CASPER, Wyo. — Six Wyoming Honor Farm inmates helped grow 30,478 sagebrush seedlings in a greenhouse this year to support restoration efforts in the state, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality said on Monday.
Lander Middle School helped plant 729 of the seedlings to support reclamation efforts at the Day Loma Mine during two days in October, Wyoming DEQ said. Ten Wyoming Honor Farm inmates then helped plant 3,044 seedlings over three days at the Andria Hunter Mine, also in October.
“The sagebrush planting went great,” said Josh Oakleaf, project manager and vegetation coordinator with the Wyoming DEQ’s Abandoned Mine Lands Division.
The planting was conducted as part of the Abandoned Mine Lands Native Plants Project, a partnership between Wyoming DEQ and the Bureau of Land Management Wyoming established in 2016. The inmate involvement in the efforts dates to 2018, when Wyoming DEQ and the BLM worked with the Wyoming Department of Corrections and the Institute for Applied Ecology to create the Sagebrush in Prisons Project.
Since the program was created, Wyoming Honor Farm inmates have grown 84,845 seedlings for restoration projects in Wyoming and Idaho. In addition to helping plant seedlings at the Andria Hunter Mine, inmates also picked seeds for next year’s growing efforts, Wyoming DEQ said.
“This will be the first year of growing seedlings in the greenhouse at the Honor Farm from seeds the inmates have collected themselves,” Oakleaf said.
Sagebrush is not only critical to sage grouse but also supports over 350 other species, including mule deer and pronghorn antelope, according to Gina Clingerman, Abandoned Mine Lands archeologist and project manager for the BLM Wyoming.
When the Lander Middle School students came to help plant seedlings at the Day Loma Mine, students were also given a tour of the mine, and BLM personnel gave ecology tours of undisturbed sagebrush habitat to help students understand plant diversity, the press release said.
“It is exciting to see the progress of [the Native Plants Project],” Clingerman said. “It really is a win-win situation for Wyoming.”
People can learn more about the Native Plants Project from the Wyoming DEQ’s website.