Inmates from the Sagebrush in Prisons program at Warner Creek Correctional Facility recently finished boxing up the last of 32,000 sagebrush and bitterbrush plants that they carefully planted and tended since April.
These native plants were shipped to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field offices in Applegate, Calif. and Boise, Idaho where they will restore habitat on areas destroyed by wildfire.
After a burn, it takes 30-50 years to re-establish sagebrush and bitter brush. Transplanting seedlings with developed root systems gives the plants a head start over invasive cheat grass. BLM collects seeds from the area to be replanted. The new plants will provide food and cover for greater sage-grouse and 300 other species of wildlife, including elk and deer. “I am a deer hunter,” said inmate Richards, a member of the Sagebrush crew. “If we want to hunt we need to perpetuate animal habitat.”
Stacy Moore, ecological education program director for the Institute for Applied Ecology, manages the Sagebrush in Prisons program for 10 correctional facilities in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, California and Wyoming. “The inmate crews are very dedicated, helping communities by growing quality plants to restore wildlife habitat,” Moore said. “I appreciate the support of WCCF staff and funding from the BLM in Washington D.C.”
On Thursday, Oct. 31, Moore presented certificates of appreciation, commending the inmates for their hours of work. “These are the highest quality plants since we began in 2014,” added Moore. “The truth of who you are is people dedicated to tending plants that will nurture the environment.”
The inmates on the sagebrush and garden crews find it calming to work outside with living plants. Inmate Curry thinks it is a fantastic program. “I thank the Institute for having me aboard,” he said. “It does me good to grow something to replenish the burned areas.”
Besides tending the plants, Curry kept detailed notes that will help with next year’s planting.
Inmate McAuliffe has been on the Sagebrush Crew for three years. “Restoring habitat is giving back to the planet,” he said. “I’m doing something constructive instead of just sitting around.”
Ed Bucher, WCCF Food Services Coordinator, supervises the garden crew that helps with the sagebrush program. The crew also raises produce to supplement the prison meals. Inmates can enroll in a Sustainable Gardening Class sponsored by Oregon State University Extension. Upon their release, graduates of the class can receive a master gardener certificate.
“Two released inmates that took the class are now working as assistant managers at nurseries in the valley,” Bucher said.
As part of the Sagebrush in Prisons program, inmates are invited to attend monthly lectures and workshops on science and ecology subjects. After the certificates were awarded, Kate Yates, BLM biologist, presented a slide show titled, “Bats: Creatures of the Night.” She thanked the inmates for growing sagebrush that provides habitat for 15 species of bats in Lake County. The bats, who navigate by echo-location, can consume 1,000 mosquitoes an hour in addition to other benefits such as plant pollination, dispersing seeds, and providing guano for fertilizer.
The sagebrush program will begin again in April 2020 for another growing season.
Editor’s note: Due to WCCF policy, first names of current inmates quoted are not used in this article.