New Mexico Conservation in Prisons Project

New Mexico Conservation in Prisons Program

The vision of the program is to facilitate an ecological education program in New Mexico prison facilities that contributes to the resilience and health of New Mexico’s natural landscapes, with a focus on native plant restoration on public lands. The program supports the National Seed Strategy by seeking to preserve ecologically and culturally significant plant species to benefit wildlife as well as people and cultures.



IAE has been partnering with the Minimum Restriction Unit at the Penitentiary of New Mexico to implement the education program and grow native plant plugs for restoration each year. One of our goals is to partner with students in the program to develop a program that tailors to their interests and needs. We are grateful for the students and staff members involved in the project who have made the program come alive. The 2024 program is possible thanks to US Forest Service Region 3 funding and private donations.  We are also grateful to the NM Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for providing funding to initiate the program in 2017, and continued to financially support the program through 2023.  The Native Plant Society of New Mexico funded the purchase and installation of the shade structure.


Education, development of new skills and knowledge,  is fundamental to the program.   Participants gain hands-on experience growing native plants, participate in bi-weekly conservation lessons, and lectures from guest speakers. Guest speakers working in the field of conservation or agriculture,  teach and engage students in conversations on horticulture, pollinators, cooking with native plants, ecology, and art. At the end of the program, students receive a certificate of completion highlighting their accomplishments.

Production and Outplanting

Over the years, participants have worked alongside staff to build and repair a hoop house and a shade structure on prison grounds. This is the primary classroom during the warm months as well as the space where we grow and care for plants. Ongoing restoration programs determine what plants will be grown during this program. In the past, participants have grown plants for pollinator recovery projects, such as restoring habitat along the Monarch butterfly migratory corridor. 

Conservation Ecology Projects Supported by NM Conservation in Prisons

(2017) CIP students grew 5,000 plants of species that support wildlife on BLM lands: mountain mahogany, fourwing saltbush, winterfat, apache plume, red whisker clammyweed, common sunflower, and upright prairie coneflower (funded by a NM Department of Game and Fish, Share with Wildlife Grant).

(2018) CIP students grew 5,000 milkweeds (horsetail and showy) and assisted with outplanting on BLM land at Santa Clara Lake.  

(2019) CIP students grew 5,000 nursery plugs to be utilized in a native seed production field at a Grow the Growers farm in Albuquerque, NM.  Species grown included purple prairie clover and Cota.  Students also created an ethnobotany garden on-site at PNM.

(2023-24) CIP students are growing horsetail milkweed and nectar species for the River for Monarchs project.  This collaborative habitat restoration project is creating 16 stepping stone sites along 200 miles of the Rio Grande River corridor to support migrating and breeding monarch butterflies.