Sage-Grouse Habitat Restoration through Prisons

by Tamara Mullen — last modified Feb 09, 2014

The Snake River Correctional Institution Project

Sagebrush planting
Sagebrush planting

The Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) continues to expand its conservation work within Oregon prisons, moving eastward to the Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI, Malheur County), the largest facility in the Oregon Department of Corrections system. Through a partnership with SRCI and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), we have started an innovative project to improve the native habitat for the greater sage-grouse population. By engaging inmates in the production of urgently needed sage brush and other plants vital to sage-grouse habitat, we plan to develop a restoration protocol to help halt the decline of this striking rounded-winged ground dwelling bird.

“Reversing species decline requires a two-fold approach,” commented IAE’s Ecological Education (EE) team. “We must work to restore critical habitats as well as educate the public about the importance of restoration efforts – SRCI is a wonderful place to start this process.”

The EE team is working closely with staff at SRCI to give inmates the opportunity to produce 10,000 conetainers of sagebrush for use on BLM land where the sage grouse lives. SRCI has truly embraced this project, and is building a greenhouse to start native plant production for not only sage grouse, but also for other plant production in the future.

The sage-grouse is a candidate for listing by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened or endangered species. Loss of sagebrush habitat is the primary driver of the decline of this species in the western United States. Sagebrush provides crucial food and cover for these birds at multiple stages of their lifecycle.

Bringing nature inside prisons to enable inmates to participate in conservation efforts continues to have a positive impact on inmates’ lives. Benefits include: instilling a greater sense of self-worth, helping to heal from the past (restorative justice), and providing horticulture skills to help build a future beyond prison. IAE greatly appreciates funding from the Washington BLM for this Sustainability in Prisons Project.