FOR RELEASE: Thursday, April 28, 2016
CONTACT: Annamae Siegfried-Derrick, 247-5102 or ASiegfried-Derrick@mt.gov
BILLINGS – Female inmates at the Montana Women’s Prison (MWP) spent the last week of April painstakingly sowing approximately 25,000 sagebrush seeds as part of a project to restore sagebrush habitat to benefit Montana’s greater sage grouse population.
The prison’s sagebrush project is a combined effort that involves the prison and staff from the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) in Corvallis, Oregon, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Level 3 master gardener and prison volunteer Sharon Wetsch directed the planting and will oversee daily care of the sagebrush seedlings through the fall.
“The women on the garden crew are proud to be able to contribute to Montana's greater sage grouse conservation efforts in such a unique way,” MWP warden Joan Daly said. “Our focus at the prison is not just on making sure that inmates serve their time, but that their time is spent in worthwhile ways that help prepare the women for their eventual reentry into the community.”
U.S. Bureau of Land Management staff from Billings annually collect Wyoming sagebrush seed for re-establishment on lands where sagebrush has been removed, such as historic homesteads, or where wild fires have burned large acreage. Sage grouse depend on sagebrush habitats throughout the year. Montana sagebrush steppe lands are vital habitat for greater sage-grouse and other wildlife species such as mule deer and pronghorn, and they are also valued for livestock grazing, hunting, camping and other recreational uses.
“This sagebrush will be returned to public land, helping BLM meet the commitments made in our Land Use Plans for conservation of greater sage-grouse habitat,” BLM botanist Wendy Velman said. “The BLM hopes this partnership with the Montana Women’s Prison develops into a long-term program that benefits all the parties involved, as well as the American public and the natural resources we all treasure.”
MWP inmates are contributing to Montana’s conservation efforts by sowing 25,000 sagebrush seeds in April and caring for the plants over the summer season. The plants will grow to approximately 10 inches before they are planted in the fall on land with known greater sage grouse populations.
“The women are so excited about this project,” master gardener Sharon Wetsch said. “Growing native plants gives the inmates a boost of confidence and real skills they can take with them upon their release.”
The greater sage-grouse, once a common sight in the western U.S. and numbering in the millions, declined to an estimated population of 200,000 to 500,000 birds. Their numbers declined due to loss of sagebrush habitat.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be partnering with MWP and creating on opportunity for women inmates to contribute to habitat restoration efforts and give back to the community,” Stacy Moore, ecological education program director with IAE, said.
“We are delighted to be partnering with the BLM and the Institute on this creative project,” said Carolyn Sime, Manager for Montana’s Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program. “Habitat restoration efforts like this further Montana’s goal to conserve sage grouse on a working landscape and address a key threat. It’s an investment in creating habitat for the future.”
The greater sage-grouse was once a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act in 11 western states. Loss of sagebrush habitat was a key concern. States like Montana committed to adopt strategies to address habitat loss and fragmentation. Montana’s goal is to conserve greater sage-grouse and key sagebrush habitats so that Montana will maintain authority to manage its own lands, wildlife and economy.
Funding for the project comes from BLM in Washington, D.C.