Tag Archives: Education

SPP Bees Preparing for Winter

As the cold and rainy months appear, the SPP beekeepers are preparing to tuck the bees in for the winter.  

After a long season of sunshine and collecting pollen, the bees are starting to return to the hives for the colder months. While bees do not necessarily hibernate in the winter, they do retreat to their hives and stick closely together when the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit to stay warm. Winter can be a difficult time for bees and their beekeepers. An article written by NPR, stated that in 2019, about 40% of hives did not survive the winter. The SPP beekeepers at various facilities are hard at work to protect the bees from mites, harsh temperatures, and heavy rain.  

Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Beekeepers at Stafford Creek Corrections Center are testing an insulated hive this winter. The bee club introduced the hive in September, carefully transferring bees from a wooden hive frame to a plastic insulated hive.  

The new insulated hive at SCCC by the old wooden hive. Photo by Shohei Morita.

While transferring the hive, the bee club was surprised to find that one hive was missing a Queen! The bee club conducted a detailed search of every panel and used the situation to teach new beekeepers about the signs of a missing queen and overall bee health.   

SCCC Bee Club members comb through the wooden frames looking for a Queen. Photo by Shohei Morita.

After combining two hives in the insulated hive, SCCC bee club and bees are prepared for the winter! The bees adjusted well to the new hive and are beginning to return, store honey, and cluster together for the winter.  

Cedar Creek Corrections Center

The Cedar Creek beekeepers are also busy preparing the bees for winter. The bees at McNeil Island are still bringing some colorful pollen into the hive as well as propolis from tree resins to fill any cracks in the hive before winter. 

Bees at the small entrance that Cedar Creek beekeepers will modify before winter. The bees have propolized the edge of the wood to completely seal the hive.  Photo by Laurie Pyne at McNeil Island.  

The Cedar Creek beekeepers provided additional feed and are providing ample amounts of liquid syrup to help prepare for the cooler months. As the temperature begins to get colder, the beekeepers are prepared to add a sugar brick for emergencies and to apply quilt boxes with more shavings.  

Washington Corrections Center for Women

Beekeepers at Washington Corrections Center for Women are preparing for winter by building quilt boxes and making sugar cakes. The WCCW beekeepers have four healthy hives heading into the cooler months and are currently going through twenty cups of sugar a week! 

Beehive at WCCW. Photo by SPP Staff.

 The beekeepers use cedar ships to fill the quilt boxes and are actively monitoring to prevent hornet invasion. In the coming months, the beekeepers are excited to host educational group classes while the bees cluster for the winter.  

While the bees are heading in for the winter, SPP beekeepers are headed to the hives to prepare dry, warm, and cozy environments for the coming months.  

Susan Christopher’s Lasting Impact

Text by Erica Benoit, SPP Special Projects Manager

In my final weeks working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project, I was lucky enough to interview Susan Christopher, another amazing former SPP Butterfly Technician who actually worked alongside Nichole Alexander during her time at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW). Susan and I spoke about her experience in the SPP program, the impact she has had on other women struggling with incarceration and/or addiction, and her considerable community involvement.

Susan Christopher (right) assists another crew member in the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program. Photo by Keegan Curry.

Susan’s time in the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program represents an exceptional case in which an incarcerated person remained employed in a program for more than 3 years. This opportunity to work with the species for four total breeding seasons meant she gained extensive experience and skills that have contributed to the program’s long-term success. In particular, she and other technicians at the time developed tracking mechanisms that impressed program partners like the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Some of her other accomplishments in the program include giving a presentation to 40 biologists, taking a field trip to see the butterflies in the wild at the Glacial Heritage Preserve, and being interviewed by PBS News Hour about the program.

Susan explains the data tracking systems used in the butterfly program in front of the camera for the PBS News Hour Special. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Susan emphasized the positive impact that being in the SPP butterfly program had on her. She said, “It’s such an amazing program…what it does for our self-esteem, giving us a chance to prove ourselves again, to be trusted and appreciated. To me, it was the most important job in the institution.”

Susan Christopher shows off a Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly to SPP Staff, Emily Passarelli. Photo by SPP Staff.

It was clear from our interview that Susan also tends to have a big impact on the communities around her, whether that is in prison or her outside community. For instance, she served as a peer mentor in prison for women while they were experiencing crisis. She also volunteered in MCCCW’s clothing closet program, which provides professional clothes to women preparing to take their next steps into society. While incarcerated, she taught yoga to other incarcerated women as a therapeutic outlet. Since her release from prison, she has continued this practice with individuals who are in treatment for issues related to addiction. She also shares her story of overcoming her own addiction problems to women’s groups and church groups as a way to own her truth and give people hope.

In addition to these meaningful contributions, Susan has also dedicated her time to providing fun outlets for her community of Bremerton, Washington. While the pandemic has put a damper on many social activities, Susan wanted to find safe ways to connect with her community. With the support of city officials, she has organized numerous family friendly cruise nights and car shows around the area. You can learn more about those events by visiting the Cruisin Bremerton Facebook group.

A still of Susan Christopher welcoming visitors to a car show on September 4, 2020. Video by Canalside Photography and Stan Young.

All in all, Susan told me that over time, she realized her purpose and reason for being in prison was to make a difference in others’ lives. In total, Susan had 57 different roommates while incarcerated. For these women and hundreds of others, she has served as part of their support network both during and after incarceration. Many of them still reach out to her today to tell her how her journey has been an inspiration to them.

Susan Christopher behind the camera photographing cars at a car show. Photography has always been a passion of hers and with some encouragement from others, she has started to sell some of her work. Photo by Everett Allison.

Speaking of her journey since incarceration, Susan feels her successes are on the quiet side, but that is how she likes it. She appreciates getting messages and hugs from those who she has impacted. She said she now feels like, “I am worthy, and I do have a place in this world…It may not be standing up and winning awards, but I have a certain satisfaction now that I’ve never had before. People are watching me, looking up to me, and they appreciate me.” We at SPP see you and so appreciate you, Susan.

 

Welcoming Emily Passarelli to the SPP Team

Text by Emily Passarelli, SPP Program and Outreach Manager

Emily Passarelli, SPP Program and Outreach Manager. Photo by Aarudra Moudgalya.

Emily Passarelli is a native of Rantoul, a small rural village in East Central Illinois. Growing up in Rantoul, Emily was very active in her local community. She joined just about every community group or school club she could, but her main passion was acting in theatre. Emily participated in every one of her high school’s plays and musicals, and even arranged for an additional play to get an extra opportunity on stage her senior year. 

After high school, Emily went on to pursue her interest in theatre at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, but life had other plans for her. To earn a required science credit, Emily took Environmental Studies 101 and quickly realized she was exactly where she needed to be. This led her to become interested in how environmental issues disproportionately and consistently affect underrepresented populations. Emily then decided to double major in both Theatre and Environmental Studies.

After graduating from Knox in 2015, Emily began to pursue her Master of Environmental Studies (MES) degree at The Evergreen State College. Before arriving in Olympia, Washington, Emily accepted a position as the Green Track Coordinator at The Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). In this position, she coordinated the Roots of Success program and was the first coordinator to work on the Beekeeping program. One of her favorite moments was helping plan the first Beekeeping Summit at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in 2017. She also appreciated the opportunity to visit 11 of 12 Washington State prisons, as well as McNeil Island, and experience the distinctly different cultures of each facility. SPP helped Emily find her passion for developing and maintain partnerships with some of the most interesting and passionate people she’s ever met!

Emily Passarelli gazes at Oregon Spotted frogs before they are released back to the pond. Photo by SPP staff.

While in MES, Emily studied subjects such as Traditional Ecological Restoration and Environmental Education, and researched how a major earthquake in the Pacific Northwest would affect different populations. Her time at SPP also inspired her to focus her graduate thesis on the lasting effects of environmental education on formerly incarcerated individuals. The results of this research showed even more evidence to support the transformative effect of environmental education in prisons.

Emily Passarelli and fellow MES Cohort members, Melanie Graeff and Liliana Caughman (also former SPP coordinator), at their graduation ceremony in 2017. Photo by Allison Diamond.

Once Emily completed her time at MES and SPP, she felt compelled to continue her work in corrections education however she could. Emily then took on the role of Education Program Coordinator at The Washington Corrections Center (WCC) through Centralia College. After two years working inside WCC in this role, Emily was promoted to Program Manager. She has loved the opportunity to work closely with DOC staff, custody, and leadership, support and expand all types of education for students, plan graduation events to celebrate student success, and work with the wonderful Education Department team at WCC. 

Emily Passarelli GED Testing at the Washington Corrections Center in 2020. Photo by Aundrea Lund.

After 3 years at WCC, Emily has now returned to the SPP team as the new Program and Outreach Manager. She’s still pinching herself to make sure she’s not dreaming! Emily is so grateful for this opportunity and can’t wait to see what the future holds. In her free time, Emily loves spending time with her husband and sweet, shivery chihuahua.

Emily and her chihuahua Penny. Photo by Aarudra Moudgalya.

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.

Stafford Creek bee program teaches itself

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager

In early July 2020, Apprentice beekeeping student DeShan and Journeyman beekeeper Charles Roark check the health of a hive in the Stafford Creek Corrections Center program.

When the pandemic made it impossible for expert beekeepers from the outside community to visit, the program at Stafford Creek Corrections Center found a way to teach itself.

For a few years, the beekeeping program has been well-supported by a visiting expert who could deliver Washington State Beekeepers Association’s courses and certifications. From late in 2017 to summer 2019, beekeeper Duane McBride awarded Beginner certificates to 4 staff members and 76 incarcerated individuals and Apprentice certificates to 8 staff and 58 incarcerated beekeepers!

Stafford Creek’s bee club moved the hives to a warmer, drier site that easily can be seen by all visitors to the main prison campus.

During the past winter, building on that impressive foundation, the Stafford Creek program formed its own bee club and made plans to relocate their hives to a warmer, drier site.

At the same time, they gained a resident Journeyman beekeeper, Charles Roark; he had just transferred from Airway Heights Corrections Center (home of another amazing bee program). Apprentice beekeeper Rory had served as an assistant instructor in Duane’s last class. Supported by Bee Program Liaison Kelly Peterson, Charles and Rory joined forces to continue the education and certification program.

Apprentice students David Duhaime and David Lewis study and admire a worker bee perched on Lewis’ glove.

Together, they mentored Apprentice students in small groups, repeating each class three times so that every student could learn the same content and practice hands-on, all while keeping socially distanced. It was wonderful to hear that all partners — instructors, students, and the bees — thrived in the program. At the end of one session, a student said that it was his best day ever at the prison.

That magic was still alive when I visited the program in early July. Rory introduced the program by saying, “May I brag about our beekeeping program?” I was so glad he did! He was hardly the only one; there was a lot to be proud of. Ms. Peterson told us, “I don’t have to stress about this program…you guys are so good at it.”

I found many honeybees in the nearby garden beds — see that worker bee in the center of a big daisy?

They started the flight season with only two hives and had quickly grown the population to fill seven! The beekeepers told me about the character and quality of each queen and her hive and shared all kinds of observations. I was so pleased to see them in their element, showing the teamwork, creativity, and gentle respect that are the best parts of SPP’s bee programs.

On a frame of healthy bees,, you can see many different colors of flower pollen stored in the cells; these food stores are called “bee bread.”

To learn more about bee programs that endure during the pandemic, I recommend these articles:
Like honeybees, we are working together

Welcoming the bees back to WCC

The The Buzz About Honey Bees

When crisis inspires greater teamwork

Text by Marisa Pushee, Joslyn Rose Trivett, and Kelli Bush
Photos by Marisa Pushee

In these unprecedented times, we are adapting to meet the new needs of the community we serve. This has meant suspending the majority of in-person programs in favor of remote education.

Early in the pandemic, following the general pattern, the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program partners suspended the program. But then, partners asked Could it be possible to restart? Everyone agreed that human health and safety had to be the top priority. Also, we heard from the Washington Department of Fish & WildlifeMission Creek Corrections Center staff, and incarcerated technicians that the program was very important to them. They asked that we problem-solve together, to collaborate on figuring out if there was any combination of rules and protocols that would allow for a re-start.

Technician Erin Hart works in one of the greenhouses, following best practices by wearing a face mask, social distancing, and implementing extensive cleaning protocols.

Following all COVID-19 safety protocols, we met several times and discussed a potential restart. Prison staff demonstrated that they were eager to prioritize the health and safety of the incarcerated technicians, willing to adapt program practices, and could support increased remote communication as SPP-Evergreen limited our prison visits. Technicians requested the program be restarted and expressed that, in the program space, they felt a reduced risk of contracting the disease. The lead wildlife biologist agreed that operations must be contingent on new protocols to reduce human health risks.

An adult Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly rests in an oviposition pot where she will lay her eggs.

Ultimately, all partners agreed that the program could re-start with new safety protocols in place. A key element of the re-start plan was to continuously reevaluate program safety, to ask each other regularly and often what could be done to make it safer and, most importantly, was it really safe enough.

The butterflies came back to Mission Creek. Social distancing, masking, and disinfection protocols were meticulously followed. Commitment to safety and open communications were fulfilled. The rearing season was successful for the butterflies and for the people involved.

Butterfly program coordinator Keegan Curry holds a rearing enclosure called an oviposition pot (a Plantago plant with a net over it) near the back door of a greenhouse.

Bringing honeybees back to WCCW

Text and photos by Shohei Morita, SPP Bee Programs Coordinator

Kathleen Humphrey proudly holds her personalized bee-themed bookmark, presented to all student beekeepers to use during their future studies. (Her official certificate will arrive in the mail soon.)

Last week, we celebrated 16 incarcerated and 5 staff students who just completed Washington State Beekeepers Association (WASBA)’s beginning beekeeper course. Program partners gathered to celebrate at Washington State Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). Taught by expert beekeeper Sandra Fanara of West Sound Beekeepers Association, the students learned the basics of beekeeping. This prepares them for more advanced study and the hands-on field work involved in the apprentice level course. After completing the course, there was a celebration to recognize their accomplishment with bee themed cupcakes. Students will also receive an official certificate from WASBA.

To celebrate, I brought bee-themed cupcakes complete with tiny edible bees and flowers! They were unusually delicious.  🙂

This was the first time since 2017 that WCCW has hosted the WASBA course. We are excited that many of these students plan to immediately advance apprentice course, which will start as soon as the bees arrive in April. In prepare, students, staff, and expert beekeeper will clean all the equipment and prepare the new apiary. Then they will be ready to dive in and experience working with honeybees. We are so excited to see this program flourish and provide therapeutic and empowering experience to the students.

Thank you to our expert beekeeper Sandy Fanara, and to our DOC liaisons Carrie Hesch and Muriah Albin for their commitment and dedication to reviving this program. Most importantly, thank you and congratulations to the newly certified student beekeepers!

What’s in a thesis

Text by Bethany Shepler, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

Note: please be aware that individuals featured in this story and in these images have victims who are concerned about re-victimization; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

I presented this copy of my thesis to the advisor team at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, represented here by Kelly Peterson and David Duhaime. Photo by Erica Benoit.

This past June Dr. Tyrus Smith signed my thesis. He was my thesis advisor and his signature validated all of my hard work over the last year-and-a-half. Suffice it to say, I was ecstatic! My thesis process was more difficult than I imagined it would be, took longer than I expected, and I am truly proud of the end product.

Following completion of my thesis, I returned to SCCC to present on the process and findings. Photo by Erica Benoit.

Before we move on, I could not have gotten to that moment of completion without the support of Evergreen Master of Environmental Studies faculty (Dr. Tyrus Smith, Dr. Kevin Francis, and Dr. Shawn Hazboun), my friends and family, my classmates, the people who participated in my study, the loggers that answered all of my questions, and the constant support from incarcerated and staff advisors at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC). Thank you all!!

Thank you to everyone who supported me and made this research possible! That’s me presenting my thesis to the community at The Evergreen State College. Photo credit: Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Thesis advisors in prison

From the very beginning of my thesis process, I knew I wanted to work with incarcerated individuals and SPP supported me in making this possible. So, I invited environmental studies experts housed at SCCC to work with me as advisors. I worked with the Roots of Success instructors and the Roots liaison at the facility, Kelly Peterson. A photo of me and the advisors is shown below.

These advisors helped me formulate the roots from which my thesis grew and greatly contributed to the process, too. From left to right: Cyril Walrond, Steven Allgoewer, David Duhaime (top), Anthony Powers, Kelly Peterson, and myself. Photo credit: SPP Staff.

Over the past two years, we met on multiple occasions. To develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter, the incarcerated advisors studied the articles and references I provided; they read peer-reviewed academic articles, research planning guides, newspaper articles, and other publications. They offered feedback and ideas on several aspects of the research including topic selection, philosophical framework, research design, study population, survey design, and presentation of the topic.

Seminar

This past February, Kelly Peterson helped me set up a seminar with a larger group, and included Dr. Smith. We asked all participants to read four pieces beforehand, to prepare for the discussion. Two were data-heavy, very dense, dry academic articles describing the theoretical framework I used for my thesis. Another was a piece President Roosevelt wrote after visiting the Pacific Northwest, in which he proposed a forest plan. And the last was an academic article about common predictors of environmental attitudes.

Here’s a group photo of the people who participated in the thesis seminar. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

I remember being nervous that no one would want to talk and I could not have been more wrong! They had all clearly done deep dives into the reading and made interesting connections I had missed in my own review of the literature. Everyone had thoughtful input and suggestions for things to explore and add to my thesis. The seminar was lively and thoughtful and there was never a quiet moment.

What is my thesis about?

My completed thesis is titled: A critique of the New Ecological Paradigm: Stewardship and a case study of the Pacific Northwest logging industry. It explores the concept of stewardship and how it fits into the New Ecological Paradigm. The study population was people actively working in the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest.

I presented my thesis as part of the Environmental Engagement Workshop Series at SCCC. Photo by Erica Benoit.

This research project was an exploratory study designed to document the ecological attitudes of loggers in the Pacific Northwest. As an exploratory study, I sought to contribute to a gap in the empirical literature: how loggers view the environment. I gathered their responses to the New Ecological Paradigm questionnaire, a measure of their ecological attitudes. Also, I collected information about each participant’s experiences in nature and their socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds.

Hanging out with loggers

Over the summer Pulley Corporation, an FSC®-Certified logging company agreed to let me shadow them for a day. This was an incredible opportunity for me and I am so grateful to everyone for answering all of my questions. Being able to speak with loggers who work in the field expanded my background knowledge on logging in the Pacific Northwest, and helped inform the survey I used to gather data. From these interactions, and many others, I noticed two attributes shared by all: a stewardship mindset and pro-ecological attitudes.

Regardless of their obvious pro-ecological attitudes, the sample population scored lower on the New Environmental Paradigm than most Washington State residents. This suggested to me that the New Environmental Paradigm measures attitudes using a socially-exclusionary lens.

When I shadowed the crew for the day, Pulley Corporation was working at Mt. St. Helens repairing and restoring an elk migration path for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Photo by Bethany Shepler.

So, what’s in a thesis? Well, in my case, a thesis is a collaboration of very diverse groups of people, all environmentally inspired and dedicated, and all willing to support me as a graduate student. I am lucky to have all their brilliance and input in those pages.

Aquaponic knowledge, from one program to another

By Marisa Pushee, SPP Conservation Program Coordinator

Note: please be aware that individuals featured in this story and in these images have victims who are concerned about re-victimization; any sharing or promoting should keep that risk in mind.

This week, students and conservationists gathered in the greenhouse at Cedar Creek where Anna Duron led a workshop for the aquaponics program. Anna serves as the SPP Coordinator for the Emergent Vegetated Mat (EVM) program at Stafford Creek and drew from her background in utilizing aquaponics for conservation initiatives. The workshop focused on best practices when working with aquaponics and the chemistry behind maintaining a stable system.

SPP Coordinator Anna Duron and SPP Biological Science Technician Will Rathgeber show workshop participants how to test pH, nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia for the water in the Cedar Creek aquaponics system.
Anna describes her work with the EVM aquaponics system at Stafford Creek, detailing the differences between varying approaches to aquaponics.

SPP Biological Science Technicians as well as students and TAs from Centralia College‘s horticulture program joined for the hands-on learning opportunity. They tested the pH, nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia levels of the water in the aquaponics system, discussing why certain results were more desirable and how the plants respond if any of the readings are too high or too low.

Many of the workshop participants were current TAs or students in the Centralia College horticulture program at Cedar Creek.
Workshop participant watches the fish enjoy their breakfast.

Since many of the workshop participants were horticulture enthusiasts, they compared successes and challenges, finding commonality in obstacles like plant nutrition and integrated pest management. We look forward to continued collaboration with such an engaged group of students!

Workshop participants discuss plant health.

The Magic of Caring for Turtles

By William Angelmyer, former SPP Turtle Technician and current student at The Evergreen State College. Photos by SPP staff unless otherwise noted.

Bill worked as a Turtle Technician for SPP from 2015-2018 and is now completing his undergraduate degree at The Evergreen State College. Note that some of the turtle care protocols referenced in this blog have changed since Bill left the program.

Bill Anglemyer holds at western pond turtle.

“Any job that offers an opportunity to change perceptions is more than just a job; it’s a learning experience.”

Summer is coming to an end. This is an exciting time for the SPP Turtle Technicians at Cedar Creek. The end of summer means that soon the technicians will be receiving new turtles. Speaking from personal experience, I know that summer is a good time to do a lot of reading and research—basically, doing book work. Without turtles to manage, we technicians spend the summer studying and catching up on other projects.

Raising mealworms for the next round of turtles and entering data for a woodpecker monitoring project  keep us busy every day, but the real valuable time is the time spent learning about biology and animal behavior. Of course this takes some self-motivation to launch because you are responsible for your own choice of study. No one makes you read text books. For those of us that use education as a coping mechanism to deal with incarceration, we can’t be stopped from studying. After an entire summer of reading, though, it is a refreshing change to receive new western pond turtles and start practicing animal care and shell disease management. Although this hands-on work carries with it a new level of stress and anxiety, it also provides valuable moments fraught with emotional ups and downs. Caring for the turtles brings home some of the studying from a theoretical context into a concrete reality. All of the turtles we receive after summer have gone through a recent debriding process. Debriding is a procedure where portions of their shells have been cut away in order to stop the disease from spreading.

Mealworms production at Cedar Creek. All part of a balanced turtle diet.
Anglemyer reveals the healed plastron of a turtle about to be released into the wild.

Unfortunately, this procedure—removing damaged portions of the shell—also leaves the turtles with wounds that have to be taken care of diligently in order to ensure that they heal efficiently and without infection. This is where the emotional rollercoaster part of the job comes to bear. Not all the turtles heal at the same rates. Some turtles heal slowly. Sometimes, they heal very slowly. Sometimes turtles will stop eating for days or weeks. Cataloging their  progress and behavior can be worrying at times.

Turtle Technician Bill Anglymeyer and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Emily Butler evaluating turtles before releasing them back into their habitat.

However, these new worries are accompanied by a refreshing hands-on learning experience. Many of the technicians have never worked closely with reptiles. Many people have preconceived notions about reptiles having a deficiency of personality. Moreover, reptiles are stereotyped as being only focused on needs and lacking social interactions. After working closely with turtles, though, it is easy to recognize the personalities of each individual. Like many mammals, some are social and playful, some are fearful and isolate, and some are fixated completely on food.

Western pond turtle, a state listed endangered species and one of only two native turtles in Washington State.

Seeing this new perspective is one of the most valuable experiences I gained as a Turtle Technician. Any job that offers an opportunity to change perceptions is more than just a job; it’s a learning experience.  My work with SPP was also greatly valuable to me because seasonal changes offer such a wide variety of experiences. Summer means book work and the fall means implementing that study into practical experience—along with the experience of caring for real animal lives. I miss my times at the CCCC Turtle Area. That may seem a little insane, considering I was incarcerated at the time. But the time I spent learning and caring for creatures, which I had had very little understanding of before, was a magical time during which I rarely realized that I was incarcerated.

Bill on Evergreen’s organic farm. Photo by Tierra Petersen.