Stormwater presentation at WCCW: Inmate blog

“Stormwater: Life in the Gutter” at WCCW: Inmate blog

Editor’s note: This post was written by an inmate at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), where SPP hosts a monthly Science & Sustainability lecture series.  On May 1, Stokley Towles, a performance artist and faculty member at The Evergreen State College, gave a highly entertaining presentation called “Stormwater: Life in the Gutter” to a group of nearly 40 inmates at WCCW.
Mr. Towles will be performing this piece for the public starting this Friday, May 4, at the Seattle Center.  For more information, please see

Today I attended a 2 hour presentation of “Storm Watch” which took place in A Building at Purdy Prison, also known as WCCW, or vice versa.

WOW! Talk about an out-of-body experience! Not only was I able to get out of my cramped cell and leave the unit I live in; this is the first time in 5 years of being incarcerated  here in WCCW that I actually felt like being part of a community.

Who would ever guess that hearing about bowel excretion could feel like connecting with one’s community?! No, really! This guy from the Sustainability in Prisons Project was showing us diagrams from a laptop and projector on one of the walls in the visiting room on how storm water and sewage is piped underground from neighborhoods, and pretty soon before I knew it, I was enthralled in the dialog of communication from offenders. This guy whose nickname was “Street”  was beautiful – no kidding – he even showed us the hot pink socks he was wearing! Yeah, right there in the visiting room he props up his leg onto a table with the heel of his black, soft leather , worn dress shoe on the edge of the table and hikes up his beige chino slacks and displays his HOT PINK SOCKS! He, aka Street, says “I spend a lot of time with the sewage plant workers and garbage collectors, getting to know what they do on their jobs, actually walking around with them all day, seeing and hearing how they feel and what they think about what they’re doing. Everyone who works for the Seattle Sewage Plant gets a nickname. It’s for security reasons, because working for the City of Seattle is like being one big happy family and using an alias protects their identity out in the field”.

Today for just a minute I was out there – out in the field with Street, watching the sky for oncoming storms and climbing down storm drains (with a gas mask), checking out neighborhood ponds for “beaver workaholics”. Huh. Yeah. I felt like being connected to something other than being an offender incarcerated here in Prison. I sure the heck wasn’t thinking about all that chaos and drama back in the unit  I live in during those brief 110 minutes or so.

Thank you, Sustainability-in-Prisons-Project!

Thank you Stokley Towles!

Thank you Brittany Gallagher!

Thank you AA Paula Andrew!

Please come back!!

Stokley Towles performs "Stormwater: Life in the Gutter" as part of SPP's Science and Sustainability Lecture Series at WCCW on May 1, 2012.


To donate to SPP and support science and sustainability education in unlikely places, please click here.

New Frog Rearing Practices at Cedar Creek

New Frog Rearing Practices at Cedar Creek
By Graduate Research Associate Andrea Martin

Frog season has arrived in Western Washington! Cedar Creek Corrections Center is now home to 315 tadpoles.  Oregon spotted frog eggs were brought into the prison from Black River and Conboy Lake Wildlife Refuge by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists.  There was a significant die-off initially of the Black River eggs; we lost 54 of the initial 158.  Happily, the organisms from Conboy have had a much higher success rate; only four of the original eggs never hatched.

Cedar Creek is undergoing several significant changes in rearing protocol this season.  These changes are designed to provide consistency amongst all of the institutions raising Oregon Spotted Frogs, of which SPP and Cedar Creek are only one of four.

The most significant change is the implementation of net pens to raise the eggs and tadpoles.  In the last 3 years, the eggs have been raised in shoebox-sized plastic bins until they were big enough to be moved to tubs large enough to hold up to 200 growing frogs.

The net pens are a square foot in area, and provide floating habitats for the growing tadpoles.  SPP staff made 20 of the pens using PVC piping to create the enclosure.  The nets were clipped onto the pipes so that they would hang through the middle, and floating mats were cut into strips and secured with zip ties to give the pens extra buoyancy.  Between 15 and 20 tadpoles live in each net pen.

The shoeboxes required much more attention to water quality than the nets.  In the net pens, fecal matter and most extra uneaten food falls through the nets and into the larger tubs, making water changing a less demanding and less frequent chore.  The shoeboxes require multiple water changes every day.  Our rearing partners switched to the net pens last year.

While frequent water changing wasn’t a problem for Cedar Creek, water temperature was problematic.  The shoeboxes were kept inside the shed where the inmates raise crickets.  Because of the small space and the multiple heat lamps, the room is usually at least 70 degrees, and sometimes would get much hotter.  It was nearly impossible to get the water temperature below 70 for the tadpoles, when 65 would be a more preferable.

In the net pens submersible water heaters can keep the large outdoor tubs regulated at 65 degrees, which provides a more realistic environment, and also has a higher oxygen concentration for the growing tadpoles.

So far the transition has been a success, with no tadpole mortalities.  It has been a fun learning process for all parties to record the successes and drawbacks of this new rearing protocol.  We all hope this is the beginning to another successful frog season!

A Cedar Creek frog technician inmate cleans out the net pens with a turkey baster. Photo by A. Martin.

The net pens float in the larger tubs, making water changes less frequent, and water temperature more consistent..JPG The net pens float in the larger tubs, making water changes less frequent, and water temperature more consistent.

The net pens float in the larger tubs, making water changes less frequent, and water temperature more consistent..JPG The net pens float in the larger tubs, making water changes less frequent, and water temperature more consistent. Photo by A. Martin.

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

59 Frogs released at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in March!

59 Frogs released at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in March!

By: Graduate Research Associate Andrea Martin

In November, Oregon spotted frogs raised at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, the Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park were released at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  Sixty-three frogs that were too small to survive in the wild were brought to Cedar Creek to live the good life for the winter.

Four of the original frogs died, but the majority grew fat and healthy throughout the coldest time of the year.  The frogs weathered the January snowstorm very well, as generators kept their tanks near 70 degrees even as more than 15 inches of snow covered the prison grounds.

This group of frogs was the first at Cedar Creek to vary their diet with the Jamaican Black crickets the inmates have blogged about in the past. Unfortunately, the heavy snowfall insulated the hot cricket shack in January, raising the temperature to 113 degrees and killing a large portion of the crickets.  Luckily, the frogs didn’t starve.

On March 14th, SPP Project Manager Kelli Bush, Graduate Interns Dennis Aubrey and Andrea Martin, DOC Classification Counselor Marko Anderson, and JBLM Field Biologists Jim Lynch, John Richardson and Nick Miller released the 59 frogs that had survived the winter onto the military base.

Hopefully they are continuing to thrive through this very cold and wet spring!

SPP Frog Intern Andrea Martin releases an Oregon spotted frog.

DOC staff Marko Anderson tries to pick just one OSF at a time to release at JBLM.

Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey and several frogs about to be released.

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

Newly arrived Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies thriving at MCCCW

Newly arrived Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies thriving at MCCCW

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

After a more than a year of preparation, the butterfly program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women is finally rearing endangered butterflies! Mary Jo Andersen brought 755 post diapause Taylor’s checkerspot larvae from the Oregon Zoo in early March, and when they emerged from their blue cooler, they found that they had been transported directly to caterpillar paradise. Cool nights and warm bright days, no rain but perfect moisture, tender hand-picked leaves delivered fresh every morning, no predators, vehicles, or hard freezes; what more could a caterpillar ask for? Many of them headed directly for the fresh leaves and began eating vigorously, much to Mary Jo’s amazement.

Part of the beauty of the new facility is the quality of the light. One of the limiting variables in rearing butterflies is UV light exposure, and the structure was built with that in mind. When the caterpillars arrived conditions were perfect and they responded immediately.

Of the 755 that Mary Jo brought, 600 were released a week later onto a Joint Base Lewis-McChord reintroduction site and 155 continue to develop at the prison. Because of the conditions, they have been growing and molting more quickly than at the Oregon Zoo, and some have already pupated. If anything, conditions may be too perfect!

As one way of assessing the “quality” of the conditions, inmates will be weighing and measuring adult butterflies when they emerge. This will be used to compare their weights with historic averages from the Oregon Zoo, because it is generally very challenging to rear full sized adults in captivity. One of the original goals of the facility design was to more closely mimic natural conditions in order to produce butterflies as large as wild-caught individuals, something Oregon Zoo has been unable to accomplish.

Another part of what we hope is our formula for success is the constant and thorough care that inmates can provide. The four currently involved with the project care for their charges meticulously, and we hope that also helps to produce natural-sized, healthy animals.

In addition to TLC, inmates also keep highly detailed records of their observations. In fact, they are now filling their third notebook with records beyond those they are asked for. They even hand-draw spreadsheets with rulers when details they want to record are not covered by the official forms.

This careful manner will soon become critical when they undertake an upcoming research project examining host plant preference. This will attempt to show which native prairie plants are most valuable to the butterfly as a resource in restoration plots. Not only is this critical, relevant research, but it also involves a second endangered species! One of the plants to be examined is state-endangered golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta), so this spring inmates will be caring for two endangered species at Mission Creek!

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of endangered butterflies in Washington state, click here.

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.

Guest Blogger: Babel goes to prison

Babel goes to prison

Editor’s note: This post was written by former SPP staff member Alicia LeDuc, who recently spent several months volunteering in Tanzania.  She returned to Washington and shared her story at WCCW as a guest lecturer last month.  She wrote about the experience on her own blog, which we are re-posting here with her permission.  To see the post in its original context, please visit:!

The inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington got an inside look into life in east Africa today when Babel partnered with the Sustainability in Prisons Project to deliver a presentation inside the prison as a part of the project’s Science and Sustainability Lecture Series. The lecture, titled Sustainability and Biodiversity in Tanzania, East Africa,  featured a slide show of over 400 photographs documenting the daily life and amazing biodiversity of rural Tanzania.

The crowd proved both attentive and entertaining, sharing their own revelations about sustainable living and even a few personal horror stories inspired by the photographs of deadly fruit and spitting cobras.

The event was hosted by SPP’s Brittany Gallagher, an Evergreen State College graduate student and former Peace Corps volunteer.  Gallagher said she enjoyed the presentation, as it reminded her of the two years she spent living in a small village in Niger, in western Africa.  The inmates thoroughly enjoyed it as well, with one woman concluding the event by thanking the speaker and host and asking Babel to please, go on a trip to Hawaii or the Philippines, then come back again!

A lush papaya grove in Tanzania. (Photo by Alicia LeDuc)

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.

Inmate Frog Technicians Experiment with Cricket Rearing

Inmate Frog Technicians Experiment with Cricket Rearing

by: Inmate Frog Technicians at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Editor’s note: Below is a message from our frog technicians at CCCC, who are currently experimenting with raising crickets to feed to the endangered Oregon spotted frogs being reared at their facility.

On 10/16/11, we received 65 over-winter frogs from a handful of sites. When received, frogs were about as big as dimes. Now they have grown to the size of half-dollars. They are doing very well, very good coloring, spotting on top and red on bottom.

When frogs were received, four frogs looked very bad and have since died. I don’t know what exactly was wrong with them, all I know is they would not eat and were very thin because of it. Except for that, everything has been going very smoothly.

We have now started a new cricket project. We have always bought our crickets from Fluker Farms to breed, but we have been unable to breed multiple generations with them.  Recently we got Jamaican Black Crickets from Woodland Park Zoo and we feel that we could breed a generation of these crickets.  What we hope to do is cross-breed European crickets with these Jamaican Black Crickets and try to get the long life span from the Jamaican but the easier edibility of the European House Crickets we buy from Flukers.

We are going to get 2500 European crickets (5 weekers) and 2500 Jamaican crickets (5 weekers) and raise them side by side, do everything the same between the tanks, food, water, temperature, etc. We are hoping to see which cricket is a more efficient candidate for our cricket project. And also see which crickets we can raise generations from.

In a totally separate experiment, we want to get 500 of each style crickets and raise them together in one tank, hoping to cross-breed these two crickets, getting traits from both.   We’ll see if that may be the best candidate for our cricket program.

Cricket Traits:

European House Cricket: The more popular of the cricket species, these crickets can grow up to 2cm in length. They are more extensively fed to reptiles. Easily digested.

Jamaican Black Cricket: These crickets grow fast and get bigger, probably reaching 3-4cm in length. In my experiences these crickets live longer and are easier to breed, but might be harder for the frogs to eat when they get too big.

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