Extraordinary Measures by Extraordinary People for the Sagebrush in Prisons Project

By Stacy Moore

May 2020

“Just because there is a virus doesn’t mean nature stops for us,” IAE contractor Shannon Swim commented recently from Nevada. The Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), our contractors and Department of Corrections (DOC), with extensive Coronavirus safety protocols in place, have taken extraordinary measures to continue to engage adults in custody (AIC) in the Sagebrush in Prisons Project (SPP).

Despite the pandemic, dedicated IAE staff, IAE contractors, and DOC personnel have pulled out all the stops to make it possible to keep the education program going and producing native plants for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) habitat restoration efforts.  Prison wardens and superintendents in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming and California have voiced their commitment for continuing the program this season. Staff at Honor Farm Prison in Wyoming noted, “This is a really good program, and it is so positive for the adults in custody.” A South Boise Women’s Correctional Center (SBWCC) staff person agreed that “these are interesting times and the landscape is changing daily. We are committed to another successful season of growing sagebrush at SBWCC. However, this year has already proven to be like no other.”

At the newest Sagebrush in Prisons project in California, the Associate Warden at California City Correctional Facility took it upon herself to collect soil components from the nearby Home Depot store when they couldn’t deliver on time, to make sure the program at her prison can proceed during the outbreak.

An inmate fills plug trays at South Boise Womens Correctional Facility

Sowing seed while social distancing for Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview, Oregon

IAE contractor Shannon Swim safely helping the inmates in Nevada

IAE contractors have gone above and beyond to personally see to the success of the program. When Home Depot in Reno Nevada was having trouble delivering all the needed soil for the three Nevada prisons, IAE contractor Shannon Swim borrowed a truck and collected the essential materials and drove them to the prisons. Boise IAE contractor Nancy DeWitt wrote step-by-step manuals for the prisons so that the AIC could sow the plants without contractors being present to guide the process. Boise IAE contractor Holly Hovis, has hand-delivered sagebrush seed, hoses, and extra vermiculite to DOC staff at their homes to make sure AIC’s have all they need to start the program this season. Tina Russell, IAE contractor working with the Wyoming Honor Farm prison, was able to engage with the inmates to sow the sagebrush seed from a safe distance on May first. IAE contractor Crystal Knittel and her family helped sow 30,000 sagebrush seeds for the Warner Creek Correctional Facility when it locked down. with appropriate social distancing measures. Uma Nicole, IAE contractor working at California City prison is creating special curriculum lessons to keep AIC engaged in ecology during the virus outbreak. IAE staff thank all those involved in the program for getting it off the ground this year.

IAE would like to thank everyone who has donated to the Sagebrush in Prisons project, and for the continued support of the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Corrections in multiple states. To learn more about our efforts, visit the Sagebrush in Prisons page on our website.

Community member Dana Devlin participates in the Sagebrush in Prisons Project for Warner Creek Correctional Facility

Community member Mike Nouguier uses a tamper to sow sagebrush seed for Warner Creek Correctional Facility

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