By Amy Zimmer
Supporting over 300 species of birds, mammals and fish, the sagebrush ecosystem comprises the landscape surrounding the communities of Paisley and Lakeview in Eastern Oregon. Encompassing roughly 120 million acres of the western United States, this delicate ecosystem has been impacted over the past century by an increasing number of wildfires. Animal species, such as the Greater Sage-Grouse, have lost approximately 50 percent of their former habitat across the great basin. To increase the number of native plants on recently burned areas, inmates at Warner Creek Correctional Facility (WCCF) have dedicated the past year to growing sagebrush and other native plant species to restore wildlife habitat in IAE's Sagebrush in Prisons project. In this unique project running in ten Western prisons, inmates learn about ecology and grow sagebrush seedlings to restore crucial Greater Sage-Grouse habitat, particularly for rehabilitation after wildfires – sagebrush do not regenerate well after fire.
From sterilizing conetainers, sowing seeds, thinning seedlings, on up to the boxing up and planting-out process, inmates at Warner Creek have successfully completed another year of the Sagebrush in Prison project. Working in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Department of Corrections, IAE's WCCF inmate sagebrush crew has dedicated the past year to sowing roughly 30,000 seeds, to produce nearly 22,000 sagebrush plants over the 2018 season to be used by local BLM field offices in Lakeview and Applegate, California. In an effort to conserve native species, create wildlife habitat and to mediate the increased effect of wildfires across the landscape, many of the plants grown at Warner Creek have been planted within the 2017 Ana Fire burn site, located just north of Summer Lake, Oregon.
This year was unique in the Sagebrush in Prisons project, as local middle school and high school students from nearby Paisley and Lakeview participated in the planting-out process for the first time in the Sagebrush project's history. Although students themselves did not work alongside the Warner Creek inmates, Lakeview students received classroom lessons about sagebrush ecology, and designed experiments to investigate the success of several sagebrush restoration techniques, using different fertilizers, mycorrhizae and various growth mediums. Lakeview students designed experiments using different fertilizers, mycorrhizae and various growth mediums. The students will visit their planting plots again in the spring to gather data. These experiments may give natural resource managers information while they learn the scientific method and the significance of the ecosystem right outside their back door.
To read more about the Sagebrush in Prisons project, click here.
As the students planted a total of 1,033 sagebrush, in the weeks following, inmates from the Warner Creek work crew added an additional 4,000 plants across the central Oregon landscape. In an ecosystem that has experienced several wildfire burns in recent years, it is safe to say the inmates and staff at Warner Creek in combination with the efforts of our BLM partners have successfully completed another year of restoration and conservation success for the state’s sagebrush ecosystem. Funding for the project came from the BLM and the Oregon Community Foundation, and in-kind donations from the Paisley and Lakeview school districts. This inspiring project has also received over $35,000 in private donations since 2017.
And in the event you find yourself driving north on Highway 31 past Summer Lake, just before the guard rail bends to the left, look to your right and see the results of this restoration effort for yourself. For more information on IAE's Sagebrush in Prisons project, visit our web page.