Tag Archives: conservation

Farewell Frogs!

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

Releasing frogs at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

It has been another successful season rearing Oregon Spotted Frogs at Cedar Creek Correction Center.  A total of 1,346 were released into a wetland site on Joint-Base Lewis-McChord.  The four rearing institutions (Oregon Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo, Northwest Trek, and Cedar Creek Corrections Center) came together to release this year’s batch of frogs into the wild; a collaborative effort to stabilize the native populations.

The Sustainable Prisons Project has been working with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Cedar Creek Correction Center (CCCC) to raise endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs since 2009. CCCC boasts having the largest frogs of any participating rearing institution, with100% of this year’s frogs large enough for release into the wild.

CCCC’s rearing success can be attributed to the amount of time and attention the offenders are able to give the frogs.  The offenders form genuine bonds with the frogs; some are given names, like “Lefty” or “NASCAR.”  The few deceased frogs have been placed in an offender-created “frog cemetery,” with hand-made gravestones.  One of the inmates patiently waits with his hand in the frog pond, and frogs will often come sit in his hand to be pet.

Cedar Creek Frog Maintenance

The day of the release, the frogs were loaded into containers and driven north to Joint-Base Lewis-McChord and their new home. CCCC is a minimum security pre-release facility, sometimes referred to as “camp,” where offenders are sent with minimal time remaining on their sentence. For participating offenders, the release of the frogs in part symbolizes their own impending release back into society.

Superintendent Doug Cole and Classification Counselor Marko Anderson of CCCC along with SPP Student Research Associates Liesl Plomski and Jill Cooper had the opportunity to release some of the frogs.  “It was a sight to see all 1,346 frogs hop into the water and instantly disappear with their well camouflaged bodies,” said Cooper.

Red coloration indicates healthy growth

Each frog has a micro-chip and will be tracked by volunteers who regularly visit the wetlands to conduct research, using special wands that detect the frogs’ signals.

At the conclusion of the release, 29 of the frog “runts” from other institutions were taken back to CCCC because they were not large enough to be released.  These frogs will be nurtured during the winter and released in the spring.  One offender says that this new batch of frogs is, “more skittish than the last;” hardly any of the frogs come sit in his hand.  Nevertheless, they are rapidly growing.  In just the past few weeks, the frogs have gained weight and are already beginning to show some red coloration. With another successful year of frog-rearing logged, the future looks bright for the Cedar Creek frog team.

Outreach at the South Sound Science Symposium

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

On October 27, 2010, former and current Sustainable Prisons Project Research Associates Liesl Plomski and Jill Cooper attended the South Sound Science Symposium on Squaxin Island where they represented SPP’s Oregon Spotted Frog Captive Rearing Project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock, WA.

The symposium provided an opportunity to network within the South Sound’s scientific community and spread the word about the great success SPP conservation projects have experienced in the past year.  Plomski and Cooper presented a scientific poster at the symposium describing the Project, garnering  interest in the Project from symposium goers.

The symposium proved to be a great outreach and learning opportunity for Sustainable Prisons Project staff and event attendees. “It was wonderful to see the wide array of cutting-edge environmental work being done in the Puget Sound area,” Cooper said.

Building a Bridge

In our last entry we wrote to tell you that funding for the Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) was cut as a result of significant budget cuts within the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) and throughout the state. Since we received the news, Sustainable Prisons Project students and staff have been working hard to identify alternative funding sources.

We are pleased to report our first major success. The Evergreen State College (TESC) has provided “bridge funding” from reserves of the Academic Division. This will serve as a temporary bridge to give us “breathing space” through June 2011. It will provide enough support to: maintain our basic operations; provide one science lecture per month (rotated among our current corrections centers); support one graduate student; and initiate a green collar training program in arboriculture. It will also allow us to: maintain our website; connect with the media; and write grant proposals to foundations and individuals to further support and extend our work.

Our Co-leader, Dan Pacholke (WDOC), has extended the reassurance that the WDOC will continue to support this work with available staff effort, access to inmates and facilities, and guidance in shaping our program for the future. We have also been working with our conservation partners — at The Nature Conservancy, the Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon Zoo Foundation, and the Department of Defense — to augment their current funding so that we can sustain our current commitments of raising endangered frogs, prairie plants, and rare butterflies to enhance regional biodiversity and provide training for inmates.

Despite this funding setback, awareness of our project expands. Just yesterday, we learned that our project has been featured on the website of the National Science Foundation – a piece produced by Science Nation, which was filmed at Stafford Creek Corrections Center this summer. It captures very well our vision of linking offenders with science and conservation directly, and the benefits that accrue to all involved. Here is the link: http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/science_nation/sciencebehindbars.jsp

During these difficult economic times, it has been warming to witness people stepping forward to help as much as they can. We have received hundreds of notes and responses to the WDOC termination announcement on our blog from people around the country and around the world, stating their support for the project, and their desire for it to continue. We will work hard to find ways to keep our program moving forward in the short and the long term.

From Parks to Prisons

After six seasons as a ranger in the National Parks and Forests, and three years in graduate school, I joined the Sustainable Prisons Project team, as the interim project manager, back in March.  Over the past few months I’ve managed the project largely from the sidelines, from my keyboard and telephone.  I’ve had a few ventures to the prisons we’re active in.  After one of my visits, I returned to a staff meeting and frankly I begged to be included on the lecture schedule.

This week I had the fortune of presenting talks on bear biology both at Washington Corrections Center for Women and McNeil Island Corrections Center.  Although I’ve presented many an evening program in my days as a park ranger, and I’ve talked with a lot of different audiences, presenting in a prison is a unique experience.

The first challenge in preparing was to decide on my topic.  As a park ranger I’ve studied volcanoes, bears, caves, marine mammals, and other subjects.  Being in the Northwest, a landscape of mountains and public lands, bears seemed to be a perfect topic.  The next challenge was to decide which aspect of bears the talk should focus on. There are just too many options!  Rather than focusing on one subject I hoped to show offenders that you can study something seemingly simple, an animal such as the bear, from many perspectives.  I crammed basic bear biology, ecosystem ecology, conservation, and my favorite nature literature that has focused on bears, into 50 PowerPoint slides, and hoped for the best.  An ambitious lecture indeed, but I’ve been consistently impressed by how much information offenders eagerly and ambitiously absorb.

Last Wednesday, at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, I found an enthusiastic audience of about 30 women.  They were particularly interested to understand the life cycles of bears, and the ways that humans interact with bears.  My stories of daily life in Katmai National Park and Preserve, when I was a ranger, and how those stories relate to bear biology were hits.

On Thursday, after a quick tour of McNeil Island, our DOC staff escort led our staff to the visiting room for the lecture.  We scrambled to set up the room for the 90 offenders who signed up for the lecture, and I ticked through my PowerPoint slides, hoping I had enough material to keep the offenders occupied and engaged for nearly 90 minutes.  Quickly I realized I had no reason to worry about time, as within five minutes, offenders hands were raised as they asked intriguing and creative questions about bear foods, life cycles, biology, and the implications of climate change and habitat fragmentation.  I was floored by the depth and intelligence of the questions I was asked.  A few offenders had very good and valid ideas about how to recover imperiled brown bear populations in the lower-48.  If I knew how good the questions would be, I probably would have read just a few more scientific articles before the lecture!

As our team sat on the boat venturing back to the mainland (McNeil Island Corrections Center is indeed on an island as the name implies, with the prison operating ferry boats for staff and visitors), I found myself reflecting.   For six seasons I talked about bears, volcanoes, caves, and wildlife around campfires and amidst wild land.  These days I find myself behind numerous gates and fences presenting to offenders, and yet the offenders still manage to deeply appreciate nature and science, even from a distance.  Although it’s easy to miss the campfires and hikes of working in our National Parks, I’m developing a deep appreciation for interacting with offenders. Their deep intellect and curiosity persists, even as they serve (often long) sentences for crimes that are painful to think about. 

Our next staff meeting is on Tuesday and I think I’ll probably ask to speak at another prison.  I really appreciate the ideas that offenders brought forth, and I hope they continue to ask questions that send me to the books and journals seeking answers.