Montana State Prison to grow sagebrush for habitat

Photos by Jeff Clark, BLM Oregon and Washington Sagebrush grown at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Washington.

A new program with Montana Correctional Enterprises at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge will help restore sagebrush habitat for greater sage-grouse in Montana while providing inmates an opportunity to cultivate a new set of skills.
Inmates will sow sagebrush seeds into 25,000 “cone-tainers” starting the third week in May, followed by careful daily watering, fertilizing and thinning the plants over summer until the plants reach 6-10 inches tall. In autumn, the BLM will plant the sagebrush plants in greater sage-grouse management priority areas throughout Montana. Inmates will achieve horticulture and team building skills plus gain a sense of giving back to the community.
The greater sage-grouse, once a common sight in the western part of the U.S. and numbering in the millions, has declined substantially across its historic habitat. Western states have lost approximately half of their former sagebrush ecosystem in recent decades. Invasive weeds and encroachment of juniper create fire conditions that burn large areas making it difficult to re-establish native plants. Conversion of land to agriculture and urbanization has also had a big impact on the historic sagebrush landscape. This in turn puts greater sage-grouse habitat at risk.
Institute for Applied Ecology, a non-profit in Corvallis, Ore., is coordinating the “Sagebrush in Prisons Project,” at 11 prisons in six states. IAE’s ecological education program coordinator, Jessica Brothers, is excited to welcome MCE in Deer Lodge as one of the newest supporters of the project.
“Not only does sagebrush support sage-grouse, it offers food and shelter to a diverse range of birds, mammals, and reptiles.” says Brothers. She emphasized that the sage steppe ecosystem may appear to be bare desert but it is home to diverse plant and animal populations and is important to ranchers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts.
Jodi Pauley, IAE’s sagebrush contractor in Montana, is working alongside offenders to sow the sagebrush seed and direct daily care of the plants. In addition to building conservation initiatives at MCE, Pauley and Laurie Wolf, education manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, organize regular conservation lectures and workshops to educate a larger audience of inmates and community members about the ecology of the sagebrush steppe and some of the management issues our natural resources face. These learning opportunities leverage offenders’ capacity for conservation and encourage their development as land stewards.

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