Prison inmates working to restore greater sage grouse habitat

Outdoors

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The following is a news release from the Idaho Department of Correction.

BOISE — Wrapping his hand around a sagebrush plant, an inmate at Idaho State Correctional Institution (ISCC) pulls a seedling out of its “cone‐tainer” to check for root growth. He is just one member of sagebrush teams at ISCC and the South Boise Women’s Correctional Center (SBWCC) who has nurtured young native plants destined for Idaho’s public lands.

Sagebrush seedlings are in high demand by land managers seeking to restore thousands of acres decimated by wildfires, including important habitat for the imperiled greater sage‐grouse.

To address this need, in 2015 a collaborative effort was formed among the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), Sustainability in Prisons Project, local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field offices, and Idaho Department of Correction to engage inmates in the production of sagebrush.

In May, teams of incarcerated men and women filled 90,000 cone‐tainers with soil and sowed miniscule sagebrush seed. Every day since, they have carefully watered, fertilized and thinned their seedlings – and soon crews from BLM and the Idaho Department of Fish & Game will be collecting them for planting.

According to Nancy DeWitt, the local IAE contractor, the seedlings grown by inmates help more than just sage‐grouse.

“They will also provide food and cover to other wildlife that depend on intact sagebrush habitat, such as pygmy rabbits, pronghorn, and Brewer’s sparrows,” DeWitt said.

The inmates working in the program benefit as well.

“By propagating and nurturing sagebrush and other plants needed for restoration, adults‐in‐custody gain skills in occupational horticulture, problem solving, team building, and restoration ecology that they can use after their eventual release,” said DeWitt.

The project also provides an opportunity for inmates to give back to their community, generates a sense of accomplishment, and reduces idleness and stress,

Inmate Joel G. has worked with the project since it began.

“It has been an overwhelming success, producing top notch seedlings and rehabilitating many broken, incarcerated men,” he
says. He has watched the inmates gain confidence and build a sense of worth and pride.

“The project has also changed and improved my outlook on being successful when I am released from prison.”

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