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Illustrator David Sibley and actor H. Jon Benjamin will face off in the bird illustration battle of the century during BirdNote's Year-end Celebration and Auction!
The American prison system is complex and there are so many reasons as to why and how it could be improved. For nearly two decades, the Sustainability in Prisons Project (a collaboration between Evergreen State College and Washington state’s Department of Corrections) has been doing just that — and with visible results. In this two-part episode, we venture into Cedar Creek and Mission Creek Correctional Centers to learn all about the ways in which they’re impacting the lives of their incarcerated participants, starting with their newest program, the Avian Acoustic Monitoring Program.
Listen to Part 2 here.
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Bring Birds Back Season 4 is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Tenijah Hamilton: From BirdNote, this is Bring Birds Back. I’m Tenijah Hamilton.
[Slow, introspective music starts]
When you hear the word, 'prison,' what do you think of? Do you picture large gray buildings, barred rooms, and groups of quote-unquote “bad people” secluded from society? Well, now more than ever, we are being challenged to change these antiquated views of what prison looks like, the function of institutional punishment and even the ways we perceive the people incarcerated.
Now, you may be thinking, “hold up Tenijah, what does this have to do with birds?” Well, studies have shown that birdsong helps alleviate stress and anxiety for many people. And isolation from nature - including birds - is just one of the many ways our prison system dehumanizes incarcerated folk.
While nature is far from a fix to the issues plaguing our prisons - including rehabilitation and the systematic targeting of Black and Brown people - there’s a lot we can learn from efforts around reimagining prison.
Greening programs in prison are nature-focused workshops and projects conducted by specialists that offer therapeutic spaces for the incarcerated participants, from gardening to landscaping and animal rehabilitation. These programs have been on an upward trend since the 1990s. But not everyone is supportive of them. Some believe that greening prisons validates the existence of these institutions in the first place, and could therefore be a deterrent to the fight for abolition of the entire prison system. The same system that has benefitted from both mass incarceration numbers and high recidivism rates (the rate at which offenders return to prison post-release). While Americans are only about 4% of the world’s population, our prisons infamously hold one fifth of the world’s incarcerated individuals. But with our environment in such dire need of help and the potential to use these spaces to better the people in them, is there a path — for now — that could offer the rehabilitation people want to see and the ecological effort needed for our troubled world? Is it possible to move toward a more humane prison system while saving the planet?
In this two-part episode, we visit two correction centers partnering with an organization whose goal is to reimagine prisons by incorporating nature and conservation. And their latest creation? The Avian Acoustic Monitoring Program — a research project that depends on the work of its incarcerated participants learning and memorizing specific bird songs by ear, and by visual graphs of the audio frequencies. But that’s not all; in the next episode, you’ll learn all about their most successful project to date, the successes and challenges that came with it, and what it takes to truly rethink prison — but more on that later!
That organization is the Sustainability in Prisons Project, or SPP. It’s run in partnership with The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. My team and I flew out to speak to a bunch of people: staff, partners and — most importantly — post-prison and current incarcerated people about their experience in the programs, how they feel about it as a tool to re-entry, and so much more.
So, let’s start at the beginning!
Tenijah Hamilton: Today I have somebody here who is doing work that literally changes lives and whole ecologies, and I'm so excited to have Kelli Bush here. How are you?
Kelli Bush: I am good. Thank you so much for having me.
Tenijah Hamilton: So if we could start: just tell us a little bit about you. How long have you been doing this work, and what do you do as a part of the Sustainability in Prisons Project?
Kelli Bush: Yeah, so I, uh, first started working with Sustainability in Prisons Project or SPP, for short, in 2010. And I can't believe it's already been 12, almost 13 years of doing the work. I started out as a program manager and then in 2017, took on the role of co-directorship. I oversee our ecological conservation and environmental education programs and then just do a lot of work with partnerships and keeping things funded. So, I wear a lot of hats, but it's been a joy to do the work.
Tenijah Hamilton: How did you even think about the idea of incorporating sustainability projects for incarcerated people? How did that come about?
Kelli Bush: Yeah, so I can't take credit for the idea. I had some amazing predecessors that built the foundation that I got to join and build on. Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, who is a forest ecologist and was a professor here at The Evergreen State College, has always had a long time interest in expanding access to science and sustainability education and reaching non-traditional or underserved audiences.
And so she had the idea of, you know: where's a place where people have very little access to nature? And prisons came to mind. It coincided with being introduced to a prison superintendent at the time. His name is Dan Pacholke. And when the two of them met, they're both just very innovative thinkers and folks who like to try new ideas.
And so they started the first initial programs at a single prison called Cedar Creek Corrections Center. And so from there, they offered a few workshops here and there and really built, over years, and proved the concept, which made it so much easier when I came in to then expand on the good work that they had already done.
So yeah, that's how it started. Those very first programs actually started in 2003, so we're getting ready to celebrate 20 years.
Tenijah Hamilton: Founded in 2003, the first group of incarcerated participants — SPP calls them technicians — began with a sustainable program for native moss. It received lots of press and even became cost-effective for the prison’s existing compost programs. And since the beginning, SPP has approached this work as a genuine collaboration with — rather than exploitation of — incarcerated peoples.
Tenijah Hamilton: So, I'm curious, tell us about the ways you think your program is achieving that and succeeding at that mission.
Kelli Bush: It took us quite a few years, but I’m really proud to say we're able to offer most of the incarcerated students in our programs academic credit. So they receive college credit for the work they're doing. The turtle programs and the butterfly programs, they all are eligible. That may sound like a small thing, but it took a lot of work to get that awarded at no cost to those incarcerated students. So I'm really proud of that achievement. We know that education is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism or return to prison.
And so even getting people a start on that pathway or supporting them and continuing that pathway, we feel like is, really, an important bit of our work.
Tenijah Hamilton: Wow. What a — already an incredible legacy for this program. Can you overview some of the programs y'all offer, because I was surprised by the range.
Kelli Bush: There is a wide range. A lot of the work, including the programs you saw, includes work with threatened and endangered species. But we also have what we call, sustainability or sustainable operations programs where we're doing things like gardening and composting and recycling.
We have programs that are almost entirely just about classroom education around science and sustainability topics. And so yeah, there is a wide range of programs. Not all of the programs am I directly involved with, or, you know, my side of our partnership directly involved with. There are so many other individuals and organizations involved in that. We're all about collaborations.
Tenijah Hamilton: The majority of SPP's programming is done in collaboration, which seems to be an integral component of their success. For example, from July 2019 to December 2020, SPP reported nearly 200 active programs and 180 partner organizations statewide.
On site at two of the Washington State prison facilities, Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women and Cedar Creek Corrections Center for Men, the Bring Birds Back team got to experience a few of their current greening programs first-hand.
[Playful, propulsive music begins]
First, we trekked through the snow at Mission Creek to meet the most adorable Miniature Horses, named Winnie and George.
Mark Bamhill: Oh my gosh, it's so small. Oh, hey buddy.
Jazzi Johnson: Oh my God. Hi.
Tenijah Hamilton: That one over there looks like, um — I feel like imma really age myself, looks like Applejack from, um, my little pony, of the, of the nineties.
Tenijah Hamilton: Muriah Albin, Department of Corrections liaison and facilitator, taught us all about their beekeeping program…
Muriah Albin: They've been trained in beginning beekeeping through Washington State Bee Association, as well as trained by a master beekeeper, Ms. Sandy Fanara. She's outstanding. The women will go and feed the bees, and put water out for the bees, 'cause we're kind of a dry climate. We check the hives. We're looking for baby brood, we're looking for mites, we set traps around the facilities to help with pests. and this is so that they can go and sell honey with their partners or help the environment and really give back.
‘Cause once they complete a full year of beekeeping, you can go anywhere and you're like, hey, I'm an apprentice beekeeper, can I work in your apiary? Can I work for your business? And they're getting state recognized certificates for doing that as well.
And then we are gonna be working on a research project. And they're gonna get their craftsmen, which is the level of a masters in beekeeping. It's really neat.
Tenijah Hamilton: Over at Cedar Creek, we learned about the Western Pond Turtle Rehabilitation Program.
Kenneth [last name withheld]: Right now we're gonna weigh and do a check-in with a couple other turtles. That one is Miss Shelly because my daughter, she always told me she wanted a turtle and wanted to name it Shelly.
Tenijah Hamilton: That’s Kenneth, one of the incarcerated technicians.
Kenneth: Just look at how they're healing,
Tenijah Hamilton: Oh wow.
Kenneth: Yeah. ‘Cause they get shell disease. That's the whole point of taking 'em out of the wild and bringing them to the zoo into here to rehabilitate them.
Yeah, it's rehab right here. Yeah. They were in urgent care, now they're in rehab. It's not hospice, so it's all good. They still got a chance. Yeah.
And then once they get ready to go, they'll let 'em back loose. And they paint 'em so that if they're ever found again in the traps, when they go back to that area, they take 'em to see if they re-got the cell disease or if the medicine's still working.
Marissa Scoville: Yeah. So it's actually a fungus that infects them that was actually only identified very recently affecting these turtles in the wild.
Tenijah Hamilton: That's Marissa Scoville, the ecological program coordinator at SPP for the turtle program, as well as the avian acoustic monitoring program.
Marissa Scoville: The disease tends to be worse on these turtles because unlike most other species, they don't shed their scutes.
Each little hexagonal piece of the turtle shell, so each of those segments is called a scute. They don't ever lose that fungus. It just continues to eat through.
Females can only reproduce one to two times a season, but a male can go in multiple reproduction. So it's more important to make sure the females are healthy because without them, we're not gonna have those egg clutches that they need to continue the population rise.
I think we're getting four to five more tomorrow and at the end of March we're getting another batch upping us to 22.
Tenijah Hamilton: Marissa is a grad student at The Evergreen State College.
Marissa Scoville: All of the other coordinators, we're all taken from the Master's in Environmental Studies Program. They can also come from the other master's programs, but they tend to be the environmental studies students.
And it's really exciting to see how amazing our technicians are doing with the turtles. We already have more than we had last year and they're doing great. The turtle program only lasts about three to four months a year, but the acoustic monitoring program's gonna go until, until the data is gone.
Tenijah Hamilton: The Acoustic Monitoring Program was initially the reason we reached out to SPP. In it, technicians analyze field recordings and identify particular birds by song, which ultimately helps researchers track changes in the environment over time. It’s also a great opportunity to connect incarcerated people to nature – and purpose – in a new way.
Marissa Scoville: And we were lucky enough to get in contact with Lauren early on and she had previously only worked with graduate students to do this data analysis and we realized our technicians would be really good at it.
Tenijah Hamilton: Marissa's referring to Lauren Kuehne, project lead and researcher on the acoustic monitoring program.
Lauren Kuehne: Well, I'm an environmental scientist that does research in western Washington state for the most part. And some of my work incorporates acoustic and bio acoustic approaches. And by that it means I use sound to assess and evaluate change in the environment. And some of the changes in the environment that I am particularly interested in are associated with things like logging, invasive species, climate change, and also noise pollution. And so that's what has brought me into the work with sustainability and prisons.
Tenijah Hamilton: For folks who may not really kind of understand, I guess, the scope of what you mean and like listening as a primary function for science and scientific discovery. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
[Calm synth music begins]
Lauren Kuehne: So, even starting to listen or imagine the way that animals listen to the world, it's opened my world of listening. Even though we are always trying to block out sound, I started to recognize that animals don't have that luxury. They can't go to the grocery store to get their food, they have to hear it buzzing by, you know. Or they can't avoid their predators, they have to hear the flutter of the crow coming. So, they don't have the luxury to block out sound. And for them, the acoustic environment is life or death, in a way that humans, I think we really have to reach into our imagination to understand what sound means to wildlife and what quiet in particular, what things like noise pollution can mean for wildlife when it interferes with their normal means of communication and their normal acoustic environment.
Tenijah Hamilton: Coming up, Lauren explains what she hopes to learn from the avian research program, and you’ll hear what three incarcerated technicians have to say about their life in prison and time spent in nature. Stay tuned.
Tenijah Hamilton: We’re back with Lauren Kuehne, project lead and researcher on the acoustic monitoring program.
Tenijah Hamilton: So thinking back to SPP, how did you get connected to the SPP folks for this research?
Lauren Kuehne: So I've known about SPP for a very long time, their philosophy and values, not only were very much aligned with my own, but have also continued to be an inspiration to me in the last 10 to 15 years of my work. So, when I first started working on my first substantial project in acoustics and bioacoustics, I thought that it would make a wonderful community science work. The data is you can see it, both look at it and you can hear it. You get the chance to, like, eavesdrop on all kinds of places through sound. I mean, I know I'm pretty nerdy, so I have to be a little careful about what I think is fun. But I thought, well, who wouldn't wanna eavesdrop on the Olympic Peninsula, you know, if they got the chance to?
Tenijah Hamilton: The Olympic Peninsula is a large, lush and diverse region in western Washington. Maybe you know it as the land of the Cullen family in the Twilight saga. But it’s also the location where Lauren and her team conducted the birdsong research that technicians currently imprisoned at Cedar Creek are now analyzing.
So, what’s the purpose of this data? Of course — to save the birds! But not only the birds — it’s also to learn more about entire habitats and ecosystems.
Lauren Kuehne: So, we all live in wooden homes and we use wood for many different purposes in our lives, and that wood comes from - for the most part - second growth forests that are all around the country. But we have a lot of 'em here on the Olympic Peninsula, in particular in Washington State.
Second growth forest is a forest that has been logged at some point in the past and has been replanted typically, or regrown naturally. So it's the second time that this forest has grown in that place.
So timber might be cut down and then it's replanted and then takes 40, 50 years to grow again. Well, there's different ways to regenerate forests.
Do you plant monoculture? Do you plant mixed species? Do you plant things in clumps? Do you suppress the plants that come up along or do you let it grow-up messy? The idea is that some of these ways may provide more ecological benefit than others.
However, our knowledge about this, because forests take so long to regrow, it's hard to do long-term studies right? You gotta, you gotta wait 50 years for the forest to regrow.
So what we're doing is: there's a very large experiment going on out on the Olympic Peninsula. It has 16 entire watersheds, like the entire watershed is designated as experimental.
And within those, the Department of Natural Resources is trying out different approaches to harvest and regeneration. And so, as part of this, as the first two years of this study, we went out and we put acoustic recorders on 230 locations that varied in their history of harvest and their current status. So, by surveying all these different types of forests and looking for the presence and absence of our indicator bird species, we think that we can assess what is the functionality of these different types of habitats. And so, which of these practices maybe do we wanna promote in the future or do more of?
[Mid-tempo, folk music begins]
Tenijah Hamilton: Indicator bird species are birds whose presence or absence helps signify the health of their ecosystem. Since birds are an integral part of the food web and have specific habitat requirements for where they choose to nest, changes in the bird community can tell us about the success or failure of particular ecosystems.
For instance, if you’re studying a forest that was once cut down but is slowly recovering and maturing, you might use Chestnut-backed Chickadees as an indicator species.
[Chestnut-backed Chickadee calls]
These chickadees love dense, mature forests as places to find food and build their nests. So, if you hear Chestnut-backed Chickadees in a particular place, then you also know that the habitat has what they need to survive.
Their presence also suggests that the forest is on the path to recovery. And with every additional bird identified - each with their own special requirements - the more you will know about the ecosystem’s health. Kind of like when you get a health checkup and they collect different vital signs: each one tells you something different about how you’re doing.
So, by identifying the birds present in each forest by birdsong, the researchers and technicians are getting a clearer picture of how the ecosystem is changing, which can help suggest which approach to restoration is the most effective. And that informs how Lauren's team does its work at each site.
Lauren Kuehne: At most of these sites, we're also going out and doing on the ground surveys to actually measure the tree density, the tree species composition, the understory, the shrubs. So with these, we will actually have on the ground habitat data. And then we also have remotely sensed data too that we can better characterize the habitat.
Tenijah Hamilton: Shifting gears a little bit to think about the why and the how. I know that a big part of this project is working with these birdsong techs, and I would love to know, kind of, the specifics around how that works.
Lauren Kuehne: Sure. So it turns out that, when you record sound, you can actually transform it to be a visualization. Sound is basically made up of pitch and loudness. And it turns out that you can map that using a software program. You can map the frequency and the amplitude.
And what that makes is a shape, it makes a distinct pattern. So a Varied Thrush makes a specific tonal pattern when it sings and there's not any other birds in our area that make a pattern like that. So, when I see that single straight line that the Varied Thrush makes, I can say, okay, that's a Varied Thrush.
And then of course I can listen to it and I can say, okay, well it looks like a Varied Thrush. And it sounds like a Varied Thrush, too.
Tenijah Hamilton: It sounds like you're saying these are like acoustic fingerprints.
Lauren Kuehne: Yeah, I think acoustic fingerprints is a great way to describe it. It makes an acoustic fingerprint that you can look at.
Now, unlike human fingerprints, bird fingerprints are not always so specific. So, for example, an Orange-crowned Warbler and a Dark-eyed Junco — if you hear them far off from one another and the warbler isn't making its ascending, descending thing, you're gonna have a hard time distinguishing those particular fingerprints.
But for many other indicator species, their fingerprint is pretty distinctive. And part of the training that goes in is when we do have lookalike species: learning to distinguish our lookalike species from each other. So we have our audio surveys. We've done our 230 sites and then we compress that information into a 48 minute survey each year.
So each site in each year ends up having 48 minutes of audio that we have to look through somehow to find these fingerprints. Now, you don't have to listen to it. You mostly are just looking through it. And then when I find an indicator bird call, I'll listen to it to confirm it.
But most of it is visual. So you're swiping through and looking through these patterns. I know a lot of people are gonna be like, well, why can't you just train a computer to do this? Well, you can train a computer to do this. The problem is, it's kind of like facial recognition software. If you put a hat or sunglasses on, it won't be able to tell. So there's often overlapping bird calls, right? There's a lot of birds singing at the same time. And a human being can actually pick out a Varied Thrush call in and amongst many other calls. And then the other thing is that when it's raining or windy or something like that, a person can also pick out that pattern, whereas a computer isn't gonna do that very well.
Tenijah Hamilton: So, is it kind of easier to just have people do it in the first place?
Lauren Kuehne: Well, if you have the people power to do it, then yes. But we have 230 sites, times two years, times…
Tenijah Hamilton: 48. A lot of math.
Lauren Kuehne: Times four. Yeah. So, um, if we can get 20% of them validated by a human being, that would be wonderful.
But we're not improving the accuracy of the computer, but we're statistically accounting for the uncertainty of it.
So that's where technicians come in.
Tenijah Hamilton: Technicians like Kenneth:
Kenneth: I'm learning how to use the software. You know, like I said, I'm looking for transferable skills and I'm computer illiterate. So just learning this when it first started, just like right now, I'm sitting over there talking, I'm sweating, I'm nervous, you know?
So when, uh, when they brought the computers, I'm like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ I don't even know how to copy and cut and paste.
Tenijah Hamilton: So, how exactly is it done?
Lauren Kuehne: I provide the 48 minute audio surveys. I train the technicians. We have 10 species that vary in what I would call easiness. There's four or five that I call “easy”, and then we go up to harder species that maybe have more lookalikes or they are just more difficult to distinguish from another bird species usually.
Tenijah Hamilton: What's one on your easy list and what's one on your hard list?
Lauren Kuehne: Well, the easy one is the Varied Thrush.
[Varied Thrush call, ML467356241]
It makes a single pure tone. Nothing else looks like it. It's very resonant. You can hear it far off.
And then one of the harder ones– well, the Orange-crowned Warbler…
[Orange-crowned Warbler call, ML130984]
and the Dark-eyed Junco…
[Dark-eyed Junco call, ML234453481]
I've listened to many, many of those audio and just sat there and thinking, what?
Tenijah Hamilton: Who are you? Reveal yourself to me.
Lauren Kuehne: Yeah, who are you? Reveal yourself to me.
I've found that, you know, for the most part by say, week five or 4, 5, 6, people that I've worked with are really, really comfortable with the process. There's always more to learn for sure. And to see more and encounter more contexts.
Tenijah Hamilton: Audio technicians Eddy Ostrander, Kenneth and Darrel also opened up about their experience working in the avian program and the impact it's had on their daily life in prison.
Eddy Ostrander: We just kind of look at areas where they had, like, deforestation a while ago and see like the habits of the birds– if they're coming back to the area or if they're migrating to just different areas and staying there.
Tenijah Hamilton: That's Eddy Ostrander
Eddy Ostrander: And we're doing that by, uh, looking at all the bird sounds, like the frequencies of them and how often they appear in the audio files that we have.
I didn't really know, like all the birds that made all the different sounds like that. Like they have different calls for different things, different alert sounds, and I just didn't really know all that. I thought it was just kind of like almost the same sound over and over, and almost like they could just decipher it themselves, but like we found a way to really decipher it ourselves too.
Kenneth: Like, if you was to make a noise, it would make a different sound pattern.
Tenijah Hamilton: Kenneth, again.
Kenneth: And that's what we look for, 'cause we get audio tapes, but we look visually to locate the birds. And that's through locating their sounds.
Bees and airplanes are at the bottom of the screen 'cause they're lower pitch I think, and the higher it goes up.
But I found a bear. He was, like, snorting and we could hear him, but it just tripped me out. Just the different sounds.
Darrell [last name withheld]: I like that part of the monitoring the birds. I've been born and raised here in Washington and I was on DNR before when I was younger.
Tenijah Hamilton: That’s Darrell, another technician, who previously worked with the Department of Natural Resources.
Darrell: Never realizing, when they go through and cut down all the trees and thinning out the things you're knocking people's houses down.
And now they gotta go find a new spot to live. And then as trees take so long to grow, the birds, they populate faster than the trees do. So then they’re trying to figure out where to come back to and whatnot.
So If they're coming back, if they're rebounding or whatnot. Some of 'em more elusive than others.
When I was a kid, I used to just watch the birds. I was curious on how they found worms under the ground and stuff.
And as I got older, you know, I just kept getting more interested in birds and National Geographic, watching the channels with the animals and just being curious on how they live life in comparison to how humans live life.
Being in the city, you don't see too many ravens. But come out here, you see all these ravens and the way they interact with each other, especially on windy days. They like to play with each other and fly with each other.
You grow up being more accustomed to seeing cats and dogs and the way they reproduce. With birds, it's different. And you can see that when you see 'em flying with each other. You'll see the, like, two birds at a time going here and there with each other, eating with each other.
And here, like, it's something else because you got these little birds, sparrows? And like right now they're gone, they're on vacation. And when the sun comes back, they'll be back and it'll be so many. They're gonna lineup every wire in the- on the buildings, they're gonna be everywhere.
And then they got nests under the roofs into my unit and watching them, you can see some of these other birds, they'll eat the little ones. It's crazy just watching nature within itself.
Tenijah Hamilton: What do birds represent for you?
Kenneth: My loved ones. 'Cause it seems like, I don't know, there's something about white owls.
White owls and hummingbirds. I always see 'em in the weirdest places at the weirdest times.
And the hummingbirds are always in pairs. So, I know that's my mom and my dad, you know what I mean? And then the white owls, I think that's my older sister because she used to always, whenever she got home she'd go "OOoooo" [owl sound] next to my window. She would make this crazy noise and I’d be like, ‘Stacy's home’. You know what I mean? And so I always see these birds. So, that's what they represent to me.
Darrell: Like, how my sister just passed away a little over a year ago. And sometimes a bird will come and they'll just sit there for no reason. I'm looking like, ‘Oh, that's a visit to me from the other side’. You know what I'm saying? And we believe, in a Native American aspect - when you pray - that the eagle, since it flies up high, so high, it takes your prayers on its wings up high to the Creator and let it float up. You know what I'm saying?
So, a lot of times when I think about birds, how we're connected. I feel like everybody's connected in a sense to anything animate and inanimate in the world, period. In earth and outer space. You know what I'm saying? Some way, somehow you're connected– you have the same things, same stuff that make up your DNA, zinc, iron, gold, all that stuff saying, you know what I'm saying? Same as the water in the, in the earth. It's the same, the ratio — so when you see that bird come, that bird is bringing you a message some way, somehow, even though you can't understand that song or that chirp, you have to understand through that vibration, you know, the vibe that it brings you.
[Introspective, soft alternative guitar music starts]
Tenijah Hamilton: While it’s too early to judge the success of Cedar Creek's new Avian Acoustic Monitoring Program, the participants are clearly enthusiastic — for what they're contributing to our environment and for their future plans.
[Music in the clear]
Researcher Lauren Kuehne also shared the most significant outcome she’s seen.
Lauren Kuehne: All of a sudden, science stops being this elite thing that is done by experts in lab coats. And science becomes like, oh, analyzing data and assessing evidence and coming up with ideas, things that everybody does. People are scientists.
I just try and always dismantle that divide between science as this other thing some expert does somewhere and really it's what everybody does and everybody can do. Contact with nature is critical for all of us.
And it's something that we're losing. We lose it to, you know, spend time on our devices. We lose it to urbanization, you know, contact with nature is critical. And especially, of course for people that are incarcerated. And so the brilliance of SPP is to bring together these two things, this transformative experience of giving people access to research and data and sustainability and getting to participate in that process and the transformative healing value of being in contact with nature, which we all need.
[Music in the clear]
Tenijah Hamilton: Prior to our visit, my team and I went bird watching at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Nature Wildlife Refuge in Olympia. And this place is full of diversity with habitats from forests and wetlands, to saltwater and more — so, the potential to see hundreds of different bird species is what makes the location so special. You're surrounded by them and their songs, their movements, their beauty… And after meeting the audio technicians, one thing that really stood out to me was the connection they made between birds and freedom. How even being able to watch birds fly, to come and go as they please, to sing in joy and in harmony, was a time for reflection of their own lives and their own choices. It truly made me consider how prison has historically been a place of the exact opposite and how even a slight change in environment and opportunity seems to have had such an impact on their morale and hope for the future.
Darrell: They seem like they're the only things that are free, really. It's like they can go where they want, do what they want, fly, walk, swim, hang out in the tree, hang out on the ground. They're free to do whatever. One day, I'm gonna be like this bird and be free.
[Music in the clear; fades out, birdsong filled propulsive music fades in]
Tenijah Hamilton: Next time, in part two, we dive into SPP's most successful program that's all about the Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, why the species is endangered and how the technicians are assisting with its recovery. You’ll hear from former participants about what they're doing with the education now that they've been released. We’ll talk about what impact these sustainable programs have on recidivism rates. And what can be done to implement similar practices as a means of preemptive care and aftercare for communities in need of more alternatives.
Ann Wilson: I've been down for 12 years now, and, um, just in the last three years, I've really found my niche, you know? I really found what I wanna do when I get out.
Summer Long: I just feel like it's a great opportunity for being an incarcerated individual. You get shamed a lot, you know, and I feel like there's life for us now.
For more on SPP, their programs, and other resources from this episode, please visit BirdNote.org. And there’s so much cool stuff from this reporting trip that we couldn’t fit into the final shows — so be sure to follow us on Instagram @BringBirdsBack for more content and behind-the-scenes photos and videos from our trip.
Bring Birds Back is produced by Mark Bramhil, Sam Johnson and me, Tenijah Hamilton. Our fact-checker is Conor Gearin. Our Managing Editor is Jazzi Johnson and our Content Director is Jonese Franklin.
Music is by Cosmo Sheldrake and Blue Dot Sessions.
Tenijah Hamilton: Quickly: pygmy rabbits.
Mary Linders: They are the most adorable thing.
Tenijah Hamilton: They're hand size bunnies? Are you serious?
Mary Linders: They are hand sized bunnies with shortish, rounded ears. Everybody just dies over them.
Tenijah Hamilton: How do I…
Mary Linders: How do you get your hands on one of them?
Tenijah Hamilton: How do I literally get my hands on a pygmy rabbit? There's a photo. It's so tiny!
Tenijah Hamilton: I'm just, I'm so overwhelmed by the tininess. Everybody who hears this, go look up what a pygmy rabbit looks like. How lucky? How — I mean, they are lucky because you are here doing this work. But how lucky you get to, to hang out with all these incredible animals.
About guest Lauren Kuehne:
I am an ecologist that studies human impacts on freshwater and forest ecosystems, with the goal of contributing to long-term sustainability of natural resources. I received my MS in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences from the University of Washington in 2012, where I worked as a research scientist until 2019. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to conduct really cool conservation research in Washington related to fish, forests, invasive species, noise pollution, and sustainability. My research also invariably includes elements that reflect my passion for innovative science communication and outreach, including community science, blogging, public talks, and even developing video games. I started my own consulting business (Omfishient Consulting) in 2020, which offered more flexibility to work across disciplines and with diverse collaborators, including those that are committed to orienting scientific research toward diversity, equity, and environmental justice. More information about my professional experience, philosophy, and current areas of research can be found on my website.
About guest Kelli Bush:
Kelli Bush co-directs the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), a partnership founded by The Evergreen State College (Evergreen) and Washington State Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) to empower sustainable change by bringing nature, science, and environmental education into prisons. Kelli oversees all Evergreen-led programs, primarily SPP’s conservation and environmental education initiatives. She works with co-director Donald Holbrook, to lead more than 180 SPP sustainability and nature programs statewide and disseminate the model internationally. At Evergreen, Kelli provides leadership for a team of eight staff who coordinate programs, providing direct service and facilitating learning exchanges in the prisons. Prior to joining SPP in 2010, she gained over 15 years of horticulture and restoration ecology experience and earned a B.A. in Agriculture Ecology from The Evergreen State College.
About guest Marissa Scoville:
Marissa is a Pacific Northwest (PNW) native, born and raised in Bellingham, WA. She moved to Olympia to pursue her undergraduate degree at The Evergreen State College, studying marine and environmental sciences. During Marissa’s time at Evergreen, she interned in Greece with Global Vision International (GVI) in the sea turtle conservation program. This internship allowed Marissa to cultivate her love of conservation work as well as all species of turtles. Following undergrad, Marissa took a year off from school before moving on to her graduate degree. She worked as a lab technician as well as a variety of other services industry jobs throughout this break. These opportunities allowed Marissa to gain unique experiences and lead her to the decision to return to Evergreen to pursue her Masters in Environmental Studies (MES) degree in 2020. Currently, Marissa is a second year in the MES program and working on her thesis involving sea turtle research.
Kenneth (Cedar Creek technician)
Darrell (Cedar Creek technician)
Eddy Ostrander (Cedar Creek technician)