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Nevada Inmates Pitch In To Restore Sage-Grouse Habitat

Rita Ayers, BLM Nevada

Three Nevada prisons are helping out the threatened greater sage-grouse bird through a new collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management.

Stanley Locus rakes soil inside a yard at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, where he's been for about a year.

He's part of a new program using inmates to restore sage-grouse habitat, which has been under threat from invasive grasses and wildfires. But before a couple of weeks ago, he had never even heard of the sage-grouse, just sagebrush.

"Actually I learned that there's a bird that lives under that bush — that survives under that bush — and that's the reason we're growing this. And that makes it all the better for us because we're knowing that we're helping the community and the habitat out there."

Locus and about a dozen other inmates are sowing sagebrush seeds in about 35,000 planters that will later be put in the ground.

The BLM has similar programs in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, working with a nonprofit group called the Institute for Applied Ecology.

Rob Burton with the BLM's Winemucca District says these types of projects are critical to the bird's survival.

"Their whole diet turns, particularly in the winter, to sagebrush leaves. ...One of the few animals that can survive off of sagebrush because of the turpens, the oils that are in sagebrush that make it unpalatable to most species, sage-grouse are able to digest it."

The sagebrush will sprout in their containers for about six months, after which another group of inmates will plant them around the Great Basin.

Julia Ritchey is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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