FOR RELEASE: Tuesday, October 25, 2016
CONTACT: Annamae Siegfried-Derrick, 247-5102 or ASiegfried-Derrick@mt.gov
BILLINGS – Wrapping her hand around a sagebrush plant, an inmate at Montana Women’s Prison (MWP) pulls the seedling out of its container to check for root growth. She is a member of MWP’s sagebrush team, learning about the importance of native habitat and how to care for a native plant from seed to final planting.
Inmates at MWP are part of a hands-on gardening program that provides native sagebrush to replant greater sage-grouse habitat burned by wild fires. In April, inmates filled thousands of cone-shaped containers – known as “conetainers” – with soil and sowed the miniscule sagebrush seeds. Every day since, they have carefully watered, fertilized and thinned their seedlings, resulting in robust plants that are ready to be planted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The “Sagebrush in Prisons Project” is a collaborative effort involving local Montana BLM field offices, the Montana Department of Corrections, and the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) based in Corvallis, Oregon.
Inmates and BLM staff have spent a week boxing up nearly 20,000 plants. Jessica Brothers, Ecological Education Coordinator for IAE, coordinated preparing the plants for transportation.
“Inmates are gaining key horticulture and ecology skills while learning about an important habitat and its iconic residents,” Brothers said. “They are learning how plants, animals and people are all connected in our environment.”
MWP’s sagebrush seedlings, now about 10 inches tall, will be planted as part of a sagebrush–steppe restoration project in the Lewistown BLM District. The plants will eventually provide critical habitat components, such as food and cover, for greater sage-grouse and many other wildlife species.
“It’s important that the women here have opportunities to give back to the community,” MWP warden Joan Daly-Shinners said. “A project like this allows them to gain skills and experience the rewards of being part of a team that makes a significant, positive contribution to our state.”
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.
The greater sage-grouse was once a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act in 11 western states. 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.