has the potential to alter restoration practices for the butterfly and possibly unite the recovery efforts for both it and the golden paintbrush.

Currently, in addition to caring for the 3,624 caterpillars in diapause at the facility, inmate technicians are working on end-of-season reporting, putting in host plant gardens around the greenhouse and tending the plants, and creating a butterfly coloring book for children visitors to the prison. Their work with the butterflies this season has been exemplary in every way, and the overwhelming success of the project’s first year is thanks to their tireless and meticulous work.

Undergraduate intern Caitlin Fate releases a Taylor's checkerspot on Scatter Creek Prairie, Spring 2012. Photo by D.Aubrey.

A Taylor's checkerspot lays eggs on a Golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta), a state-endangered plant.

To support the Taylor’s checkerspot program and others like it, click here to donate to SPP.

SPP Plant Profile: Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata)

SPP Plant Profile: Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata)
Asteraceae Family

Basic Information

Blanketflower is a tap-rooted perennial, with large showy yellow and reddish-brown flowers. Leaves are alternate, 3-6 inches long with coarsely toothed and deeply divided margins. The species is moderately long-lived, and re-seeds in abundance once established. Distributed throughout the northern part of North America and the Western United States, it’s found in dry open spaces in prairies, mountain foothills and roadside clearings.

Ecological Importance

Blanketflower stands as a nectar and food source, as well as providing resting and cover, for many important pollinators and beneficial insects. Edward fritillary (Speyeria Edwards) butterflies rely on the species as a nectar source in their adult stage. A moth species, (Schinia masoni), is camouflaged to specifically mimic the yellow ray flowers and purplish-brown disk flowers to aid in avoiding predators. Throughout Western North America, blanketflower is pollinated by the soft-winged flower beetle (Listrus senilis), recognized as a critical pollinator of the species. Blanketflower and its associated beneficial insects are main components of many northern grassland ecosystems, breaking down organic matter, increasing soil fertility and improving soil water-holding capacity and water infiltration.

Fun Facts:

Blanketflower’s drought tolerance and brilliant flowers make it a popular choice for residential and commercial landscapes. Its low water demand leads to its use in low watering zones of XeriscapeTM and water wise gardens. Furthermore, the mature leaves of blanket flower are unpalatable and its rough textured stems make this species deer-resistant, even though some whitetail deer will browse lightly at different times of the year. Finally, as long as soils are well draining, no serious pest or disease problems are associated with blanketflower, adding to its ease of growth in both the nursery and in backyards.

Close-up of Gaillardia aristata flowers. Photo by R.Gilbert.


Blanketflower on the prairie. Photo by R.Gilbert.

SPP Butterfly Internship Experience

SPP Butterfly Internship Experience

by SPP Undergraduate Intern Chelsea Oldenburg

Editor’s Note: SPP has had the pleasure of working with three wonderful Evergreen undergraduate interns during this spring quarter.  Over the next few weeks, blog visitors will have the chance to read about their experiences in the students’ own words.

After 8 weeks of working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women as an intern for the butterfly program a lot of unexpected things have become commonplace for me. It’s amazing how quickly I acclimate to my surroundings. After only a few days of visiting, the prison guards, razor wire and coveralls seemed normal. As does manipulating the curled proboscis of a butterfly with a paper clip and watching her perfectly paint plantain leaves with bright yellow eggs.

So far my main work this quarter has been facilitating an oviposition preference study that Dennis Aubrey is doing for his masters thesis. This means observing which plants female Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies prefer to lay their eggs on.

The women are carrying out the study five or six days a week and so Dennis, Caitlin (another intern) or I rotate coming out to insure things are running smoothly, bring supplies and run a few of the preference trials ourselves. Usually we also get a chance to help with some of the daily chores of captive rearing. These chores include: feeding adult butterflies a honey-water mixture from a q-tip, transferring eggs into various containers with a paintbrush, freshening water and supplying plantain leaves to hungry caterpillars. Aside from housekeeping and study overseeing there is a lot of time to converse with the women from MCCCW that are working on the project. They seem to truly love the butterflies they are raising and I am always impressed by their fastidiousness, acute observations and consistent positive attitudes. The love seems to go both ways as the butterflies flourish under their care.  A couple of weeks ago I was sent home from The Oregon Zoo with many more larvae, pupae and adult butterflies to bring to MCCCW because of the success with their current stock. Maybe the women at Mission Creek can care for these transforming insects from a place of real understanding as they simultaneously undergo incredible personal transformations themselves.

For the last few weeks of my internship I am excited to erect some raised beds around the butterfly rearing greenhouse. After the frames are built and a lot of soil is shoveled in, we are going to fill the beds with native prairie plants, larval food plants and nectar flowers for feeding the adult butterflies. Two of the women I work with seem genuinely excited to help with the project. Although I will be sorry to end my visits to the prison at the close of this quarter it feels good knowing I will leave behind some nourishing infrastructure.

Want to support innovative educational opportunities and the rearing of endangered butterflies?  Donate to SPP by clicking here.

SPP Plant Profile: Puget Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea)

SPP Plant Profile: Puget Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Basic Information:

Balsamorhiza deltoidea, or Puget balsamroot, is late spring flowering perennial with showy sunflower like flowers. The distinct leaves of this species are basal, wide, and spear shaped. The flower stems can be up to 3 feet tall, and it is found in open, grassy areas, at low to high elevations from Southern British Columbia to Northern California.

Ecological Importance:

Considered critically imperiled but globally secure in Canada, only eight natural populations containing roughly 1,600 mature plants are thought to remain north of the border. These remaining populations are declining due to development and continued habitat degradation from competition with invasive species. There are 15 reported populations in the state of Washington. Evidence suggests that five of these populations may have been extirpated. A recent study by researchers at the University of Puget Sound* has shown that Puget Balsamroot appears to be incapable of self-pollination, and is dependent on pollinators for reproduction. However, decreases in pollinator species like bumblebees and honey-bee populations and increasing fragmentation and degradation of suitable habitat limits the natural reproduction of this and many other species.

Fun Facts:

Puget balsamroot is well known for its traditional culinary and medicinal uses. This includes its use as chicken feed by early settlers on Vancouver Island, suggesting that it was common in the area during that time period. The roots of Puget balsamroot are edible raw and when cooked have a sweet taste.  Young shoots can also be eaten raw, and seeds eaten raw or cooked. The roasted root can be used as a coffee substitute and seeds can be ground into a powder and made into bread. Medicinally, a decoction of the roots was used in the treatment of coughs and colds.

Puget balsamroot flowering on the prairie.


Taylor's checkerspot butterflies and Puget balsamroot. Photo by R. Gilbert.
















To donate to SPP and support endangered prairie plant conservation, please click here.

*This study can be found at:

Spring and Cold Moisture Storage at Shotwell’s Landing and Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Spring and Cold Moisture Storage at Shotwell’s Landing and Stafford Creek Corrections Center

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

The snow, hail, and lumpy rain falling around here the last few weeks may make you think it’s still winter, but spring has arrived at Shotwell’s Landing and Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC). Seeds sown in late December and early January are germinating, undaunted by the unseasonably cool temperatures and higher than normal precipitation. Our propagation plan includes two sowing “seasons.”  The majority of seed sown last fall and winter were left to stratify in situ. Twenty percent of our seeds go through cold moisture storage (CMS), and then are sown in the spring. The CMS process involves imbibing seeds in water and placing them in a refrigerator for 15-90 days. This process broadens the temperature range at which the seeds will germinate.

At SCCC, Castilleja hispida, Viola adunca, and Lomatium utriculatum seeds sown in December are showing signs of life. A recent trip to account for germination of Castilleja hispida shows that certain seed lots are producing as high as 70% germination. Close attention is paid to which seed lots are showing faster or more germination, and what types of nursery practices are increasing germination rates. At Shotwell’s, Castilleja levisecta, Erigeron speciosis, and Eriophyllum lanatum are also germinating at high rates. All seeds sown have been kept in hoop houses to control moisture levels for optimal germination during this soggy La Niña winter.

25 species have been placed into CMS, the process starts with an ingenious “seed bubbling” system constructed from recycled materials. This system is used to soak seeds for 24-48 hours before placement in CMS. Previously, seeds had been soaked in standing water, which in cases led to the seeds over-imbibing with water. The new system soaks the seeds in running water, allowing for more oxygen flow and lowering tannic acid buildup in the soak water.

In the coming weeks the second “season” of sowing ensues at Shotwell’s with the seeds that are currently in CMS. This work will be done by SPP and Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) staff, our tireless volunteers and Department of Corrections community work crews.

Close-ups of studies for identifying the cotyledon of seedlings from 2011 plants.  Photos by Carl Elliot.


To donate to SPP and support the restoration of native prairies in Washington state, click here.

Inmates Participate in Egg Mass Surveying at West Rocky Prairie

Inmates Participate in Egg Mass Surveying at West Rocky Prairie, 2.28.12

By SPP Graduate Research Associate Andrea Martin

When Julie Tyson, a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, took me and the two inmate frog technicians that are raising endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs (OSF) at Cedar Creek Correctional Center (CCCC), and two officers out to look for OSF egg masses, I was afraid I would walk right past them, or worse, step on one.

Lucky for all us egg survey newbies, Julie found the first one. It became pretty obvious that they would be hard to miss. The egg masses are very dark, and float at the surface of the shallow water in wetland areas like West Rocky Prairie. West Rocky Prairie, also known as Beaver Creek, is just 13 miles south of Olympia, and less than a mile from Millersylvania State Park. The site is one of a handful of areas in Western Washington where the endangered frogs lay eggs every season.

Oregon Spotted Frog season is now upon us, and the site of the nearly-black gelatinous spheres is the first sign of the reproduction of the endangered species. Soon, a few hundred OSF eggs will be brought into CCCC and several other institutions, and the rearing process will begin.

In total, we found 19 egg masses.  Thirteen were found on the West side of Beaver Creek, of these, 10 were new. On the East side, where our group was the first to survey of the year, we found six.  Several of the egg masses had freeze damage because of the erratic late-winter/early spring weather. It’s likely that the frogs have stopped laying for now until the weather warms a bit; Julie estimated that the most recent egg masses we found were 2-3 days old.

In addition to the OSF egg masses, the inmates, officers and I found many Northwest Salamander egg masses, which are gelatinous, but solid as a baseball. Despite the freezing weather, and threat of snow, the inmates really enjoyed the opportunity to get outside the prison walls, and to learn more about the project they are working so hard on.

This will be the 4th season that inmates at CCCC have raised endangered frogs. Both of the inmates who will be responsible for feeding the frogs, keeping them warm and safe and recording all the changes they will go through in their life cycle are veterans of the rearing process. They were new, however, to the first step of finding the eggs.

The inmates’ participation in the egg surveying at West Rocky Prairie shows a new level of trust and desire to collaborate between SPP and its partners. The frogs that are raised at CCCC are the biggest and healthiest of all of SPP’s rearing partners, due in large part to the amount of time and attention the inmate frog technicians are able to give to the animals. The frog rearing program at CCCC has been highly successful, and its importance has been recognized by SPP’s partners, other scientists, and the prison community. This contribution was a major factor in the decision by the Department of Corrections to allow the inmates to participate on Tuesday.


To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Oregon spotted frog in Washington state, click here.

SPP Plant Profile: Golden Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta)

SPP Plant Profile: Golden Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Basic information: Castilleja levisecta is an endangered perennial herb that can grow up to 20 inches tall and is covered with soft, sticky hairs.  Occurring in open grasslands in the Puget Trough, the species used to be common from British Columbia to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  Now only a few populations remain, mostly in the area of the San Juan Islands and in the Puget Sound prairies.  Similar to other prairie species, populations have declined due to loss of habitat to agriculture, residential, and commercial uses.  The suppression of fire disturbance, a vital component of the prairie ecosystem, has also led to the decline of populations (see previous post on Prairie Fires).  The U.S. and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are actively reintroducing this species that nearly went extinct within the last two decades.

Ecological Importance:

Golden Paintbrush is relatively short-lived, with individual plants only surviving for 5-6 years.  Although it tends to grow in clumps from one to fifteen stems, it seems to reproduce only through seed.  As mentioned in previous posts, paintbrush species are hemi-parasitic.  Studies have shown Golden Paintbrush that were established with Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca roemeri), were more successful after outplanting than those established alone or with Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum).  Other studies have shown that Castilleja levisecta grown in a greenhouse with Eriophyllum lanatum were larger than with other host species.  Pollinators of Golden Paintbrush are currently being studied, but previous research described a species of bumblebee (Bombus californicus) as an active pollinator.

Fun Facts:

Paintbrush species are known to actively absorb selenium, which is a mineral that is toxic in high concentrations.  This is an unexplored use of paintbrush for reclamation of areas contaminated with selenium.  The dense growth nature of Castilleja levisecta may make it the most useful for this purpose.

SPP Plant Profile: Spring Gold (Lomatium utriculatum)

SPP Plant Profile: Spring Gold (Lomatium utriculatum)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Basic Information:

Lomatium utriculatum, or Spring Gold, grows in upright clumps with mostly basal leaves. Leaf blades are dissected into very narrow, fern-like ornate leaves. Flowers are small and bright yellow, and clustered in open umbels. Spring gold grows in meadows, woodlands, open and rocky areas from California to British Columbia. A spring flowering perennial, it has a persistently blooming flower, often flowering from as early as January to late July.

Ecological Importance:

Lomatium utriculatum has been found to be the primary nectar sources of Taylor’s checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) butterflies in certain locations. Where it is not present, Taylor’s checkerspots use wild strawberry (Fragaria spp.) instead. In restoration efforts, planting of important nectar source species, like Spring Gold, near larval host plants such as Harsh Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) is important because Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies do not move a long distance when foraging or laying eggs.

At the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, in south Thurston County, Lomatium utriculatum has also been found to be an important nectar species for mardon skipper (Polites mardon) butterflies.

Fun Facts:

Lomatium is in the carrot family, and the root is edible raw or cooked. It can also be dried and ground into a power or roasted as a vegetable. Young leaves and shoots can also be eaten raw or cooked as greens. Historically, a decoction of the plant was used as a wash for swollen or broken limbs. The root of the plant is analgesic and stomachic; it was chewed or infused as a treatment for headaches and stomach upset.