Category Archives: Conservation Programs

Highlighting the Many Successes of Nichole Alexander

Text by Erica Benoit, SPP Special Projects Manager.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nichole Alexander, former SPP Butterfly Technician, on the 2-year anniversary of her release from the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW). We spoke briefly about the impact of her SPP experience on her trajectory post-release, and even more about her long list of accomplishments in the last two years, including her graduation from Evergreen Tacoma.

Nichole Alexander presents on the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program to a working group in 2018. Photo by SPP staff.

Nichole, pictured above, spent three seasons in the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program at MCCCW before she released in April 2019. She said the most impactful part of her experience with SPP was the opportunity to work within a tight-knit team of individuals and across federal and state agencies, an experience in which she felt respected and valued. She also spoke to the therapeutic benefits of the program. Speaking of some major life events that happened while she was incarcerated, Nichole said,

“Being able to go out to the butterfly lab every day…the routine of being able to be in a work environment, an educational environment, to actually feel like we are giving back to the community, bettering myself and laying the foundation for my future, my kids’ future, was huge to pull me through some of the worst times that I have been through…I was actually able to find a light within myself in a very dark place.”

In addition, Nichole expressed that her experience with SPP laid the foundation for what she would accomplish next. In particular, she credits Kelli Bush, SPP Co-Director and Keegan Curry, former SPP Butterfly Coordinator, for providing the encouragement and support to apply to the Evergreen State College’s Tacoma campus while still incarcerated to attend post-release. In her opinion, they reminded her that she had potential.

Nichole Alexander and fellow technician Susan Christopher search for wild Taylor’s checkerspot larvae at Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, a reintroduction site for the butterfly. Photo by Keegan Curry.

She then jumped straight into finishing up her last quarter to earn her Associates Degree in Business Administration and Management from Tacoma Community College before starting her Law and Policy degree at Evergreen Tacoma. While pursuing higher education, she has also been heavily involved in giving back to the community. She organized a book drive for the youth residing at the Echo Glen Children’s Center and also worked with World Central Kitchen to provide thousands of meals to the homeless population. Professionally, she has worked for Ventures nonprofit as the Ready for Release Coordinator & Instructor. In this position, she briefly taught business & marketing to the incarcerated women at MCCCW before the program was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, her professional endeavors focus strongly on providing support resources for the unsheltered population around Seattle. She works for REACH as their Waterfront Outreach Care Coordinator, as well as JustCARE’s Street Outreach Program Coordinator. But her work does not stop when she goes home, as she has worked hard to connect her academic studies with the practical reality of what she has witnessed through her jobs.

Nichole handing out meals with World Central Kitchen, while representing the organization she works for, REACH.

Nichole has now successfully completed her undergraduate coursework at Evergreen Tacoma and is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Policy. She speaks highly of the support she received while attending Evergreen and said she cannot praise it enough for how welcoming they were to her. She especially appreciates the patience and support from some influential professors, like Dr. Gilda Sheppard and Dr. Anthony Zaragoza, and essential support staff as she navigated challenges related to re-entering society. Even more, she emphasizes the sense of community gained there. It’s clear that she made the most of her community involvement at Evergreen Tacoma; she helped start the Justice Involved Student Group there. She also spoke excitedly about her dedication and involvement in organizing Evergreen Tacoma’s virtual graduation ceremony in 2020, which was featured in a New York Times article. It was important for her and her fellow coordinators to go out of their way to make the graduates feel that their success was seen and celebrated. To do this, they organized custom gift boxes from a local party supply company, local flower bouquets, and family meals prepared by local restaurants for each of the graduates. The emphasis on supporting local businesses in this effort was especially needed in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. We only hope she is able to feel the same sense of accomplishment at her own graduation ceremony.

Nichole is not planning to slow down anytime soon. She was recently accepted into the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program, a recent expansion to the Evergreen Tacoma campus. Nichole plans to start that program this coming fall. She also communicated her plans to address issues within the carceral environment, including efforts to reduce recidivism and connect incarcerated mothers with their children. While incarcerated, Nichole helped organize the annual Girl Scout Beyond Bars (GSBB) sleepover to visit their moms at MCCCW. In particular, she helped connect the visiting girl scouts (including her own daughter) with the SPP butterfly program where they got to participate in fun activities that helped them earn badges! She continues to be a GSBB troop leader and expresses the importance of these opportunities in connecting girls impacted by incarceration with their mothers. In addition, WA Corrections recently featured Nichole and her daughter in a story about the importance of parent teacher teleconferences, a hopeful sign for future endeavors related to this effort.

Nichole shows her daughter, Brooklyn, around the SPP Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program at MCCCW. She said it was so fun to bring her daughter to work because she had the coolest job in the world!

Speaking of the differences in her journey before and after incarceration, Nichole said “If you hear my history, for that person there’s no hope…Then to sit in the meetings that I sit in…and to work with the people that I work with today, there’s no ceiling. It’s unstoppable where you can be and how you can give back.” With that outlook, we know there are many more great things in store for Nichole Alexander, as well as those her life and work impacts.

Personal victories

by Ashley McElhenie, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Technician. Ms. McElhenie created this in response to a call for writing on “science in prison.”

Ashley McElhenie, front left, re-seeds containers of prairie plants during a work session in 2018. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

I first heard about the prairie conservation crew from my roommate’s friend. She and the other women on the crew were going to be released in a couple of months and they wanted to find hard-working, nice individuals to take their places. I guess I just so happened to meet the criteria, and did not like my job at the time so I gladly jumped at the opportunity. Not only was it not in the kitchen, but it was summertime and I’d be working outside all day. I could work on my tan and probably lose some weight — there was no downside to this new job.

Violets

Viola praemorsa is one of two violets grown for seed production at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Due to its bright yellow flowers it is also known as the canary violet. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

Viola adunca seed pods are green and curled up like an umbrella when they first emerge. As the pods mature, they become white and the stems stand up straight in preparation for explosion. Viola praemorsa (pictured above) does not have the same telltale signs making the scavenger hunt a bit more challenging. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

My first day I remember transplanting numerous Viola adunca into rows of beds. They were a pretty purple flower that did something for a butterfly species but that’s all I knew. As time went on, we began learning a little more about the violets and what our purpose was for growing these endangered native plants. It was kind of cool thinking I’m restoring areas of these native plants, being a Washington native myself, but that was about the extent of my interest.

It wasn’t long before I started going out to the Viola praemorsa beds on weekend mornings. I took a particular interest in these violas because they had a large seed pod with seeds that varied from a golden color to a deep brownish purple color. With a cup of coffee in hand and music player in my pocket, I’d spend hours tending to the beds and harvesting seed pods. The only problem with these seed pods is if you wait too long, they open up and shoot seed everywhere.

Viola praemorsa is less common than its bluish-purple cousin. This violet is only found in western North American oak savannahs and oak woodlands. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

It became a ritual to me. Each day was like a scavenger hunt looking for these seeds before they exploded and we lost our product. Because of the exploding seed pods, the Viola praemorsa would often end up in the Viola adunca beds and vice versa. I began to notice the differences between the two plants and after a while could easily identify which plant was a “weed” in the other’s bed. I was surprised to find out how different two plants from the same family could be; the Viola praemorsa with its single, fuzzy lead sprout or the Viola adunca with its clustered, small leaf bunch. Being in the violet beds became a refuge from the crazy living units.

Oaks

Garry oak acorns ready for planting. Photo by Jacob Meyers.
Quercus garryana, or Garry oak, growing in the nursery at WCCW. It’s the only oak native to Washington. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

When I learned we were going to plant Garry oak trees (Quercus garryana) working on the conservation nursery crew became even more personal for me. The island on which I was raised has a lot of oak trees. Prior to my incarceration, there was a bit of backlash when the city wanted to remove the oldest and probably most notable oak tree in town.  The tree’s roots had long been affecting a nearby road, but I didn’t want the oak to be cut down. It was a beautiful old tree that was a block away from the heart of downtown. It was a tree memorable from my childhood, the old oak by the post office. Despite the locals protesting, the tree was eventually cut down. A giant stump was left behind. Not only was it an eyesore, but a constant reminder of what is now gone. To my knowledge, the road has yet to be fixed and my town lost some of its history.

In the nursery, I felt that I could honor that oak’s memory, in a way, by planting 50 or more oaks that would live throughout the South Sound area. Being a part of that was small personal victory for me. I wanted to learn all I could about them.

Learning more

In the wintertime there is less manual labor to do so we focus on learning about the native plants with which we work. We learn how to identify these plants, the type of soil composition specific to our area and plants, the species that these plants affect, and how those species benefit from the plants. It was all so fascinating. I had never thought about plants as something more than food or landscape. It was rather humbling to be aware of this entire other system in which I was completely oblivious to.

Ashley (orange hat) and her colleagues study remnant prairie at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The following spring, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to visit a prairie in where my work had been transplanted while still incarcerated. It was absolutely beautiful. The way all these native plants cohabited with one another in an seemingly untouched landscape of green, speckled with colors of blue, orange, yellow, and white as far as I could see. I don’t think I had ever appreciated nature more than I had that day. And it was an especially proud moment knowing that the plants I had grown were contributing to the landscape. During that day I remember drawing a weird parallel, that the restoration work I had been doing in the South Sound prairies was restoring me. I had been replanted, sprouted, grown, and was soon to be released into society.

At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, SPP Nursery Manager Carl Elliott (black vest) and Conservation Nursery Technicians Ashley McElhenie and Samantha Morgan discuss growing Lomatium triternatum. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

I can’t take full credit, though. The people who I’ve worked alongside have been some of the best people I’ve met in years. The people I worked most closely with on the prairie conservation crew treated me as an equal, despite being incarcerated. They had faith and believed in me. Over time, I started to have faith and believe in myself. This program has taught me more than I could have ever imagined, and which goes way beyond knowledge of prairie plants. It’s taught me more about myself and things I am capable of. While learning about prairies, I was able to rediscover the values and principles I had prior to my incarceration.

For so many years I was so focused on destructive behaviors, whether it was my own or others’. Working with endangered plants gave me a different way to channel that energy. I was able to do productive activities that benefited people, animals, and plants. It gave me a sense of worth knowing that what I was doing made an impact on so many levels. No matter how small that impact may be, I knew it was a positive one.

Pictured here, Ashley is showing off the impressive runners of another important prairie plant — wild strawberry (Frageria virginiana). As Ashley moves closer to her December release date, she is all smiles. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

Peer education created by and for incarcerated gardeners

By Carly Rose, SPP Curriculum Development Coordinator and Emerico, Gardening Curriculum Author

Gardeners tend to the soil in the gardens at Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit. Incarcerated authors at MCC-WSRU are working with SPP to author chapters on Vermicomposting, Bokashi Composting, and Soil Science. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

For the past six months, gardeners at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and Monroe Correctional Complex – Washington State Reformatory Unit have been helping to build the new Gardening Curriculum. To develop course chapters, authors are combining expertise gained through personal experience with knowledge from scholarly research. Authors are working on a voluntary basis: they elect to share based on their desire to explore and describe a particular topic; some of the chapters currently in development include Vermicomposting & Bokashi Composting, Soil Science, the Soil Food Web, Planting and Harvesting Vegetables in Prison, Seed Saving, and Aquaponics.

Developing part of a curriculum while incarcerated requires some creativity. In order to submit materials, authors have provided handwritten work that is then typed and formatted by myself. One author types his work into JPay (social email) and mails it to a family member who mails it back, which gives him a pre-typed manuscript to submit. Most authors also provide their own illustrations and diagrams to be included in the chapter. Authors use a mixture of narrative from personal experience, tips on gardening that are specific to a prison environment, and college-level scholarly research to produce their work. They provide instruction that is created by and intended for incarcerated gardeners across the country. Authors and I send materials back and forth so they may provide feedback and edits on separate drafts of their work. One of the authors, Emerico, offered a personal narrative on his motivation to learn and write about his topic, Aquaponics. 

Introduction to Aquaponics by Emerico

I first became interested in aquaponics after reading a few articles and watching some educational television programs. I was working on the gardening crew at Stafford Creek and when the gardening classes started, I was thrilled to be included. Over time, I have learned every person—incarcerated or not—has a purpose in life. My purpose was building an aquaponics system with no budget. I had to lose my freedoms before I could find my purpose in life. This is where aquaponics all began for me. I had an idea, so I put it to paper and talked to the garden supervisor about the idea.

One of my first jobs on the garden crew was working with the hydroponics system. I found out that this type of system, which requires chemicals to grow plants and vegetables, is expensive and I believe far less healthy. My goal was to get away from using chemicals and go to more of a natural resource system. I thought about a way to build a small-scale aquaponics system that uses fish to feed the vegetables. After many attempts to get it approved, and with the help of the garden crew, we built a recycled materials aquaponics system. The first part of the vision of my idea came to life.

This is part of the aquaponics system built by Emerico, who is authoring a chapter on Aquaponics. He explained that he wants the chapter to be accessible to both incarcerated gardeners and low-income families outside of prison. Photo by Jacob Meyers.

There is a sense of satisfaction when growing your own vegetables whether for self/family or others. I believe also that gardening can relieve stress. This country is blessed; there should not be anyone going hungry. We see too much senseless hunger in our country and throughout the world. There must be a solution to this problem. How can we do this? By making people aware and teaching them that aquaponics is not only a healthier way to grow produce, but is also cheaper. Aquaponics saves money in the long run for people and their families, and is a fun way to bring families together in the garden.

As for me, it is all about giving back and helping those in the community and throughout society that are less fortunate. The purpose is to get a finer perception of aquaponics through research. Anyone can pretty much build a small-scale aquaponics system with a limited budget and few resources. I hope this brief overview has helped you. Above all else, have fun.

From his lab notebook, Emerico shows a diagram of the aquaponics system. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Next Steps

The course is projected to pilot in winter of this year. The two teams of authors plan to be part of that process as well; they will be among the first to try out the new program. Their feedback during and after the trial run will help us further refine the course, and then be ready to share it statewide and beyond.

All of the authors have personal experience gardening in prison, working on projects such as this garden at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. This garden is tended by individuals serving a life sentence, and is known as the “lifer’s garden.” Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Turtle Release Day for Cedar Creek

Unless otherwise noted, text and photos by Bill Anglemyer, Evergreen student and former Turtle Technician.

SPP Biological Technician, Jeramie Inge, and Evergreen student, Bill Angelmyer, with a western pond turtle. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

With the technicians responsible for their rehabilitation, on April 10th, ten turtles made their way back to the ponds at the South Puget Sound Wildlife Area. Three incarcerated Biological Technicians working for The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) had spent the last five months caring for the turtles and monitoring their progress. The turtles had been healing after being treated for the mysterious shell disease that has been afflicting their population.

Left to right: SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, and SPP Biological Technician William Rathgeber. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

The turtles are western pond turtles, a state-listed endangered species. The historic population had been devastated by human harvesting. Their numbers were lowered additionally by habitat destruction and an influx of invasive species. Twenty-five years ago, the population of western pond turtles in Washington State was estimated to be only around a hundred and fifty. Efforts were taken to protect and enhance their numbers. These efforts have been successful. The current population is estimated at eight hundred.

SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain releasing one of the western pond turtles he cared for at Cedar Creek.
SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain releasing a western pond turtle.
From left to right: WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgaber, SPP Biological technician Donald McLain, SPP Conservation Coordinator Marisa Pushee, and SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge.

Tragically, the shell disease appeared in the last decade, and it is seriously impacting western pond turtles. While Washington State Fish and Wildlife biologists and veterinarians attempt to find the cause of shell disease, they are trying different tactics in treating the turtles that are most afflicted. After the treatments, which involve removing diseased sections of the turtles’ shells, the turtles need a place to heal. The technicians at Cedar Creek make sure that the turtles are well-fed and have clean habitats. Additionally, the technicians keep detailed records of the healing progress of the turtles’ shells. Lots of effort goes into keeping them as stress free as possible. The rehabilitation area is kept quiet because loud noises and other external stimuli cause stress in the wild turtles, which hampers their ability to heal.

WDFW Biologist, Emily Butler, demonstrates how she protects the nests of this state-endangered species. From left to right: Bill Angelmyer, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgaber, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, Officer James Erwick, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, and SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy.

Releasing the turtles back into the wild was a fairly simple and fanfare-free procedure. The technicians, SPP coordinator, SPP liaison, corrections officer, Fish and Wildlife biologist, and myself walked the strategically placed wooden planks that grant access to the edge of the pond. The plastic shoebox containers that were used to transport the turtles were opened, and the turtles taken out and gently placed in the water. Most of the turtles looked around for a second, as if to gain their bearing, and then swam off disappearing into the pond. Although the turtles need the treatment, they are wild critters, and they don’t like to be in a captive environment; they take to the murky pond like a prisoner to freedom.

WDFW Biologist Emily Butler shows Biological Technicians from Cedar Creek how she identifies each turtle.
WDFW Biologist, Emily Butler, demonstrates how she protects the nests of this state-endangered species. From left to right: Bill Angelmyer, SPP Biological Technician Jeramie Inge, SPP Biological Technician William Rathgeber, SPP Biological Technician Donald McLain, Officer James Erwick, WDFW Biologist Emily Butler, and SPP Liaison Tyler Kennedy. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

It was a great experience seeing the turtles swim off into the pond. It was great to talk to the technicians about their experiences caring for the turtles. To hear the technicians talk about their plans for the future was inspiring. This is because I was a turtle technician at Cedar Creek for three years. I was caring for turtles inside the prison only a short year ago. The current technicians seemed to be inspired by my presence too. We talked about education—I’m currently in college. I was elated to hear that each one of the technicians was seriously considering furthering their education once released. I hope to be invited to future releases and to meet with new technicians.

Left to right: Donald McLain, William Rathgaber, Jeramie Inge, and Bill Anglemyer. Photo by Marisa Pushee.

Turtles Arrive at Cedar Creek

Text and photos by Marisa Pushee, Conservation Coordinator.

Our friend, Yellow, is always camera-ready.

Ten western pond turtles have arrived at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Biologist, Emily Butler, delivered the first four turtles to CCCC in early December and provided incarcerated Biological Technicians with an overview of turtle care for this year’s program.

Emily Butler, Biologist with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), delivers this year’s western pond turtles to Cedar Creek.

Biological Technicians George Gonzalez, Donald McLain, and Jeramie Inge help the turtles settle in.

Biological Technician, Lorenzo Stewart, examines the effects of shell disease on one of the turtles.

Upon arrival, and before technicians transfer them to their new homes, the turtles are offered an appealing snack of prison-grown mealworms.

A state listed endangered species, the western pond turtle struggles with a shell disease. Each year, wildlife veterinarians at Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) treat afflicted turtles. Technicians at CCCC then care for, feed, and monitor the turtles through their recovery period. In the spring, they will be released back into their habitat.

Lorenzo Stewart labels each enclosure.

The turtles at Cedar Creek have access to underwater and basking areas, both heated to comfortable temperatures for the turtles. While their surroundings are kept simple and clean during their recovery, it is important that the turtles have hides where they can escape for some privacy. This enclosure features two hides, one for each of the turtles.

The turtles are typically housed two per enclosure, for companionship. Technicians monitor each pair to ensure compatibility.

CCCC has been caring for western pond turtles from the Puget Sound region since 2013. The biological technicians have the program running smoothly and efficiently.

Playing a small part for incarcerated men who “deserve no less”

Nancy DeWitt coordinates Sagebrush in Prisons programs in Idaho and Oregon. Often, she finds volunteers who can bring additional education and enrichment to the program. Recently, Nancy checked in with Marc Von Huene of Treasure Valley Beekeepers Association, to ask about his visit to the program at Snake River Correctional Institution. Here is his reply.

Hi Nancy:

Awfully good to hear from you!  And wow, you want me to just keep it down to a few sentences??!!  Tell you what.  I’ll just give you my thoughts and you can pick and choose what you want to include in your report.

Expert Beekeeper Marc Von Huene (left) works with incarcerated beekeeping students in the field. Photo by Nancy DeWitt.

As I had never worked with inmates before I had to overcome a lot of my preconceived ideas.  It’s a sad fact that many of us (my previous self included) envision inmates as those guys we see on Law and Order doing really bad things.  It leads many of us to believe that they deserve to be in prison, the longer the better.  But that’s so far from the truth that I’m ashamed to admit it.  These are people that lost their way for any number of reasons – bad influences, bad home life, questionable friends…….   And rehabilitation is absolutely the best option.  I’m glad I could play my small part.  I think giving these guys something to nurture and be proud of is a great way to bring out the caring people that are in each one of them.

 As an audience, they were fantastic.  I’ve never made presentations where the focus was as intense.  And I feel my short time with these guys is totally inadequate to turn them into good beekeepers.  The barriers are many – no direct communication, no internet access, limited equipment and supplies, limited time together.  But they try, and even though we’ve had some pretty big failures, we still learn together.

This next year I’ll get out earlier and work to spend more time with the new batch of inmates.  Hopefully the old hands will pass down their knowledge to the newcomers.

There was a lot of interest in my SRCI activities from officers in the Treasure Valley Bee Club, and the president of the Western Apicultural Society invited me to share my experience at their annual conference this last August.  The presentation went well, and was definitely a break from all the professors and specialists giving the majority of the presentations.  For most of them the presentation was a lot of data interspersed with stories.  For me, the presentation was a story interspersed with data.  It was the story about what I learned from working with the inmates and hopefully, what they learned from me.  The title of my presentation was “Beekeeping Behind Bars”, and I know I opened the eyes of a lot of participants.  Afterwards I had a lot of people come up to me and compliment me for the presentation and the work I was doing.  Several volunteered to come out with me the next time.  Yeah, it was good.

In closing I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity.  I really wish I was closer to the facility, but we’ll make it work.  The effort is definitely appreciated by the inmates and they deserve no less.

Hope this is enough for you.  Stay in touch and let me know if you need anything else.

Best,

Marc

Art of the Oregon silverspot butterfly

By SPP SCCC Conservation Nursery Coordinator Graham Klag

Fall colors continue to take flight at Stafford Creek Corrections Center through the artistic talents of conservation technician Michael! Inspired by SPP lectures and nursery work, Michael’s artistic illustrations of the Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speryeria zerene hippolyta) captures the beauty of prairie conservation work. The Early blue violet (Viola adunca) is grown at SPP Prairie Conservation Nurseries for the Oregon silverspot butterfly.

The Early blue violet is the sole host plant for the caterpillar of the butterfly who needs to eat ~ 250 violet leaves to complete its life cycle. Michael and the conservation technician crew at Stafford Creek continuing to grow their knowledge of Washington and Oregon’s prairie ecosystems, while out growing the Early blue violet, for the habitat and lifecycle of Oregon silverspot butterfly. SPP is thankful for our conservation technicians’ work and artistic inspiration!

Susan Christopher reflects on her experience raising endangered butterflies in prison

Text by Susan Christopher, photos by Keegan Curry

Hello! My name is Susan Christopher and I’m currently incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, Washington. I would like to thank the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) for blessing me with the incredible opportunity of being involved with the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program for more than three years.

Susan helps technician Cynthia Fetterly examine a newly emerged butterfly.

The goal of the program is to successfully breed and rear the federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly in captivity and release 3000-5000 larvae into their native and restored habitats each year. This is a collaboration of many partners including The Evergreen State College, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Defense, among others.

During the four breeding seasons I worked in the program, I was able to witness every life stage up close and personal. I watched a butterfly lay her eggs on a leaf. A few weeks later, through a microscope, I watched those eggs hatch. While feeding those caterpillars every day, I saw many of them shed their outer skin—a process called molting—several times as they matured. I watched them reach the diapause stage, in which they slept for several months. Upon waking up in the spring, I would feed them again until the true miracle began: as they shed their last exoskeleton, I could see the chrysalis form until they became a pupa. Roughly three weeks later, I witnessed the final stage of the miracle of transformation when the butterfly emerges, unfurls its wings, and takes its first flight. It was simply amazing.

Susan offers her knowledge of Taylor’s checkerspot husbandry to producers from PBS Nature.

A biologist from WDFW helps Susan understand the composition of prairie vegetation in a healthy Taylor’s checkerspot habitat.

I’ve often wondered how many people in this world have had the opportunity to observe each of those events. Only a handful, I would guess. But that is just part of what I got from this program.

I was interviewed by PBS twice and appeared on a PBS NewsHour segment. I was allowed to attend a Working Group Conference and gave a presentation about our program to approximately 40 managers and biologists who also work with Taylor’s checkerspot. I have also been interviewed by an author from Japan and a group of prison administrators from Thailand. This last spring, myself and the other butterfly technicians got to go on a field trip to see our “finished product”—wild checkerspots—in their restored habitat.

This was more than just a job; this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has provided me with professional skills and many lifelong memories.

I would never have believed I would be given such a chance in prison, but thanks to the people at SPP, WDFW, and the Oregon Zoo—all who took a risk by bringing this program to incarcerated individuals—I can truly say this has changed my life. Thank you to all those who had the foresight to believe in us.

 

Susan Christopher and the 2017 butterfly crew—Jessica Stevens, Alexis Coleman, Nichole Alexander, and Cynthia Fetterly—pose for a photo after hosting Girl Scouts Beyond Bars in the greenhouse at MCCCW.

More Beekeeping than Ever!

Text by Bethany Shepler,  SPP Green Track Program Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager.
Photos by Bethany Shepler, except where otherwise noted.

About a year and a half ago, SPP partners hosted a beekeeping summit at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Nearly every facility was represented and we were joined by Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA) leadership, local beekeeping clubs, and state agency pollinator enthusiasts and experts.

Group photo from the Beekeeping Summit in Spring 2017. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The summit was well timed to meet growing interest in bringing beekeeping to prisons around the state. A few WA prisons have hosted beekeeping for years and SPP partners were hearing inquiries from many others interested in starting new programs. SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair suggested a summit, and that was the catalyst we needed; it brought everyone together to learn from each other, expand practical knowledge, and build enthusiasm.

The effects of the summit are still being felt around the state. A year and a half later, WA Corrections is part of 13 active beekeeping programs, and all 10 of the new programs are doing well. Some facilities are conducting scientific trials and learning about honeybee forensics. This fall, Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) and Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) participated in a USDA national survey on bee health.

Each program is worthy of its own article. Here, we will share just one or two highlights from each. Check out all of the incredible accomplishments of beekeepers in prisons:

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC)

AHCC has one of the fastest growing beekeeping programs in Washington prisons, and the first to create their own bee club. Working with West Plains Beekeepers Association, incarcerated beekeepers created the first draft of a new, state-wide Journeyman course manual, pictured above—a stunning accomplishment. Currently, Washington State Beekeepers Association is refining AHCC’s draft for publication, for both prison and non-prison programs! We are ecstatic to see the support and excitement AHCC has shown for their beekeeping program and look forward to their continued success! 

Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC)

Clallam Bay hosted its second beekeeping intensive this spring. Students had already completed the Beginner Beekeeping modules, and prepared further by reading books and scientific articles. Mark Urnes of North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers spent a full day with students; he answered questions and work-shopped on beekeeping best practices. 

Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)

Cedar Creek is one of the oldest beekeeping programs in the state and has certified more than 60 beekeepers so far. The wood shop at the facility built the hives for the McNeil Island beekeeping program. The picture here is of wood shop crew and Centralia College instructor Bruce Carley tasting honey at a beekeeping workshop; expert beekeeper Laurie Pyne covered beekeeping basics and the differences in honey types from different pollen sources. CCCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association.

Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CRCC)

Coyote Ridge supports a beekeeping program that has been going strong since its inception 2 years ago. To support the bees, staff members and inmates planted more pollinator friendly plants around the facility. To protect the hives from central Washington’s cold winter weather, they “winter-ize” the boxes, shown above: they wrapped the hive in insulation and put cedar chips or burlap inside the hive to draw up moisture. CRCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Mid-Columbia Beekeepers Association.

Larch Corrections Center (LCC)

Larch has four hives and a nuc (that’s the small box on the left) at their facility. This picture was taken last week, just after the bees had been fed and they were all buzzing around busily! Their hives are really strong right now so we’re hopeful that they’ll do well over the Winter. LCC beekeeping program is in partnership with Clark County Beekeepers Association.

McNeil Island Beekeeping Program (McNeil Island and CCCC)

This project is so exciting and unusual! The McNeil Island beekeeping project has been a dream for more than 4 years and the Summit helped launch it into realty. Ownership and management of McNeil Island is complex, so the program needed input and support from many partners: staff and administration from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC)Washington Department of Fish and WildlifeWashington Department of Natural Resources, and CI staff (thank you Brian Peterson, Vania Beard, and Henry Mack!). Enthusiastic endorsements from Secretary Steve Sinclair and then Deputy Secretary Jody Becker Green helped, too!  🙂 

This past May, the first hives of bees arrived at the island. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, a team of local beekeeping experts visited the hives frequently. On many visits, they support incarcerated beekeepers’ gaining hands-on experience (pictured above). The program’s beekeepers seek to understand the impact that pesticides have on bees–McNeil Island is a rare, pesticide-free environment. The expert beekeeping team includes Laurie Pyne, Maren Anderson, Gail Booth, Andy Matelich, and Dixon Fellows. Photo by Laurie Pyne.

Monroe Correctional Complex-Special Offenders Unit (MCC-SOU)

MCC-SOU has shown incredible amounts of enthusiasm for beekeeping! They launched their program just this spring, and it’s been so exciting to see the students, staff, and local beekeeping expert dive into the program. This is the only facility in the state using Top Bar Hives. The picture above shows the bulletin board in the facility advertising the beekeeping program, courtesy of Kathy Grey.

MCC-SOU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Monroe Correctional Complex – Twin Rivers Unit (MCC-TRU)

Inmates and staff at MCC-TRU have shown tons of energy for beekeeping! Even though bees were only delivered in April, they’ve already completed one Apprentice level certification course. Their hives have been so successful that they were able to split hives and collected honey! They also had a hive on display at the Evergreen State Fair, and they exhibited many photos of their beekeepers in action. The photo shows a staff beekeeper showing a frame covered in bees to onlookers at the fair. Photo by SPP staff. 

MCC-TRU beekeeping program is in partnership with Northwest District Beekeepers Association.

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW)

MCCCW may be small, but they are a mighty program. Over the last year, they faced some challenges with finding pollinating plants and relocating their hives. But that didn’t stop them or even slow the program–they graduated 3 times as many incarcerated students in their most recent class as their previous class. They also have strong, healthy hives going into winter! MCCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with West Sound Beekeepers Association

Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC)

SCCC has had hives for many years. Next to the hives is a beekeeping interpretive sign–picture above–and in the summer of 2018 a few queen bees found that sign to be an ideal place to emerge into the world! Photo by Kelly Peterson. 

SCCC’s bee program added a beekeeping class this year with it’s first class graduating in January. Since then, they have completed 4 classes, and the wait list of students keeps growing. Their classes regularly include both incarcerated and corrections staff students. SCCC beekeeping program is in partnership with local expert beekeeper Duane McBride.

Washington Corrections Center (WCC)

WCC hosts an ever-growing beekeeping program! They started out on the right foot, building a high quality shelter for their hives. The bees are housed next to the Prairie Conservation Nursery Program, and this means there can be a lot of cross pollination between the two SPP-supported programs. WCC’s beekeeping program is in partnership with Olympia Beekeepers Association. Photo by Ricky Osborne. 

Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW)

A crew from WCCW has been keeping bees at Mother Earth Farm for many years. Tacoma Community College students at the prison have long learned about beekeeping and pollinators as part of the horticulture program. In 2016, the two programs joined forces and brought hives inside the prison fence. Now you can see honeybees throughout WCCW’s gardens, happily tending to the many flowers. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

WCCW beekeeping program is in partnership with Mother Earth Farms.

Washington State Penitentiary (WSP)

WSP hosts an enduring and impressive beekeeping program! Two WSP staff members are experienced beekeepers, and they serve both as instructors and program sponsors. This year they had 15 hives and participated in the USDA National Honey Bee Pest Survey! In this photo, beekeeping students learn from expert beekeeper Mona Chambers. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

WSP’s beekeeping program is in partnership with West Plains Beekeepers Association.

These programs are born out of collaboration and enthusiasm of many partners. We are so excited to see these efforts will continue to grow!

Out on the Farm

Text by former Cedar Creek Turtle Technician William “Bill” Anglemyer.
Forward by former SPP Turtle Program Coordinator, Jessica Brown.
Photos by SPP Conservation Coordinator, Marisa Pushee (unless otherwise noted).

I met Bill during my first visit to Cedar Creek over a year ago when I started as SPP’s Turtle Program Coordinator.  Although Bill is quite humble in sharing his experience as a technician, he played a huge role in the success of the western pond turtle program: his organization, attention to detail, and dedication to the turtles’ health and welfare were instrumental to building the program. It was fun to witness his passion for reading and writing about environmental issues leading him to the Organic Farming Program at Evergreen. Recently, Marisa Pushee and I had the chance to visit Bill on the organic farm and get a tour of all the gardens and operations, including Bill’s carrots! Below are Bill’s own words about his time with SPP, and what he’s been up to since his time as a Turtle Technician.

Bill shows a harvest of his prized carrots at Evergeen’s Organic Farm. Photo by Tierra Petersen.

My name is William “Bill” Anglemyer. I spent over 3 years working as a Turtle Technician at Cedar Creek Correctional Center through SPP, in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. In those 3+ years, I did much more than care for turtles. I also raised Oregon spotted frogs for the summer of the first year and maintained cricket and mealworm breeding operations. Additionally, I was involved in the video monitoring of four different species of woodpeckers for a research program conducted by the US Forest Service.

In the western pond turtle program, I learned about the importance of biodiversity and the role of different species within our world. At first, most of this learning was done to counter arguments by staff and other inmates who failed to see the value in preserving endangered species. I spent my time studying textbooks on conservation biology and animal behavior (ethology). After a few years studying those subjects and countering arguments from different people, I began to really understand the importance and the dangers that go along with the current climate situation.

Along with my passion for environmentalism, I have always been interested in journalism. This is because I believe journalism is the only field in which a person’s job is to learn all they can about everything in the world.

Beautiful flowers growing at the Organic Farm on Evergreen’s campus.

I am currently enrolled in The Evergreen State College where I’m studying organic farming and the local food movement. My plan is to be a voice for small farmers in future journalistic pursuits. In one year I will complete my bachelor’s degree. My plan is to produce pieces on environmental, socio-economic, and social justice issues without the sensationalization that is part and parcel of many mainstream media productions. As to current projects, a classmate and I are working on a coffee table book of photography with pictures of recreational vehicles which feature a comical prefix added to their names.

After I complete my degree at Evergreen, I hope to attend the environmental journalism school at CU Boulder — more schooling never hurts when it comes to learning skills and making contacts.

Bill hard at work on the Organic Farm at Evergreen.