Tag Archives: inmates

Frog Predator Response Experiment at CCCC

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

Oregon spotted frog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Oregon spotted frogs (OSF) at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) are the subjects of a growth comparison study between two separate OSF populations: Black River and Conboy Lake.  Inmates at CCCC are raising the two populations side-by-side in separate tanks, keeping all rearing conditions identical, in order to compare growth rates.  Measurements have been taken throughout the rearing season and will be taken again just prior to release in October at Joint Base Lewis McChord.  The OSF population at Conboy Lake is the only source population that successfully cohabitates with bullfrogs, a primary predator of OSF.  The hypothesis is that OSFs from Conboy Lake are bigger in size, and as a result of that, are faster in their response to predation.  This study will help determine whether or not captive rearing efforts should focus primarily on the Conboy Lake population.

As part of the comparison study, the OSFs predator response instincts were also tested.  Twenty frogs from each population were isolated for a short period of time in a stimulus free environment.  One by one, they were placed in a large plastic tub filled with just enough water to cover their bodies.  Once they relaxed enough to come to the surface and rest with their eyes out of the water, a plastic ball–tethered to stop before impact–was dropped from above, simulating a predator in the wild.  Each individual test is filmed to record the amount of time it takes each frog to react to the “predator”, and also to record response distance in its effort to escape.  The film is reviewed and data logged at the Oregon Zoo.  The data will allow for a parallel test between the Black River and Conboy Lake populations, and also a comparison between OSF rearing institutions, CCCC and Oregon Zoo.

The experiment took place at CCCC under the supervision and guidance of Senior Research Scientist Dr. Marc Hayes and Kyle Tidwell from the Oregon Zoo.  SPP interns Dennis Aubrey and Sarah Weber, and CCCC OSF inmates assisted with noting sex, coloration and tag number as well as taking the measurements and weight of each individual frog in order to identify any size or mass related variation in response. The inmate’s contribution to the predator response experiment and the side by side growth comparison study is integral to development of the OSF captive rearing program.  The rearing season continues at CCCC with inmates raising fat, healthy frogs getting closer to their release date.

Predator response experiment underway!

 

Weighing and measuring frogs

Blooming Inside the Walls

Blooming Inside the Walls

By Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliott from Stafford Creek Corrections Center

Surrounded by acres of Douglas-fir forest and behind razor wire security fences, a garden tended by the offenders at Stafford Creek Corrections Center is flourishing. Their efforts to cultivate food and flowers has altered the landscape and nourished the spirit of those involved.  These men asked me to provide a documentation of the garden for their families on the outside.  I thought that this service alone was worth providing, but I also feel others outside the prison fence should have the opportunity to see and hear about the garden.

The spring weather on the coast of Washington this year was unusually cool and cool nights persist through July. Night temperatures have rarely stayed above 50° F. The cool weather caused heat loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, and squash to languish.  However, crops such as broccoli, cabbage, peas, and carrots have exploded with growth. The offenders are gathering buckets full of carrots and peas to share with the prison kitchen.

All of the flower gardens were designed by the offenders. They paid special attention to creating habitat for insect pollinators. The plant families they cultivated in the pollinator garden were from the pink or catchfly family, the sunflower family, the pea family, and the mallow family. These plants provide nectar, pollen, and insect prey for beneficial insects.  This is important because the garden is surrounded by concrete which provides poor pollinator habitat.

The other flower gardens include a cutting garden and a native prairie garden. The flowers from the cutting garden are used to beautify the visitor room in the summer. This allows friends and family to see the fruits of the men’s labors and make for a beautiful reception for visitors. The native prairie plant garden overflows with species from the conservation nursery. By seeing the plants they are cultivating for restoration, the men can begin to learn plant families and plant community associations found on the prairies.

The whole garden sits amidst a sea of concrete. Originally, it was a turf covered turn-around for delivery trucks.  Staff grounds keeper, Jon Rydman, took the initiative to open up the space for the men to garden there two years ago.  After a great amount of initial effort to cut the sod, lay the irrigation, and form the beds, the garden was started.  Soil fertility has been improved by compost generated from prison kitchen waste. This unique in-vessel composting system is a pilot project coordinated by plant manager, Chris Idso.  Creating a flourishing garden in a Correction Center requires cooperation and coordination among staff.  The garden produces more than vegetables and flowers; it is also a place for education and change.

To donate to the SPP programs at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, 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.

Smoke Water

Posted by Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliott

In a plant nursery that focuses on native plants and restoration, expectations are a bit different than at a traditional commercial nursery. Commercial nursery production has focused on those plants that make a good economic return for the grower. All managers of commercial nurseries know that if you have a rapid and efficient turn-over of plant material through the year, you generate a greater income per square foot. There is an industrial infrastructure and research to support the industry in this process.  For restoration nurseries interested in basic germination protocols or more complex issues of genetic integrity or in-breeding depression, there is not such a well-developed research infrastructure, and a great many questions remain to be answered.

At the conservation nursery at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, we have generated a number of basic scientific questions regarding the germination ecology of the prairie species we cultivate. One of the most engaging is the seeds response to prairie fires. Fires have been an integral tool to maintain prairies in the Pacific Northwest for at least 8,000 years. The fires in this ecosystem are not natural; they were used by First Peoples to maintain the extant and health of the prairies that are surrounded by evergreen woodlands. The seeds of over 250 species of plants have been shown to significantly increase in response to the smoke generated by fires. This is particularly true for species from fymbos matorral, chaparral and grassland ecosystems. So, our project developed a question to determine whether the smoke from fires could increase the germination rates of some of the more difficult to germinate plants.  Rather than apply smoke (and therefore fire) to the seeds themselves we applied smoke infused water as a treatment to seeds.

I took on the scientific design and execution of the seed germination experiments as part of my graduate thesis at The Evergreen State College. However, the experiment is a fully collaborative endeavor. The Nature Conservancy collected and curated the seed from their Shotwell’s Landing nursery. The offenders at Stafford Creek cleaned the seed, counted out replicates and participated in the germination experiments involving six of the species. The experiment involved measuring the germination rate of the six species. The seeds were divided into three treatment groups: two different levels of smoke water and a plain water control. The offenders applied the treatments to 10 replicates of each and the monitoring for germination went for 35 days.

Inmates at Stafford Creek Corrections Center count seed.

To prepare for the experiments, the offenders participated in workshops designed to facilitate discussions about the scientific methods used to come to robust conclusions. It was not the first time that offenders were exposed to a scientific reasoning process. Many have previous educational experience or have attended enough lectures organized by the Sustainable Prisons Project to be confident about offering their opinions to a discussion on scientific methods. At this point the experiments are nearly complete on most of the species and we can compile and analyze the results. My goal is to be able to go over some of the statistical methods used and get the offenders input on how the results we get can be used in the nursery to increase our propagation success. Look forward to the results in future posts.

A New Season

By Graduate Research Associate Carl Elliot

The nursery sowing season at Stafford Creek Correction Center (SCCC) opened amidst mud and construction.  Excessive rainfall throughout the spring led to great volumes of mud around the nursery, just as we completed the moving of the greenhouses from one area of the prison to another. I know that sounds redundant – excessive rainfall in Aberdeen, Washington – but it was truly more rain that usual.  April 2011 was one of the top five coldest April’s on record and one of the top ten years for precipitation. The State Climatologist’s report has some interesting facts about our anomalous weather. The rainfall combined with construction made for a muddy mess, but the building was well organized by the construction supervisors and crew at SCCC. Though they had to apply more foundation rock into the muddy morass than was budgeted, the green house and two hoop houses were up and running by the middle of April.

The greenhouse is beginning to get full as offenders sow seeds

Sowing began with some new species this year and some of the target species from previous years. Lomatium triternatum, the nine leaved biscuit-root, was a new species to the nursery and the early sowing in April should make for well rooted plants by October. Castilleja hispida (harsh Indian paintbrush) and Viola adunca (blue violet) are two species vital to the pollination ecology of the Salish Sea (Western Washington) prairies. We will probably be sowing these two species every year at the nursery for as long as it is in existence; the need for them for pollinator restoration is inexhaustible. With these two species, our goal this year is to perform trials, testing the germination rate in response to varying lengths of stratification. Stratification is the process of subjecting seeds to cold and/or moisture to replicate environmental conditions required to break seed dormancy.  Through trials, we hope to determine the appropriate amount of stratification time these seeds require to generate a high germination and seedling success rate.  To date, our experiences germinating these species in the nursery has not corresponded with what is indicated in the published literature. 

Research Associate Carl Elliot teaches about the ecology of the plants offenders are learning to sow.

We’ve also had several new members join the crew.  These new offenders have benefited from the training and experience of those that have returned from last season. The training video that was produced last year is very helpful in providing and introduction to nursery techniques.  We’ve partnered each new member with a mentor to learn about nursery production.  By learning each aspect of the nursery from soil making to record keeping, the offenders develop a greater range of skills to use when they re-enter society.

SPP Research Associates Present Their Theses

By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

Two of SPP’s former Graduate Research Associates have completed theses for the Master of Environmental Studies program at The Evergreen State College.  Liesl Plomski and Sarah Clarke selected topics related to the Sustainable Prisons Project. Both women have been integral parts of SPP since its early inception, working closely with inmates and DOC staff in two of Washington’s prisons.

Liesl Plomski presented her thesis regarding best practices in the rearing of endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs, drawing on her experience working with inmates at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Little Rock, Washington.  Plomski said she enjoyed working with inmates on the conservation efforts and that, “experiencing the importance of tuning people into a passion for positive development has definitely affected my subsequent career choice since finishing at Evergreen.” Plomski now lives in Portland, Oregon where she works mentoring at-risk youth.

Sarah Clarke completed her thesis on the impact of horticulture therapy and how working with living things affects the knowledge, behavior, and attitudes of inmates participating in the Sustainable Prisons Project.  Her work included data from four institutions working with  SPP.  Reflecting on her experience with inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington, Clarke said, “working with SPP has profoundly changed my life.  It has been rewarding on a personal level to work with inmates and see how interacting with nature benefits them.” One of SPP’s first Graduate Research Associates, Clarke said it was exciting to be part of a ground-breaking project from the very start. “It was a meaningful job that will be hard to replace,” she said.  Clarke now works at the Evergreen State College as a youth educator in the childcare center.

Both former SPP staff attested to the personal growth and professional rewards of working with the SPP.  Referring to her work lecture coordination and project evaluation efforts, Clarke said SPP enhanced her ability to work independently, manage time efficiently, work with a wide range of people, and change roles quickly. “I gained confidence to make judgments and take actions in new territory,” she said. Plomski agreed with Clarke’s observations, adding that working with SPP also improved her communication and analytical skills while working in a variety of different settings.

Most of all, the former Research Associates attested to the immense personal reward and satisfaction they felt when working with SPP.  Plomski said, “You come home at the end of the day and honestly feel like you’ve made society a little better, you actually did something.” For Clarke, it was, “really rewarding to witness the human healing that comes from working with nature.”  Both Plomski and Clarke have made contributions that continue to leave a lasting impact on the inmates, DOC staff, and community members they worked with over the course of their tenure with the Sustainable Prisons Project.

To view Sarah Clarke’s thesis, click here.

Liesl Plomski’s thesis is available here.

WCCW Winter Lecture Series a Success

 By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

SPP’s winter Science and Sustainability Lecture Series at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Gig Harbor, Washington marked another successful season of scientific outreach, with over 50 WCCW offenders and staff attending the lectures.  The series focused on sustainable food practices and featured speakers from local non-profit agencies. 

 November:  Food Cooperatives and Cob Construction

Diana Pisco, The Olympia Food Co-Op

 Diana Pisco began the series with a presentation on food cooperatives and cob construction, a sustainable building method involving clay, straw, and basic tools. A former volunteer at WCCW, Pisco said she, “wanted to share what motivates me, to inspire these women about sustainability, local food production, and cobbing – something they could find very therapeutic as well as offer a skill they could use when they get out.”  Cob construction techniques stimulated lively conversation, with one offender sharing that she had built her house using this method. The offenders’ enthusiasm inspired Pisco to donate books to the prison’s library.

December: Edible Forest Gardens

Michael Kelly, Terra Commons

Michael Kelly introduced edible forest gardens, a landscaping technique that mimics a forest ecosystem and supports naturally high yields of produce.  WCCW horticulture students engaged Kelly in scientific conversation about the plants and techniques featured, comparing them with the prison’s program.  Kelly left offenders with printed resources about forest gardens, possible career paths, and ideas of how WCCW can implement sustainable practices in their gardens.

January: Organic Farming

Lydia Beth Leimbach, Left Foot Organics

Lydia Beth Leimbach spoke on organic farming.  Her experience on the farm with offender work crews from Cedar Creek Corrections Center encouraged her to partner with SPP for the second time this season. “I see the need for giving prisoners skills and education so that they have a chance to positively contribute to society when they get out,” she said.  WCCW has an on-site organic garden, and Leimbach’s presentation was directly applicable to the work many offenders are doing right now.  The topic also attracted two DOC staff members to attend the lecture series for the first time.

February: Native Plant Restoration

Ben Alexander and Amee Bahr, Sound Native Plants

Ben Alexander and Amee Bahr concluded the series with a discussion on restoration, described as an ecological act on behalf of the future with respect to the past. “We all have challenges in our lives, and we can move past them,” Bahr said. WCCW hopes to start a conservation  project that will provide offenders with experience in native plant horticulture.  Sharing SPP’s commitment to education, the Alexander and Bahr created a horticulture career development resource for the offenders. Alexander said he, “wanted to convey…that each individual can have an important positive impact even when working on a small local scale.”  He hopes the presentation will inspire offenders to make positive contributions to their community and environment when they leave prison.

Frog Project Initiates New Research

By Undergraduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

From left: SPP Research Associate Dennis Aubrey, WDFW Senior Biologist Marc Hayes and a CCCC offender measure the frogs' growth and health.

Over the winter inmates in SPP’s Oregon Spotted Frog (OSF) program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) have been caring for frogs from Northwest Trek, the Oregon Zoo, and the Woodland Park Zoo that were too small or unhealthy for release into the wild. The frogs have thrived under the offender’s constant care and are slated for release late this winter. By caring for the undersized frogs, CCCC has helped the zoos save money and staff time as they prepare for the new frog rearing season and tend to the many species of animals in their care.  The experience has also provided more hands-on science training for offenders.

The CCCC frog program is expanding its rearing space from one tank to four and will accept twice as many frog eggs this season. Using four tanks will allow side-by-side comparison of frogs from two locations, Conboy Lake and the Black River. Conboy Lake frogs may grow larger and faster due to their exposure to invasive bullfrogs.

These Oregon Spotted Frogs show healthy growth and will be released this winter.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Senior Biologist Marc Hayes suggested the comparative study at CCCC to to test this hypothesis and its implications for frog conservation. Partnering with SPP allows graduate students and offenders the unique opportunity to participate in this research.

To help reduce costs and the carbon footprint of the program, the SPP OSF team has also expanded and improved cricket breeding at CCCC.  After many trials and errors, and incorporating tips provided by experts, SPP staff and offenders are now creating a cricket husbandry manual.  The manual will be used to train the next group of offenders and students working on the project and may also help other facilities interested in sustainable source of crickets.

Good News

By Graduate Research Associate Alicia LeDuc

The Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) is in the news! We have received extensive press coverage from media sources nationwide. The common threads emphasized by all are the innovative nature and the collaborative mode of the work that have contributed to the inspiring success of the SPP. Click on the links below — and feel free to provide your comments.

KBTC Northwest Now: Click here to watch the episode

Northwest Now’s Daniel Kopec hosts SPP Project Co-Director Dan Pacholke, Project Manager Kelli Bush and Cedar Creek Corrections Center Superintendent Douglas Cole to explore how the unique collaboration between the DOC and The Evergreen State College is addressing some of Washington’s pressing social and scientific concerns.

KBTC Full Focus: Being Green: Click here to watch the episode

This episode of Full Focus takes a look at how the Sustainable Prisons Project is engaging offenders in the rearing of endangered frogs and the inspiring stories that have resulted.

KCTS 9 Connects: Click here to watch the episode

KCTS 9 reporter Leslie McClurg takes the show behind bars when she visits the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington to discover how the SPP has inspired one offender to pursue college credit by studying sustainability while incarcerated.

The Promised Land featuring Nalini Nadkarni: Click here to listen to the episode

SPP Co-Director Nalini Nadkarni escorts host Majora Carter from the treetops of the Olympic Rainforest canopy to the incarcerated men at Stafford Creek to lead them in a lively and insightful discussion of “what should happen next” for the SPP and sustainability in society.

Science Nation: Click here to watch and read

Science Nation explores how the SPP  and inmates at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington are helping themselves and nature to recover by working together to raise endangered prairie plants for restoration.

PBS News Hour, Oregon Public Broadcasting:

Click here to watch the PBS news hour segment (short version)

Click here to view the OPB Oregon Field Guide segment (long version)

Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Jule Gilfillan details how the SPP is helping the military and two Washington prisons to reduce waste and protect the environment by training offenders as conservation scientists; all while saving money and supporting biodiversity.

To donate to the Sustainable Prisons Project, CLICK HERE to visit the Evergreen Foundation’s website.

Cedar Creek’s Captive Crickets

By Graduate Research Associate Jill Cooper

This past spring, Cedar Creek Corrections Center and the Sustainable Prisons Project began experimenting with a new captive rearing project to raise crickets.  The goal of the project is to create a more sustainable, stable supply of food to meet the demand created by housing a growing population of endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs. Crickets are one of the largest expenses for the frog project. Cricket suppliers are located out of state.  Long-distance shipping complications can impact frog feeding schedules, and definitely increase the project’s carbon footprint. As a result of these issues, the offenders at CCCC decided they would try their hand at cricket husbandry and breeding.

Few organizations in Washington raise their own crickets. Most suppliers, including pet shops, purchase crickets from out of state breeders.  By locally-growing crickets for the Oregon Spotted Frog conservation project, SPP offenders and staff are taking another step toward creating a more sustainable, cost effective, and stable food supply.

Inmates and scientists are discovering best practices for rearing crickets.

The Project is also contributing to scientific knowledge, compiling best practices protocol for raising crickets in temperate climates through trial-and-error experimentation. While visiting with offenders to check on how things have progressed, SPP Research Associate Jill Cooper was impressed to see how much the offenders had learned through observation and experience, in such a short amount of time. One inmate explained to her how the current batch of “breeders” that were delivered to the prison, “aren’t really the age which the cricket farm said they are.”  He pointed to the “ovipositor” or egg-depositing tube noting that they were obviously under developed and not ready to lay eggs yet.  Crickets chirp to indicate when they are ready to breed.  The inmate is considering starting his own cricket farm when he is released to offer a more sustainable source of crickets to customers here in the northwest.

Training Officer Ron Gagliardo of Amphibian Ark recently made a visit to CCCC to advise inmates and staff on the cricket rearing operation.  Previously from the Atlanta area, Ron has extensive experience with frog and cricket rearing.  He was a tremendous resource.  The inmates were able to ask him many questions and his input will undoubtedly improve upon the initial success of the cricket operation.

There have been many bumps along the way, but things have been looking up for the cricket operation.  Offenders are able to raise crickets to help supplement the frog’s diet, and have learned much in the process. While the cricket project can not yet support all the food needs, we estimate that the current operation will eventually support at least half of the crickets needed to feed about 200 frogs.