Author Archives: Emily Passarelli


By Dennis Aubrey, Brittany Gallagher, and Andrea Martin

Brittany Gallagher, Dennis Aubrey, and Andrea Martin in Canada for CONFOR West.

Brittany Gallagher, Dennis Aubrey, and Andrea Martin in Canada for CONFOR West.

In late April three SPP Graduate Research Assistants attended CONFOR West, an annual conference in Western Canada highlighting environmental science, forestry, and collaborative conservation. This year the SPPers, along with another Evergreen Masters of Environmental Studies student, were the only four students from the United States.

This year the conference was held in Kananaskis, Alberta, in the spectacular Canadian Rockies just southeast of Banff. The four of us chose to drive together rather than fly, both to save money and to gain a better appreciation for the landscape and culture of the region. The first night we stopped and soaked in Radium Hot Springs, near the entrance to Kootenay National Park. The next morning we drove up into the Kootenay high country, where we saw a large bull moose crossing a river, and over 50 white-tailed and mule deer browsing near the road in meadows newly emerged from the melting snowpack. After crossing a few passes and traversing northward through long valleys, we made our way up and over the continental divide, simultaneously entering Alberta and Banff National Park. It was still early in the day so before heading south to Kananaskis we turned north and drove about 75km up the famed Icefields Parkway, where we snapped pictures of hanging glaciers and frozen lakes amid towering frosted peaks.

The conference itself was set at the Canadian Rockies and Foothills Biogeoscience Institute, and consisted of two mornings of presentations followed by afternoon activities, with poster sessions and keynote speakers in the evenings. Morning-session presentations were in two formats: 5-minute lightning talks and 15-minute featured presentations. Lightning talks at CONFOR are doubly challenging, as they include self-advancing PowerPoint slides, making practice and timing essential. Some general themes that emerged from the talks given by Canadian students were related to mountain pine bark beetles, tar-sands impacts and mitigation, and involving First Nations peoples in collaborative conservation.

All three SPP graduate students gave presentations on our thesis work. Both Brittany and Andrea took the challenge and gave well-received lightning talks. Brittany presented on her work with the Sustainability in Prisons Project evaluating the effectiveness of environmental, educational, and sustainability programs in Washington state prisons. Andrea talked about evaluating the effectiveness of youth conservation corps leadership programs. Dennis gave a 15-minute presentation which included an overview of the Sustainability in Prisons Project, and a brief discussion of his research with incarcerated women exploring Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies’ use of golden paintbrush. At the end of the conference, Dennis’ presentation was voted best 15-minute presentation and mentioned as a close second for most creative presentation overall.

Another unique aspect of CONFOR West is that it is planned and attended solely by graduate students. This tends to give it a more casual and festive atmosphere than other scientific conferences. Groups went snowshoeing and hiking in the mountains, and informal discussion groups formed in the common area and dining hall. Overall, the trip was a rewarding and educational experience. Many fellow attendees commented enthusiastically on the novelty of SPP, and some expressed interest in the idea of bringing SPP to Canadian correctional institutions. Some of the relationships and perspectives we gained will undoubtedly serve us in the future, allowing us to more effectively collaborate with our colleagues across the border.

New Prairie Restoration Community Crew

By Carl Elliott
Conservation and Restoration Coordinator


Inmate work crews from the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) have worked in the community for over 20 years. These off-site crews maintain the infrastructure along highways and at parks and public facilities throughout the state. The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) recognized the value that the crews from Cedar Creek Correction Center (CCCC), could bring to restoration work on south Puget Sound prairies. Through a close collaboration with the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Department of Natural Resources, a CCCC community crew of ten men dedicated to prairie habitat restoration just began their first week of work.

The new crew’s enthusiasm and eagerness to learn was evident from the first day. Many expressed a sharp interest in the cultivation techniques of prairie plants at the nursery site and the seed farm. We expect their learning curve will be steep. Restoration on prairies is a complex and interdisciplinary undertaking. The crew will gain and improve skills in a wide variety of techniques, including plant propagation, noxious weed control, seed production and processing, prescribed fire techniques, and plant re-introduction.

The staff, officers, and inmates at CCCC have shown incredible support for establishing the new crew. SPP and CNLM look forward to providing instruction, resources, and guidance to the crews so their work will be an enriching educational experience at the same time as they contribute to regional restoration efforts. The on-going conservation programs at WDOC facilities raising Oregon Spotted Frogs, Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, and prairie plants, will provide a foundation of curriculum, restoration reference materials, and protocols that can lead to the crew’s success. The investment and optimism shared by all parties suggests a bright future for this new endeavor.



Sustainability Seminars begin at Washington State Penitentiary

by Robert Branscum, Correctional Specialist 3, Washington State Penitentiary

Gretchen Graber, Native Plant Greenhouse Manager for Washington State University (WSU), giving a presentation on native and invasive plants.

Gretchen Graber, Native Plant Greenhouse Manager for Washington State University (WSU), giving a presentation on native and invasive plants.


Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) has had its first Sustainability Seminar. It was a fantastic success. Gretchen Graber, Native Plant Greenhouse Manager for Washington State University (WSU), gave a presentation on native and invasive plants. She also brought both native and invasive specimens for hands-on learning. Gretchen did a great job. Special thanks to Brent Caulk and the West Complex education staff for the use of the classroom and projector.

Participants were very involved in the class: very attentive, asking many pertinent questions, and showing much interest in the subject matter. The offenders strongly expressed their appreciation at the end of the seminar and were still asking questions on the way out the door.

The seminar series is the product of cooperation between WSP, WSU, and the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Our plan is have a seminar every month, and upcoming topics will include barn owls, wolverines, waste water processing, and much more.

I am really excited about this program. The seminar series acts as an incentive, as offenders must exhibit good behavior for a sufficient period of time to attend. It also gives them something to focus their energy on, and I feel that it just takes ‘planting the seed’ of thought to grow some brilliant ideas. Most of all, it was purely awesome watching the offenders through the lecture. They were very engaged, asked relative and pertinent questions, and shared personal insights related to the subject matter. Four days later, I have received multiple shows of appreciation and requests for more, more, more. In response to the question of how to improve the seminar, one offender said “I couldn’t. More time. Have more or longer times.”

Our biggest hang-up is the limitations of class size. The classrooms currently available are relatively small, allowing for no more that 25 attendees. With over 70 offenders interested in participating we need more space! I am working to see what I can do to make this happen in the future. I feel that once we provide several successful seminars, we will have better footing to find a larger classroom.


High diapause survival and a successful release for the butterfly program at MCCCW

by Graduate Research Assistant Dennis Aubrey

Over 3500 caterpillars were at Mission Creek, waiting to be released

Over 3500 caterpillars were at Mission Creek, waiting to be released


Diapause Survival

Congratulations and thanks are in order for the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly technicians and staff at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW), and everyone else who supports the program at Evergreen, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Oregon Zoo. To recap, last season we produced 3624 eggs, which was 180% of our target, then the caterpillars that hatched from those eggs reached summer diapause with 96.6% survivorship. For eight months they have been sleeping in small insect cups beneath overturned terra cotta pots, but now they are awake again and the numbers are in: 98.9% diapause survival.

Fifteen Taylor's checkerspot caterpillars waiting to be released

Fifteen Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars waiting to be released

After spending the summer being pampered by the inmate technicians at Mission Creek, the bulk of our caterpillars were transported to the established diapause facility at the Oregon Zoo. Five hundred were left behind as a trial group since it was our first season and we wanted to test the over-winter conditions at the greenhouse before risking a whole cohort. Of those five hundred, 100% survived! As always, our success is a credit to the meticulous, dedicated, and compassionate care provided by the inmate technicians. Every step of the way they have gone the extra mile, checking every detail twice as often as required, keeping records that no one ever asked them to take, and proving with every stage’s success that the faith placed in their abilities by our partners was well warranted.

Two teams releasing caterpillars at Glacial Heritage Preserve, near Littlerock, Wa

Two teams releasing caterpillars at Glacial Heritage Preserve, near Littlerock, Wa

Post-diapause release

About 3400 of our federally threatened caterpillars are now munching leaves on the prairies at Glacial Heritage Preserve and Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, raising the total number of animals released the butterfly program at MCCCW from 701 to over 4000! Our biggest release of the year is just a week after diapause wake-up, so we had a wild week at MCCCW trying to feed breakfast to so many animals. Our supply of food plants was dwindling rapidly, but relief was in sight: sunny weather was forecast for Monday, March 4. We filled up seven coolers with caterpillar cups and sent them out to the prairie. Once there, a team of about ten biologists, students, and volunteers spent the day crawling backwards from host plant to host plant depositing 2-5 caterpillars on each one. It’s a painstaking process, but it’s important to make sure that the animals have enough host plant material to give them a good chance of making it to pupation, sometime in April.

SPP Graduate Research Assistant Dennis Aubrey helping caterpillars find new homes

SPP Graduate Research Assistant Dennis Aubrey helping caterpillars find new homes

Just 185 caterpillars remain in the captive colony at MCCCW. These are considered our “backup breeders”. We will raise them to adulthood so that we can rely on them for eggs if anomalous weather or some other unforeseen event causes wild populations to crash. Every year we aim to produce a new generation from wild-caught females, but the colony of backup breeders is arranged to maintain maximum possible genetic diversity for as long as possible just in case. The butterfly technicians at MCCCW are out there every day taking care of those 185 special recruits, giving them fresh leaves and raising them up like athletes in case they have to pitch in to help save their species.

 Taylor's checkerspot caterpillars enjoying some tasty leaves after being released

Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars enjoying some tasty leaves after being released

Gardening with Sophie Hart at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

by Sophie Hart, SPP volunteer

Inmate prepping the beds for seed sowing.

Inmate prepping the beds for seed sowing.

About a month ago, I began volunteering in the gardening programs at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) through the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). My experiences at CCCC have been very positive. I find myself really looking forward to my time spent there each week. It has been great working with the staff, from superintendant Douglas Cole, programs manager Charlie Washburn and volunteer coordinator Kim Govreau, to the officers I encounter each week. All have been welcoming of my efforts and presence, and I am especially thankful for their support and dedication to the gardening programs. I think they have truly tough jobs, and I am impressed by the positive attitudes and spirit they bring to their work. I see them show respect to inmates, and get respect in return.

I am grateful, too, to be working with a group of hard-working inmates. They seem to enjoy their work, and have responded kindly and welcomingly to my input. When I first began volunteering, I was worried about establishing my role with them. Recently, though, we have been so busy measuring garden plots, discussing what seeds to order and preparing the beds for Spring planting that I haven’t had much time to dwell on the fact that I’m in a prison working with inmates. They don’t do much to remind me of that either.

Of course, I am reminded whenever an inmate opens up about what led them to CCCC. And every time I hear myself called “Ms. Hart.” And when I am buzzed-through the control office to get to the gardens outside the fence. But when the inmates discuss their experiences working on the gardens, they remind me of any other gardener. Some talk about their time in the greenhouses as a reprieve from their daily lives, and the gardens as their own space to take care of. This month, everyone is itching to get growing.

Inmates applying a blend of organic fertilizers to the beds.

Inmates applying a blend of organic fertilizers to the beds.

In the brief time I have spent at CCCC, I can tell that SPP doesn’t only impact the inmates by providing interesting and engaging jobs, but the programs also affect the way the facility is perceived, by staff and prisoners alike. On my first visit to the prison, Mr. Cole led our group on a tour of the prison grounds, stopping at their many different gardening plots. We discussed the history of each plot: what was planted there before, how the soil behaved, how it was watered. When I asked about pests, I was told about their deer problem: the gardening spaces that are situated outside of the fence are frequently munched on by deer coming out of the (seriously beautiful) surrounding state park. Mr. Cole then laughed and jested that the fence wasn’t actually there to keep the men inside, but really to keep the deer out. An inmate challenged that it still wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping out the raccoons who love to rummage in the open compost heaps. Suddenly, the tall, chain-linked, razor-wire fence lost some of its edge. I remember this story and smile when I see it, imagining stealthy raccoons successfully navigating corrections’ security system to sneak in to the prison to steal from the gardens.

Inmate watches hungry deer eyeing the garden plot.

Inmate watches hungry deer eyeing the garden plot.

My First Two Months Working at SPP

By Graduate Research Assistant Drissia Ras

Working for the SPP is a great experience at all levels. It all started a couple of months ago. I am in fact no expert when it comes to prairie plant identification nor working with inmates, but I work under the direction of very experienced people and I’m learning to polish my experience in environmental restoration.

Inmate filling trays with soil for sowing Indian Paintbrush.

I spend my time between three nurseries: Shotwell’s Landing, WCCW (Washington Corrections Center for Woman) and SCCC (Stafford Creek Corrections Center). My focus is on the SCCC nursery where I go once a week to help a crew of inmates with sowing and making sure they have enough soil, seeds, space for trays and any other materials that they might need.

I can say with confidence that working with inmates is not what it sounds like at all. Inmates are just people like you and me, people that have been down on their luck for one reason or another, people that are paying their dues to society and trying to make the best out of their situation. The majority of the inmates we work with are there because they want to get involved in something meaningful, or because they have a previous experience in nursery work, or are just trying to make some money and escape the routine of prison. But whatever brought them to us, I try to make it a good experience for them, get them involved in our work and help them understand the big picture of what we do and why we do it. It is easy to lose focus and interest in what they are doing when they spend a long time just sowing and not thinking about how helpful and meaningful their job is. Lectures about science, ecology, and restoration techniques are a good way to keep them excited and engaged. The last lecture they had was about science and religion, and believe me, it was amazing hearing what they already knew of the subject and the discussion that followed. We had the same lecture as part of my Master’s program, yet the discussion they had was far more captivating than the one in my class. Most of the offenders truly appreciate when we describe the ecological context of what they are doing because it helps them understand the impact of their labor and see how it fits into the bigger picture of conservation.

Many of these offenders are already highly knowledgeable about horticulture, pesticide application, landscape management and many diverse disciplines. Most of them are able to offer valuable input on nursery methods and are often pleased to contribute ideas, take initiative, keep record of the sowing schedule and make the nursery run smoothly. A crew of inmates can sow up to 140 trays a day which is very impressive, efficient and usually quality oriented.

I honestly look forward to spending time with inmates because I am able to learn so much and I appreciate what everyone has to say.

Staging area at SCCC from Thursday morning, Feb. 7, 2013.

Rainbow over Staging Area at SCCC

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.

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.

Butterfly Rearing Commences at Mission Creek

Butterfly Rearing Commences at Mission Creek

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

The first painted lady butterfly to eclose in the SPP lab at Evergreen.

At long last, the wait is over. After almost a year of preparation, the butterflies have finally arrived! Inmate technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) have been caring for painted lady larva for almost three weeks now, and over the weekend they got to watch their first butterflies emerge from their chrysalid.

The painted ladies are being reared as a training surrogate for the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot, which inmates will begin to work with next February. These training butterflies were chosen for their relative hardiness and fast life cycle, which will allow the inmates to go through several complete revolutions before graduating to the much more delicate Taylor’s checkerspot. So far the inmates involved have surpassed expectations in every way.

As the final phases of greenhouse construction were being completed, the student intern on the project, Dennis Aubrey, began rearing painted ladies at the Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) lab on The Evergreen State College (TESC) campus. This was done to work out the fine details of adapting the Taylor’s checkerspot rearing protocol for use with the painted ladies, and to prepare for training the inmates at the facility. Following this, 200 painted lady eggs were ordered and delivered to MCCCW, where eager inmate technicians began learning how to care for these delicate insects.  Working with butterflies in the SPP lab approximately two weeks ahead of the ones at MCCCW was incomparably helpful in training the inmates effectively.

Inmate butterfly technicians at MCCCW caring for painted lady caterpillars and recording observations

From the time they began, the inmates have been taking very detailed carefully drawn notes, and have been tending to their charges with the patient meticulous care that makes all the difference in rearing projects such as this. At SPP’s frog project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, the large amount of time inmates dedicate to caring for the endangered Oregon spotted frogs has led to the largest specimens raised at any institution. Last week, when Dennis visited Mission Creek to check on the inmates’ progress, he couldn’t help but notice that the painted lady chrysalids were significantly larger than he was able to produce in the SPP lab. Whether that’s a factor of the light and beneficial conditions in the greenhouse, or is directly attributable to the increased daily care, it’s hard to say. Either way, it’s a great sign of things to come for the future success of the project.

SPP Staff Featured in Northwest Science

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

Congratulations to SPP Director Dr. Carri LeRoy, and SPP Research Associate Carl Elliot on their recent publications in the Northwest Science Journal!

Together with Dr. Dylan Fischer of Evergreen State College they co-authored Germination of Three Native Lupinus Species in Response to Temperature.  Experiments to determine the effects of pre-germination treatment and germination temperature conditions on the proportional germination of three species of Lupinus are discussed.  The results could lead to better understanding of germination requirements of native species, an important component of restoration in south Puget Lowland prairies.

Dr. LeRoy was also co-author of a paper on Responses of Prairie Vegetation to Fire, Herbicide, and Invasive Species Legacy.  Native and exotic plant community diversity and composition were measured across areas that differed in burning history and grass-specific herbicide application in an effort to evaluate prairie plant community variation in a matrix of restoration treatments in the south Puget Lowland prairies.

Both papers are available for download via Open Access on the Northwest Science BioOne page:

Germination of Three Native Lupinus Species in Response to Temperature is available at:

Responses of Prairie Vegetation to Fire, Herbicide, and Invasive Species Legacy is available at: