Tag Archives: Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly

Excellent Student and Teacher

By Susan Christopher, Butterfly Technician, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

On his last day in the program, Seth holds a thank you card from the butterfly technicians. Photo by Keegan Curry.

The butterfly technicians from Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to our departing program coordinator, Mr. Seth Dorman.

Mr. Dorman was with the program for about a year and a half. During that time his dedication and work ethic inspired us to be the best workers, students, and scientists we could be.

Seth and butterfly technicians carefully work through “spring wake-up,” the time when the caterpillars come out of winter dormancy. Photo by a technician.

He was both an excellent student and teacher. He learned very quickly about DOC policies and SPP’s butterfly program. He treated us with respect, encouraged us to think outside the box and to step outside our comfort zone and share those ideas. He displayed tremendous patience and a great sense of humor, even while trying to explain the concept of a “null hypothesis” to us.

Mr. Dorman’s coordination efforts produced, for the first time ever, the opportunity for two technicians to join a butterfly release. Also due to his efforts, all four technicians attended the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly working group meeting, where we had input on region-wide efforts to protect and recover the endangered species.

We consider ourselves fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Dorman: Thank you, Seth; we wish you the utmost success in all your future endeavors.

The Many Benefits of Working With Students

Photos clockwise from the top left: Sadie Gilliom (ball cap), Ricky Johnson, Daniel Cherniske, Conrad Ely, and Lindsey Hamilton working in prisons. Photo of Conrad by Ricky Osborne.

By Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Our winter newsletter is about the many, wonderful students who work for the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). SPP could not be what it is without them.

SPP-Evergreen team, 2011. Unknown photographer.

SPP’s founding director at The Evergreen State College hired graduate students to support prison programs beginning in 2008; that was when SPP was gaining traction as a more formal effort, and was growing in scale and scope (more about history here). At first, the workload demanded just one or two students at a time, and those individuals worked broadly—for multiple programs—to build partnerships and disseminate results. Over time, the number and complexity of programs being coordinated by SPP-Evergreen increased resulting in the current model: a student coordinating each ecological conservation and environmental education program.

SPP-Evergreen graduation party, 2013. Photo by Tony Bush.

We rely on student-staff Program Coordinators in myriad ways. They are the ones most often going into the prisons. They serve as the face of a program, and the leads for communicating details—large and small—that are part of the program’s successes. They continually add to the educational breadth of each program in many forms: formal presentations, seminars on scientific papers, hosting a partner-scientist’s visit, recommending readings, and countless conversations about programs’ plans, impacts, and larger context. Students also study SPP programs; they help track and evaluate the quality of each program, and ten have conducted formal research on SPP topics (a few examples here). Each student brings a unique perspective to SPP, and our programs are enriched by their energies and cutting-edge ideas.

Graduation brings an end to student-staff employment. Each coordinator trains their successor, which is as much about introducing them to the culture and ways of thinking as it is about program policy and protocols. Each turnover is bittersweet. We have to say good-bye to someone we have relied on and invested in, and it is painful to see them go.! At the same time, we get to welcome someone new, and their fresh perspectives helps SPP to continually improve; we can’t get stale! Also, there is the satisfaction of seeing SPP alumni go on to new and valuable endeavors, and we take pride in supporting their ongoing careers and aspirations.

Choosing just a few students to highlight in this newsletter means not highlighting most, and that is hard to do. Thirty-eight Evergreen students have worked for SPP so far. All have brought something important and enduring to our programs. You may learn more about most of them on our staff page. We hope that the following articles will serve to illustrate the range and diversity of their character, expertise, and strengths. These are wonderful humans, and it is such a pleasure to celebrate them!

DOC staff, Evergreen staff, and student-staff pose following a successful frog release, October, 2015. Photo by Woodland Park Zoo staff.

The Bridge to Evergreen

by Kristina Faires, SPP Program Enhancement Coordinator

The window I sit near and write this is open and expansive. It looks out to The Evergreen State College’s Red Square. Even on this stormy day, surrounded by Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir and many beautiful Maples, I take in my view and realize how different my world is from what it was. For 40 months I was incarcerated at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair, WA. The last year of my sentence I became involved with Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), a partnership founded by The Evergreen State College & WA State Department of Corrections. SPP brings science and nature into the prisons.  It allows inmates to become involved with programs that focus on science and sustainability.

Butterfly technicians prepare materials for the spring wake up, when the caterpillars emerge from dormancy; Kristina is second from the left. Photo by Seth Dorman.

For a year I worked as a Butterfly Technician and research assistant with the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. I cannot begin to express what a humbling experience it was. To be able to go from zero background in science, and then suddenly be immersed in an environment where I was learning new skills and collecting data as well as breeding an endangered species is crazy. For an organization to take a genuine interest in an inmate and say, “I believe in you” is amazing. They put faith in me regardless of my past choices and gave me an opportunity to grow and change along with the very thing I had been entrusted to care for. In time, not only did my competency and skill sharpen, my self-esteem grew.

Later in the season, Kristina hand feeds an adult butterfly. Photo by Seth Dorman.

My time in the butterfly program was such a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It helped me gain some much needed perspective about my life and what I wanted it to look like. It also ignited in me a passion to learn again. I ended up giving up my work release so I could stay and receive my certificate as a Butterfly Technician from SPP. I figured what a great bridge SPP has fostered for me: I already have this working relationship with SPP and The Evergreen State College. How perfect would it be to start my new life over with this network and support system already in place?  I applied for fall quarter at Evergreen and was accepted. Today I am a full-time student, with a focus on Environmental Science, and a part-time employee at SPP.

Transitioning from prison to college has been overwhelming at times. To go from an austere and rigid environment to a progressive liberal arts college where I call the shots, I choose my schedule, is liberating.  To have regained my voice and to actually be heard feels good. When I look back and reflect on the person I was and compare to who I am today, I am amazed at my growth. I feel like becoming involved with SPP and butterfly program was the catalyst for my change. Just as the butterfly goes through a time of metamorphosis, I too experienced transformation. Without it, it is hard to say what my world would be today.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly nectars on a harsh paintbrush, one of the native plants that the species prefers. Photo by a butterfly technician.

Healing people and the environment

by Susan Christopher, Butterfly Technician at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

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Susan Christopher holds a butterfly larvae so PBS Newshour’s Cat Wise can take a photo. Photo by Kelli Bush.

In the past, our environment has suffered from many injustices inflicted by society. Over-development, air and water pollution, toxic waste production and irresponsible use of natural resources have negatively affected our environment in ways it may take generations to overcome.

Incarcerated individuals also feel the affliction of societal injustices. While most of us assume responsibility for our actions that led us to prison, the underlying reasons for those actions many times stem from injustices we have suffered at the hands of others. Unlike environmental injustices, broken homes, neglect, abuse, and abandonment are issue most of us can relate to.

This is where the sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) steps in. SPP offers the amazing opportunity to simultaneously heal both the environment and incarcerated individuals by bringing science and nature together, inside prison walls.

As a butterfly rearing and breeding technician at Mission Creek Correction Center for Women (MCCCW), I can personally speak for the tremendous impact this opportunity has made on my life. This awe-inspiring collaboration of partners includes scientists, biologists, students, administrators, inmates, and other, from several state and federal agencies, zoos, colleges, and prisons. It is astounding to be involved with such a large partnership that works so well together.

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A technician shares a close up of an adult butterfly in the lab during the 2016 breeding season. Photo by Kelli Bush.

SPP’s vision of creating an intellectually stimulating environment in which we have key roles in conservation, sustainability, and the advancement of scientific knowledge has, without a doubt, been the most positive endeavor I’ve ever been associated with.

The successes of our program have proven the worth of everyone’s efforts. It is so personally rewarding to be asked for my opinions and insights on such a complex subject matter, especially when I see some of those ideas are incorporated into program protocols.

The amount of healing I’ve received through my involvement with SPP has been immeasurable. There is also an overwhelming satisfaction in knowing that we are contributing to our environment’s recovery.

Thank you SPP for righting some of the past’s wrongs. I really do believe justice is being served through your hard work.

See Susan Christopher in the PBS Newshour interview here.

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Turtles and Plantain at Larch Corrections Center

by Kelli Bush, SPP Program Manager

From left to right, a WDFW biologist, SPP program coordinator Sadie Gilliom, and two new turtle technicians, discuss how to biologist how to care for a western pond turtle. Photo by Kelli Bush.

WDFW Biologist Stefani Bergh, Facilities Manager Terry Hettinger, and the new turtle technicians discuss how to care for western pond turtles at Larch Corrections Center. Photo by Carl Elliott.

It has been an exciting year at Larch Corrections Center (LCC) as two new SPP conservation programs have been established at the minimum security prison located east of Vancouver, WA. Prison staff and leadership have been excellent partners—they worked quickly to create a new turtle lab and build plantain beds, and have been great collaborators and communicators.

Turtles

The first new program involves work with state-endangered western pond turtles (Actinemys marmorata), that builds on the success of the turtle program at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists have been finding turtles in the wild afflicted with a shell disease. Sick reptiles are transferred from the wild to the Oregon Zoo to receive acute veterinary care. After initial treatment, turtles are transported to LCC to receive extended care and monitoring. Inmate technicians are providing excellent care. Once recovered, turtles will be returned to the wild. Currently Larch Corrections Center is caring for eight turtles which will likely be released late March or early April.

Taylor's checkerspot butterfly caterpillars munch on plantain at SPP's butterfly rearing program at Mission Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly caterpillars munch on plantain at SPP’s butterfly rearing program at Mission Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

Plantain for butterflies

SPP and LCC have also teamed up with the Oregon Zoo to grow narrow leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata). This plant is a critical food source for federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies (Euphydryas editha taylori) which are being reared at the Oregon Zoo and at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. LCC is growing about 3,500 plants to feed rapidly growing butterfly larvae at the Oregon Zoo. One to two times per week, inmate technicians will harvest leaves from plantain plants grown in 10 raised bed gardens at LCC.

We are so pleased to collaborate with the fabulous folks at Oregon Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and others to bring these programs to LCC!

 

The Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program Releases Another Butterfly

by Liz Louie, SPP Butterfly Technician
Introduction by Lindsey Hamilton, SPP Butterfly Program Coordinator

Butterfly technician Elizabeth Louie worked with the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (TCB) program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) for more than two years.  She is now one of the few butterfly husbandry experts in the world.  During her time at Mission Creek she made many significant contributions to the program.  She streamlined data collection procedures and created an immaculately organized system for tracking daily activities and progress.  She always found creative solutions to problems when resources and communication with outside expertise was limited.  Lastly, as a senior butterfly technician she ensured high quality butterfly care and effectively trained and inspired incoming technicians.  The program will benefit from her good work for years to come.  Liz will be missed, but we are so happy for her and wish her the best in all that she pursues in life.

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Liz Louie records data on pupae and butterfly weights.

The following is a blog written by Elizabeth Louie, now out of prison in work release:

It has been 26 months and three seasons, with two Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) bosses and three Department of Corrections (DOC) bosses, releasing approximately 8,000 caterpillars and 250 butterflies to the wild. I have come to the end of an amazing journey. As I leave Mission Creek and the TCB program, I want to say THANK YOU for the experience.

It seems appropriate that I’m leaving just as the caterpillars are going into diapause. All the hard work caring for larvae, pupae and eclosing butterflies, conducting breeding and collecting eggs is now done. It’s now a transition period. A period of rest before the cycle begins again, similar to the stage I’m in now. Work release, a time of transition and preparation for my final release into the community.

Liz Louie explains the details of butterfly husbandry to the University of Denver’s Institute for Human – Animal Connection.  Photo by Judith Gerren

Liz Louie explains the details of butterfly husbandry to the University of Denver’s Institute for Human – Animal Connection. Photo by Judith Gerren

A writer from Sierra Magazine recently asked what I thought about the irony of having a butterfly program in prison; the contrast between the delicate, fragile butterfly and the “harshness” of prison life. For me, butterflies are very resilient animals. Their primary habitat was an artillery range, the aftermath of fire and destruction. Metaphorically, the butterfly symbolizes re-birth, new life and beginnings. So with that said, Mission Creek (prison) makes a lot of sense for a surrogate habitat.

Liz is demonstrating how we care for postdiapause larvae.  We keep them in bins with paper bags ("mima mounds") to climb on after they wake up from their winter slumber. Photo by Jody Becker-Green

Liz is demonstrating how we care for postdiapause larvae. We keep them in bins with paper bags (“mima mounds”) to climb on after they wake up from their winter slumber. Photo by Jody Becker-Green

In fact, there are other parallels between the butterflies and prison life. The larvae will sometimes go into second diapause (D2) if they feel conditions are not right. Maybe there’s not enough food, so the larvae will go back to sleep. Similar to D2 larvae, women come in and out of prison. They may not have gotten what they needed from prison the first time, or they lack outside support to help them be successful. But for me personally, at my age, its good to know that the final stage is a butterfly. It means the most beautiful stage of my life is yet to come. All the other stages have been in preparation for that final one.

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Liz Louie shows inmate Samantha Turner how to remove a new pupae from a “mima mound”. This is a very delicate process.

This will be a time in my life that I won’t soon forget. The people I’ve met and the women I’ve worked with, I take away something from each of them. I’ve learned a lot about myself, both the good, and the things I need to change. I have a greater appreciation for the simple things in life. I walk away a stronger person and look forward to whatever life holds.

Inmate Liz Louie feeds a Taylor’s checkerspot honey water from a Q-tip. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele

Inmate Liz Louie feeds a Taylor’s checkerspot honey water from a Q-tip. Photo by Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.

Flight of the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies

By Christina Stalnaker, SPP Graduate Research Assistant and Roots of Success Coordinator

It was a smaller crowd than usual: two males fluttered around a single female. The lighting was ideal and temperature at just the right degree for a successful pairing. As these butterflies moved in their miniature habitat, two inmate technicians quietly watched to verify if they had a fruitful engagement. We had just entered the greenhouse of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (TCB) captive rearing program at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women on an early spring morning.

A technician waters flowers that will be placed in TCB habitats for captive rearing. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

A technician waters flowers that will be placed in TCB habitats for captive rearing. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

These butterflies were the first of their cohort to eclose, marking the beginning of TCB flight season. Eclosure is one of the final stages of a Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly’s life cycle—it occurs when the butterfly emerges from its cocoon. When the remaining butterflies join them in flight, the technicians will place two females and up to seven males in an insect habitat. Lindsey Hamilton, SPP’s TCB program coordinator, later explained to me that placing so many in the habitat at once ignites the male’s competitive behavior. In the wild, TCB males can be found next to a female pupa, waiting for her to eclose.

Having just emerged from its cocoon, a Taylor's Checkerspot Butterfly patiently waits to feed on honey and take flight for the first time. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Having just eclosed (emerged from its cocoon), a Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly patiently waits to feed on honey water and take flight for the first time. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

The technicians had been waiting for us to arrive at the prison’s greenhouse to “process” two more butterflies that had just completed eclosion. The word “process” is far too ordinary to describe this next step in caring for these beautiful, endangered butterflies. Upon emergence, the butterflies patiently wait in their tiny container for at least 24 hours before feeding on honey water and taking flight. I had never handled butterflies before and was pretty nervous. Elizabeth Louie, TCB inmate technician, proudly demonstrated how to handle and process the delicate insects. After she showed me exactly what to do from start to finish, I went on to process the second TCB on my own.

Name?, TCB technician, shows Christina how to "process" an eclosed butterfly. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton,

Elizabeth Louie, TCB inmate technician, shows Christina Stalnaker how to “process” an eclosed butterfly. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

First, we recorded the ID number and color code. Next, we removed the mesh caging and the TCB from its insect cup, gently pinch its wings, and closely examined the butterfly to determine if it is a male or female. Mine was female; I could tell by looking at the tip of the abdomen. Females have a pointed tip at the end of their abdomen, whereas males’ are more rounded. After placing her on the balance, we recorded her weight. Swirling the end of a q-tip in the honey water and teasing her proboscis with a paperclip, I set her down and watched as she tasted her first drops of honey as a butterfly.

A Taylor's Checkerspot Butterfly enjoys her first taste of honey water. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

A Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly enjoys her first taste of honey water. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton.

Once captive rearing is complete and the females finish laying their eggs, the butterflies are released to various South Sound Prairies, like the Glacial Heritage Preserve (photographed below). Here they will live the remainder of their lives, and we hope that they continue to mate and lay eggs in their native habitat to bolster populations directly.

Home of the mysterious Mima Mounds and a critical habitat for Taylor's Checkerspot Butterflies, Glacial Heritage Preserve is managed by many of our partners to ensure they continued survival of these beautiful butterflies. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Home of the mysterious Mima Mounds and a critical habitat for Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterflies, Glacial Heritage Preserve is intensively managed by our partners to ensure the continued survival of these beautiful butterflies. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Yellow and red flags mark areas of Glacial Heritage Preserve with prairie plants cultivated to enhance TCB habitat. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Yellow and red flags mark areas of Glacial Heritage Preserve with prairie plants cultivated to enhance TCB habitat. Photo by Christina Stalnaker.

Impact!

By Samantha Turner,  Butterfly Technician at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

I have had a negative impact on many things throughout my life.  As much as I hate to bring to light all my defects, I would have to say that I have had more negative than positive influences in the past.

I find myself today actively changing this pattern.  I strive to do what is right.  Being a part of the Sustainability in Prisons Project’s (SPP) Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program has given me a huge opportunity to make an impact in a majorly positive way.  I’m learning so much in this program and all the while I find my life is comparable to the cycle of these butterflies’ lives.

I’m shedding my old skin to morph into a new person.

Technician Samantha Turner with a post-diapause larvae bin. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton

Technician Samantha Turner works with a postdiapause larvae bin. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton

Samantha is diligently taking notes in order to track each individual butterfly through it's transformation.  Photo by Jody Becker-Green.

Samantha is diligently taking notes in order to track each individual butterfly through its transformation. Photo by Jody Becker-Green.

This program is fighting to keep the Taylor’s checkerspot alive.  Along with saving their lives, I am fighting to save mine.  So, the SPP program is majorly impacting not only the butterflies’ lives, but my life, and preserving a fighting chance at a future for both of us.

Checkerspot larvae are social insects.  They often follow each other around and eat together.  Photo by inmate technician

Checkerspot larvae are social insects. They often follow each other around and eat together. Photo by inmate technician

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women butterfly technicians. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women butterfly technicians posed by a garden where they grow food for the caterpillars. Photo by Lindsey Hamilton

Thank you for this program and I look forward to all the possibilities.

The Butterflies Get Their Own Computer

By SPP Taylor’s checkerspot program coordinator Lindsey Hamilton

At Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) four inmate technicians raise Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies as a contribution to the recovery of this prairie species. Following the direction of the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon, they have been successfully rearing and breeding these butterflies for three years. This butterfly was federally listed in October of 2013, which means that anyone working with this species is now held to high accountability and rigorous reporting. The technicians at MCCCW have always been successful at collecting detailed data on all phases of butterfly husbandry.

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The Oregon Zoo recently created an Access database that will store all rearing and breeding information for both facilities in one place. This database will increase the quality of all data collected and provide for efficient access for tracking trends and bi-annual reporting.

Butterfly Computer
This has created a new opportunity for the technicians at MCCCW to learn the skill of data entry and management using Access. A computer containing this database was set up in a common living area within the facility last fall, and as simple as this sounds, it represents a major accomplishment for a prison environment! The inmate technicians will now be able to directly enter their data from the program . The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly program coordinator for SPP, Lindsey Hamilton, will then extract the data via USB and send it to the Oregon Zoo. Butterfly rearing is seasonal work, and the technicians usually have little to do in the off season. With the 2 years of back logged data that needs to be entered, the technicians will stay busy this winter when our caterpillars are sleeping.

Butterfly Rearing Commences at Mission Creek

Butterfly Rearing Commences at Mission Creek

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

The first painted lady butterfly to eclose in the SPP lab at Evergreen.

At long last, the wait is over. After almost a year of preparation, the butterflies have finally arrived! Inmate technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) have been caring for painted lady larva for almost three weeks now, and over the weekend they got to watch their first butterflies emerge from their chrysalid.

The painted ladies are being reared as a training surrogate for the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot, which inmates will begin to work with next February. These training butterflies were chosen for their relative hardiness and fast life cycle, which will allow the inmates to go through several complete revolutions before graduating to the much more delicate Taylor’s checkerspot. So far the inmates involved have surpassed expectations in every way.

As the final phases of greenhouse construction were being completed, the student intern on the project, Dennis Aubrey, began rearing painted ladies at the Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) lab on The Evergreen State College (TESC) campus. This was done to work out the fine details of adapting the Taylor’s checkerspot rearing protocol for use with the painted ladies, and to prepare for training the inmates at the facility. Following this, 200 painted lady eggs were ordered and delivered to MCCCW, where eager inmate technicians began learning how to care for these delicate insects.  Working with butterflies in the SPP lab approximately two weeks ahead of the ones at MCCCW was incomparably helpful in training the inmates effectively.

Inmate butterfly technicians at MCCCW caring for painted lady caterpillars and recording observations

From the time they began, the inmates have been taking very detailed carefully drawn notes, and have been tending to their charges with the patient meticulous care that makes all the difference in rearing projects such as this. At SPP’s frog project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, the large amount of time inmates dedicate to caring for the endangered Oregon spotted frogs has led to the largest specimens raised at any institution. Last week, when Dennis visited Mission Creek to check on the inmates’ progress, he couldn’t help but notice that the painted lady chrysalids were significantly larger than he was able to produce in the SPP lab. Whether that’s a factor of the light and beneficial conditions in the greenhouse, or is directly attributable to the increased daily care, it’s hard to say. Either way, it’s a great sign of things to come for the future success of the project.