The iconic greater sage-grouse, a species recently being considered for endangered species listing, is getting a helping hand from a unique set of partners from Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), and more recently Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC).
Peggy Olwell, the National Plant Materials Program Lead, BLM Washington D.C. and Vicky Erickson, geneticist for the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Region visited the “Sagebrush in Prisons Project,” at Coyote Ridge Correctional Center, (CRCC) in Connell WA, Friday June 3rd. BLM is sponsoring the project where inmates are propagating 43,300 Wyoming Big Sage and Three-tip sagebrush that will be carefully nurtured over the summer months and planted out in burned shrub-steppe habitat managed by BLM, this November in Douglas County, WA.
The tour was given by Sam Harris and Dorothy Trainer of WDOC and Gretchen Graber, native plant grower and educator with Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE). During the visit Olwell and Erickson were able to witness the intangible benefits of the program while meeting the inmates and supporting WDOC staff that are growing the sagebrush. “Community is being created within WDOC as a result of the project,” said Mr. Harris. “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.
Areas where the sagebrush will be planted are occupied by greater sage-grouse, the species targeted for population increase and recovery. The partnership amongst BLM, WDOC, IAE is working towards an unprecedented effort to prevent an endangered species listing of the grouse.
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. Planting genetically appropriate sagebrush species from locally derived genetic sources provides important food and crucial habitat for the birds.
Olwell and Erickson also viewed a living quarters unit, met and talked with several dog training inmates and petted a puppy during their tour at CRCC. “Here’s to a positive future for the greater sage-grouse and to more sagebrush,” commented Olwell.