In collaboration with the jail’s existing horticulture program and other university and community partners, INSPIRE provides opportunities for incarcerated students to learn about and implement conservation projects through lectures and hands-on activities. These projects have ranged from growing wetland plants to raising a state-sensitive fish species called Least Chub.
Least Chub Pond
INSPIRE has partnered with Salt Lake County Jail and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to create and maintain a refuge pond for Least Chub (Lotichthys phlegethontis), a state-sensitive fish species. Found only in Utah, wild populations of Least Chub are currently limited to 6 isolated wetlands. Least Chub are an important part of the food web as they are food for many fish-eating animals (birds, amphibians, mammals) and provide “ecosystem services,” such as eating mosquito larvae and other insects that may carry diseases. Our refuge population of Least Chub will be a source to supplement wild populations when depletions arise. In addition to providing a secure home for this important fish, the project has created hands-on educational activities for students, science lectures, and inspiration for forthcoming conservation projects. Students are trained to monitor fish and bird populations and water quality.
American Kestrel Conservation
The goal of the American Kestrel Project at the Salt Lake County Jail is to participate in national efforts to advance the conservation of the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), a Utah native falcon. Approximately 14 kestrel boxes have been distributed on jail property and, when occupied by Kestrels, will be monitored weekly by inmates during the spring. From the time of nesting to the moment the fledglings leave the nest, inmates will collect data specific to the citizen science project established by the American Kestrel Project (https://kestrel.peregrinefund.org.) The data collected include the location of Kestrel boxes, number of adult kestrels in the area (banded and un-banded), their behaviors, number of nestlings, age of nestlings (in days), and gender. Before the nestlings fledge, Hawkwatch International (http://www.hawkwatch.org) will be notified that it is time to band the birds so that scientists can continue to monitor their survival and movements. Hawkwatch uses alpha-numeric color bands enabling identification from afar using binoculars, an activity that students will also take part in during the summer and winter months. By contributing to a citizen science project, incarcerated students become part of an effort to understand why the American Kestrel is declining and help researchers develop effective conservation strategies.
The Sagebrush in Prisons Project is a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management, the Institute for Applied Ecology, and correctional facilities across the western United States to grow sagebrush to restore habitat for the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). Students in the Salt Lake County Jail participated in this project in 2016, growing 20,000 sagebrush plants, which were planted in sage-grouse habitat in southern Utah. Over the course of the growing season, students learned about plant care, ecology, and bird conservation through lectures presented by the Institute for Applied Ecology, guest speakers from the University of Utah, and representatives of local nonprofit organizations.
In collaboration with Dr. Karin Kettenring (Utah State University) and the Salt Lake County Jail’s existing horticulture program, INSPIRE’s Bulrush Research Project provided an opportunity for students to work with scientists and gain hands-on science experience as they helped to identify the optimal growing conditions for alkali and hardstem bulrush (Schoenoplectus). The findings of the research project will contribute to wetland restoration efforts along the Great Salt Lake, where the invasive Phragmites weed is currently out-competing bulrush and other native plants.
In spring 2014, a project team of 16 incarcerated students, two University of Utah students, one Utah State University graduate student, and two INSPIRE staff members provided regular plant care and data collection. Science classes were offered twice each month to inmates involved with the Bulrush Research Project. Classes were taught by University of Utah faculty, staff, and visiting scientists and they provided an opportunity to further explore the scientific process and topics related to wetland restoration.