Foundation Donations Provide Support for SPP!

By SPP Project Manager Kelli Bush

The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) recently received generous donations from two different family foundations. The funds from the first donation will be used to help support our evaluation program, efforts to expand SPP to other states, and some of our general operating costs. The second donation provides much needed help with general operating costs such as supplies for our conservation projects, printed pamphlets describing our work, education materials for incarcerated individuals or transportation to prisons. Both awards are greatly appreciated and make a significant difference in helping us accomplish our mission. If you would like to make a donation to SPP through The Evergreen State College Foundation please click here.

SPP Plant Profile: Harsh Indian Paintbush (Castilleja hispida)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Harsh Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida)

Basic information:

Castilleja hispida, or harsh Indian paintbrush, grows in a cluster from a woody perennial base with many fine hairs throughout. Its leaves are lance-shaped, and the upper stem may be divided into shallow lobes. Flowers are greenish, but are partially covered by bracts of bright scarlet, yellow, or orange. It grows best in dry openings in forests and meadows, from the coast to high elevations. Locally common, it flowers in the early summer.

Harsh Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida)

Harsh Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) Photo: Rod Gibert

Ecological Importance:

Castilleja hispida is an important larval host for Taylor’s checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) butterflies, state listed as endangered and a candidate for federal listing. In February, SPP will begin a captive rearing program for Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies at Mission Creek Correctional Center for Women (MCCCW). Inmates at MCCCW, along with SPP graduate research associate Dennis Aubrey, have been preparing by raising a surrogate species.  The painted lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies have been successfully bred in facilities at MCCCW and The Evergreen State College over the last six months.

An interesting and potentially important relationship between Castilleja hispida, Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies and gophers has been witnessed. Some paintbrush specimens at the Artillery Impact Area (AIA) have been found fresh and green well after the majority of the population has senesced  on Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) prairies. Currently, the only remaining population of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies on JBLM is also found on the AIA. It is hypothesized that these persistent blooming paintbrush specimens may be atop gopher or mole mounds, which create enough of a microclimate to lengthen flowering time. This factor, along with other reasons such as frequent fires from artillery exercises may help to explain the long-term persistence of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies on the JBLM prairies.

Fun Facts:

Similar to other Castilleja species, harsh paintbrush is hemiparasitic, which means it’s parasitic under natural conditions but is also photosynthetic. It may just obtain water, mineral nutrients, or organic nutrients from the host plant. Although it does not always require a host plant, it may grow better with a host, such as Roemer’s fescue (Festuca roemeri).

SPP Plant Profile: Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca) Photo: Rod Gilbert

Basic information:

Viola adunca, or early-blue violet, is a short perennial with short slender rhizomes. Leaves are alternate, heart shaped to ovate. The flowers of this viola are blue to deep violet, but can often be whitish at the base. Flowers have 5 petals, and bloom from April to August. Fruit are born in capsules with three valves, and the explosiveness of the splitting of the capsules often makes seed collection tricky.

Ecological Importance:

The Mardon skipper (Polites mardon) butterfly depends on Viola adunca as a spring-flowering nectar source. The small orange butterfly is found on two South Sound prairies, and is listed as a State Endangered Species and is a Federal Candidate Species. Zerene fritillaries (Speyeria zerene) also use Viola adunca, but as a larval host. Three subspecies of the Zerene Fritillary are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List, including the Oregon Silverspot which is classified as threatened in California, Oregon and Washington.

Studies have found that Viola adunca are poor competitors, and are easily displaced by invasive species. Non-native grasses increase thatch density and vegetation height, compete for resources and reduce open space for germination and thus reduce Viola adunca populations. Experiments also show that fire stimulates germination in Viola adunca, and fire could be used to increase Viola adunca populations and provide more area for nectar and larval hosting for butterflies.

Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca) Photo: Rod Gilbert

Fun facts:

Violet leaves contain more vitamin A than spinach, and a half-cup of leaves has more vitamin C than four oranges! Now, don’t go out and start eating, Viola adunca is a very important larval host and nectar source for threatened butterflies. Another reason to limit consumption: its rhizomes, fruits and seeds are poisonous. Adunca means hooked, and other common names include the hooked-spur violet and the western dog violet.

SPP Plant Profile: Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca roemeri)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Festuca Roemeri, Roemer’s Fescue

This is the first installment in a new series of pieces we are calling our plant profiles. Over the coming months we will highlight one of the 40 species of prairie or riparian plants that are grown at Stafford Creek Correctional Facility. This is intended to give you an idea of what we are growing, focus on the conservation importance of each species, and offer a few fun facts about each species.

Basic Information: Roemer’s fescue is a bluish, gray-green tufted bunch grass that grows from British Columbia (southeastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands), and west of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Oregon and Northern California. These areas are typically temperate, with maritime influence. Roemer’s fescue grows from sea level to about 2500 ft. The species is also found in thin-soiled windswept shorelines on the islands of the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Straits of Georgia.

Ecological Importance: A foundation species of the prairies of the Pacific Northwest, Roemer’s fescue is predominately found in the glacial outwash prairies of the South Sound and those which have a history of anthropogenic burning.  Its quick growth makes this fescue an effective ground cover, but its bunch grass nature allows for the growth of other important prairie species, including associated species common camas (Camassia quamash), field woodrush (Luzula campestris), spike goldenrod (Solidago spanthulata), early blue violet (Viola adunca) and prairie lupine (Lupinus lepidus) to name a few.

Who is this Roemer guy anyway? Roemer’s fescue is named for Swiss physician, professor of botany and entomologist Johann Jakob Roemer (1762-1819). Roemer was best known for one of the greatest achievements in the history of Swiss entomology, the Genera insectorum Linnaei et Frabricii. Roemer also published the 16th edition of Carlos Linnaeus’ Systema Vegetabilium.

Fescue in the teaching gardens at The Evergreen State CollegeFescue plugs

Fescue plugs


December Butterfly Update

December Butterfly Update

By Inmate Butterfly Technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

Editor’s note: Below is a message from our butterfly rearing technicians at MCCCW, who are currently raising a surrogate species in preparation for their work with the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

During this holiday season, even though we miss our families, we are fortunate to be a part of this unique experience of rearing butterflies.  On a daily basis we clean, care for, observe, and interact with this delicate and necessary part of our environment.  We continue to learn and prepare for the crucial project ahead – captive rearing of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

It is an amazing feeling to come out to the greenhouse every day and know that we are working toward making an important change for our environment.  We are extremely lucky to be at the start of this project.  We are anticipating the arrival of the Taylor’s checkerspot in February.

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly in Washington state, click here.



Inmate Technicians Attend Annual Species Recovery Conferences

Inmate Technicians Attend Annual Species Recovery Conferences

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

For the first time in the history of the SPP, inmate technicians were able to attend annual species working group meetings. DOC administrators at both Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) and Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) were generous in their support and were able to arrange for the inmates to travel to the event.

The Taylor’s checkerspot meeting was held on November 10th at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, and the two inmates who attended learned about species recovery efforts, reintroduction site assessments, genetic taxonomy work, and other ongoing research. The inmates were well received by the community and took copious notes on everything that was said.

The Oregon spotted frog meeting was a week later, at Blakely Tree Farms in Tumwater, and inmates were able to listen to detailed captive rearing reports from each of the four rearing institutions. Then they were able to share information of their own with colleagues they had heard about but never met, and techniques were learned by both sides. Additionally, release data, monitoring effort reports, and other research projects were discussed by various experts.

In both cases, the inmates involved were enthusiastic about attending and were able to get a sense of the larger effort going on outside the walls. The connections they formed with the conservation community can only help them feel more a part of the larger body of work, and more ownership of their own roles within that effort.

DOC Enables Former Frog Technician to Join in the Annual OSF Release Event

DOC Enables Former Frog Technician to Join in the Annual OSF Release Event

by Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

The Sustainable Prisons Project is so excited that we were able to include one of our former frog technician inmates at the annual frog release this year!  Harry Greer has worked with the Oregon spotted frog project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center since the project’s inception in 2009.  This season Harry raised the frogs at CCCC until July when he was moved to work release.  Department of Corrections staff at CCCC went above and beyond to accommodate and clear Harry for attendance at the release event.  Many thanks to Superintendent Doug Cole, Captain Charlie Washburn and Classification Counselor Marko Anderson; it was a real joy to see Harry releasing the frogs he so carefully raised.

To donate to SPP and help Oregon spotted frog conservation in Washington state, click here.

Annual Oregon spotted frog release!

Annual Oregon spotted frog release!

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

On a crisp fall day at the end of October, participating Oregon spotted frog (OSF) rearing partners gathered for the annual frog release at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM).  The OSF, received by each institution in egg form, are reared from March to October when they are released as healthy juvenile and adult frogs onto three wetland sites located at JBLM.  This is a fun day that all the partners look forward to each year.

The Sustainable Prison Project frogs were transported from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) in ten shoebox-sized Tupperware containers lined with wet paper towels. Upon arrival, the containers were taken to the waters edge where lids were removed.  Some frogs were anxious to get out and immediately jumped onto the shore and into the water, while some needed a bit more time and coaxing.   Once in the water, the frogs quickly camouflaged themselves by digging into the sandy bottom or swimming into marshy vegetation.   The water in the wetland is cool, but open and exposed to sunlight, with nice shallow areas along the banks.  OSF are highly aquatic and leave the water only for short periods of time to forage for food.  They move between ponds via connecting waterways, making them especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation.  The wetlands at JBLM offer a large undisturbed habitat with many channels for migration and shallow warm water for breeding in the spring.

This year, we released 163 healthy, large adult OSF raised at CCCC.  The frog technician inmates, as always, did a wonderful job rearing our captive population.  It is not always possible to raise each frog to releasable size, and each year SPP takes all undersized frogs from our rearing partner facilities, and supports them through the winter at CCCC.  This year we received more than 60 frogs to over-winter.  The inmates will raise them until springtime when they will also be released on the wetlands at JBLM.

To donate to SPP and help Oregon spotted frog conservation in Washington state, click here.

Prairie Fires

By Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliot

Walking through the Douglas fir forests in the mist and rain of the Pacific Northwest does not conjure up thoughts of wildfire. Most people, residents and non-residents alike, picture a Northwest landscape of grand old growth forests standing forever enriched by cool weather and rain. A closer inspection in many forested areas in the Puget lowland reveals that fire did have an influence on the plant ecology and landscape. On the few sites that still support the growth of ancient trees, occasional fire scars can be seen coating the bark and gnarled lower branches of the oldest residents.  The frequency of fires in the Puget lowlands by “natural” causes such as lightning strikes is around one every 500 years.  However, the evidence of fire return times from sites in the San Juan Islands down to South Puget Sound show much more frequent fire intervals.

The most frequent fires in the maritime areas of the Pacific Northwest may have been ignited by First Peoples. Fire was a tool used in numerous ways to secure necessary food and materials. Fire could be managed to herd or see game and promote the growth of the available browse plants. Perennial understory and woodland edge plants such as blackcap raspberries, wild strawberries, blue elderberry, bracken fern, and other food sources would increase in abundance and production in response to fire occurring every five years of so.

The most documented and common use of fire was    found on the landscape of Garry oak woodlands and prairies throughout the Puget basin. The burning practices provided vital resources to “inland groups” of First Peoples who had limited access to Puget Sound waterways and tidelands. The oak woodlands primarily provided acorns and camas bulbs, along with a diverse diet of roots and berries. Anthropological research has documented complex family ownership of distinct oak woodlands, camas fields, nettle and berry patches. These areas were burned yearly and harvest techniques of camas in particular involved cultivation practices to ensure long term fertility and abundance. For an excellent overview of Northwest Coast traditional plant use and cultivation see Keep it Living edited by Douglas Deur and Nancy J. Turner.

The first arrival of European and U.S. agriculturalist brought a drastic change in the use of fire as a tool to produce food. Fires were viewed as destructive and dangerous, and indeed they are, catastrophic fires have been battled throughout the west since the time of the first agricultural settlements. Active fire suppression has had definite consequences to the ecology of the western landscape.   For prairies in the Pacific Northwest in particular, fire suppression created a number of changes that can be seen in prairie plant composition and the density of plant cover. Fire suppression allows Douglas-fir and shrubs to increase in abundance, shrinking the overall landscape of the prairie. The reduction in disturbance increases the dominance of large grasses that reduces nectar and forage plants for insects. In general, without fire the biodiversity of the oak woodland and prairie landscape decreases greatly affecting habitat quality.

Accompanying the suppression of fire, European agriculture and animal husbandry introduced pasture grasses and invasive plants. The introduction of domestic stock reduces the vigor of native bunch grasses and forbs and increases the abundance of invasive grasses and forbs. Invasive plants such as Scot’s broom readily dominate the low fertility prairie soils in the absence of fire. These numerous stressors reduce the biodiversity and habitat quality of prairies throughout the region. Of the remaining remnant prairies less than 1% contains healthy populations of native plants. This change in plant composition has had a drastic impact on the insects and animals that utilize the prairies as habitat.

Restoration ecologists are actively working to restore prairie habitat for numerous threatened and endangered species including the Taylor’s Checkerspot, Mardon Skipper and Puget Blue butterflies, as well as the streaked-horned lark and the diminutive Mazama pocket gopher. The re-introduction of fire is one restoration tool to improve habitat on prairies.  These fires are control burns requiring complex organization and cooperation among numerous State and Federal agencies. The majority of the prairie landscape occurs on Joint Base Lewis McCord (JBLM). In the summer of 2011, JBLM implemented an ambitious program that completed almost 2000 acres of controlled burns. These fires provide dramatic pictures of the changes fire brings to a landscape.

The re-introduction of fire is only the first step in the restoration process. Fire performs well to eliminate invasive woody plants and Douglas-fir trees from the prairie. However, the reduction woody plants create a great amount of bare ground suitable for seed germination. Without active next steps in the restoration process the use of fire may result in a further degraded prairie through the introduction of non-native plants. Many of the native plants are limited in distribution and abundance by the amount of seed or propagules that are left in the remnant prairies. This is where the Sustainable Prisons Project becomes involved. The role of the Conservation Nursery at Stafford Creek Corrections Center is to provide the necessary plants to produce seed that can be distributed after the fire. The native species are grown at the nursery to be planted out in seed beds at JBLM. The seed is then harvested and cleaned to be drilled in or spread across the restored prairies.

There are numerous changes and adaptations that have to occur to make the restoration process a success. Often it seems as if no two prairies go through the same trajectories after restoration, leading to a great amount of uncertainty as to how to restore and measure a healthy habitat.  Questions regarding appropriate sowing rates, effective germination and establishment of native plants; pollination,  noxious weed control and endangered species re-introduction are just a few of the research objectives scientists are working on.. Since prairies require control burns every three to five years, humans will be actively involved in their care for as long as we value the prairie landscape.





Sustainable Prisons Project Involved in Cutting Edge Research

Sustainable Prison Project Involved in Cutting Edge Research

Dr. Hayes measuring an Oregon spotted frog with Dr. Conlon in the background

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

WDFW Research Scientist Dr. Marc Hayes recently brought visiting scientist Dr J. Michael Conlon to visit the Oregon spotted frog operation at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). Dr. Conlon is a Professor of Biochemistry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, and is an internationally known biochemist whose research interests are focused on the purification and characterization of naturally occurring, biologically active peptides. He has worked on skin peptides for more than 40 years and with frog skin peptides for more than 10 years.

A large, healthy Oregon spotted frog

Dr. Conlon is interested in studying the skin peptides of the Oregon spotted frog (OSF) because they are very high in anti-bacteria and anti-fungal properties. The OSF also show a resistance to the amphibian chytrid fungus, known to be decimating amphibian populations worldwide.  The answer to why OSF are resistant to chytrid might be found in their skin peptides.

To better understand this, purified skin secretions need to tested for their activity against several strains of chytrid, requiring three steps: 1) obtain the skin secretions; 2) purify the individual peptides from those secretions; and 3) test each individual peptide from the skin secretions on several strains of the amphibian chytrid fungus.

Oregon spotted frogs secreting skin peptides into water to be tested at the lab

SPP helped facilitate step 1, and steps 2 and 3 will be done in the UAE and at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.   SPP and the frog interns at CCCC were pleased to be involved with this research as it will contribute significantly to the scientific knowledge of why OSFs are resistant to chytrid.