Supporting over 300 species of birds, mammals and fish, the sagebrush ecosystem comprises the landscape surrounding the communities of Paisley and Lakeview, Oregon. While encompassing roughly 120 million acres of the western United Sates presently, 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 have dedicated the past year to growing sagebrush and other native plant species.
From sterilizing containers, to the sowing of seeds, from the thinning of plants, 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 Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), Bureau of Land Management, and Department of Corrections, the sagebrush crew has dedicated the past year to sowing roughly 30,000 seeds, to produce nearly 22,000 sagebrush plants over the 2018 season for local BLM field offices in Lakeview and Applegate, Calif. 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 north of Summer Lake.
While the sagebrush project has just completed its third year at Warner Creek, 2018 was unique as local middle school and high school students from Paisley and Lakeview High School participated in the planting out process for the first time in the partnerships history; although students themselves did not work alongside the inmates. Lakeview students received classroom lessons and were prompted to create their own scientific restoration planting experiments. Students designed experiments using different fertilizers, mycorrhizae and various growth mediums. Lakeview students will visit their planting plots again in the spring to gather data about their plant survival. These experiments may give natural resource managers information while further educating local students regarding the significance of the ecosystem found right outside their backdoor. Amy Zimmer, IAE ecological education staff, worked closely alongside both Paisley and Lakeview students during the planting events. “This project provided students an opportunity to participate in local community service while also having fun learning about the natural environment,” commented Amy.
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 partnership organizations have successfully completed another year of restoration and conservation success for the state’s greater sagebrush ecosystem. Funding for the project came from the BLM and the Oregon Community Foundation.
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 for yourself.
Institute for Applied Ecology, Corvallis