Category Archives: Uncategorized

Newly arrived Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies thriving at MCCCW

Newly arrived Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies thriving at MCCCW

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Blogger: Babel goes to prison

Babel goes to prison

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

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

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

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

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

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).

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.





French Film Crew Visits SPP!

By SPP Project Manager Kelli Bush

Filming Oregon spotted frog search

A French documentary crew recently visited Western Washington to film a new episode for their National Geographic series “Guardians of Nature”.  The episode will include segments featuring the Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) Oregon Spotted Frog Program and riparian forest research conducted by SPP Co-Director Dr. Carri LeRoy.


The film crew spent an entire day with the SPP Oregon Spotted Frog Program team.  Filming began at Cedar Creek Correction Center in the morning.  SPP staff and inmates walked the crew through the daily tasks associated with caring for the endangered frogs.  Prison Superintendent Doug Cole shared his thoughts on the benefits of the program from a prison perspective.

SPP Co-Director Carri LeRoy and Project Manager Kelli Bush at West Rocky Prairie

The afternoon was spent at West Rocky Prairie in the greater Olympia area.  West Rocky Prairie is home to a wild population of Oregon spotted frogs.  Dr. Marc Hayes, senior biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, led the group to a wetland location where he netted two juveniles and one adult frog to show the film crew.  He explained how factors such as habitat loss and bull frog predation have led to the decline of the species and discussed current efforts to recover the native population.  The day concluded with summary discussion of the Sustainable Prisons Project and the many benefits of including incarcerated individuals as partners in conservation and sustainability work.

The film crew also spent a day with Dr. Carri LeRoy filming riparian and stream science research on the Hoh River. The Hoh River is a braided gravel stream channel fed from the glaciers of the Olympic Mountains and flowing through densely vegetated temperate rainforest and cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) gallery forests. Dr. LeRoy’s research on how the genetics of cottonwood trees can influence both other members of the ecological community associated with the trees and the ecosystem-level processes of riparian forests was the focus of the interview. Although it might seem impossible for something as small as a gene to have an effect on a whole ecosystem, there are many examples of the strong organizing power of genes. Genes can influence the insects that live in tree canopies, bird predation and nest building, deer browsing, soil organisms, nutrient cycling, carbon flux, water use and even adjacent stream communities and ecosystem processes. Dr. LeRoy’s “Genes-to-ecosystems” research involves examining the interactions between tree genes, forests and streams through leaf litter fall.

With the dynamic backdrop of ice-blue water and lush vegetation she demonstrated methods for measuring soil respiration (a combination of root respiration and microbial/insect respiration) at the base of a large cottonwood tree. In addition, she placed leaf litter bags of known tree genetics into a small tributary stream of the Hoh River and collected aquatic insects from the cobbly bottom. It was a gorgeous summer day spent in one of the most pristine river systems in Washington State.

The crew has featured beautiful locations all of the world, but this will be the first episode filmed in the US.  The show is primarily carried on stations throughout Europe.  We were thrilled to have the opportunity to share our work with “Guardians of Nature” and an audience on the other side of the planet.  The two segments will likely be available early spring 2012 and will be posted to our website as soon as they are available.

Celebration and Transition

Celebration and Transition

By SPP Project Manager Kelli Bush

The Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) recently celebrated another year with our many wonderful partners.  The event, held on a cool summer evening at the Olympia Farmer’s Market, featured a wide range of guest speakers representing various aspects of the Sustainable Prisons Project.  Speakers from Department of Corrections, Joint Base Lewis McChord, The Evergreen State College (TESC), Center for Natural Land Management, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and a prison volunteer each spoke about the significance of SPP from their perspective.


The event was also an opportunity to honor out-going Co-Director and Co-Founder of the SPP, Dr. Nalini Nadkarni.  Nalini has accepted a position at University of Utah as the Director of the Center for Science and Math Education.  She will remain involved with SPP as Senior Advisor.  Nalini is also continuing work to share SPP with other states, including at her new location in Utah.


We also welcomed new SPP Co-Director Dr. Carri LeRoy.  Carri began working with the SPP team in April and she officially began her new role as SPP Co-Director July 1st.  She is a stream ecologist and a member of the Masters of Environmental Studies faculty at Evergreen.  Carri is an excellent addition to the team and we look forward to continuing the Project with her leadership.


After a year filled with declining budgets we are extremely grateful to our partners, students, TESC staff, foundations, and grant funding sources that helped keep this project going.  We are excited to see what the next year brings!


To donate to the SPP and help bring conservation into Washington prisons, click here.

Arboriculture Workshop at Cedar Creek Correction Center

Noe Cardenas- Certified Arborist- City of Seattle teaching about arboriculture

The SPP recently held a full day workshop on arboriculture at Cedar Creek Correction Center.  The workshop was a great success with nearly 40 inmates (maximum allowed) and approximately 12 staff in attendance.   Arboriculture is defined by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) as the art and science of planting, caring for, and maintaining individual trees.  Arborists are knowledgeable about tree health and are trained and equipped to provide proper care.  Inmates participating in the workshop already have an interest and some experience working with trees.  They are all members of Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) forestry crews.  Inmates on these crews work full-time planting trees, controlling weeds, fighting forest fires, and assisting with native plant restoration projects.

The workshop covered a wide range of tree-related topics including: forest ecology, an introduction to arboriculture, tree biology, tree career options, pruning, and a tree climbing demonstration.  Seven different volunteer presenters took time away from their busy schedules to share their passion for trees with the inmates.  The goal of the workshop was to introduce inmates to arboriculture and other tree-related careers.  We hope to inspire inmates to consider becoming ISA Certified Arborists.  ISA certification is quickly becoming a minimum requirement in many tree care companies.  Certified Arborists are able to demonstrate a standard of knowledge and dedication to tree care; which can provide an advantage in today’s job market. The ISA has generously donated 50 certification exam study guides and featured the SPP in the April edition of their publication Arborist News.

Dan Kraus- World Champion tree climber giving climbing demonstration

If resources allow, the SPP will work with our partners at WDNR and Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC), to build a certification training program in the near future.  The training program would bring together volunteer instructors to help qualified inmates prepare for the arborist certification exam.  An education and certification program at Cedar Creek Correction Center could provide multiple benefits including:

  • employment opportunities at a decent wage for inmates post-release;
  • green-collar job training which builds a new work force to care for our urban forests;
  • involvement with the ISA, an organization that encourages on-going educational and professional development;
  • the program may serve as a model for other prisons and other states;
  • with increased employment opportunities and education, inmates may be less likely to re-offend when they are released.

Inmates participating in arboriculture workshop

Many thanks to the volunteer presenters, students, and agency partners that helped make the workshop a success.  Please stay tuned as we carefully explore options for expanding this education opportunity.

Call for aquarium tanks of 10 and 20 gallons!

As part of the Sustainable Prisons Project (, Cedar Creek Corrections Center is trying to raise crickets to feed their quickly growing endangered Oregon spotted frogs to ready them for release into the wild. They currently order crickets from Louisiana, which are shipped overnight to the prison in Littlerock, Washington. This is not only expensive; it also creates a large carbon footprint. The inmates have been experimenting with raising their own crickets and have had some success, but in order to feed 85 rapidly growing Oregon spotted frogs they need to expand their raising capacity.

This means they need more aquarium tanks. They are looking for tanks of 10 and 20 gallons (approximately 6 tanks of each size) and are gladly accepting donations. If you happen to live in the Olympia area and have an old aquarium sitting in your garage that you just don’t know what to do with and would like to support our project please contact Liesl Plomski or Jill Cooper. Your contribution will be greatly appreciated!

Liesl Plomski
Research Associate
Sustainable Prisons Project
The Evergreen State College

Jill Cooper
Research Associate
Sustainable Prisons Project
The Evergreen State College

Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You…

Come see one of our student Research Associates participate in a panel presentation ….

As climate change and dwindling resources create mounting concerns, societies across the globe are turning to the foundations of sustainability to enlighten future decisions.   On August 7, 2010 at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Olympia, WA, the Sustainable Prisons Project will take part in a panel discussion regarding sustainability and its implications for the future,  following a screening of the thought-provoking film 2012: Time for Change,  hosted by the Olympia Film Society. The film begins at 6:30pm with the panel discussion to immediately follow.   This event provides an engaging opportunity to discuss how we as individuals can create sustainable projects and futures.

We invite you to attend, and encourage your comments and participation during the guest panel discussion.  We’ll see you at the box office!

More Information:

2012: Time for Change

The Olympia Film Society