Changing the fabric of our landscape – from behind bars

By Stacy Moore

December 2020

“There was a time most people would associate '2020' with having perfect vision. But lately it just symbolizes a trying year. It is difficult to find much hope at times like these. Now more than ever, people everywhere need a temporary escape – to have a few un-chaotic moments to take a deep breath and reflect. For a few hours a day, the Sagebrush in Prisons project provides me with those moments. Working with the program allows me to feel as if I have done something for the world that’s meaningful. These are my small steps to lead to larger ones in an effort leave the world better than I found it.”

                                                                                                                                            -Mr. Davidson, Adult in Custody Northern Nevada Correctional Center 

Coordinating the grow-out of hundreds of thousands of sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) plants at eight prisons in four states is difficult during the best of times. Add a pandemic in the mix, and the propagation of plants in prisons suddenly becomes a lot more complicated. Despite all the odds, IAE contractors worked closely with Department of Corrections staff, provided instructions to Adults in Custody to grow native plants for the Bureau of Land Management for greater sage grouse habitat. Adults in Custody grew a total of 360,570 native plants during the 2019-20 season.

Sagebrush Crew 2020: Adults in Custody at Wyoming Honor Farm sow sagebrush plants

Idaho State Correctional Center education staff provide assistance with the sagebrush plants.

Stack of sagebrush: Brenda Davis with the Education staff at Idaho State Correctional Center boxes up sagebrush for the Bureau of Land Management.

IAE sagebrush contractor in Nevada and California Shannon Swim shares, “What a challenging season it has been! Volunteers have not been permitted inside the prisons since the middle of March. Despite all of the ups and downs as well as all of the plan As, Bs, Cs, and Ds, Nevada produced over 221,000 sagebrush for sage grouse habitat restoration. IMPRESSIVE! Words cannot express my gratitude to the staff at the three correctional centers here in Northern Nevada, whose continued dedication to the program even in the midst of a global pandemic, led to a very successful year. I am so proud of and grateful to each and every one of the sagebrush crews. They demonstrated all the knowledge they have gained in years past and worked as a team to produce sagebrush plugs. I value our BLM partners whose patience and understanding was much appreciated with all of the challenges this year.”

2020 was Holly Hovis’ first year as sagebrush contractor for Idaho and Oregon. “This was definitely a difficult year for the program. However, I think that the silver lining for me was that our partner Department of Corrections staff offered so much of their time to help and thus they became so much more invested and knowledgeable about the process of growing these plants. I was so impressed with the positive energy and enthusiasm the Adults in Custody at South Boise Womens Correctional Center brought to the Sagebrush in Prison Program. Conference calls with these women definitely left me feeling optimistic about the prospects of not only the plants we were growing for restoration, but for the futures of the women as well,” Hovis says.

Department of Corrections staff at Lovelock Correctional Center give a thumbs up to the Sagebrush in Prisons project.

Department of Corrections, IAE staff and volunteers help box up sagebrush plants in Idaho.

Lovelock Correctional Center sagebrush plugs.

Tina Russell, sagebrush contractor in Wyoming shares these words: “The Sagebrush in Prisons project at the Wyoming Honor Farm completed its second successful season in 2020. Growing sagebrush seedlings at the Honor Farm provides Adults in Custody an opportunity to improve the fabric of the Wyoming landscape. It gives them renewed hope for themselves as they learn to tend to these tiny plants. This project is a two-fold reclamation project. The planting of the seedlings helps restore sagebrush to mined and disturbed areas and the growing of those seedlings helps reclaim the hearts and minds of the adults in custody who participate.”

"Working with IAE has been a transformative experience," says Uma Nicole, IAE Contractor working with the California City prison. "So much that it has shaped my lifelong research interests.  Waking up to a form of work that is so rich and meaningful inspires me to a great sense of wonderment and hope, especially in these deeply tragic times."

“Life isn’t easy on the inside. To have something that allows you to leave the day to day stress, even for just a little while is indescribably important. This program provides a reason to keep going. There aren’t a lot of things in prison that allow you to have a sense of self-worth. With the Sagebrush in Prisons project, you get to see your accomplishments come to fruition and to grow as a human being,” shares an inmate participant at Northern Nevada Correctional Center.

IAE would like to thank the Bureau of Land Management and our natural resource partners for their continued support of the program. The program touches so many lives.

AICs at Snake River Correctional Institution box up sagebrush.

IAE contractors assist with sagebrush plants at Snake River Correctional Institution.