Tag Archives: Evergreen Master of Environmental Studies

Student Impact Statement

By Graham Klag, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator and MES Student

Graham recently presented on the SPP-supported project at an International Association for Landscape Ecology – North America conference; see his virtual poster here.

The team examines and discusses new root growth; two of the technicians, Ronald Snider and Toby Erhart, seen here with Graham. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) affords Master of Environmental Studies students an endemic and indelible academic and professional-development opportunity. My experience as the Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator for the programs at Stafford Creek and Washington Corrections Center for Women (SCCC and WCCW) gave me the chance to promote my academic and professional passion: promoting the restoration and enhancement of marginalized populations of Pacific Northwest prairie plant communities. While I contributed to the ecological functions of the Pacific Northwest’s most endangered ecosystems, I also learned how to better support the basic human functions of endangered and marginalized populations of people.

Working with incarcerated technicians continually revealed their resourceful creativity and their desire to meaningfully contribute to the society from which they have been disconnected. Masters students such as myself support technicians’ connections to ecological concepts, while we also connect our (my) consciousness to our nation’s culture of incarceration.

In the project, this was the first violet to bloom! Photo by Graham Klag.

My thesis research project uses coconut coir mats for the restoration and enhancement of the early-blue violet (Viola adunca) for the larval development of the Oregon silverspot butterfly. The project has been possible only due to the combination of resources and partnerships that SPP has afforded me. As part of my work coordinating SPP’s Prairie Conservation Nurseries, my position helped me access hoop house space, seed, materials, staff, input, and other resources that have led to the success of my research project. The experience allows me to see the value of project-based adaptive management, scientific research, and education to advance the skills and education of technicians and myself.

The team discusses trials of mat substrate types; Toby Erhart and Bien Van Nguyen are the most-visible technicians. Photo by Shauna Bittle.
SCCC’s place-made prairie; the technician holds the garden’s design template. Photo by Graham Klag.

During my time with SPP, I have learned that this connection to place is a basic human need. While dealing with incarcerated technicians’ unfortunate connection to the place of prison, we fostered their connection to other ecosystems — ones that need our help. The fortune of those rare ecosystems can be found from more and more connections to conservation science.

I see restoration ecology as a place-making process. Through my research design and implementation, technicians and I shared in the scientific method, connecting us to the coastal prairie environments of the Washington and Oregon coast. As part of that process, this year we constructed a prairie garden inside the facility at SCCC; we planted extra prairie plants that we had grown for various restoration sites within the Salish lowlands and created a bit of prairie inside the prison.

At the basis of all life’s functions is the need for connection. My position with SPP combined with my studies provides me a connective power. I wish to share that power with individuals disconnected from our modern society. SPP is a true asset to The Evergreen State College’s mission and core values, providing academic and professional empowerment opportunities to students, staff, and the greater community. I feel lucky to be a part of this special community experience and reflect on human ecology and empathy. I have new insight into how the landscape reflects how we treat each other and the good life of being a Greener.

Graham at the Rock Creek coastal prairie research site with ready-to-plant plugs of early blue violet (Viola adunca), Roemer’s fescue (Festuca roemeri), and coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis). Photo by Rolando Beorchia from Institute for Applied Ecology.

What’s in a thesis

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

Note: please be aware that individuals featured in this story and in these images have victims who are concerned about re-victimization; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

I presented this copy of my thesis to the advisor team at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, represented here by Kelly Peterson and David Duhaime. Photo by Erica Benoit.

This past June Dr. Tyrus Smith signed my thesis. He was my thesis advisor and his signature validated all of my hard work over the last year-and-a-half. Suffice it to say, I was ecstatic! My thesis process was more difficult than I imagined it would be, took longer than I expected, and I am truly proud of the end product.

Following completion of my thesis, I returned to SCCC to present on the process and findings. Photo by Erica Benoit.

Before we move on, I could not have gotten to that moment of completion without the support of Evergreen Master of Environmental Studies faculty (Dr. Tyrus Smith, Dr. Kevin Francis, and Dr. Shawn Hazboun), my friends and family, my classmates, the people who participated in my study, the loggers that answered all of my questions, and the constant support from incarcerated and staff advisors at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC). Thank you all!!

Thank you to everyone who supported me and made this research possible! That’s me presenting my thesis to the community at The Evergreen State College. Photo credit: Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Thesis advisors in prison

From the very beginning of my thesis process, I knew I wanted to work with incarcerated individuals and SPP supported me in making this possible. So, I invited environmental studies experts housed at SCCC to work with me as advisors. I worked with the Roots of Success instructors and the Roots liaison at the facility, Kelly Peterson. A photo of me and the advisors is shown below.

These advisors helped me formulate the roots from which my thesis grew and greatly contributed to the process, too. From left to right: Cyril Walrond, Steven Allgoewer, David Duhaime (top), Anthony Powers, Kelly Peterson, and myself. Photo credit: SPP Staff.

Over the past two years, we met on multiple occasions. To develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter, the incarcerated advisors studied the articles and references I provided; they read peer-reviewed academic articles, research planning guides, newspaper articles, and other publications. They offered feedback and ideas on several aspects of the research including topic selection, philosophical framework, research design, study population, survey design, and presentation of the topic.

Seminar

This past February, Kelly Peterson helped me set up a seminar with a larger group, and included Dr. Smith. We asked all participants to read four pieces beforehand, to prepare for the discussion. Two were data-heavy, very dense, dry academic articles describing the theoretical framework I used for my thesis. Another was a piece President Roosevelt wrote after visiting the Pacific Northwest, in which he proposed a forest plan. And the last was an academic article about common predictors of environmental attitudes.

Here’s a group photo of the people who participated in the thesis seminar. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

I remember being nervous that no one would want to talk and I could not have been more wrong! They had all clearly done deep dives into the reading and made interesting connections I had missed in my own review of the literature. Everyone had thoughtful input and suggestions for things to explore and add to my thesis. The seminar was lively and thoughtful and there was never a quiet moment.

What is my thesis about?

My completed thesis is titled: A critique of the New Ecological Paradigm: Stewardship and a case study of the Pacific Northwest logging industry. It explores the concept of stewardship and how it fits into the New Ecological Paradigm. The study population was people actively working in the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest.

I presented my thesis as part of the Environmental Engagement Workshop Series at SCCC. Photo by Erica Benoit.

This research project was an exploratory study designed to document the ecological attitudes of loggers in the Pacific Northwest. As an exploratory study, I sought to contribute to a gap in the empirical literature: how loggers view the environment. I gathered their responses to the New Ecological Paradigm questionnaire, a measure of their ecological attitudes. Also, I collected information about each participant’s experiences in nature and their socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds.

Hanging out with loggers

Over the summer Pulley Corporation, an FSC®-Certified logging company agreed to let me shadow them for a day. This was an incredible opportunity for me and I am so grateful to everyone for answering all of my questions. Being able to speak with loggers who work in the field expanded my background knowledge on logging in the Pacific Northwest, and helped inform the survey I used to gather data. From these interactions, and many others, I noticed two attributes shared by all: a stewardship mindset and pro-ecological attitudes.

Regardless of their obvious pro-ecological attitudes, the sample population scored lower on the New Environmental Paradigm than most Washington State residents. This suggested to me that the New Environmental Paradigm measures attitudes using a socially-exclusionary lens.

When I shadowed the crew for the day, Pulley Corporation was working at Mt. St. Helens repairing and restoring an elk migration path for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

So, what’s in a thesis? Well, in my case, a thesis is a collaboration of very diverse groups of people, all environmentally inspired and dedicated, and all willing to support me as a graduate student. I am lucky to have all their brilliance and input in those pages.

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!