DOINews: BLM: Prison Inmates Help Save Sage-Grouse by Growing Sagebrush for Bureau of Land Management-Administered Lands

Last edited 09/05/2019

The Bureau of Land Management manages more greater sage-grouse habitat than any other landowner and faces significant management challenges and recovery responsibilities if the species becomes listed as endangered. Successful restoration of the sagebrush communities needed to save the greater sage-grouse requires native-plant seeds, as well as knowledge about planting and growing them.

An inmate tending to a sagebrush seedling at Snake River Correctional Institution.

An inmate tends to a sagebrush seedling at Snake River Correctional Institution. Photo by Stacy Moore, Institute for Applied Ecology.

Supported by the BLM's Plant Conservation Program, the Institute for Applied Ecology is engaging state prison systems to produce sagebrush and other important plants for habitat restoration. As part of the effort, a pilot project to produce 10,000-20,000 sagebrush plants annually is underway at the Snake River Correctional Institution in eastern Oregon, and the plants grown at this facility will be planted on nearby BLM lands at a site recently damaged by wildfire.

"This is a win-win project for greater sage-grouse and its habitat, job-skills development for prison inmates, and human communities," said Dr. Tom Kaye, executive director of the Institute for Applied Ecology. Kaye noted that "Greater Sage-Grouse need sagebrush habitat, and inmates need training to improve their success once they are released. Prison partnerships like this can also support pollinator habitat restoration and reintroductions of endangered species."

Map showing current distribution of greater sage-grouse with locations of state and federal correctional facilities.

Current distribution of Greater Sage-Grouse with locations of state and federal correctional facilities. Greater Sage-Grouse distribution from USGS. Map courtesy of the Institute for Applied Ecology.

The Snake River facility has a greenhouse and garden where the pilot project is taking place. The inmates work seven days a week to plant sagebrush seeds and to water and fertilize the seedlings. They also attend lectures on the ecology of sagebrush communities. In September 2014, five inmates received certificates of achievement for their horticultural, data entry, and teamwork skills gained from the sagebrush project.

The sagebrush pilot project leverages an existing Sustainability in Prisons Project Network and has the potential to engage 24 correctional facilities across 10 states throughout the range of the greater sage-grouse. It also demonstrates the potential for this innovative approach to contribute to greater sage-grouse recovery by supporting healthy native-plant communities.

For more information, contact Peggy Olwell, plant-conservation program lead, at

Inmates preparing to sow Wyoming big sagebrush for a project at Snake River Correctional Institution.

Inmates at Snake River Correctional Institution prepare to sow Wyoming big sagebrush for a sagebrush grow-out project. Photo by Connie Gross, Institute for Applied Ecology.

By Gregory Fuhs, BLM Washington Office

Nov. 3, 2014

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