Inmates Helping Greater Sage-Grouse

Inmates at Snake River Correctional Facility in Ontario, Oregon sow sagebrush seeds in pots. These sagebrush plants will be planted in burned areas to help greater sage-grouse.

Inmates at Snake River Correctional Institutional (SRCI) and 3 Idaho prisons are growing 140,000 sagebrush plants to help restore habitat for the greater sage-grouse.

The greater sage-grouse, once common in the western part of the U.S. and numbering in the millions, has declined to an estimated population of between 200,000 to 500,000 and may be considered for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Inmates want to help reverse that trend and boost numbers of this iconic bird.

On Thursday, April 30th, 12 inmates from SRCI started sowing 40,000 sagebrush seeds into conetainers. The plants will be meticulously cared for over the summer and then out-planted by inmates and BLM crews in the fall on BLM land that has been burned by wildfires. The project is funded by BLM in Washington D.C. and coordinated by Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), a non-profit in Corvallis, Oregon.

“This is a perfect fit for inmates at SRCI and Idaho prisons to grow sagebrush to help restore greater sage-grouse habitat,” said Stacy Moore, Ecological Education program director for IAE. “This is a win-win for conservation, the local community and it provides hands-on educational opportunities for inmates.”

Adults in custody prepare pots for seeding sage brush.

Inmates spent the day mixing soil, sowing 23,000 sagebrush seed and watering the conetainers. The feeling of camaraderie and teamwork was contagious. “There are not a lot of programs in prison that address a real life issue and this sagebrush project focuses on an important environmental problem. I feel I am making a positive difference,” said one inmate. “Being able to see a task come to fruition is a good motivator for me,” commented another inmate. “Due to the declining population of greater sage-grouse, it is absolutely vital, as the stewards of our planet to help in any way we can to restore the natural habitat that has been modified by humans and wildfire,” said an inmate as he dropped seeds into the soil.

Connie Gross, Inmate Work Program Coordinator at SRCI, is working closely with prison staff, inmates and IAE to make the program run smoothly. “The inmates that are involved in this project, love seeing the mission come full circle through sowing the seeds, raising the plants and then planting out in the fall.” “It is wonderful being part of a project that encompasses several states,” commented Ms. Gross.

Prison work crews planting sagebrush grown at Snake River Correctional Institution in March, 2015. A total of 20,000 sagebrush were planted on BLM land in this pilot project.

Officer Clark supervises the inmates while they work outdoors. “This is great opportunity for inmates to do something positive for the community and do something worthwhile. This helps time go by faster,” said Officer Clark.

Boise and Vale, Oregon BLM field offices provided the sagebrush seed. SRCI grew 20,000 sagebrush plants last year which were out-planted on BLM land and have had a high survival rate. “Last year’s program was so successful that we are expanding both the number of plants and prisons involved,” said Stacy Moore.