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Federal Bureau of Land Management Official Visits Sagebrush Restoration Project at CRCC
By Gretchen Graber & Dorothy Trainer
Published: 08/15/2016

Wa fblmo visit sagebrush project scaled

CONNELL – The iconic greater sage-grouse, a species recently considered for federal endangered species listing, is getting a helping hand from a unique set of partners which includes inmates from the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, CRCC.

Peggy Olwell, the National Plant Materials Program Lead from the Federal Bureau of Land Management, BLM, in Washington D.C. and Vicky Erickson, a geneticist for the Pacific Northwest Region of the US Forest Service, visited CRCC June 3 to tour the “Sagebrush Steppe Conservation Project.” As part of the project, inmates at the prison are propagating and nurturing 43,300 Wyoming big sage and three-tip sagebrush in hoop houses on the prison grounds. The brush species will be planted in November in burned shrub-steppe habitat in Douglas County that is managed by the BLM.

The project is a result of a partnership between the BLM, Institute of Applied Ecology and the DOC’s Sustainability in Prisons Project, SPP. The SPP collaborates with The Evergreen State College and other community members to bring science and nature conservation projects inside prisons.

CRCC Facilities Manager Sam Harris, Dorothy Trainer, an environmental specialist and SPP liaison for the prison and Gretchen Graber, a native plant greenhouse manager with Washington State University Tri Cities led the tour. During the visit Olwell and Erickson were able to witness the intangible benefits of the program while supporting DOC staff and meeting the inmates growing the sagebrush.

“Coyote Ridge staff have excelled at managing the new program and special thanks goes to Dorothy Trainer and Sam Harris for their intelligent management of the program,” said Graber said during the tour.

Areas where the sagebrush will be planted are occupied by greater sage-grouse, the species targeted for population increase and recovery. The partnership amongst all organizations involved is working toward an unprecedented effort to prevent an endangered species listing of the grouse.

“Community is being created within WDOC as a result of the project,” Harris said.

Greater sage-grouse are unique from other grouse species in not having a muscular crop used for digesting hard seeds. They forage on sagebrush leaves, herbaceous perennials and insects. Wildfires, invasive plant species and industrialization have all contributed to the decline of the bird, whose population was once as high as 16 million across the U.S. Over the past century, their numbers have dwindled to fewer than 200,000. Of those, fewer than 1,000 live in Washington. The species have been threatened in Washington since 1998 and last year was considered for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Project officials say planting genetically appropriate sagebrush species from locally-derived genetic sources provides important food and crucial habitat for the birds. Last year was the first year inmates cultivated the plants at CRCC. More than 20,000 of the sage brush starts were planted in the area last year.

Olwell and Erickson also viewed a housing unit. They also met and talked with several inmates who are part of another SPP project in which inmates train dogs from local shelters to make them more desirable for adoption.

“Here’s to a positive future for the greater sage-grouse and to more sagebrush,” Olwell said.

Submitted by Gretchen Graber, Native Plant Greenhouse Manager, WSU TRI-Cities and Dorothy Trainer, Environmental Specialist and Sustainability in Prisons Liaison, CRCC


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